Real Friends is Shannon Hale's graphic memoir of her middle school experience with real friends -- and girls who weren't quite friends. Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends since Shannon came out of her shell in early elementary school. She had earlier been the shy middle child who never felt like she quite fit in anywhere. But with Adrienne, it was like she could finally exhale. But when Adrienne starts hanging out with the popular girl, Jen, Shannon suddenly doesn't know where she fits in anymore.
In The Code for Love and Heartbreak, Emma Woodhouse, math genius and co-president of her school's coding club creates dating app for her classmates. Emma has poor social skills and doesn't read social cues as well as her peers, although it's never specifically mentioned whether she is on the autism spectrum. She genuinely believes that math and compatibility based on interests will help people find romantic partners. At first, the app is working well, and the entire coding club is on board to present their work at a competition later in the year. But then things start to go downhill.
Twelve-year old Sara Martinez is a hacker bouncing from foster home to foster home in Brooklyn, New York. After getting arrested for hacking into the NYC foster care system to expose her foster parents as criminals, she meets a man named Mother who is not a lawyer but convinces her to take on her case. Mother somehow wins and Sara gets released only to join a team of kid spies operating out of a base in Scotland.
Twins Maureen and Francine Carter have always done everything together, but things have changed as they're starting sixth grade. For one, they have nearly all their classes apart from each other, and Francine is dressing differently, trying to stand out from her twin Maureen The girls are still figuring out their new dynamic when Francine decides to run for student council, and by some stroke of fate, her shy, terrified-of-public-speaking sister is also running for president. Despite the ground rules laid by their parents, things get a bit messy as both girls try to establish their personal identities while fighting to reconcile their relationship as twins and sisters.
In Not Your All-American Girl, Lauren is Jewish and Chinese. It's the 1980s and Lauren and her best friend -- who's blonde with blue eyes -- do everything together. So when they don't have any sixth-grade classes together, they're bummed! They decide that they will audition for their school's musical so that they can at least have that time together. Lauren's audition goes swimmingly, and she's obviously the better singer than Tara (even better than any of the other kids), but when the cast list is released Lauren is only part of the ensemble and Tara is cast as lead. Upon confronting the director, she explains that Lauren's half-Jewish, half-Chinese looks don't match the role of "all-American girl" in the "all-American town" depicted in their musical.
Fizzy is the daughter of divorced parents. Her father has remarried and her mother is in a serious relationship. Fizzy is also an excellent cook -- so good that she's entering the Southern Living cook-off. But she has other struggles to contend with. At school, she doesn't have any real friends, and then her mom announces that she's marrying her boyfriend, Keane (whom Fizzy dislikes). Fizzy also has to shuttle between both parents' homes, and she's constantly feeling like the "leftover" child since both her parents are moving on and forming new families.
Zoo-Mate Wanted is an adorable picture book featuring two physically identically sisters with (of course) different personalities. Leah and Lilly love each other, but they just have different preferences. One day, after dealing with Leah's messes, Lilly gets fed up and moves out of their room. Leah is unfazed, and just decides she'll find a new "zoo-mate" who doesn't mind messes and is willing to paint and get creative everywhere and whenever. After interviewing and testing out a few animal friends, she realizes finding a new zoo-mate isn't as easy as it seems.
The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett caught my eye, thanks to its stunning cover. I'm also one of those people who is simultaneously irritated and intrigued by blurbs that say a book is for "fans of Eleanor Oliphant." This one did not disappoint. Eudora Honeysett is an 85-year-old woman who is tired of modern society and planning to die by euthanasia in Switzerland. She is recovering from a recent fall, when a new family moves in next door to her. Their little girl Rose is outgoing and determined to befriend Eudora. She invites her on outings and also ropes in their other elderly neighbor, Stanley on these adventures. The book unfolds in alternating timelines, one in the present, and one following Eudora's childhood.
Maryam (Mimi) has a thousand questions for her dad who left her and her mother when she was younger, but her mom seems to have moved on and won't talk to her about him. Her mother Samia is an artist and money is often tight for both of them in the city. One summer, Mimi's mom decides they will take a trip to Pakisan (!) where Mimi's grandparents live. Imagine how thrilled she is to learn that her dad (globe-trotting journalist) is also currently in Karachi.
Twig and Turtle are two sisters whose parents have just moved into a tiny house! The family has done some major downsizing -- the kids even had to choose just five toys they could keep, and now they have to clean up after playing with their toys. Both girls are also adjusting to a new neighborhood and new school. Turtle, the younger girl, seems to be adjusting well at school, making friends and having a good time. But for the older girl, Twig, things are a bit harder. She's self-conscious about having few clothes in rotation and being new in general. Twig is also missing their Great Dane, Bo, whom they had to leave at their Grandma's because of the tiny house. Twig decides that the she will convince her mother to let Bo move in with them again.
When Life Gives You Mangoes is set in a small island village, Sycamore Hill. Clara can't remember anything that happened in the last year and readers can immediately tell that everyone around her is concerned about this and about her in general. She spends most of time with her best friend Gaynah, playing games sometimes with the other island children. We learn that she used to surf, but she's now terrified of the water and won't even dip her toes in. But then, a new girl, Rudy, comes to their small village, where no one ever visits. As she tries to befriend Clara, a few secrets are revealed.
In No Vacancy, Miriam Brockman's family -- who are Jewish -- has just moved into a motel they bought in upstate New York. On top of the change from city to small town, Miriam has to work with her parents and uncle (who comes to help) to renovate the motel. Her parents are also struggling because the motel is in poor financial state, contrary to what the sellers had initially told them. This jeopardizes their plan to renovate and then sell the motel so they can buy a home. Next door to the hotel is a diner owned by a Catholic elderly couple, whose granddaughter, Kate, befriends Miriam. Miriam also begins working at the diner, peeling grapes for grape pie. In a bid to help draw customers to the motel, both girls create the illusion of a Virgin Mary apparition in a local abandoned drive-in. Their plan works, and customers start flooding the motel, but Miriam can't shake the guilt, even as she explores other questions about religion and disability.
Far from Normal follows Maddy, a 17-year-old from Normal, Illinois who moves to Chicago for a summer internship in aunt's sports marketing company. Away from home -- and her parents' low expectations of her -- for the first time, Maddy is ready to prove that she can be excellent at something, even though she has to work hard unlike her genius brother. Things are going fairly well, until she runs into one of the company's clients, 19-year-old soccer star, Gabe.
Catch That Chicken was my first read of the author Atinuke. She is popular for her Anna Hibiscus books, a series of chapter books set in Africa (many readers place the country as Nigeria as Atinuke is Nigerian). In this delightful picture book, young Lami who lives in a large village compound, is known to be the best chicken catcher. She runs quickly, trying to catch any chicken she's asked to, until one day, her adventures lead to a sprained ankle and Lami has to learn new ways of catching chickens.
Transcendent Kingdom is Yaa Gyasi's long-awaited sophomore novel. Her debut, Homegoing was widely read and loved. In this book, Gifty is a PhD student whose research focuses on desire and restraint and how both factors play into addiction and depression. The story follows Gifty's life from her childhood in Huntesville, Alabama to the present, alternating between several timelines. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted athlete, first playing soccer in his childhood, and then basketball in his teens, until a game injury led to a brush with Oxycontin which eventually spiraled into the opoid addiction that took his life.