Tag Archives: Maulik Pancholy

Authors in Conversation: Maulik Pancholy and Phil Stamper Talk Mental Health

Today is World Mental Health Day, and I’m thrilled to be celebrating it by having two wonderful gay kidlit authors discuss the representation in their book!

Maulik Pancholy (r.) is the author of the newly released The Best At It, a Middle Grade contemporary starring a gay Indian boy with OCD who’s starting seventh grade and getting used to lots of new changes, and Phil Stamper (l.) is the author of the upcoming The Gravity of Us, a contemporary YA love story between two boys who happen to be the sons of astronauts who are on the same mission to Mars. They’re here to talk about the roles mental health plays in their books, especially as it relates to queerness, pressure, and competition. Please welcome them!

Maulik: Hi Phil! I’m excited to get to do this with you. I loved The Gravity Of Us. I wanted Cal’s FlashFlame show to be real so I could actually tune in, and I was rooting for him and Leon from the first moment they met. I also lived in Houston for a year, so I related to all the characters having to deal with all that humidity! For folks who haven’t read it yet, want to give us a quick recap?

Phil: Thank you so much! A bit about my book: The Gravity of Us is a queer teen love story set against the backdrop of a present-day NASA mission to Mars. The story follows teen social media journalist Cal, whose carefully planned life is uprooted when his father is picked as an astronaut for the Orpheus missions to Mars. Amidst the chaos, and the move from Brooklyn to Houston, Cal meets the son of another astronaut on the program and finds himself falling for him—fast. But when Cal uncovers secrets about the program, he must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

Do you want to give a brief rundown of The Best at It as well? It’s such a fantastic story. I love Rahul (and Chelsea! And Bhai! And the whole gang, really) and I remember having a similar need to be “the best” at something when I was his age… even if I could never quite figure out what that “something” was.

Maulik: Thanks! I’m glad it resonated with you. The Best at It is about Rahul Kapoor, a 12-year-old, Indian American boy who is just beginning to realize that he might be gay. He’s dealing with anxiety around that, and he’s also being bullied for multiple layers of his identity at school. One night, his favorite person in the whole world, his grandfather, Bhai, tells him a story that makes Rahul believe that if he’s just the best at something, all of his other problems will disappear. So with his best friend Chelsea by his side, he sets off on a mission to prove his self-worth. He’s only got two problems: What is he going to be the best at? And what if he falls short?

Phil, one of the things that I was struck by, is that in both of our books we have characters dealing with different forms or manifestations of anxiety. In your book, Becca, Cal’s mother, struggles with anxiety in a way that really hit home for me. I was drawn in by the way you described her facial expressions, and how it affected Cal to see that. Want to talk about that a bit?

Phil: Ah, that’s so great to hear. Becca’s anxiety was based off of my own experience, but it was really interesting writing Gravity from the perspective of someone who does not share those experiences. At that time, I think I was trying to be more cognizant of what happens to me and how that might affect or appear to people, and that really helped when describing the smaller physical manifestations of her anxiety.

Cal’s mom was such an interesting character, because I wanted to play against the “perfect astronaut wife” trope of the 60s. While she still knows there’s an expectation of her to be polished, steady, and camera-ready when it comes to the media circus of the launch, she gets to break down some of those expectations with Cal and her family, because she’s so open and clear about her experience with anxiety.

While we’re on the topic of mental health, one thing about The Best at It that stuck with me was how naturally Rahul’s experience with probable OCD was “revealed” on the page. Oftentimes with mental health in media, especially with OCD rep, we get something that’s a little less nuanced, but the way it was shown in your story made his experience seem so authentic and relatable. How did you choose to show this throughout the story?

Maulik: Rahul’s behaviors in the book are similar to some of the “checking” behaviors that I dealt with as a kid, and honestly still do as an adult. In my experience, those behaviors presented in different ways. Sometimes it was just checking something, like a lock, in a seemingly absent-minded manner, not really aware of the impulse why. Sometimes it was having an overwhelming feeling that something bad would happen if I didn’t check something, repeatedly. That dread of, “Is the stove really off? Am I SURE?” And, for me, these patterns were certainly triggered–and intensified–by stress, including emotional stress.

I’m hearing from middle school teachers that they see more and more kids dealing with anxiety. So, I didn’t want to shy away from this in the book. I also wrote the scene between Rahul and his father to model the kinds of conversations that I think adults and kids can be having around this.

For Rahul, his checking escalates as the level of competition in the book grows. In your book, Leon is dealing with depression related to the competitive world of Olympic athletics. Would you say that Leon is affected by competition in a similar way to Rahul?

Phil: That’s an interesting comparison, because I do think Leon and Rahul have a similar experience in that competition is a trigger for them. Gymnastics is a really intense sport that is full of pressure, and Leon’s response to that pressure was to pull back, to withdraw from the world and sort of shame himself for feeling this way, even if he couldn’t control it. That said, Leon’s a few years older than Rahul, and he is more-or-less removed from his Olympic trajectory by the time we get to meet him, even if the media conveniently forgets that on occasion.

Not a big spoiler here, but in the end, Leon finds a way to rekindle his passion for gymnastics, without subjecting himself to the pressure of competition. Similarly, and hopefully not a spoiler, but Rahul realizes that finding something you love and doing it until you get better is a better fit for him than competing. Does it mean that Leon and Rahul no longer experience depression or probable OCD, respectively? No, of course not.

But I do think it’s really important that both of these characters are learning more about themselves so they can hopefully better communicate that to their loved ones. Pivoting back to Cal for a moment—while I think Leon actually has a grasp on how to best avoid triggers like pressure and the spotlight, Cal’s kind of torn. He’s used to being in the spotlight, and he wants to be the one to break any and every news story, but he really gets himself into a mess in Houston, and you can really see the pressure and people’s expectations getting to him.

The more I think about it, Cal’s and Rahul’s stories both deal heavily with competition and perfection. With Rahul though, he’s experiencing this need for perfection all while trying to understand more about his queer identity. How do you think this affects his competitive nature?

Maulik: Rahul’s perfectionism and his need to win are 100% about proving his self-worth in a world where being different makes him feel less than. And his queer identity is one layer of that for sure. I just want to say, though, that it was important to me not to pathologize being gay. His mental health struggles are not because he’s gay. It’s the feeling less than, the wanting to fit in, that is stressful for him. And I think there’s something universal about that. What kid–or even adult–hasn’t felt like an outsider at some point?

Speaking of which, I think empathy for other people’s experiences really comes through in both our books, even if the characters themselves aren’t always perfect at expressing it. Rahul’s Dad doesn’t have all the language to talk about OCD, and in your book, you write about Leon’s parents choosing not to push the conversation around depression. In fact, it’s Leon’s sister, Kat, who’s a real ally to her brother. And Cal, of course, has Deb much in the same way Rahul has Chelsea. Was there a reason you wrote such great allies in the form of siblings and friends?

Phil: I guess I’ve written some really great allies and supporting characters, because the amount of comments I get about wanting to see more of Kat or Deb are astounding! Deb is loosely based around one of my best friends from high school, and she was so much fun to write. In the book, she’s the steadfast ally any queer kid would want, but I wanted to make sure she had her own story, her own arc, and didn’t exist solely for the benefit of Cal. So, I got to play with the boundaries of allyship and best friendship a bit. I also got to reflect on my own selfish tendencies, especially while I was in high school, and show how an ally can both offer unfaltering support about you and your identity while also being there to tell you to shut up when you’re out of line!

From our personal experiences with mental health, identity, and even the friendships we’ve had, it looks like we’ve both put a lot of ourselves into our debut novels. Would you like to talk briefly about why you chose to do this?

Maulik: Sure. The characters in my book go on a journey: they change, and they learn things about themselves. And maybe that allows readers to see themselves more clearly as well. What I really wanted was to tell a great story–grounded in reality, with both humor and pathos–and to hold up a mirror for kids who deserve to see themselves in the books they read. I guess that’s why I was willing to be so personal: I wanted to write a book that I could have used as a kid. But I have to say, it’s been gratifying to hear how many people–with experiences far different than mine–have made their own connections to Rahul’s story.

Phil: That’s fantastic. I set out to showcase a queer love story in a unique setting, so the feedback from the romance between Cal and Leon has been amazing. Less intentionally, though, I leaned on my own experiences with mental health while creating characters like Leon and Cal’s mother, and it’s been great to see readers connecting to that too.

I’m so glad we got to chat about this, Maulik! It’s been great getting to know a little bit more about your experience developing and writing The Best at It, and I can’t wait for readers everywhere to get their hands on a copy. And super special thanks to Dahlia and LGBTQ Reads for hosting us!

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New Releases: October 1-15, 2019

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Now Entering Addamsville by Francesca Zappia (1st)

43453737When Zora Novak is framed for a crime she didn’t commit, she must track down the true culprit and clear her name before it’s too late. But in a small town obsessed with ghosts, getting people to believe the truth might prove to be impossible. Fans of Riverdale and Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious will devour this eerie murder mystery. Features spot art and a map by the author.

Zora Novak has been framed.

When someone burns down the home of the school janitor and he dies in the blaze, everyone in Addamsville, Indiana, points a finger at Zora. Never mind that Zora has been on the straight and narrow since her father was thrown in jail. With everyone looking for evidence against her, her only choice is to uncover the identity of the real killer. There’s one big problem—Zora has no leads. No one does. Addamsville has a history of tragedy, and thirty years ago a similar string of fires left several townspeople dead. The arsonist was never caught.

Now, Zora must team up with her cousin Artemis—an annoying self-proclaimed Addamsville historian—to clear her name. But with a popular ghost-hunting television show riling up the townspeople, almost no support from her family and friends, and rumors spinning out of control, things aren’t looking good. Zora will have to read between the lines of Addamsville’s ghost stories before she becomes one herself.

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The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake (1st)

drakebookThe Larkin family isn’t just lucky—they persevere. At least that’s what Violet and her younger brother, Sam, were always told. When the Lyric sank off the coast of Maine, their great-great-great-grandmother didn’t drown like the rest of the passengers. No, Fidelia swam to shore, fell in love, and founded Lyric, Maine, the town Violet and Sam returned to every summer.

But wrecks seem to run in the family: Tall, funny, musical Violet can’t stop partying with the wrong people. And, one beautiful summer day, brilliant, sensitive Sam attempts to take his own life.

Shipped back to Lyric while Sam is in treatment, Violet is haunted by her family’s missing piece-the lost shipwreck she and Sam dreamed of discovering when they were children. Desperate to make amends, Violet embarks on a wildly ambitious mission: locate the Lyric, lain hidden in a watery grave for over a century.

She finds a fellow wreck hunter in Liv Stone, an amateur local historian whose sparkling intelligence and guarded gray eyes make Violet ache in an exhilarating new way. Whether or not they find the Lyric, the journey Violet takes-and the bridges she builds along the way-may be the start of something like survival.

Epic, funny, and sweepingly romantic, The Last True Poets of the Sea is an astonishing debut about the strength it takes to swim up from a wreck.

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Crier’s War by Nina Varela (1st)

41951626After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

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Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt (1st)

Kate and Tam meet, and both of their worlds tip sideways. At first, Tam figures Kate is your stereotypical cheerleader; Kate sees Tam as another tall jock. And the more they keep running into each other, the more they surprise each other. Beneath Kate’s sleek ponytail and perfect façade, Tam sees a goofy, sensitive, lonely girl. And Tam’s so much more than a volleyball player, Kate realizes: She’s everything Kate wishes she could be. It’s complicated. Except it’s not. When Kate and Tam meet, they fall in like. It’s as simple as that. But not everybody sees it that way. This novel in verse about two girls discovering their feelings for each other is a universal story of finding a way to be comfortable in your own skin.

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The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith (1st)

Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell….and Earth.

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Freeing Finch by Ginny Rorby (1st)

When her father leaves and her mother passes away soon afterward, Finch can’t help feeling abandoned. Now she’s stuck living with her stepfather and his new wife. They’re mostly nice, but they don’t believe the one true thing Finch knows about herself: that she’s a girl, even though she was born in a boy’s body.

Thankfully, she has Maddy, a neighbor and animal rescuer who accepts her for who she is. Finch helps Maddy care for a menagerie of lost and lonely creatures, including a scared, stray dog who needs a family and home as much as she does. As she earns the dog’s trust, Finch realizes she must also learn to trust the people in her life–even if they are the last people she expected to love her and help her to be true to herself.

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Right After the Weather by Carol Anshaw (1st)

It’s the fall of 2016. Cate, a set designer in her early forties, lives and works in Chicago’s theater community. She has stayed too long at the fair and knows it’s time to get past her prolonged adolescence and stop taking handouts from her parents. She has a firm plan to get solvent and settled in a serious relationship. She has tentatively started something new even as she’s haunted by an old, going-nowhere affair. Her ex-husband, recently booted from his most recent marriage, is currently camped out in Cate’s spare bedroom, in thrall to online conspiracy theories, and she’s not sure how to help him. Her best friend Neale, a yoga instructor, lives nearby with her son and is Cate’s model for what serious adulthood looks like.

Only a few blocks away, but in a parallel universe we find Nathan and Irene—casual sociopaths, drug addicts, and small-time criminals. Their world and Cate’s intersect the day she comes into Neale’s kitchen to find these strangers assaulting her friend. Forced to take fast, spontaneous action, Cate does something she’s never even considered. She now also knows the violence she is capable of, as does everyone else in her life, and overnight, their world has changed. Anshaw’s flawed, sympathetic, and uncannily familiar characters grapple with their altered relationships and identities against the backdrop of the new Trump presidency and a country waking to a different understanding of itself. Eloquent, moving, and beautifully observed, Right after the Weather is the work of a master of exquisite prose and a wry and compassionate student of the human condition writing at the height of her considerable powers.

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The Trans Space Octopus Congregation by Bogi Takács (5th)

Lethe Press is excited to be releasing the debut short story collection by Bogi Takács. Takács may be known more for their recent editorial efforts, winning a Lambda Literary Award for Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Themed Speculative Fiction. But Takács is a talented storyteller and poet. An uplifted octopus finds a strange capsule in the water and wonders if one of the long-vanished humans might be found inside; a team of scientists perform some reverse-engineering on a space station and shapeshifting becomes political; and other tales of AI, hybrids, and the far future.

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American Love Story by Adriana Herrera (7th)

Haitian-born professor and activist Patrice Denis is not here for anything that will veer him off the path he’s worked so hard for. One particularly dangerous distraction: Easton Archer, the assistant district attorney who last summer gave Patrice some of the most intense nights of his life, and still makes him all but forget they’re from two completely different worlds.

All-around golden boy Easton forged his own path to success, choosing public service over the comforts of his family’s wealth. With local law enforcement unfairly targeting young men of color, and his career—and conscience—on the line, now is hardly the time to be thirsting after Patrice again. Even if their nights together have turned into so much more.

For the first time, Patrice is tempted to open up and embrace the happiness he’s always denied himself. But as tensions between the community and the sheriff’s office grow by the day, Easton’s personal and professional lives collide. And when the issue at hand hits closer to home than either could imagine, they’ll have to work to forge a path forward…together.

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Master of Restless Shadows by Ginn Hale (8th)

Freshly graduated Master Physician Narsi Lif-Tahm has left his home in Anacleto and journeyed to the imposing royal capitol of Cieloalta intent upon keeping the youthful oath he made to a troubled writer. But in the decade since Narsi gave his pledge, Atreau Vediya, has grown from an anonymous delinquent to a man renowned for penning bawdy operas and engaging in scandalous affairs.</p>

What Narsi―and most of the larger world―cannot know is the secret role Atreau plays as spymaster for the Duke of Rauma.

After the Cadeleonian royal bishop launches an unprovoked attack against the witches in neighboring Labara, Atreau will require every resource he can lay his hands upon to avert a war. A physician is exactly what he needs. But with a relentless assassin hunting the city and ancient magic waking, Atreau fears that his actions could cost more than his own honor. The price of peace could be his friends’ lives.

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Frankissstein by Jeannette Winterson (8th)

Lake Geneva, 1816. Nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley is inspired to write a story about a scientist who creates a new life-form. In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI and carrying out some experiments of his own in a vast underground network of tunnels. Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with his mom again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere. Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryogenics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead… but waiting to return to life.

What will happen when homo sapiens is no longer the smartest being on the planet? In fiercely intelligent prose, Jeanette Winterson shows us how much closer we are to that future than we realize. Funny and furious, bold and clear-sighted, Frankissstein is a love story about life itself.

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Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow (8th)

Hazel knows a lot about the world. That’s because when she’s not hanging with her best friend, taking care of her dog, or helping care for the goats on her family’s farm, she loves reading through dusty encyclopedias.

But even Hazel doesn’t have answers for the questions awaiting her as she enters eighth grade. What if no one at her new school gets her, and she doesn’t make any friends? What’s going to happen to one of her moms, who’s pregnant again after having two miscarriages? Why does everything have to change when life was already perfectly fine?

As Hazel struggles to cope, she’ll come to realize that sometimes you have to look within yourself—instead of the pages of a book—to find the answer to life’s most important questions.

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A Wild and Precious Life by Edie Windsor (8th)

windsorbookA lively, intimate memoir from an icon of the gay rights movement, describing gay life in 1950s and 60s New York City and her longtime activism which opened the door for marriage equality. 

Edie Windsor became internationally famous when she sued the US government, seeking federal recognition for her marriage to Thea Spyer, her partner of more than four decades. The Supreme Court ruled in Edie’s favor, a landmark victory that set the stage for full marriage equality in the US. Beloved by the LGBTQ community, Edie embraced her new role as an icon; she had already been living an extraordinary and groundbreaking life for decades.

In this memoir, which she began before passing away in 2017 and completed by her co-writer, Edie recounts her childhood in Philadelphia, her realization that she was a lesbian, and her active social life in Greenwich Village’s electrifying underground gay scene during the 1950s. Edie was also one of a select group of trailblazing women in computing, working her way up the ladder at IBM and achieving their highest technical ranking while developing software. In the early 1960s Edie met Thea, an expat from a Dutch Jewish family that fled the Nazis, and a widely respected clinical psychologist. Their partnership lasted forty-four years, until Thea died in 2009. Edie found love again, marrying Judith Kasen-Windsor in 2016.

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By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery (8th)

40651526On the day Torrey officially becomes a college freshman, he gets a call that might force him to drop out before he’s even made it through orientation: the bee farm his beloved uncle Miles left him after his tragic death is being foreclosed on.

Torrey would love nothing more than to leave behind the family and neighborhood that’s bleeding him dry. But he still feels compelled to care for the project of his uncle’s heart. As the farm heads for auction, Torrey precariously balances choosing a major and texting Gabriel—the first boy he ever kissed—with the fight to stop his uncle’s legacy from being demolished. But as notice letters pile up and lawyers appear at his dorm, dividing himself between family and future becomes impossible unless he sacrifices a part of himself.

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How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones (8th)

jonesbookFrom award-winning poet Saeed Jones, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir written at the crossroads of sex, race, and power.

“People don’t just happen,” writes Saeed Jones. “We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.’ ”

Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.

Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze. How We Fight for Our Lives is a one of a kind memoir and a book that cements Saeed Jones as an essential writer for our time.

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The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy (8th)

Rahul Kapoor is heading into seventh grade in a small town in Indiana. The start of middle school is making him feel increasingly anxious, so his favorite person in the whole world, his grandfather, Bhai, gives him some well-meaning advice: Find one thing you’re really good at and become the BEST at it.

Those four little words sear themselves into Rahul’s brain. While he’s not quite sure what that special thing is, he is convinced that once he finds it, bullies like Brent Mason will stop torturing him at school. And he won’t be worried about staring too long at his classmate Justin Emery. With his best friend, Chelsea, by his side, Rahul is ready to crush this challenge…. But what if he discovers he isn’t the bestat anything?

Funny, charming, and incredibly touching, this is a story about friendship, family, and the courage it takes to live your truth.

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Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn and Claire Roe (8th)

dunnbookTwenty-one-year-old Madison T. Jackson is already the star of the Emerson College student newspaper when she nabs a coveted night internship at Boston’s premiere newspaper, The Boston Lede. The job’s simple: do whatever the senior reporters tell you to do, from fetching coffee to getting a quote from a grieving parent. It’s grueling work, so when the murder of a prominent Boston businessman comes up on the police scanner, Madison races to the scene of the grisly crime. There, Madison meets the woman who will change her life forever: prominent socialite Dahlia Kennedy, who is covered in gore and being arrested for the murder of her family. The newspapers put everyone they can in front of her with no results until, with nothing to lose, Madison gets a chance—and unexpectedly barrels headfirst into danger she never anticipated.

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The Athena Protocol by Shamim Sarif (8th)

Jessie Archer is a member of the Athena Protocol, an elite organization of female spies who enact vigilante justice around the world.

Athena operatives are never supposed to shoot to kill—so when Jessie can’t stop herself from pulling the trigger, she gets kicked out of the organization, right before a huge mission to take down a human trafficker in Belgrade.

Jessie needs to right her wrong and prove herself, so she starts her own investigation into the trafficking. But going rogue means she has no one to watch her back as she delves into the horrors she uncovers. Meanwhile, her former teammates have been ordered to bring her down. Jessie must face danger from all sides if she’s to complete her mission—and survive.

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Tarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee Thor (15th)

43319680The Lunar Chronicles meets Rook in this queer #OwnVoices science-fantasy novel, perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer and Sharon Cameron.

A secret beats inside Anna Thatcher’s chest: an illegal clockwork heart. Anna works cog by cog—donning the moniker Technician—to supply black market medical technology to the sick and injured, against the Commissioner’s tyrannical laws.

Nathaniel Fremont, the Commissioner’s son, has never had to fear the law. Determined to earn his father’s respect, Nathaniel sets out to capture the Technician. But the more he learns about the outlaw, the more he questions whether his father’s elusive affection is worth chasing at all.

Their game of cat and mouse takes an abrupt turn when Eliza, a skilled assassin and spy, arrives. Her mission is to learn the Commissioner’s secrets at any cost—even if it means betraying her own heart.

When these uneasy allies discover the most dangerous secret of all, they must work together despite their differences and put an end to a deadly epidemic—before the Commissioner ends them first.

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The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco (15th)

36321739Frozen meets Mad Max in this epic teen fantasy duology bursting with star-crossed romance, immortal heroines, and elemental magic, perfect for fans of Furyborn.

Generations of twin goddesses have long ruled Aeon. But seventeen years ago, one sister’s betrayal defied an ancient prophecy and split their world in two. The planet ceased to spin, and a Great Abyss now divides two realms: one cloaked in perpetual night, the other scorched by an unrelenting sun.

While one sister rules Aranth—a frozen city surrounded by a storm-wracked sea —her twin inhabits the sand-locked Golden City. Each goddess has raised a daughter, and each keeps her own secrets about her sister’s betrayal.

But when shadowy forces begin to call their daughters, Odessa and Haidee, back to the site of the Breaking, the two young goddesses—along with a powerful healer from Aranth, and a mouthy desert scavenger—set out on separate journeys across treacherous wastelands, desperate to heal their broken world. No matter the sacrifice it demands.

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Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu (15th)

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

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Homesick by Nino Cipri (15th)

Dark, irreverent, and truly innovative, the speculative stories in Homesick meditate on the theme of home and our estrangement from it, and what happens when the familiar suddenly shifts into the uncanny. In stories that foreground queer relationships and transgender or nonbinary characters, Cipri delivers the origin story for a superhero team comprised of murdered girls; a housecleaner discovering an impossible ocean in her least-favorite clients’ house; a man haunted by keys that appear suddenly in his throat; and a team of scientists and activists discovering the remains of a long-extinct species of intelligent weasels.

In the spirit of Laura van den Berg, Emily Geminder, Chaya Bhuvaneswar, and other winners of the Dzanc Short Story Collection Prize, Nino Cipri’s debut collection announces the arrival of a brilliant and wonderfully unpredictable writer with a gift for turning the short story on its ear.

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Call Me Max by Kyle Lukoff, ill. by Luciano Lozano (15th)

When Max starts school, the teacher hesitates to call out the name on the attendance sheet. Something doesn’t seem to fit. Max lets her know the name he wants to be called by–a boy’s name. This begins Max’s journey as he makes new friends and reveals his feelings about his identity to his parents.

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30 Dates in 30 Days by Elle Spencer (15th)

Veronica Welch has made it. She’s about to be named a partner at one of the most prestigious law firms in New York C ity. She’s on top of the world, except for one tiny ridiculous thing: she promised herself she’d be married by thirty-five. After a drink too many, she accidentally lets her “life plan” slip to Bea, her steadfast, ever meddling assistant, and now Bea won’t let the idea go.

Rachel Monaghan doesn’t do serious relationships. As a busy wedding photographer, she’s jaded about lasting love, has a thriving repeat business, and hasn’t had much luck with love herself. While bartending at her cousin’s bar, Rachel learns of Bea’s plan to get her boss married off by scheduling thirty dates in thirty days.

In this sophisticated contemporary romance, Veronica Welch tries to find love in the most efficient way possible, while Rachel Monaghan avoids love at all costs. What could possibly go wrong?

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TBRainbow Alert: Middle Grade

The Whispers by Greg Howard

The WhispersEleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

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The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake

When Sunny St. James receives a new heart, she decides to set off on a “New Life Plan”: 1) do awesome amazing things she could never do before; 2) find a new best friend; and 3) kiss a boy for the first time.

Her “New Life Plan” seems to be racing forward, but when she meets her new best friend Quinn, Sunny questions whether she really wants to kiss a boy at all. With the reemergence of her mother, Sunny begins a journey to becoming the new Sunny St. James.
This sweet, tender novel dares readers to find the might in their own hearts.

 

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Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles

It’s the first day of summer and Rachel’s thirteenth birthday. She can’t wait to head to the lake with her best friend, Micah. But as summer unfolds, every day seems to get more complicated. Her “fun” new job taking care of the neighbors’ farm animals quickly becomes a challenge, whether she’s being pecked by chickens or having to dodge a charging pig at feeding time. At home, her parents are more worried about money than usual, and their arguments over bills intensify. Fortunately, Rachel can count on Micah to help her cope with all the stress. But Micah seems to want their relationship to go beyond friendship, and though Rachel almost wishes for that, too, she can’t force herself to feel “that way” about him. In fact, she isn’t sure she can feel that way about any boy — or what that means. With all the heart of her award-winning novel See You At Harry’s, Jo Knowles brings us the story of a girl who must discover where her heart is and what that means for her future.

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Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby

40591956Fig, a sixth grader, wants more than anything to see the world as her father does. The once-renowned pianist, who hasn’t composed a song in years and has unpredictable good and bad days, is something of a mystery to Fig. Though she’s a science and math nerd, she tries taking an art class just to be closer to him, to experience life the way an artist does. But then Fig’s dad shows up at school, disoriented and desperately searching for Fig. Not only has the class not brought Fig closer to understanding him, it has brought social services to their door.

Diving into books about Van Gogh to understand the madness of artists, calling on her best friend for advice, and turning to a new neighbor for support, Fig continues to try everything she can think of to understand her father, to save him from himself, and to find space in her life to discover who she is even as the walls are falling down around her.

Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season is a stunning novel about a girl struggling to be a kid as pressing adult concerns weigh on her. It’s also about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about coming of age and coming out. And more than anything else, it is a story of the healing power of love—and the limits of that power.

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The Stonewall Riots by Gayle E. Pittman (14th)

41079770This book is about the Stonewall Riots, a series of spontaneous, often violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBTQ+) community in reaction to a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. The Riots are attributed as the spark that ignited the LGBTQ+ movement. The author describes American gay history leading up to the Riots, the Riots themselves, and the aftermath, and includes her interviews of people involved or witnesses, including a woman who was ten at the time. Profusely illustrated, the book includes contemporary photos, newspaper clippings, and other period objects. A timely and necessary read, The Stonewall Riots helps readers to understand the history and legacy of the LGBTQ+ movement.

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Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker

35431592The critically acclaimed author of Felix Yz crafts a bold, heartfelt story about a trans girl solving a cyber mystery and coming into her own.

Zenobia July is starting a new life. She used to live in Arizona with her father; now she’s in Maine with her aunts. She used to spend most of her time behind a computer screen, improving her impressive coding and hacking skills; now she’s coming out of her shell and discovering a community of friends at Monarch Middle School. People used to tell her she was a boy; now she’s able to live openly as the girl she always knew she was.

When someone anonymously posts hateful memes on her school’s website, Zenobia knows she’s the one with the abilities to solve the mystery, all while wrestling with the challenges of a new school, a new family, and coming to grips with presenting her true gender for the first time. Timely and touching, Zenobia July is, at its heart, a story about finding home.

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Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt (October 1)

Kate and Tam meet, and both of their worlds tip sideways. At first, Tam figures Kate is your stereotypical cheerleader; Kate sees Tam as another tall jock. And the more they keep running into each other, the more they surprise each other. Beneath Kate’s sleek ponytail and perfect façade, Tam sees a goofy, sensitive, lonely girl. And Tam’s so much more than a volleyball player, Kate realizes: She’s everything Kate wishes she could be. It’s complicated. Except it’s not. When Kate and Tam meet, they fall in like. It’s as simple as that. But not everybody sees it that way. This novel in verse about two girls discovering their feelings for each other is a universal story of finding a way to be comfortable in your own skin.

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The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy (October 8)

Rahul Kapoor is heading into seventh grade in a small town in Indiana. The start of middle school is making him feel increasingly anxious, so his favorite person in the whole world, his grandfather, Bhai, gives him some well-meaning advice: Find one thing you’re really good at and become the BEST at it.

Those four little words sear themselves into Rahul’s brain. While he’s not quite sure what that special thing is, he is convinced that once he finds it, bullies like Brent Mason will stop torturing him at school. And he won’t be worried about staring too long at his classmate Justin Emery. With his best friend, Chelsea, by his side, Rahul is ready to crush this challenge…. But what if he discovers he isn’t the bestat anything?

Funny, charming, and incredibly touching, this is a story about friendship, family, and the courage it takes to live your truth.

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Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow (October 29)

Hazel knows a lot about the world. That’s because when she’s not hanging with her best friend, taking care of her dog, or helping care for the goats on her family’s farm, she loves reading through dusty encyclopedias.

But even Hazel doesn’t have answers for the questions awaiting her as she enters eighth grade. What if no one at her new school gets her, and she doesn’t make any friends? What’s going to happen to one of her moms, who’s pregnant again after having two miscarriages? Why does everything have to change when life was already perfectly fine?

As Hazel struggles to cope, she’ll come to realize that sometimes you have to look within yourself—instead of the pages of a book—to find the answer to life’s most important questions.

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Fave Five: LGBTQ MG/YA with Desi MCs

The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy (G, MG)

Jaya and Rasa by Sonia Patel (T, YA)

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (T, YA)

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan (L, YA)

Avenged by E.E. Cooper (B, YA)

Bonus: Coming in 2020, The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar and We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia! (Both YA)

Double Bonus: Running With Lions by Julian Winters has a Desi LI (YA)