Memories of another graduation season

Cartoon of a man sitting on a riverbank, fishing. The word "seniors" is written above him.

Senior title page from the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

The class of 2020 faces a graduation season that is unlike anything seen before. While some schools move forward with in-person graduation ceremonies, many have scrambled to creatively meet the challenges created by the need to socially distance and limit contact. There are drive-through graduation ceremonies, virtual graduation ceremonies, and car parades past student and faculty housing. Needless to say, this graduation season will be one for the history books.

I wanted to see what graduation looked like 100 years ago, for the class of 1920 – another graduating class that lived through a series of unprecedented challenges. During their teen years this class witnessed labor unrest, a global pandemic, and a World War. The statement from the class of 1920 gives us a little insight into how these events impacted them.

Senior Class A's Statement - a full page of text with two portraits on the top - one boy and one girl.

Page one of Senior Class A’s statement in the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

Senior class A's statement. This is a full page of text

Page 2 of Senior Class A’s statement in the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

This was a class that started its high school experience just before the Everett Massacre occurred in November of 1916, after months of labor unrest had rocked their city and their region. As alluded to in their essay, they had a 6-week ‘vacation’ when the Influenza pandemic that knocked the world to its knees closed Washington schools in the fall of 1918. Some of these students left to go to war in the middle of their schooling, seeing action in the hellish battlefields of France, only to return to Everett High School to finish their classes.

Yearbook page showing student portraits and information about their activities

Page from the Senior Class A section of the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

Despite all this turmoil, these students remained essentially what they were: teens. Young people with hobbies, inside jokes, and a fierce sense of loyalty and belonging to their cohort. You can read in their statements, their activity pages, and in their class seniorscopes a little bit about who they were. They had gotten involved with the Service League and Red Cross to help aid the war effort, and I suspect to help pack gauze for the influenza response. Their story about the freshman year candy sale triumph must have been a particular point of pride, because they also boasted about it in their junior year statement in 1919. Competition between the different classes must have been fierce, with the hazing of incoming freshman a known threat and the frequent jibes you see in other annuals making fun of underclassmen.

Chart showing stats about different class members of senior class A

A page from the Seniorscope section for Senior Class A – 1920. Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

They loved music, and flirting with each other, and making up goofy nicknames. There were slackers and overachievers, and heartbreakers. They were sassy and nerdy and, well, teenagers.

Back in the earlier days of Everett High School you often had smaller graduating classes who finished their studies after the first semester of their final year. The 1920 Nesika has a section for a class of 1919 1/2, which from the sounds of it was a proud group of misfits.

Class of 1919 1/2 statement

The statement from the class of 1919 1/2, 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

These were students who were transfers, or those who briefly left school to work, or in this period fought in a war. For whatever reason, they returned to earn their last few credits and move on with their lives. Some were destined to follow in their fathers’ footsteps into the mills and logging camps, while others continued on with their education either taking junior college classes at Everett High School or entering the University of Washington. Many of these students were probably the first in their families to seek a college degree.

Yearbook page with student portraits and activities

A page of students from Senior Class 1919 1/2 in the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

Horoscope page for the class of 1919 1/2

Horoscope page for the class of 1919 1/2, 1920 Everett High School Nesika. Everett Public Library

This blog isn’t meant to be a discussion about how other kids may have had things worse at some time in the past. Instead, it’s a celebration of the resilience of youth. This is certainly not the graduation that the class of 2020 imagined themselves having. Despite that, our students are constantly adapting and learning to meet the challenges that they face during this extraordinary time. Just as the class of 1920 had to figure out their next steps after they made it through turmoil, so are today’s teens trying to figure out where the future will take them. Maybe that will be a new job, or off to college, or some other new adventure. I hope that like the class of 1920, they will be embarking on the next phase of their journey bolstered by the strength and support of their peers and will meet each new experience with the same sense of humor and pride gained from their shared experiences.

Best wishes to the class of 2020 – we’re proud of you!

Who Knew?

You may have seen this wonderful viral picture on social media about owls and their long legs. Who knew that’s what was under all those feathers! There are so many things to learn about owls. Did you know that in the Harry Potter series, Harry’s owl Hedwig is a female Snowy Owl. All the owls that played her part in the movies were male.

From the book Snowy Owl Invasion, I learned about a 2013 Snowy Owl irruption, a sudden increase in an animal’s population. Due to the larger number of owls in unusual places, scientists studying these owls found that they flew faster, higher, and further than they thought possible. Sounds like the perfect mail carrying owl for Harry Potter!

Below I have included a list of fantastic owl books, including the non-fiction book Snowy Owl Invasion, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Through the end of May, Pottermore Publishing and Overdrive has given libraries unlimited access to Book 1 in the Harry Potter Series, in downloadable book and audio versions! All book descriptions are taken from the library’s catalog.

Picture Books

Hoot and Peep by Lita Judge
In the night skies above Paris, an adorable young owl teaches her older brother about the power of imagination—and the unconditional love between siblings 

Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan
It’s evening in the forest and Little Owl wakes up from his day-long sleep to watch his friends enjoying the night. Hedgehog sniffs for mushrooms, Skunk nibbles at berries, Frog croaks, and Cricket sings. A full moon rises and Little Owl can’t understand why anyone would want to miss it. Could the daytime be nearly as wonderful? Mama Owl begins to describe it to him, but as the sun comes up, Little Owl falls fast asleep.

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell
Features an audio read-along! When three baby owls awake one night to find their mother gone, they can’t help but wonder where she is. Stunning illustrations capture the owls as they worry about their mother: What is she doing? When will she be back? Not surprisingly, a joyous flapping and dancing and bouncing greets her return, lending a celebratory tone to the ending of this comforting tale.

Beginning Readers

Rocket Writes a Story a Story by Tad Hills
Rocket loves books and he wants to make his own, but he can’t think of a story. Encouraged by the little yellow bird to look closely at the world around him for inspiration, Rocket sets out on a journey. Along the way he discovers small details that he has never noticed before, a timid baby owl who becomes his friend, and an idea for a story.

National Geographic Readers: Owls by Laura Marsh
In this level 1 reader, young readers will explore the feathery world of adorable owls. Follow these curious-looking creatures through their wooded habitats, and learn how owls raise their young, hunt, and protect themselves. Beautiful photos and carefully leveled text make this book perfect for reading aloud or for independent reading.

Favorite Stories from Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa by Erica Silverman
It’s springtime on the ranch. Cowgirl Kate is excited about the arrival of all the baby animals: a newborn calf, a frisky puppy, and a nest of little barn owls. Her best friend Cocoa the horse is not so excited. Babies are a lot of work! But they are also sweet, as Cocoa and beginning readers will discover in this delightful addition to Green Light Readers. Short sentences and simple dialogue keep newly independent readers engaged and confident.

Beginning Chapter Book

Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliot
Eva Wingdale gets in over her head when she offers to organize a spring festival at school. Even with her best friend Lucy’s help, there is NO way she will get everything done in time. Will Eva have to ask Sue (a.k.a. Meanie McMeanerson) for help? Or will the festival have to be cancelled? This book is written as Eva’s diary — with Rebecca Elliott’s owl-dorable full-color illustrations throughout!

Juvenile Non-Fiction

Origami Papertainment: Samurai, Owls, Ninja Stars, and More! By Christopher Harbo
From samurai and owls to ninja stars and dragonflies, exciting traditional and original paper folding projects await young origami artists. Organized from easy to challenging, each project includes clear, step by step, photo illustrated instructions that make developing paper folding skills fun. All projects also include creative tips for using and displaying models to impress friends and family.

Snowy Owl Invasion! Tracking an Unusual Migration by Sandra Markle
Late in 2013, snowy owls started showing up in places no one expected to find them—including Florida. What had caused so many of these majestic birds to leave their Arctic home and fly to southern Canada and the United States? Scientists quickly began working to find out. Author Sandra Markle brings together firsthand reports from the scientists involved along with stunning photographs of the owls to explain this rare event, known as an irruption. Follow along as scientists figure out why snowy owls took part in this unusual migration and discover what they learned from the unexpected opportunity to study them up close.

Middle Grade Fiction

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Roy, who is new to his small Florida community, becomes involved in another boy’s attempt to save a colony of burrowing owls from a proposed construction site. Unfortunately, Roy’s first acquaintance in Florida is Dana Matherson, a well-known bully. Then again, if Dana hadn’t been sinking his thumbs into Roy’s temples and mashing his face against the school-bus window, Roy might never have spotted the running boy. And the running boy is intriguing: he was running away from the school bus, carried no books, and–here’s the odd part–wore no shoes. Sensing a mystery, Roy sets himself on the boy’s trail. The chase introduces him to potty-trained alligators, a fake-fart champion, some burrowing owls, a renegade eco-avenger, and several extremely poisonous snakes with unnaturally sparkling tails.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That’s because he’s being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he’s really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.

Wild and Crooked

There is something suffocating about Samsboro, Kentucky, the setting of Leah Thomas’ riveting Wild and Crooked. This might be a fact of life in a small-town, where everyone knows one another’s business and old secrets have a way of resurfacing at the worst of times. But Samsboro has never fully escaped the shroud left by a terrible crime that rocked the town nearly two decades earlier. And while the community can’t seem to shake this terrible murder, they also refuse to face it, leaving Samsboro a powder keg primed and ready to blow. 

910f-d-0anLOf course, this affects different people in different ways. Though Kalyn Spence has only recently moved to Samsboro, she is already desperate for refuge from the claustrophobic, insular town. But Kalyn can’t run from her name. It’s her Spence blood, she figures, that makes her allergic to rules, fuels her impulsive anger, and keeps her friendless. It’s also the Spence name that brands her as “trailer trash,” and as the daughter of the man who killed the town’s golden boy. Though her father has never denied committing this crime, Kalyn is convinced that he is not nearly as monstrous as the town paints him. But she also knows that the Spence name will haunt her as long as she bears it in Samsboro. So when she begins school, she tries on a new name and a new persona and though the fit is imperfect, she can’t argue with the results – in place of dirty looks and cruel whispers, she finds popularity and acceptance. 

Gus Peake has his own small-town problems. He has a lot to offer, from his wry wit and eclectic fashion sense to his kindness and compassion. Yet when the people of Samsboro look at him they only see two things: 1) Gus is disabled – he has Cerebral Palsy, which has affected his physical abilities as well as his speech and 2) Gus is the son of the aforementioned golden boy, who was murdered before Gus was even born. Because of these two facts, most people pity Gus instead of appreciating the many things he has to offer. And then he meets Rose Poplawski, a new girl at school who puts up a phony front, but also seems to see the real Gus and recognize his value. 

Of course, there is a small problem. Rose Poplawski is really Kalyn Spence and her father killed Gus’s father. This fact should be the wedge that ends their friendship. But Kalyn and Gus are equally frustrated by the people around them and are both determined to find out what really happened between their fathers, even if it means tearing the town apart to uncover the truth.  

As a compelling story of friendship and an enjoyable mystery, The Wild and Crooked is surely a success. I tore through this book and while the resolution didn’t contain any bombshell revelations, it had enough minor twists to remain satisfying. It was a pleasure to switch back and forth between Gus and Kalyn’s voices. They are both lovingly developed and fully formed characters and it was a joy to watch their friendship develop. In many ways, it was refreshing to read a book that hit many of the beats of a romance but focused instead on platonic love. I also appreciate the LGBTQ+ representation in this novel. Even in a small town with plenty of prejudice, we see queer teens, queer adults, and identities that extent beyond the gay/straight binary (albeit subtly).

And yet, I find myself conflicted about this novel as a whole. I’m frustrated by the lack of diverse racial and ethnic representation among not just the main characters in this novel, but really all of those that participate in the book’s main plot lines. While Thomas created an interesting and complicated community, it is also an overwhelmingly white community and I am disappointed that she missed the opportunity to discuss the ways racial prejudice might manifest in such a town. 

I am also uncomfortable with the portrayal of Gus’s best friend, Phil. Phil is not as central a character as Kalyn or Gus, but his actions often drive the plot of the novel. It seems that Thomas went back and forth on how to characterize Phil. Early in the book, she hinted that he might be on the autism spectrum, before establishing that he was “tested…and fell short of the spectrum.” And yet, Thomas gave Phil some of the behaviors that are often negatively and falsely ascribed to people on the spectrum, including a lack of emotions and physically violent outbursts. I was disappointed that she would even passingly connect neurodiversity and these harmful stereotypes. Eventually, Thomas revealed that Phil has antisocial personality disorder, but the explanation for his social struggles and the suggested trauma that causes them to feel vague and unscientific. 

Wild and Crooked was great fun, with moments that provoked thought and encouraged self-reflection. It was also deeply frustrating, with moments that missed the mark and made me uncomfortable in the wrong ways. It all left me wondering – would I recommend this book to a reader? I think I would, but only when I have the time or space to voice my concerns.

The Best Books of 2019

With the year rapidly drawing to a close, it is time to reflect on the past year. Here at the library, of course, that means talking about all the great books we have read. Our full list of recommendations (including fiction, non-fiction, young adult and children’s books) has already been released, but some of us can’t help but want to tell you more. Here are a few select reviews from our best of list written by our dedicated and always reading staff.

Alan:

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

From one of the best mystery writers of our time, the modern Agatha Christie, comes a suspense-filled epistolary tale of a nanny hired at a posh, remote estate in the Scottish Highlands. Idyllic until things take a turn for the darker. In a series of letters to an attorney, the facts of the case are revealed as our narrator unravels, and we wonder how reliable she is…

Chaz:

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

The solution to information overload is to be mindful with how and why you interact and engage with technology. Does it serve your essential and personal goals?  Can you achieve the same result without using the technology? Cal Newport explores a philosophy of digital minimalism that fits this time of life.

I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi

How much time do you spend learning about money? 10 hours? 1 hour? None? Actively avoid thinking about it? The title may seem off-putting, as if it were some kind of get-rich-quick scheme, but on the contrary, Ramit teaches the long game of growing wealth over time. This requires taking an honest look at your finances and spending habits, and making a clear budget for money to have fun with (guilt free!). Where is the motivation in saving money for 40 years if you can’t enjoy some of it in the meantime?  Ramit provides a simple framework for understanding where you’re at with money, both mentally and financially. He shows how you should focus your resources to maximize debt reduction and wealth creation.  Through the book, you grow your self-understanding and are able to make a plan that will lead you confidently into the future.

Indistractable by Nir Eyal

There are many dozens of definitions for distraction, but Nir Eyal has got to have one of the most useful ones. He says that a distraction is anything that keeps you from fulfilling your word. This book is a manual for empowerment- teaching the importance of honoring your word and with this, growing respect for yourself. Did I say that I can peruse Instagram, or did I already commit to working in the garden Saturday morning? Nir provides a simple method for self-empowerment with many examples and situations to draw from.

Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller

Is Dave Ramsey the best personal finance expert in the world? Probably not, so why is he the most successful? It’s because he has the clearest message: financial peace. Donald Miller explores the 7 elements that make up a story and how businesses can clarify their message and invite customers into the story. The business is the guide – the customer is the hero. What is the story?

Eileen:

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

Arthur believes in romance and signs from the universe. When his heart skips a beat at the sight of Ben at the post office and then a magical flash mob proposal breaks out, he believes. Ben, however, does not believe in signs. The box of items he’s mailing back to his ex is clear evidence that the universe has nothing for him. But what if there’s more to the universe than both of them see?

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Fifteen year old Will knows the rules: no crying, no snitching, and it’s up to him to avenge his brother’s murder. With a gun shoved in his waistband, he takes the elevator from the seventh floor to fulfill his role. But the elevator door opens on the sixth floor, and in walks a dead man.

Stand on the Sky by Erin Bow

Aisulu’s dream of eagle hunting goes against the Kazakh tradition that restricts training to men. When her parents take her ill brother to a distant hospital, she’s left with a strange aunt and uncle- and an orphaned eagle to rescue.

Linda (click on the links to Linda’s review for each title):

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Lisa:

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of those books that you cruise through in a couple reads because it is just that hard to put down. Imagine if Cinderella was set in rural Jazz Age Mexico, only instead of a benevolent fairy godmother, it is the deposed Mayan god of death who changes our young heroine’s life. Instead of being carried away in a beautiful enchanted pumpkin carriage, she is bound to the former lord of the underworld when a sliver of his bone embeds in her hand and her blood reanimates his corpse. Far from being a maiden needing to be rescued, our heroine, Casiopea Tun must not only save herself, but save the entire world from falling into a new age of darkness on Earth should she fail to defeat the schemes of the reigning god of death, Vucub-Kame. I hope you enjoy this amazing mix of Maya folklore, Mexican culture, drama, and historical fiction, as much as I did.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya Hartman is an incredible work of historical research and non-fiction writing. Hartman is able to strike a satisfying balance between heavily-footnoted academic, and very personal and engaging narrative writing styles. The personal stories and photographs used illustrate in a very relatable way, what life was like for Black women in Philadelphia and New York City at the turn of the century. Each chapter is a revelation that challenges what we commonly believe about Victorian life, and the way that women were allowed to move about their worlds. Hartman uses expert research and storytelling skills to give voices to women who were only brief news stories, or even nameless photographs in the historical record. These histories are often overlooked but should never be undervalued in terms of what they can tell us about the history of women’s rights, the struggles Black women faced during the Great Migration, and the wide variety of ways that Black urban women were making lives for themselves during a very turbulent time. I found myself having to re-read pages to make sure I didn’t miss a single detail

Margo:

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

I loved this story. My 83-year-old mom loved this story! It made me laugh and it made me cry.

Quoting from a New York Times Book Review author Mary Beth Keane states “No one ever plans to become estranged.” This profound truth sets the stage for a thought-provoking novel delving into how one deals with injustice, pain, and deception especially when it happens in your own family.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope meet each other on the job in the NYPD. The young rookie cops work at a precinct in the Bronx. Francis meets and falls in love with Lena. Wanting to raise a family, the couple moves out of the city and into the suburbs. Several years later the Stanhope family move in next store, but there is a breach of some sort. Brian’s wife Anne is standoffish. The relationship that buds, however, is between Gleeson’s youngest daughter Kate and Stanhope’s only child Peter. Kate and Peter become best friends.

Set in the 1970’s when mental illness and addiction were subjects rarely discussed, Keane paints a portrait of two very different families with Irish Catholic roots whose lives become entwined. Layered with complex characters, a story of love, sorrow, tragedy, and ultimately, forgiveness unfolds.

Transcending time and generation, the story is timely and relevant. In an age where offenses are taken, and misunderstandings fueled by bitterness lead to many broken relationships, Ask Again, Ask offers hope.

Mindy:

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg

In many ways, this is a familiar story about a woman struggling to balance her photography career and creative ambition as a single mother. However, the storytelling is completely original, as it unfolds in the form of a photography exhibit catalog curated by the woman’s daughter. The imagery is so vivid that you almost feel like you’re seeing the photographs instead of words on a page.

Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer

Flight Portfolio is the fictionalized story of Varian Fry, a real historical figure who covertly rescued countless Jewish artists and their works from the Nazis. I’m not usually a big reader of historical fiction, but I’m a big fan of this author and her richly imagined characters and exquisite writing.

Susan:

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

I adored this book! It starts strong and remains strong to the very end. This is magical realism in a small southern town in the vein of Sarah Addison Allen but with a charm all its own. Sarah Dove is the seventh daughter of the Dove family, an old family in town whose daughters all have magic. Sarah’s magic is that books talk to her, telling her which person in town needs to read them. As the town librarian, she makes sure each book gets to the right person. Such a lovely idea! Sadly, her beloved small town of Dove Pond is failing. The population is dwindling, they have no jobs for the young people, and most of the downtown storefronts are vacant. People are worried. Luckily, the town lore is that whenever the Dove family has seven daughters something good happens for the town. As a seventh daughter, Sarah has always thought she would save the town, but she has no idea how to do that. Then Grace Wheeler, broke and with crushing family responsibilities, comes to town and Sarah realizes that it is her job to befriend Grace and help Grace save the town. This is a lovely novel of friendship, family, belonging and finding home.

Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

The serial killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury. That’s the premise for this totally original legal thriller by Irish author Steve Cavanagh. What’s the best way to get away with murder? Have someone else convicted of the crime. What’s the best way to have someone else convicted of the crime? Make sure you (the killer) are on the jury! I’m a big fan of this author, and this is his best legal thriller yet.

Theresa:

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

They say one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but an interesting title always attracts me. The title of Anissa Gray’s debut novel grabbed my attention and her writing held it. The book begins with the stunning arrest of Althea and Proctor, a well-respected couple in their community. As her sisters struggle with their disbelief at the arrest of their eldest sister, and with caring for their nieces, what happened and how is revealed through the separate stories of those involved. This is primarily a character driven novel, with a dash of mystery on the side.

 

Favorite Authors Jackpot!

I have a rule that’s hard and fast. If Nic Stone has a new book, I’m going to read it as soon as I can. Same goes for Elizabeth Acevedo. There aren’t many other authors I’d say this about, but both of these novelists write about important and timely issues in unique and compelling ways. They capture the voices of youths in ways that feel incredibly authentic to me while also resonating with the young people I meet. This year, I’ve been lucky enough to get thrilling new projects from both of them, which is reason enough to call 2019 a great year for books.

81eO1uJkpuL.jpg

First out was Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High. Her YA debut, the verse novel The Poet X, is a tour de force, one of my favorite novels, and the winner of the National Book Award among many other honors. With the Fire on High proves that Acevedo will remain a literary force for a long time. The book follows a young mother named Emoni as she navigates her senior year of high school. Emoni lives with her grandmother and is hyper-focused on providing stability for her young daughter while balancing school, work, family time, and her tenuous co-parenting relationship with her child’s father. Along with her fiercely loyal best friend, she has pushed back against the stigma of getting pregnant as a freshman but has also become extremely guarded about the people she lets into her life. Emoni has set aside her own dreams for her future, believing they were derailed by her unplanned pregnancy and focuses instead on making her daughter’s life as happy as possible, even at the expense of her own. 

Emoni is also a talented chef, who can’t help but find solace, community, and joy in the time she spends in the kitchen. All her carefully constructed walls threaten to tumble down when a new Spanish cooking immersion class at school offers her an unexpected opportunity to explore her restaurant dreams, and a new student’s persistent interest in Emoni is coupled with an undeniable connection between them. Emoni must decide how to advocate for herself, reach for the future she deserves, and let people in, even if it means risking personal disappointment and adds stress to her family life.  

If I had any concern that Acevedo’s beautiful writing, which I had only previously read as verse, would not translate to prose it was forgotten in the opening pages of With the Fire on High. Emoni is a loveable yet complicated narrator, and Acevedo deftly layers her inner dialog and conversations with the people in her life to give the reader insight into her past and current struggles and stresses, but also her resilient and caring spirit.  

Next up was Nic Stone’s latest, Jackpot. Stone’s previous novels both blew me away, but for very different reasons. Dear Martin is a story of race, police violence, and youth activism that is an impeccably written punch to the gut. Her follow-up, Odd One Out, is a queer love story that explores social pressures, identity, and friendship in nuanced and original ways. It made me realize how much I love a good rom-com, which also makes me question the assumptions that I make about people. So, yeah, I was excited for Jackpot.

81XI1rKQRILJackpot follows Rico, a young woman whose family is going through an extraordinarily difficult time. She lives in a small apartment with her overworked, underpaid mother and her younger brother. Rico is determined to make sure her brother has a more stable childhood than her own and works as many hours as she can manage at a convenience store to try and help make ends meet. It still isn’t enough – her family is constantly on the verge of eviction and live in fear that a small financial hiccup could push them over the edge. When the store she works at sells a winning lottery ticket, Rico becomes convinced that she sold the ticket to a sweet elderly woman on Christmas Eve. As time goes by, and the winning ticket remains unclaimed, Rico becomes increasingly sure that somewhere in town there is a little old lady who has forgotten to check her ticket. And as her family’s situation continues to deteriorate, Rico grows more and more desperate to find the winner, convinced that if she can change the winner’s life, they might reward her for helping. 

The only problem with Rico’s plan is that she needs help. And that help is going to have to come in the form of Zan, who seems to be different from Rico is every way. He is light skinned, she is dark skinned. He is filthy rich, she is dirt poor. He is uber-popular, she is invisible. Shockingly, Zan isn’t just game to help, he also seems very interested in Rico. Almost too interested. And while he sometimes behaves in ways that infuriate her, he is also far more intriguing than she could have ever imagined. As they move closer to uncovering the mystery of the lotto winner, Rico must try to figure out how to keep her family afloat, what she wants for herself, and what she wants from Zan.  

Stone continues to show an incredibly deft touch for exploring difficult subjects in her stories. Jackpot dives deep into America’s economic divide, the barriers it can create, and how devastating small problems can be for people living in poverty or living with housing insecurity. And yet, she also manages to make Jackpot a flirtatious romp, a light mystery, and a story of resilient young people finding their way through difficult times.  

Nic Stone and Elizabeth Acevedo are writers of immense talent telling wonderfully imaginative stories featuring people who represent and reflect the diverse experiences of young people today. I am grateful to be able to give books like theirs to young readers in our community and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

In the Hall with the Knife

It’s YA Clue! The End.

For some reason my editor didn’t think my first draft review of this book (see above) was long enough. So I’m going to take another stab at reviewing In the Hall with the Knife by Diana Peterfreund.

First, I want to take you back in time. No, we won’t need a DeLorean but we will need Christopher Lloyd.

I wouldn’t discover this for another five years, but in 1985 a totally bonkers film based on a board game with an all-star cast was getting mixed reviews. Critics didn’t understand at the time that they were witnessing cinematic gold; gold my family and I would watch repeatedly over the years to the point it became a family tradition.

I’m talking about the movie Clue. It takes the characters and layout from the board game and re-imagines it as a 1950s-era dinner party-turned-murder mystery. Thrills, chills, puns, and innuendo are all served up on a platter of physical comedy. While this might not sound amazing to you, it captured my heart and mind in a way that no other media has ever been able to do.

Author Diana Peterfreund had a similar backstory and relationship with the film. She gives a great shout-out in the book’s acknowledgements:

Finally, my eternal devotion to anyone even marginally involved with the beloved 1985 classic movie, as well as my parents, who thought nothing of letting us bring along our battered VHS tape of Clue on every road trip growing up. I could know a foreign language: instead I know that movie’s script by heart.

Same, girl. Same.

If you have a similar love for the film, you will appreciate the 5-6 subtle references I spotted in the text of In the Hall with the Knife. But rest assured that no knowledge of the film is required in order to enjoy what I’ve told friends is “a delightful murderous romp through a flooded and frozen Maine boarding school campus.”

Scarlet, Mustard, Green, Peacock, Plum, and Orchid are students at Blackbrook Academy, an elite, secluded boarding school in the wilds of Maine. It’s winter break and they are among the handful of students unlucky enough to be on campus when the storm of the century strikes. Flooding has wiped out the bridge to the mainland, making escape impossible. Flooding has also systematically invaded most of the buildings on campus until there’s only one place left for everyone to try to survive until help arrives: Tudor House.

Tudor House was once a home for wayward girls or some such nonsense. It housed teenage girls who somehow didn’t fit the norms established by society; in some cases they were accused of crimes and sent to Tudor House to be “reformed.” When Blackbrook went co-ed, they acquired Tudor House to serve as the first girls’ dormitory. For decades Mrs. White has served as Tudor House’s proctor and chaperone.

When it becomes clear that help isn’t coming, or is at least a ways off, the group of students, Mrs. White, Headmaster Boddy, and the school’s caretaker work to weather-proof the old mansion as much as possible while keeping spirits up and learning to get along.

But just as secrets are shared and trust is starting to form tentative bonds, tragedy strikes: Headmaster Boddy is found dead. At first most people try to convince themselves it was a suicide: he must have stabbed himself to death. The school’s caretaker leaves to get help, but Green is the only one who sees the absurdity of ruling his death a suicide and tries to convince the others that it’s definitely murder and the police are needed more urgently than ever.

Who murdered Headmaster Boddy? Was it Beth “Peacock” Picah, Orchid McKee, Vaughn Green, Sam “Mustard” Maestor, Finn Plum, or Scarlet Mistry? All we know for certain is he was killed in the hall, with the knife.

Trapped in a rambling old mansion with a sordid history (and wait–is that a secret passage?) during a brutal winter storm, will anyone survive to tell the police whodunnit?

Take to the Sky

It’s impossible to keep up with all of the incredible comics that come out each week. There is a constant stream of exciting new projects from industry heavyweights and emerging talents re-imagining beloved characters or creating entirely new stories, from the fantastical to the deeply personal. Whenever I talk about comics with another reader, I walk away with far more recommendations than I can hope to get through, leaving me with a “to-read” list a mile long. Recently I happened to enjoy two debut volumes, both about young women who can fly, that I’m quite eager to push into the hands of my friends and colleagues who love comics as much as I do. 

Riri Williams, aka Ironheart, is the comic book successor to Tony Stark’s Iron Man, but she is also so much more than that. Sure, she has the rad suit, the scientific brilliance, the loner instincts, and the quick quips, but that’s where the similarities with Tony end. Riri is a young woman from Chicago with some serious trauma in her recent past – she lost both her step-father and her best friend to violent crime. She also built her suit with far more limited resources than Tony had at his disposal. Riri managed to create her armor while a student at MIT, basically using supplies that she could discreetly pilfer from the school. 

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Eve Ewing’s Ironheart vol. 1: Those With Courage picks up after this origin story. Riri is now a graduate student at MIT and an ascending super hero, trying to maintain her privileged lab access while also preserving some semblance of control over her work and avoiding the intrusive meddling of school officials. She is clearly grieving the losses in her personal life and struggling to process the trauma she has experienced, while often refusing the help and counsel of those who care about her. And these are just Riri’s “small” problems. A new and mysterious threat has emerged that jeopardizes both the greater world and some of the people closest to her. 

I was thrilled when I found out that Ewing would be writing Ironheart. Ewing is, among other things, a brilliant playwright and poet. Electric Arches, her collection of visual art, prose, and verse about the city of Chicago, identity, and much more, is a stunning and beautiful work. I appreciate that Marvel has hired more black writers who bring new and important perspectives to these comics, but who also come from different writing styles and traditions. This of course includes Ta-Nehisi Coates, who did incredible work on Black Panther and is now writing Captain America, but also Roxanne Gay’s work on World of Wakanda and Nnedi Okorafor’s Shuri comic. 

PrintJoe Henderson’s Skyward is not quite as new – the first volume, My Low-G Life, came out a little over a year ago. Willa Fowler was born shortly before G-Day, the day on which Earth’s gravity abruptly and drastically reduced. This day was tragic for many people who were caught outside and floated off, never to be seen again, including Willa’s mother. But Willa, and many others her age, embrace life in a low gravity world. Rather than suffer through life as an earth-bound being, they are able to soar from building to building, enjoying a life without the constraints of gravity. 

 Yet all is not perfect in Willa’s life. She is disastrously awkward around her crush, she is desperate to see more of the world but is stuck in Chicago, and – worst of all – her father is agoraphobic. He has refused to leave their house in the twenty years since G-Day. Then, in an instant, everything changes. Her father reveals a secret that threatens to completely upend the only world Willa has ever known, a secret that puts Willa and the people she cares about in immediate and grave danger. 

I’ve only read the first of Skyward’s three volumes, but I was immediately taken by the world Henderson builds. There is an interesting treatment of class and corporate greed – the rich all wear gravity boots that allow them to live as if G-Day never happened, for a price. And the new threats and challenges that emerge from this world, such as growing food and preventing people from floating off to their deaths, are interesting and creatively presented. While I’m unsure of the scientific soundness, I also love the way that rainstorms are presented as a new, strange, and terrifying threat that I don’t want to spoil with more details. I can’t wait to continue Willa’s adventure and dive deeper into the weightless, yet menacing world that Skyward has built. 

Even as I write this, new comics are hitting our shelves, demanding attention. I’m eagerly awaiting Simon Says, a Nazi-hunting revenge story, Star Wars: Tie Fighter, which follows a group of the Empire’s elite pilots as they begin to question the Empire’s methods, and Wynonna Earp, following a descendant of the famous Wyatt Earp as she takes on new threats of the paranormal variety. I’d love to hear what comics other fans are excited about right now. Leave a comment and help me make my reading list impossibly long!