Lynn: Jessie Ann Foley has just 3 novels under her writing belt but she has garnered a lot of honors already including a Printz Honor, a YALSA Teen Top Ten selection, and a Morris Debut Award Finalist among other honors. Despite this, I was totally unprepared for the emotional power and impact of Foley’s new book, Sorry for Your Loss (Harper, 2019). This story opens with a funny scene that introduces readers to Pup Flanagan, an awkward unmotivated high school boy and reveals his hopeless crush on a classmate. Then Foley broadens the view, bringing in the other members of the large and noisy Flanagan family—a Chicago Catholic family with 7 kids. Pup is the youngest at 17 and his siblings all live within a short distance in what he thinks of as “Flanland.” But this close and loving family is struggling with crippling grief over the sudden death of one of the sons from meningitis and they are all lost and alone in the midst of the family crowd.
An art teacher takes an interest in Pup and in a lucky moment, opens a door for Pup into the unusual experience of finding something he is good at and enjoys. Through his camera lens, Pup begins to really see his world, his family, his relationships and his own pain and his family’s anguish with an objective eye for the first time. Helping Pup with his photography and giving him experience with another family is Abrihet, an Eritrean immigrant girl from his art class who encourages Pup to keep looking for the light. As Pup finally begins to deal with this grief, he slowly takes his family with him on a journey that may help them all to heal.
This is a deceptively quiet book. It is written with a slight sense of distance that allows the reader to walk this emotional path with Pup while also looking on with an objective sense at the entire arc of their family dynamics. I found this story incredibly powerful and deeply moving. It is a brilliant portrait of family relationships and the way so many families deal—or don’t deal—with grief. Pup is a charming and achingly authentic character who stole my heart as did the entire Flanagan mob. I won’t soon forget them.
While this is a wonderful moving book for older teens, I think it will be equally effective as a cross-over book for the new adult and adult readers.
Lynn: Opening the pages of Ben Philippe’s debut book, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager (Harper/Balzer+Bray, 2019) was like opening my own front door to hear the voices of my sons and grandsons. No, they aren’t Black Haitian hockey-loving Canadians like Norris Kaplan but they were/are smart, snarky, and cynical but with a sweet vulnerability and sometimes a little too clever for their own good. Seventeen-year-old Norris’s recently divorced mother has taken a rare tenure-track position in her obscure field at the University of Texas in Austin. Dragged metaphorically kicking and screaming from his home, friends, father and beloved Habs to attend high school in Austin, Norris knows just what to expect from watching American sitcoms: mean brainless cheerleaders, bullying jocks, clueless nerds and loners! Assigned to keep a writing journal in class, Norris records his observation of the “species” in his field guide and his entries are hilarious but also smugly dismissive.
Norris plans to keep his head down, get through the year and get home to Montreal as soon as possible but despite himself, Norris makes a friend, meets a stunning girl, takes a part-time job, and begins to realize it is not all that easy to lump people into neat stereotypes. Could his field observations be wrong?
This was laugh-out-loud funny with spot-on snarky dialog and such a clever premise. The endearing cast of characters was the real highlight of this book and Norris especially stole my heart. He is working so hard at being cynical but Philippe does a stellar job of giving readers revealing glimpses of Norris’s basic sweetness and the vulnerability he works so hard at concealing. As Norris matures through the course of the story, he begins to see beyond his own assumptions and so does the reader’s understanding of the real depth of all the characters. Early on, I settled in, happy to follow the plot of what I thought was going to be a predictable trajectory. But a surprise twist took the story in an unexpected direction. This was still satisfying but it made the book that much more intriguing for me.
Don’t miss this clever “field guide” and stay tuned for Ben Philippe’s next observation of the teen species.
Updated: Want more? Check out this All Things Considered NPR interview with Ben.
Lynn: American fascination with the British Royals is strong and authors for teens have brought the subject across the pond. So if Meghan Markle watching is hot at your library, here are two 2019 titles that will rate the royal wave:
American Royals (Random, Sept. 2019) by Katharine McGee asks why the Brits should have all the fun? This story posits that back in 1781 at the Battle of Yorktown George Washington accepted the offer to become King of America. Jump forward 250 years and the colonial monarchy is still going strong. Beatrice Georgina Frederika Louise of the House of Washington is Princess Royal of America and next in line to the throne. And there are not one but two spares, her younger twin siblings, Prince Jefferson and Princess Samantha. Beatrice has taken her royal role seriously but now she is faced with the need to marry for the future of the kingdom. Can she do this when her heart is taken by a commoner?
McGee has loads of fun with this concept, providing an alternate history and an American aristocracy. The Duke of Boston and the Earl of Huron anyone? She also works in the pre-requisite wild younger royals, noble mean girls, “prince poachers,” and duty vs the heart debate. Stay tuned for the next installment.
Next up is Her Royal Highness (Penguin/Putnam, 2019) by Rachel Hawkins, a companion novel to one of my favorites from last year. Originally titled Royals (Penguin/Putnam, 2018) it has been re-titled as Prince Charming. This story features Flora, daughter of the current Scottish king and sister to Andrew, heir to the throne. Like the first book, this story follows an American girl whose life becomes embroiled with the Scottish royals. Here, Millie Quint is a scholarship student from Texas to the illustrious boarding school, Gregorstoun. Millie is thrilled to be part of the first-ever female class at the previously all-male prep school. Her new roommate, however, sees attendance there as a penance! The two girls are as different as two people can be and dislike each other on sight. But as the term proceeds, the irritation between the two turns to attraction. Does this romance between a geeky geologist and a royal fashionista stand a chance?
This installment is just as much fun as the first one and many characters from Royals add to the fun by joining the story. Sweet and witty, this one will please old fans and make new ones.
Cindy: For more royal fun, check out Lynn’s post at our previous blog home of ten years, this royal post at the Booklist Reader.
Cindy: It’s spring break time in Michigan…that season where bathing suits, sunscreen, and sunglasses are flying out of stores as students and their families prepare to clog the I-75 highway to warmer locations that actually have sunshine. I’ve noticed a trend in cover art featuring sunglass clad faces that are ready to join the sunny vacation fun. Pack one of these to read on the beach…or curl up with it at home if you are having a staycation! I’m sure I’ve missed some. Leave a comment if there are others you’ve written, published, or have in your libraries. This would make a great summer book display with some more titles in the mix!
The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde (Swoon Reads, 2018)
You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando (Swoon Reads, 2017)
A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena (Farrar, 2018)
Home and Away by Candice Montgomery (Page Stree, 2018)
Unnatural Disasters by Jeff Hirsch (Clarion, 2019)