YA realism (for a weird year)

These YA books — three novels and a graphic memoir — document what can be a tumultuous and transitional time in people’s lives; this school year, especially, stories of tumult — and triumph — may be appreciated by readers. See also Go with the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann; illus. by Lily Williams (First Second/Roaring Brook).

We Didn’t Ask for This
by Adi Alsaid
High School    Inkyard    352 pp.    g
4/20    978-1-335-14676-2    $18.99

At a worldly and diverse K–12 private school in an unnamed country outside the U.S., the high schoolers look forward to the school’s legendary lock-in, planning all year for sanctioned events such as movie screenings and athletic and cooking competitions, as well as unsanctioned ones such as a party with alcohol. It’s usually a night of new friendships, romance, casual hookups, and memorable adventures. This year, student Marisa Cuevas and her friends decide to stage an eco-protest at the lock-in. They chain themselves to the exits and present a list of environmental justice demands to the school board, refusing to let anyone leave until these demands are met, which results in days of confinement. As the characters react to the protest and the sudden change of plans, the chapter titles note specific times, aiding readers in tracking the progress of the protest and creating a sense of immediacy. It takes some effort to understand the logistics of the protest as days pass, but the characters’ interactions, and the question of how the stalemate will end, should draw readers in. CHRISTINA L. DOBBS

Brown Girl Ghosted
by Mintie Das
High School    Houghton    289 pp.    g
3/20    978-0-358-12889-2    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-13130-4    $9.99

Sixteen-year-old Violet Choudhury is a cheerleader; the best friend of Meryl, a popular iconoclast; and a daughter who never knew her dead mother and barely sees her largely absent father. She’s also one of the few people of color in Meadowdale, Illinois, and (as her mother was) a member of the Aiedeo, a group of East Indian warrior queens. When her mean-girl classmate, head cheerleader Naomi, is murdered, the Aiedeo give Violet an ultimatum — catch Naomi’s killer or become a ghost. This supernatural thriller presents a main character caught in-between — between India and America, between popular and invisible, between Aiedeo and ordinary. Though the Aiedeo and their purpose could have been better explored, Das creates a credible and complex portrait of the challenges of being a teen girl. Both the supernatural and realistic components have much to say about patriarchy and its impact on young women, and while some lessons feel less than gracefully integrated, the elements about judging others too quickly ring true. CHRISTINA L. DOBBS

The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid
by Kate Hattemer
High School    Knopf    293 pp.    g
2/20    978-1-9848-4912-0    $17.99
Library ed.  978-1-9848-4913-7    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-4914-4    $10.99

Jemima serves with the Senior Triumvirate at her tradition-steeped prep school, and though she’s invested in her role, she’s also eager to shake up some of the school’s more outdated customs. Promposals create a power imbalance, so she devises a dating app–like system to replace them. A well-connected student is running unopposed for next year’s school chairperson position, so she tries to rustle up an opponent. But her failure to notice a perfect (non-white, non-male) candidate, and then a major mishap with the prom date–matching system, lead the self-professed “feminist before it was trendy” Jemima to see some of her own failings. The witty first-person narration’s frankness extends from Jemima’s thoughts on the people around her (“Everyone qualified as Old and White and Dude”) to honest description of sexual encounters (“I hate it when movies fade out…They make you think you’ll feel different during the whatevering, like the light will get soft and your sensations will too, but you’re still a body, you know?”). Via its flawed protagonist’s growth, this entertaining, thoughtful, smash-the-patriarchy comedy sheds light on some of the ways feminism, and feminists, can be complicated. SHOSHANA FLAX

Dragon Hoops
by Gene Luen Yang; illus. by the author; color by Lark Pien
High School    First Second/Roaring Brook    446 pp.
3/20    978-1-62672-079-4    $24.99

“I’m just not a sports kind of guy,” begins Yang in this comics-format offering that brilliantly combines journalism, memoir, and sports history. Yang, who taught math at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California, during the events of the book, provides readers with an inside look at the school’s elite basketball team’s season as it attempted to win the California State Championship in 2015. Weaving the details of that team’s efforts with a primer on the history of basketball, Yang skillfully juggles the stories of multiple players and coaches as well as his own journey from basketball novice to avid fan. In the appended notes, Yang explains his art and narrative choices chapter-by-chapter with page and panel notations, from the sneakers and the hairstyles of the individual players to times when certain conversations happened differently than depicted. While the action on the court is absolutely transfixing (with page layouts often using trapezoid-shaped panels whose diagonal lines amp up the dynamism), the story shines just as brightly off the court when Yang’s focus shifts to his own dilemmas and profound insights regarding art and storytelling. Single-season reportage is a popular subgenre of sports writing in the adult publishing world (try In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle for a basketball classic), and here is a perfect entryway into this form for teen readers. A bibliography is also appended. ERIC CARPENTER

From the August 2020 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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