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.
I was a bit scared to read Jackson's Grown, because I've read both of her books and they were absorbing, but difficult to read. I was worried about getting my head into a potentially triggering plot, but I survived. At a singing audition, 17-year-old Enchanted Jones catches the eye of superstar musician Korey Fields, who is 28. Korey promises her a future in music and the starstruck teen is quickly swept into an illicit relationship with drugs and abuse. That is until Korey Fields is found dead with Enchanted on the scene and all fingers pointing at her.
In Turning Point, we reunite with the Pirates Cove gang (minus a few) -- mostly Mila, Mo, Sheeda, and Tai. This book focuses on Monique (Mo) and Rasheeda (Sheeda)'s friendship and how it changes over a summer when both girls are drawn into different pursuits. Mo is off at a ballet intensive with Mila, while Sheeda is stuck at church (with her church "friends") feeling like she has no life.
It's My Party and I Don't Want to Go is quite the mouthful, but the quirky title encapsulates this book's nature. Ellie is a young Jewish girl with undiagnosed social anxiety. She gets physically sick -- sweaty, lightheaded, shaky, fainting at times -- at the thought of being the center of attention, and even worse when her worst fear actually happens. Her latest anxiety trigger is the thought of her fast-approaching bat mitzvah.
His Only Wife was my return to adult fiction. I always wondered which book would finally do it, and it was this one. Set in Ghana, this debut novel by Peace Adzo Medie follows a young woman Afi Tekple. The story open at Afi’s marriage to Elikem Ganyo, a man from a high standing Ghanaian family — except Elikem is absent during the ceremony, and his brother is standing in for him. The Ganyos are marrying Afi traditionally for their son, because they are displeased with his current relationship with a Liberian woman with whom he has a daughter.
Lupe Wong Won't Dance is Donna Barba Higuera's debut middle-grade novel. Her protagonist Lupe is a Mexican-Chinese girl who loves baseball. Her Chinese father died several years ago, so she lives with her Mexican mom and her brother Paolo. However, both her abuela and her Chinese grandparents are very present in their lives. Lupe is excited to get all A's this year because her uncle has promised her a meeting with baseball star Fu Li Hernandez, who's Chinacan/Mexinese like her if she does. But all of a sudden, there's a new development in her gym class: Coach wants them to do square dancing instead of like, actual sports. And guess what? Lupe does not dance.
This middle-grade book follows Lucy, a short Chinese-American girl caught between two cultures. Lucy plays basketball (very well) and would choose mac and cheese over most Chinese dishes. Her older siblings seem to fit the "perfect Chinese child" stereotype more than she does. Regina, her older sister started a Chinese club in high school and speaks flawless Chinese, while her brother Kenny, although a bookworm loves and eats all Chinese food and is a Math whiz. Still Lucy perseveres with interests, eagerly anticipating her sister's move to college so she can have their room all to herself, but that is not to be.
In Tune It Out, Lou and her mother live in their truck. Her mom believes Lou has a gift (her voice) and is determined to make it big with her. So she makes Lou sing everywhere from cafes to karaoke bars to street corners. This is extra challenging for Lou because she hates the bright lights and the sound of applause is physically painful. She also hates physical contact and is bothered by the texture of certain clothes on her skin. Lou gets some respite from the malnutrition and homelessness when an accident leads to her being taken in by Child Protective Services. Fortunately, she is sent off to live with her aunt and her husband in Nashville, Tennessee where she begins a new life until her mother can get her back.
Now That I've Found You is Kristina Forest's sophomore YA novel. This book focuses on Evie, an up and coming actress with a family in the film-making industry. Her grandmother (Gigi) is a movie star and her parents are documentary film makers who travel the world for their career. Evie has just snagged a role with a well known director when a video of her drunkenly mocking his British accent surfaces. She's dropped from the film immediately and effectively blackballed in the industry. She's only 18.