It's almost Valen-time

These four YA stories have one thing in common: love, which is there for its characters through a wide range of situations, including difficult times.

By Any Other Name
by Erin Cotter
Middle School, High School    Simon    464 pp.
10/23    9781665940719    $21.99
e-book ed.  9781665940733    $10.99

A fanciful treat set in the 1590s, Cotter’s debut novel takes us from London’s Rose Theatre to the court of Elizabeth I, onto the ship of famed pirate queen Gráinne Ní Mháille, and off to a trial at Dover Castle. Aptly, an excerpt of Elizabethan love poetry opens most sections of the story. Although this is a tale of traitors, murder, spying, poison, play-acting, and breathless risks and escapes, it is also the love story of actor and commoner Elias Wilde, his farming family made destitute by the queen, and Lord James Edmund Bauffremont of Bloomsbury: would-be medical man, scion of a brutal father, and reluctant fiancé of a noblewoman. When Elias witnesses the savage murder of his friend Kit Marlowe, he vows to unmask the culprit. He thus comes into the employ of Lord Bloomsbury and finds himself disguised as a lord, ineffectually sleuthing but somehow winning the good graces of the queen, who appoints him and Bloomsbury her spymasters. Their career is one of wrong turns, misinterpretations, and bad judgments; what runs steadily through all the novel’s eventfulness is Elias’s fraught emotion: his forlorn urge to find his family and his growing passion and confidence in James’s love. Cotter packs many sly literary and historical references into this playfully far-fetched queer tale, along with much romance and affection. DEIRDRE F. BAKER

The Fall of Whit Rivera
by Crystal Maldonado
High School    Holiday    320 pp.
10/23    9780823452361    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780823457250    $11.99

It’s the beginning of Whit’s senior year, and after a summer spent in doctors’ offices instead of at the pool with her friends or video-chatting with her now-long-distance boyfriend, she is ready to get back on track. Her plan is simple: lead the school Fall Fest committee to autumn-themed excellence, get closer to her younger sister, help Abuela at the tailoring shop, and manage her polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) so she can enjoy fall to the fullest. Nothing, of course, goes according to plan: Whit and her boyfriend break up. PCOS causes exhaustion, weight gain, and newly sprouting facial hair. In her concerns about her sister being mistreated for being autistic, Whit must face the fact that she was engaging in slightly ableist behavior herself. And Whit is partnered to plan Fall Fest events with Zay, her frustratingly attractive ex from middle school. Maldonado’s writing warmly captures the charms and challenges of high school life for a Latina in a fat body, believably rendering the struggles and idiosyncrasies of teenagerhood. The heart-fluttering romance that ensues with the thoughtful Zay makes for a cozy autumnal read, but the depictions of friendship, family, and navigation of a chronic illness make this a solid choice for all seasons. AMANDA R. TOLEDO

The Totally True Story of Gracie Byrne
by Shannon Takaoka
High School    Candlewick    384 pp.
10/23    9781536228786    $19.99
e-book ed.  9781536234312    $19.99

It’s 1987, and Gracie is the new girl at her Pittsburgh high school; her family has recently moved in with her grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s. After some embarrassing encounters with her new classmates, Gracie wishes she could be more interesting and less awkward. So when she finds a blank journal in her grandmother’s vanity, she imagines just that, writing a scene in which she is sophisticated and mysterious. Then she discovers that whatever she writes about comes true in real life. The hot guy, wearing the same army jacket she described in the journal, suddenly seems interested in her; the mean girl, after complimenting her outfit, hands her the exact lipstick she wrote about the night before. While Gracie’s newfound power is intoxicating, the journal’s interpretations of her words can be dangerously unpredictable. (After she experiments by writing about her career as a bird photographer, for example, a rare owl shows up at school, causing chaos.) Ultimately, the journal helps Gracie understand that “the things we can’t control, and the broken parts, and the mistakes are all part of what make us who we are.” A charming romance with the boy across the street and the faithfully rendered 1980s setting (think corded telephones, cassette tapes, and midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show) complete this original and absorbing fantastical tale. RACHEL L. KERNS

Lunar New Year Love Story
by Gene Luen Yang; illus. by LeUyen Pham
Middle School, High School    First Second    352 pp.
1/24    9781626728103    $25.99
Paper ed.  9781250908261    $17.99

In this unique and engaging graphic novel, Vietnamese American high schooler Valentina Tran has always loved giving handmade cards to her widower father and classmates on her namesake holiday. She is assisted by her “best imaginary friend,” Saint V (for Valentine), initially shown in the illustrations as a classic winged baby surrounded by cartoon hearts. This year her spirits are crushed when her dad storms off, and a classmate, Jae, trashes her card. Worse, Grandma reveals that Valentina’s father lied about her mother’s supposed death and, later, that their entire family is romantically cursed. Valentina despairs until she meets two cute lion dancers at a Tết (Lunar New Year) celebration and dates one of them (who happens to be Jae’s cousin). Is the relationship real? Or will Valentina give her heart to Saint Valentine to be safe from the pain of love? Yang (Dragon Hoops, rev. 5/20) and Pham (Friends Forever, rev. 9/21) do a wonderful job of weaving fractured families and romantic yearning with fantasy elements that show emotional states and growth as well as plenty of humor throughout. Pham’s digital illustrations adeptly mix realistic scenes with celestial animals and ghosts. Her gorgeous, kinetic depictions of Chinese and Korean lion dancers are joyful, and the section in which Valentina first learns about Tết and meets her love interest is especially vibrant. MICHELLE LEE

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

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