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How to deal

For the protagonists of these recent YA novels, school variously serves as a source of anxiety and a means to cope (healthily or otherwise) with turmoil in other parts of their lives.

In Posted by John David Anderson, the administration of Branton Middle School bans cell phones, and a new, old-fashioned idea comes along: sticky notes. As it turns out, Post-its work as well as cell phones for insults, anonymous cruelty, and ganging up on innocent victims. Narrator Frost is a young man for whom words matter, who understands that, while words on screens and Post-its can “break you to pieces,” they also can be beautiful. Acute observations about social media and school life and a smart narrator combine for an honest and engaging novel. Readers might even want some Post-it notes to mark the good parts. (HarperCollins/Walden Pond, 12–14 years)

Sophomore Janna Yusuf, a hijab-wearing Flannery O’Connor devotee, considers herself a “misfit,” not quite sure where she belongs within her post-divorce family or amongst her friends, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Her uncertainty is exacerbated in the face of near-perfect “saints,” like her brother and his fiancée, and especially in the presence of a “monster” — one who presents himself as a pillar of the Muslim community even as he assaults Janna. In Saints and Misfits, S. K. Ali brings to life a nuanced intersection of culture, identity, and independence as Janna navigates the typicalities of high school, the particularities of her evolving home life, and the insidious impingement of rape culture. (Simon/Salaam, 14 years and up)

Amidst many changes at home, fifteen-year-old straight-A student Ivy Lewis takes comfort in the predictability of school, particularly the certainty of math. “2 + 2 will always be 4. / The quadratic equation always works. / Numbers keep their promises.” But solutions in the rest of her life are not so easily grasped, and Ivy begins to fixate on the one thing she can control: her body. The form of Lily Myers’s verse novel This Impossible Light perfectly mirrors its content as readers move from poem to poem, from thought to thought, following Ivy through the false logic of her disordered eating and into the beginning of recovery. (Philomel, 14 years and up)

High-school junior Leo Coughlin, protagonist of Michael Currinder’s Running Full Tilt, has a difficult home life. His older brother, Caleb, has autism, epilepsy, and some developmental disabilities, and has recently become physically aggressive with Leo. Their parents’ already rocky marriage is strained further by the situation. Leo, who has begun running away from Caleb out of necessity, finds a hidden talent and joins first the cross-country team and then the track team at his new high school. A pair of new friends — running buddy Curtis and girlfriend Mary — helps Leo find balance amidst the chaos, especially as he works through his complicated relationship with Caleb. (Charlesbridge Teen, 14 years and up)

From the September 2017 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.


Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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