Sleeping in My Jeans Connie King Leonard, Ooligan Press (NOVEMBER) Softcover $16 (240pp) 978-1-947845-00-8
Connie King Leonard’s emotional and intense Sleeping in My Jeans is led by Mattie, a determined sixteen-year-old who wants to go to college and get a good job so that she can help her six-year-old sister, Meg, do the same. Her plans are threatened when her mother’s boyfriend beats her mother up, and the family has to leave the home though they have nowhere to go.
Family troubles extend beyond domestic abuse and homelessness when the girls’ mother drops them off at the library and does not return. Mattie knows that her mother would never willingly leave; she is certain that something is terribly wrong. In addition to trying to keep both herself and her sister safe, she searches for her mother.
Mattie does not allow herself even the most basic of comforts. When Jack, a boy at school, tries to get to know her, she rebuffs him, though she longs for the friendship. It is painful to witness her suffering and to share her fear and loneliness.
Though a work of fiction, the book deals with real young adult issues, including homelessness and vulnerability. Mattie’s situation is not romanticized—she is hungry and tired and cold, and she fights hard to protect her mom and sister. Her ordeals leave serious scars, but she never gives up.
Sleeping in My Jeans is an enlightening teen read; its serious issues and compelling story make it impossible to forget.
The XY Virginia Bergin, Sourcebooks Fire (NOVEMBER) Hardcover $17.99 (352pp), 978-1-4926-6217-4
Virginia Bergin’s thought-provoking dystopia The XY explores what the world might look like if it was developed only by women.
Over sixty years ago most men were wiped out by a virus. Those who remained were placed in sanctuaries for their own protection; since then, all boys are sent to sanctuaries shortly after their birth. The world was rebuilt by women, and it is a very different society than the one that came before.
River has never seen a boy, though she has been taught that they are often violent and dangerous. When she comes across a sick young man lying in the road, she is shocked and frightened but feels duty bound to help him. Her decision changes everything.
On the surface, The XY seems to rely on gender stereotypes. The women’s society is peaceful and safe; the two male characters both exhibit aggression. But there’s more to this story, in which men have become second-class citizens valued only for their sperm. The woman-dominated society still has many problems, including crime and struggles over authority.
River is an interesting lead who grew up largely without the influence of gender expectations. She is free to think and act and become whatever she chooses. Though her personality is not explored in depth, her ability to act according to her personal ethics shows her to be an independent, strong young person.
The XY explores ideas about stereotypes, power, and personal responsibility within a unique and intriguing world. It will leave its audience questioning the role of gender in social development.
Hearts Unbroken Cynthia Leitich Smith, Candlewick Press (OCTOBER) Hardcover $17.99 (304pp), 978-0-7636-8114-2
When Louise Wolfe’s boyfriend makes disparaging comments about Native people, she breaks up with him. After all, she is part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and proud of it. But in the small Kansas town her family has lived in for just over a year, she finds that prejudice is quietly prevalent. When the school musical, The Wizard of Oz, is cast with several nonwhite students in leading roles, those prejudices quickly get much louder.
Hearts Unbroken is a thoughtful story about racism in small-town America. Louise, who writes for the school newspaper, and her younger brother Hughie, who earns the role of the Tin Man in the play, find themselves at the center of the controversy surrounding the inclusive casting. They even receive anonymous notes telling them to get out of Kansas.
Louise is also falling for a boy named Joey who works with her on the school paper. Joey is Lebanese, and though he is also subject to discrimination and stereotypes, Louise is hesitant to get too involved, fearing that she will be hurt if he cannot accept her Native ethnicity.
Many kinds of prejudice are shown, and Louise is not always certain how to respond. This insightful, complex take on a difficult topic also explores questions of how to appreciate art like The Wizard of Oz, whose author, L. Frank Baum, was himself outspokenly racist. Even considering its seriousness, the novel is fun to read, with charming characters and a nicely balanced teen romance.
Thought-provoking and engaging, Hearts Unbroken will leave its young adult audience with a great deal to consider.
Mammoth Jill Baguchinsky, Turner (NOVEMBER) Softcover $15.99 (304pp), 978-1-68442-194-7
Jill Baguchinsky’s outwardly lighthearted Mammoth comes with an important message. Natalie is a plus-size high school junior who blogs about fashion and paleontology. An opportunity for a summer internship at the Mammoth Site in Austin, Texas, is dream come true for her. Natalie is also scared, though. She has learned to always act like she is awesome even if she doesn’t feel it. Now she will be working at a real dig site, and her public persona may not be enough to help her succeed. Mammoth is infused with danger, deceit, and romance. Natalie faces a number of professional and personal challenges. Her performance at the dig site is exceptional, but her hero steals recognition for one of her discoveries. She finds herself competing for the attention of a boy who may not deserve her. Her heart is always in the right place, but she makes poor decisions that have serious consequences. Natalie is a complex lead. She deals with cruel judgment and ridicule, and she engages in self-harm: restricting her body with tight shapers in the Texas heat, not allowing herself to eat enough food, and snapping her wrist with a rubber band. She is also bright, talented, and driven. Over the course of the story, she grows from a young woman who knows how to make the world think she is awesome into someone who knows that she is awesome. With its focus on STEM and self-acceptance, Mammoth will resonate.
Weregirl Typhon C. D. Bell, Chooseco (NOVEMBER) Hardcover $17.99 (400pp), 978-1-937133-60-3
Weregirl: Typhon is a fast-paced, intelligent story about a young werewolf and the family she is trying to maintain.
Nessa and her siblings, Delphine and Nate, have come to live with their eccentric billionaire father, Daniel, after the tragic loss of their mother. Daniel has been mostly absent until now; the family must rebuild itself. Nessa is determined to include another sister, CM, in the mix. Nessa just found out about CM, who was bred and born in a lab after Delphine’s DNA was mixed with that of several animals.
Daniel’s drive to discover the next new frontier in science takes precedence over everything else, including his family. Though he claims to love CM, he has subjected her to life in a lab. She has extraordinary intelligence and can read minds; she is angry, trusts no one, and longs to be human.
An exciting blend of science fiction and fantasy, the plot is driven forward by the hint of a possible romance between Nessa and Bo, a young woman who leads a group of children who live in secret in Daniel’s forest, as well as by intrigue concerning the extent of Daniel’s research and by the uncertainty of CM’S role in the family. The narrative prompts interesting questions about what defines a human being, and explores the moral and ethical implications of scientific experimentation.
Nessa is a compelling lead. She is strong, with an instinct to protect those around her— especially CM, who frightens her. Supporting characters, particularly Daniel, Delphine, and CM, are all conflicted in some way; they add complexity to the story.
This is the third book in a series. There is limited information about what occurred in the previous installments, but this story is satisfying and stands well on its own. It is a thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable book.
Secrets of the Casa Rosada Alex Temblador, Piñata Books (OCTOBER) Softcover $12.95 (160pp), 978-1-55885-870-1
Alex Temblabor’s magical Secrets of the Casa Rosada follows Martha George, a sixteen-yearold girl whose rootless and impoverished life with her mother shifts.
When Martha’s mom says they are going to Texas to visit her mysterious grandmother, Martha assumes that they are being evicted and have no other place to go. She is horrified and hurt when her mother abandons her in her grandmother’s home. Martha speaks no Spanish and her grandmother speaks no English. Martha’s loneliness is keenly felt, even when she is welcomed by an unexpected, large extended family.
Martha is an amazing lead, a young woman who is faced with a multitude of difficult obstacles but who does not hesitate to adapt. She learns a new language and embraces her new circumstances. She wants to learn as much as she can about her mother, but her grandmother—a respected and feared healer, a curandera —does not want to share any details from her daughter’s past, and the rest of the family will not cross her.
The book is evocative with a strong sense of place. From the first page, Laredo, Texas, is described in beautiful sensory detail. The culture of its primarily Mexican community is brought to life as Martha explores her new environment.
Her grandmother decides to teach her to be a curandera, and Martha discovers that she has a natural talent for it. She must carefully navigate family secrets, the awe and fear with which the community treats her grandmother, and a fellow teen’s baffling but dangerous hostility as she tries to find her place in this new world.
Secrets of the Casa Rosada is a fascinating story with a strong protagonist and a glimpse at some unique aspects of traditional Mexican culture.