Book Review: Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston – Listen Up: This Imaginative Middle-Grade Fantasy with Black Girl Magic Should Be the Next Big Series

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston.
Blurb:

Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?

Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.

Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.

With an evil magican threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Wow, wow, wow. I was immediately pulled in by the intriguing premise for Amari and the Night Brothers: about a girl who discovers a briefcase left by her missing big brother, and its contents leads her on a journey of discovery, a world of magic that has always co-existed with the mundane one. My curiosity was sufficiently piqued; sign me up any day for a contemporary fantasy.

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Book Review: A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong – A Vibrant Graphic Novel about the Struggles of Being a Teen, the Friendships That Hold Us Up and Basketball

A map to the sun by Sloane Leong.
Blurb:

One summer day, Ren meets Luna at a beachside basketball court and a friendship is born. But when Luna moves to back to Oahu, Ren’s messages to her friend go unanswered.

Years go by. Then Luna returns, hoping to rekindle their friendship. Ren is hesitant. She’s dealing with a lot, including family troubles, dropping grades, and the newly formed women’s basketball team at their highschool. With Ren’s new friends and Luna all on the basketball team, the lines between their lives on and off the court begin to blur. During their first season, this diverse and endearing group of teens are challenged in ways that make them reevaluate just who and how they trust.

Sloane Leong’s evocative storytelling about the lives of these young women is an ode to the dynamic nature of friendship.

I was provided an ARC in exchange for an honest review by the author; this does not impact or influence my opinion.

I genuinely cannot remember the last time I read something in one sitting. I struggle a lot with focusing on one task for extended periods of time; even with novellas or short works of fiction that I can easily finish in an hour, it’ll probably take me more than a few sittings to finish it. With A Map to the Sun though, I read it all in one sitting, engrossed by its vibrant and beautiful pages and hopelessly compelled by the graphic novel’s cast of flawed and imperfect teenage girls. That, for me, is a testament to how wonderful I thought this graphic novel was.

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Book Review: Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles – A Phenomenal Contemporary Middle-Grade about Activism, Gentrification, and Growing Up

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles. A badge at the bottom-left that says, 'Reviewed by CW, The Quiet Pond'. In the centre is a image of Xiaolong, the pink axolotl wearing a flower hat, waving at you.
Blurb:

Brand-new kicks, ripped denim shorts, royal-blue Supreme tee—Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with the crew (his best friends since little kid days) and playing video games–is what Wes wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks– the neighborhood Wes has lived in his whole life, everything changes. The grown-ups are supposed to have all the answers. But all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known without a fight. He’s always been good at puzzles and he knows there must be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it…before it’s too late?

Exploring community, justice, family and friendship with a irresistibly deft and relatable touch, Take Back the Block introduces Wes, a 6th grader readers will fall in love with and asks what it means to belong, to a place and a movement, and to fight for a cause you believe in. 

I was provided an eARC by the publisher via the author in exchange for an honest review.

If people ask me, why do you read middle-grade books? I think, from now on, instead of giving people a long-winded answer about how I think middle-grade stories offer a window and mirror to the realities and issues that young people face today, I’ll just wordlessly hand them a copy of Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles instead. That’s right: Take Back the Block is an example of why children’s literature is such an exciting space right now – it’s timely, brilliantly told, and just so undeniably good.

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[Blog Tour] Five Reasons To Read: FORESHADOW, edited by Emily X.R. Pan & Nova Ren Suma – The Best YA Anthology of This Age

Summary:

Created by New York Times bestselling authors Emily X. R. Pan and Nova Ren Suma, Foreshadow is so much more than a short story collection. A trove of unforgettable fiction makes up the beating heart of this book, and the accompanying essays offer an ode to young adult literature, as well as practical advice to writers.

Featured in print for the first time, the thirteen stories anthologized here were originally released via the buzzed-about online platform Foreshadow. Ranging from contemporary romance to mind-bending fantasy, the Foreshadow stories showcase underrepresented voices and highlight the beauty and power of YA fiction. Each piece is selected and introduced by a YA luminary, among them Gayle Forman, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jason Reynolds, and Sabaa Tahir.

What makes these memorable stories tick? What sparked them? How do authors build a world or refine a voice or weave in that deliciously creepy atmosphere to bring their writing to the next level? Addressing these questions and many more are essays and discussions on craft and process by Nova Ren Suma and Emily X. R. Pan.

This unique compilation reveals and celebrates the magic of reading and writing for young adults.

Skye’s review:

FORESHADOW, when it was first announced, was a limited-run publishing project spearheaded by Emily X.R. Pan and Nova Ren Suma. It featured short YA stories across a variety of genres, with monthly issues releasing throughout the entire year of 2019. Each issue had three stories—titled after a single phrase, “foreshadowing” the story that was to come—one of which would also be penned by a new writer, voices hand-selected by renowned authors such as Sabaa Tahir and Nicola Yoon.

Today, the thirteen handpicked stories are published in a wonderful anthology that I have the privilege of introducing here on the blog today after reading an early copy. And friends, friends, please trust me when I say this, and know that I do not mean it lightly: this anthology is everything I crave in a book, and it contains the best short YA fiction I have ever read in my entire life.

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Book Review: The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert – A Warm Yet Sharp ‘All in One Day’ Love Story that Takes Place on Election Day

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert. Tagline: Make it count.

Blurb:

Marva Sheridan was born ready for this day. She’s always been driven to make a difference in the world, and what better way than to vote in her first election?

Duke Crenshaw is so done with this election. He just wants to get voting over with so he can prepare for his band’s first paying gig tonight. Only problem? Duke can’t vote.

When Marva sees Duke turned away from their polling place, she takes it upon herself to make sure his vote is counted. She hasn’t spent months doorbelling and registering voters just to see someone denied their right.

And that’s how their whirlwind day begins, rushing from precinct to precinct, cutting school, waiting in endless lines, turned away time and again, trying to do one simple thing: vote. They may have started out as strangers, but as Duke and Marva team up to beat a rigged system (and find Marva’s missing cat), it’s clear that there’s more to their connection than a shared mission for democracy.

CW’s Review:

I don’t know how Brandy Colbert does it. I don’t know she deftly balances a story that is both incredibly warm and soft but also incisive in its discourse in activism and privilege. After reading The Voting Booth, I came away with these warm and fuzzies because the love story is such a treasure and a delight but I also loved how it made me think, reflect, and feel deeply about the Black experiences portrayed in the story.

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