Empowering tales

Oppressive patriarchal systems are to everyone’s detriment. The protagonists of these six novels for middle- and high-school readers do what they can to take back their power. See also our Women’s History Month tag and Women’s History Month 2024 coverage.

Plan A
by Deb Caletti
High School    Labyrinth Road/Random    416 pp.
10/23    9780593485545    $18.99
Library ed.  9780593485552    $21.99
e-book ed.  9780593485576    $10.99

Ivy, sixteen, is pregnant and scared. In conservative Paris, Texas, she knows she can’t disclose her condition — or her desire to have an abortion, which is illegal in Texas after six weeks. The accidental reveal of her pregnancy, and the judgment and hatred that follow, only make her more resolved. Ivy and her boyfriend, Lorenzo (who isn’t the father), drive to Ivy’s grandmother’s house in Oregon, where Ivy can get the procedure done safely. During their “abortion road trip love story,” they “travel the world,” with stops in Lima (Oklahoma) and Genoa (Colorado) and visits to the Wonder Tower and the Pillars of Rome. As in The Epic Story of Every Living Thing (rev. 9/22), Caletti approaches a provocative subject with humanity, nuance, and compassion; here, Ivy’s story is deeply personal but also contextualized within women’s stories throughout history. “We should have all the choices, every possible choice, when so much hasn’t been our choice,” her mom’s friend, who herself had an abortion, tells her. “Agency over your own body is, like, the smallest, most basic right.” While this message is the story’s focus, Ivy’s journey is also full of beauty: great music, a new closeness with Lorenzo, and an appreciation for the wonder of the natural world. There is much more to Ivy than the “bundle of cells” inside her—which, of course, is the point. RACHEL L. KERNS

Rain Remembers
by Courtne Comrie
Middle School, High School    Harper/HarperCollins    272 pp.
10/23    9780063159778    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780063159785    $10.99

In this sequel to verse novel Rain Rising (rev. 1/23), Rain Washington has begun to heal after a chaotic eighth-grade year in which her anxiety and depression (including body-image concerns) were exacerbated by a racist violent attack against her beloved older brother. Now entering her first year of high school, Rain must learn to contend with a whole new setting; and with family members busy or absent, old feelings of insecurity about her body begin to creep back in. Then Tommy, a charismatic sophomore, takes an interest in her. Bolstered by his compliments and attention, Rain begins to avoid her family and friends — until she discovers that Tommy has ulterior motives. As her emotions begin to spiral down a dark and familiar path, the ongoing support of those around her reminds Rain of the importance of continually acknowledging her own self-worth and needs, even as she also acknowledges the needs of others. Comrie again proves skilled in discussing topics of harassment, mental health, and (via a subplot about a friend’s uncle) the deportation system, in verse as lyrically captivating as that of its predecessor. Rain and her friends remain sympathetic characters to connect with and root for. EBONI NJOKU

Bright Red Fruit
by Safia Elhillo
High School    Make Me a World/Random    384 pp.
2/24    9780593381205    $19.99
Library ed.  9780593381212    $22.99
e-book ed.  9780593381229    $10.99

Sixteen-year-old Samira feels restricted by the watchful eyes of her tight-knit Sudanese American community, especially those of her protective mother. The community has labeled her a “bad girl” because of a false rumor that a boy started years ago. Now, while trying to sneak out to a party with friends, Samira is caught by her mom and grounded. Forbidden from leaving the house, she turns to an online poetry forum to stay connected. She begins chatting with an older poet, Horus, with whom she quickly finds herself falling in love. She begins to question him, though, when he pretends her poem is his. Through vivid free-verse poetry, text messages, and emails, Elhillo (Home Is Not a Country, rev. 7/21) creates a realistic picture of a teenage girl trying to push against unfair perceptions. She also highlights the fears of parents who are trying to raise children in a foreign country. In addition, the book offers a glimpse into the world of poetry and how young artists may be manipulated by older ones. Readers will appreciate the believable portrayal of a teen who is dealing with complex issues of family, friendship, and romantic love. NICHOLL DENICE MONTGOMERY

Those Pink Mountain Nights
by Jen Ferguson
High School    Heartdrum/HarperCollins    352 pp.
9/23    9780063086210    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780063086234    $10.99

Kiki, who is Black and Cree, has been gone for five months when the book begins, and the police have stopped looking for her. Her friend and fellow First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Student Association member Berlin, a high achiever living with depression, and Cam, Berlin’s longtime childhood rival, feel Kiki’s loss profoundly. When Berlin thinks she sees Kiki outside Pink Mountain Pizza, where she and Cam work — and where much of the story is set — the two put aside their differences to search for her. They’re assisted by new coworker Jessie, whose abusive father, a developer, is trying to buy Pink Mountain Pizza out from under Joe, one of the few Black business owners in town. Their social media campaign to raise awareness and save the store garners much support but also provides a platform for people to attack Joe, bringing to light issues of capitalism and anti-Black racism. Kiki’s page-turning story and her mother’s earlier disappearance provide multiple angles on the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People. Through a well-characterized ensemble cast, Ferguson (The Summer of Bitter and Sweet, rev. 5/22), who is Michif/Métis and white, addresses the myriad difficult topics facing her characters with sensitivity and care. NICHOLL DENICE MONTGOMERY

Mani Semilla Finds Her Quetzal Voice
by Anna Lapera
Middle School    Levine/Levine Querido    336 pp.
3/24    9781646143719    $18.99

Boys at seventh grader Mani’s school have been assaulting girls in the “grope-’n’-go” social media challenge, and school administrators dismiss the boys’ behavior. Overwhelmed with emotion in reaction to the situation at school, Mani can barely speak; when she learns that her deceased aunt and her own mother were feminist activists in Guatemala, Mani wants to find the strong “quetzal voice” her abuelita encourages her to have. As events escalate, Mani and her friend group, Las Nerdas, unite for a presentation to shake up the school. While the complexity, pervasiveness, and intensity of these topics could make the story feel overwrought, Lapera’s writing shines in the rendering of connection and levity with friends and family. There are laugh-out-loud moments, from the everyday to the bizarre (e.g., stealing a used tampon in a misguided but well-meaning attempt to support a friend). There is inspiration and hope in the steadfastness with which Las Nerdas organize a protest against the harassment and within the stirringly written passages both in old letters from Mani’s tía and in the support found with other students at school. Amid the frankness about challenging topics, readers will also encounter warmth and a pervading sense of capability and inner strength in finding their own voices. AMANDA R. TOLEDO

The Luis Ortega Survival Club
by Sonora Reyes
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    320 pp.
5/23    9780063060302    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780063060326    $11.99

Sixteen-year-old Ariana, self-diagnosed as selectively mute and autistic, is thrilled when popular Luis turns his attention toward her. But when he sexually assaults her and then brags about it to his friends (“It’s not like she can say no”), Ariana is plagued with shame and self-doubt: “How can I blame him when I couldn’t even bring myself to tell him to stop?” Enter the Luis Ortega Survival Club (TLOSC), a group of Luis’s former friends and ex-flames, some of whom he also assaulted. They welcome Ariana with talk of revenge; soon genuine friendships bloom, and ­eventually something more between Ariana and bi member Shawni. Ari wants to expose Luis’s crimes but doesn’t know if she will ever be ready to make her rape public. Reyes (The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School) empathetically explores issues of ­consent and rape culture through a neurodiverse lens in this story of ­self-empowerment. Many readers will see themselves reflected in TLOSC’s diverse membership and appreciate Ari’s gradual understanding and ownership of her sexuality as she grows closer to Shawni and comes to realize that what happened with Luis was not her fault. JENNIFER HUBERT SWAN

From the February 2024 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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