Lesley Mandros-Bell's Young Adult Picks

By Spectator Books

By Spectator Books

Lesley Mandros Bell has read and resided in the Bay Area for over thirty years teaching art, gardening, raising children, editing manuscripts and writing reviews. Having most recently served as head of the Oakland Library Advisory Commission for five years, she currently chairs the Bay Area Association of Children’s Librarians Distinguished Books committee, and reviews books for them among others. She is one of our very favorite people (and a secret weapon!) and we are SO lucky and honored to have her well-read self at our disposal to recommend incredible YA books for readers of all ages! 

Not So Pure and Simple

Lamar Giles

$17.98 $16.54

Read it! The unique perspective on sexuality, masculinity and religion this book presents is so worthwhile, and the characters are engaging and enjoyable. Narrator and main character Del is navigating his junior year of high school with a major crush on childhood friend Kiera, so profoundly attracted to her that he signs up for his mom's church's "Purity Pledge"group in order to get closer to her. As you can imagine, there are some mixed messages and crossed wires in Del's attempts to establish a relationship, and author Giles aptly gives us a humorous yet serious look at the layers of traditional gender roles, dating and societal expectations Del and his friend are trying to understand.

Red Hood

Elana K. Arnold

$18.98 $17.46

Elana Arnold's heroine, Bisou Martel, is the sort of female protagonist women of my generation would have loved to have, coming of age and into a form of strange and awful power with a strange humility and grace. A feminist fairy tale about wolves become the hunted and women avenging the violence done against them, there are beautiful echoes of Laurie Halse Anderson's anger-driven poetry and Suzanne Collins' unapologetic praises of female physical strength in a unique and sensual narrative.

Yes No Maybe So

Aisha Saeed and Becky Albertalli

$19.98 $18.38

Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehman may have spent their playdates together before elementary school, but they have very little in common as rising high school seniors when this book opens, and the fun and funny reconnection they experience when having to work together on a political campaign is a great piece of the book.

Pet

Akwaeke Emezi

$17.98 $16.54

Akwaeke Emezi creates a unique universe in Pet, one where the "monsters"of the past-racists, corporate overlords, brutal police and more-have been purged and reeducated, leaving a world in which it is safe for a father to embrace and support his child's gender transition, and where it is safe for a child to exist in the form and expression that is best for them, where color is no longer a barrier. But every utopia has its flip side, and when protagonist Jam accidentally brings something back into their safe world while exploring something new, they must examine and exorcise echoes of the older, unsafe past.

Dreams from Many Rivers: A Hispanic History of the United States Told in Poems

Margarita Engle and Beatriz Gutierrez Hernandez

$18.98 $17.46

This is a graceful and powerful poetic history of Hispanic life in the United States which covers over five centuries, and gives readers both fictional and nonfictional narrators who reflect on their own times and perspectives. Engle combines grounded descriptions of the physical and emotional with embedded and often subtle nods at contemporary culture's intense racism and xenophobia.

Survivors of the Holocaust: True Stories of Six Extraordinary Children

Ryan Jones, Kath Shackleton, et al.

$19.99 $18.39

The non-fiction, graphic novel format of this book make its disturbing and deeply personal survival stories accessible to its intended middle school audience. Individual episodes follow six children as their world is overtaken by the Nazis and they are forced to flee, hide and survive however they can.

Like a Love Story

Abdi Nazemian

$17.98 $16.54

New York in 1989 is a place where culture and contradiction co-exist, and for the three teenage protagonists in this book, the energy of those two things provides a larger-than-life backdrop for their own complex and personal coming-of-age stories. Meeting in an exclusive private school, Iranian-born Reza and New York locals Judy and Art find common ground in their outsider status and artistic passions. Judy's uncle Stephen is sick with AIDS, and the children respond both to his kindness and his activism by joining ACT-UP and participating in protests while also defending their own sexuality and personal convictions.

The Year We Fell from Space

Amy Sarig King

$16.99 $15.63

When divorce divides 12-year-old Liberty Johansen's small family, worse things than middle school politics, bullying neighbors and her own changing mind and body start to become challenges. A child of avid outdoor enthusiasts, Liberty drafts start maps and reimagines teaching the world about the night sky. An asteroid, a grieving little sister and a keen awareness of all the untold layers of hurt facing her family jolt Liberty into new, and not always better, ways of acting and understanding.

Our Castle by the Sea

Lucy Strange

$29.99

A delicate blend of coming of age and mystery set in a lighthouse on the English coast during the early days of WW 2, this story also examines the impact of silence and secrets on a family and a society. As 12-year-old Petra watches her mother be interned due to her German heritage and her sister disappear into anger and secrecy she clings to the familiarity of her small town and the family's lighthouse "castle"with its routines and ancient history.

The Bridge Home

Padma Venkatraman

$16.98 $15.62

The deep truth behind the story lines of this novel following two sisters running away to Chennai to escape an abusive father is its strength. With evocative descriptions of both the beauty and ugliness of city street life, the story is also a believable relationship story about two sisters trying to help each other.

Light It Up

Kekla Magoon

$18.98 $17.46

Two years after the events in How it Went Down (when 16-year-old African American Tariq Johnson is shot by a white man who claims self defense), the Underhill neighborhood is again subject to race-based violence when a white police officer shoots a 13-year-old girl in the back as she walks home from her tutoring appointment. You don't need to read the first book (though it is worth it!) because this story stands alone, though echoes of past violence and relationships are skillfully woven into the new tragedy.

Genesis Begins Again

Alicia D. Williams

$17.98 $16.54

With a background teaching kindergarten and experience as an oral story teller in the African American tradition, newcomer Alicia D. Williams'evident familiarity with both human nature and narrative is reflected in the beautiful and engaging heroine/narrator of her debut novel. Genesis Anderson is in middle school, but just where she is in middle school keeps changing as her alcoholic father loses rent money gambling and moves his wife and daughter from home to home in Detroit. When he moves the family to a wealthy suburb, city-wise Genesis is at first disbelieving of her new, metal-detector-free school, but soon begins to enjoy new friends, enthusiastic teachers and some very welcome stability. But appearances can be deceiving, and as her father's depression and alcoholism deepens, so does Genesis' own desperate hatred of her resemblance to him, which he mocks by comparing her to her lighter-skinned mother.

The How & the Why

Cynthia Hand

$17.98 $16.54

Intertwining the current voice of 18-year-old adoptee Cassandra McMurtey and the wise-cracking letters she tracks down from her 16-year-old birth mom The How and the Why has a wonderful, fast-paced rhythm, with both narrators evolving and emerging on the page.

Shrug

Lisa Braver Moss

$16.95 $15.59

While the sentence-level writing of this deeply emotional YA novel may not grab you at first, the sheer and heart-felt reality of a child dealing with a dysfunctional family will. Narrator Martha is growing up in Berkeley in the 60s, but the biggest war she's protesting is the one between her abusive father and depressive mother, a war whose impact shatters the lives of Martha and her siblings.

Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta, a Boy Imprisoned in a Japanese American Internment Camp During World War II

Andrea Warren

$22.99 $20.69

A solid and age-appropriate biography of Norman Mineta, which explores his own family in detail while also presenting his Japanese-American community in California and the shattering effects of internment. Documented and illustrated by photos, historical ephemera and detailed descriptions of the laws and politics around the internment, the book both documents the story of one child/one family and contextualizes the abuse of politics and racist sentiment to scapegoat citizens of a country nominally fighting for freedom in Europe.

Anthem (the Sixties Trilogy #3), Volume 3

Deborah Wiles

$19.99 $18.39

Epic road trip! It is 1969 and the world is changing, including 14-year-old Molly's family. When her adored older brother Barry abruptly leaves home and her uncle walks out of his marriage to live with "the floozie,"Molly and her 17-year-old cousin Barry end up crossing the country in a school bus to see if they can find Barry and bring the family back together. Filled with amazing pictorial sections packed with images from the Viet Nam war, the student protests and the counter-culture of the era, the book is also an epic play list through a new age of music. Chasing bands and singing in communes, picking up travelers and learning wonderful and terrible things about themselves and their country, the cousins are fabulous narrators and the perfect companions on this tour of an era.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Dan Gemeinhart

$16.98 $15.62

Coyote Sunrise and her wild-looking but good-hearted father Rodeo are on an endless journey in a converted school bus when they run across their first long-term passenger, a kitten Coyote names Ivan. As this addition begins to change the dynamic between Coyote and Rodeo, it teases back the edges of the memories of the family tragedy that brought them to begin their endless journey in the first place.

Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship"

Deborah Heiligman

$19.99 $18.39

Well-documented and with a great nonfiction narrative flow, this book tells the story of the sinking of the City of Benares by a Nazi U-boat during the second world war. The boat was carrying, among others, many children from the CORB (Children's Overseas Reception Board) to Canada to escape the London Blitz. Author Deborah Heiligman traces the children's stories from the family's decision to send their kids away (or in one case, the children's request to go on what seemed like a great adventure) to either their deaths or their rescue.

Manga Classics: Dracula: Dracula

Stacy King, Virginia Nitouhei, et al.

$24.99 $22.49

A solid manga adaptation of Bram Stoker's sensational horror novel Dracula, this version highlights the original's epistolary style by having each character's individual story presented with different handwriting and/or fonts. An abridged text, this version still manages to capture the suspense and the action of the original, and the manga style is particularly well suited to the story's fantastic transformations (vampires into bats, mist) and dramatic violence.

28 Days: A Novel of Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto

David Safier

$18.99 $17.47

16-year-old Mira is sneaking food into the Warsaw ghetto for what is left of her family as the novel opens, and the mind-numbing fear of that smuggling trip leads the reader into a chilling and detailed description of the Nazi's genocidal liquidation of the Jewish population the fierce but doomed resistance of the dwindling survivors.

I Can Make This Promise

Christine Day

$16.99 $15.63

12-year-old Edie loves to interpret her world through drawings-a stray dog becomes an on-going character, she captures her uncle's beloved duck in a portrait-but she finds the hidden layers underneath her world centering around her Native American mom's adoption by a white couple and her own mixed-race heritage are less easy to delineate. As Edie and her friends find a box filled with photos of a woman who looks just like her they navigate through themes of trust, concealment and the difficultly of balancing emotion and honesty.

Beverly, Right Here

Kate DiCamillo

$16.99 $15.63

Kate di Camillo How she loves to break our hearts And then repair them.

The Queen of Nothing

Holly Black

$19.99 $18.39

This entire series is a marvelously-paced and descriptive descent into a world of politics, power and perception, the realm of Faerie. Old school violence and betrayal portrayed in a stunning world, with a tough and flawed human heroine who learns a lot as she struggles to keep what is left of her family safe from a world where human feeling means nothing. A fitting end to a super trilogy.

Wayward Son

Rainbow Rowell

$19.98 $18.38

Who can resist Rowell’s supernatural teen heroes? The beauty, the angst, the humor and the very real exploration of emotion and expectation. Plus bonus creepy tech vampires with eugenic beliefs—this an Carry On, first in the series, are a well-imagined and beautifully written blast.

For Black Girls Like Me

Mariama J. Lockington

$16.98 $15.62

Makeda Kirkland is 11, the adopted black daughter of two classical musicians, the sister who always has to answer "where are you from, really?"when people see her with her sibling. As the girls adjust to a new school in a new state Makeda turns back towards her friend Lena (also adopted, also black) to try and tell her just how hard things are getting. A book that begins about difference and displacement becomes an exploration of mental illness and family dynamics as Makeda's mother's cluelessness and deliberate avoidance of their differences (not learning to do her daughter's hair because she thinks it is somehow racist to treat black hair differently than her own) descend into a dangerous manic state. Makeda is a great narrator, and Mariama Lockington really plays with language and syntax in ways that make the pacing of the book lyrical and interesting.

The Other Half of Happy: (middle Grade Novel for Ages 9-12, Bilingual Tween Book)

Rebecca Balcárcel

$16.98 $15.62

A graceful exploration of the balancing act one girl must perform between her Guatemalan and American halves, this book also offers a gentle view of coming-of-age and learning about self. When heroine and narrator Quijana begins seventh grade and a new school, she needs to make sense of herself within not only her family, but also her school and greater community in the midst of friends who are going through their own explorations. Lyrical language and beautiful descriptions of family and music.

Angel Mage

Garth Nix

$19.99 $18.39

Nix’s excellent world-building uses the classic Dumas Three Musketeers as a base, producing a world filled with divine powers, dangerous mysteries and a team of friends and companions in arms who are breaking boundaries (gender and sexuality are definitely fluid and non-traditional here) and uncovering the reality of the strange plagues attacking their world. A great romp and some stunning descriptive language, humor and action.

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali

Sabina Khan

$17.98 $16.54

Narrator Rukhsana Ali shares her academic ambition to move to California to study astronomy with her parents, but she doesn't add that she's planning on moving there with her very serious girl friend. When her conservative Muslim parents find out about her sexuality, Rukhsana must confront not only their complete unwillingness to accept this part of her, but their forceful attempts to mainstream her by taking her back to her grandmother's home in Bangladesh. As she struggles to escape the destiny her parents envision for her, she learns that her sexuality may not be the only explosive secret in the family. Told with honesty, humor and directness, this story examines the depths and power of many kinds of love.

The Last True Poets of the Sea

Julia Drake

$17.98 $16.54

When her younger brother's attempted suicide forces Violet's parents to examine her own out-of-control behaviors, she finds herself plucked out of a swinging teen life in New York city and exiled to her family's home town in Maine. A new look and new start, the desire to explore a treasured town myth regarding her ancestor's ship-wrecked arrival and the other teens she encounters as she works in the run-down local aquarium fill Violet's summer with vibrant possibilities as she desperately tries to block out the mental illness which her brother is trying to fight. There are echoes of loss and recovery in her new friends, and while Violet attempts to step back from the truly promiscuous malestrom of her New York life, she also explores her own desire and sexuality which add a level of tension. The honest and open discussions of physical desire and emotional connection in this book are superb, and there is a wonderful underlying sense of goofy humor.

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them

Junauda Petrus

$17.98 $16.54

A lush and emotionally-charged debut novel, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them tells the story of two black sixteen-year-old girls, Audre from Trinidad, and Mabel from Minneapolis. While Audre has been learning spiritual and herbal remedies from her amazing grandmother Queenie in Trinidad, Mabel has grown up gardening in "Black Eden"with her family, enjoying sports, Whitney Houston and the first inklings that her sexuality may be unfolding in ways she didn't expect. When Audre's church-g0ing mother finds out that Audre is gay, she ships her back to the United States to live with her father, and the two girls'lives become deeply entwined as they fight to combat an illness which completely destabilizes Mabel's world.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All

Laura Ruby

$17.99 $16.55

Echoes and doorways and parallels in this explosive and engaging novel reflect both the folk tales and the very painful realities it explores in a story which covers two female protagonists, one living and one dead. With the main action of the novel set in a Catholic orphanage in WW 2 Chicago, there is a well-researched and chilling delineation of the reality of poverty in this era, and the cost that girls and women bear every day. A second story line following the deceased narrator's past life in a very different era and class (affluent in the first World War) resonates with the same costs, and interpolated stories of the many ghosts haunting Chicago explore issues of race, class, power and belief. An amazingly fast-paced and emotionally powerful read, this is a stunner of a novel.

They Called Us Enemy

Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, et al.

$19.98 $18.38

This simple yet stunning graphic novel memoir focusses George Takei's childhood when his family is unlawfully interned following the Japanese Exclusion Act during the Second World War. With beautifully spare illustrations the book has a remarkable narrative arc which not only details the historical and legal events surrounding the Japanese internment camps, but also examines the societal echoes of the internment through our present day. There is an accessibility and honesty in Takei's reminiscences in this book which make it understandable to any age reader. The clarity and enormity of the prejudice and illegal legislation which drove the Japanese exclusion parallel what is happening in our country today with ICE detentions and camps, and Takei and his co-authors use the book to point out both the cost of the past's injustices and the need to stop history from repeating itself.

The Gilded Wolves

Roshani Chokshi

$18.99 $17.47

Solid world-building and lush description mark this opening book in a trilogy of historical fantasy novels, and the team of disparate characters are intriguing and complex. The Paris of 1889 is a great backdrop for this exploration of lost secrets and mystical excesses, and a focus on race, power and intrigue is both refreshing and well-done.

The Fountains of Silence

Ruta Sepetys

$18.98 $17.46

Another solid piece of historical fiction from Ruta Sepetys, this novel is set in post-WW 2 Spain, in a world of contradictions and concealment utterly controlled by General Francisco Franco. As the United States begins to enjoy some lucrative financial dealings in the country, we meet Daniel Matheson, an 18-year-old whose wealthy father works in the oil industry, and whose Spanish-born mother is returning to her birthplace after an absence of many years. The contradictions between the Matheson's lives as privileged visitors and their assigned hotel worker, Ana, whose own family has suffered financially and socially from Franco's repressive regime are presented with skill and detail. Daniel's photographic ambitions and Ana's determination to improve her family's life weave together in an exploration of a country whose population has learned to keep secrets, and Sepetys' research and sentence-level writing are impeccable.

Suggested Reading

Dave Connis

$17.99 $16.55

The problem is, we bring ourselves to the pages. Our whole selves. Every single darkness. Every single light. Every single passion. Every single hurt. We read with all the layers that make us who we are acting as filters. We read with all that our eyes have seen and all our hearts have felt since birth." When you love a book, the thought that it could be seen as dangerous and detrimental to others is viscerally painful, and when super-library-volunteer and scholarship student Clara Evans accidentally finds that her elite Tennessee prep school is banning fifty titles in an ongoing censorship spree, she is inspired to create an underground library for her fellow students. While the characters have minimal physical description, and race is possibly deliberately hard to discern, author Dave Connis grapples mightily with issues of power and privilege, control, consent and collaboration whose overtones echo the imaginary Civil War-era library adventure novel which inspires Clara to action, and evokes institutional racism and repression. With her amazing student president friend LiQui Carson, Clara secretly challenges the status quo of her school's conservative donors and administration, ultimately uncovering not only institutional but also personal repression, and coming to a deep understanding of the collateral costs of standing up for what you believe in. Fabulous quotes, wonderful teen dialogue and repeated shout outs to banned books from Their Eyes Were Watching God to Eleanor and Park make this a novel for book enthusiasts.

Hazel's Theory of Evolution

Lisa Jenn Bigelow

$16.99 $15.63

Hazel Brownlee-Wellington is spending her 8th grade year in a new school, trying to survive until high school can reunite with the one friend who seems able to accept her. With an older brother who has opted to delay his freshman year at Stanford, one mom navigating her third high risk pregnancy after two miscarriages and another mom trying to pick up the slack on the family's goat farm, Hazel has a lot of time on her own to delve into Darwin's theories of evolution, and come up with some observations of her own. The characters in the book is diverse on many levels, and the conflicts and conversations around race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender assignment and disability are both believable and well crafted to engage the book's intended audience. Coming of age and coming into focus as an individual, Hazel is a heroine who can both milk goats and examine their taxonomy in a convincing and compelling manner.

Child of the Dream (a Memoir of 1963)

Sharon Robinson

$16.99 $15.63

With her perspective as the daughter of baseball great Jackie Robinson coming of age in Connecticut in 1963, Sharon Robinson presents her readers with an absolutely unique window into the civil rights movement. Narrating with the very personal voice of a child who is turning 13 and worrying about her older brother, her father's health, her own social life as one of three black children in her school, Robinson also ties the personal to the universal as she describes watching protest marches and coverage of church bombings in Birmingham with her family. Readers watch Robinson mature in her confidence and her desire to effect change, joining in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Framed in the narrative arc of nearly a year, this book offers both a glimpse into a formative historical era and a coming of age narrative attractive to young readers.

The Water Dancer

Ta-Nehisi Coates

$28.00 $25.20

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a writer with great power and passion, and his first foray into fiction reflects the strengths of his earlier non-fiction. The story of Hiram Walker, born into the decaying world of pre-Civil War Virginia, is an exploration of slavery and its corrupting echoes through every element of American life as well as a coming-of-age, coming-into-power narrative of some strength. Coates chooses his words carefully, describing the worlds of "Tasked" and "Quality" with a reserve that manages to convey almost equal horror in its tone than more explicit slavery texts such as Toni Morrison's Beloved or Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. When Walker realizes his link to the mystical act of "conduction," using water and narrative to move people over distance, he embarks on a life undercover, moving other "tasked" people North and exploring the very political world of suffragists, abolitionists and others he meets along the way.

With the Fire on High

Elizabeth Acevedo

$17.98 $16.54

A wonderful sense of language and rhythm are a hallmark of Elizabeth Acevedo's writing, and With the Fire on High has an eloquent pacing and attractive music of its own. We share the academic year with Emoni Santiago, a graduating senior with a baby daughter, a supportive abuela and a gift for understanding the magical elements of cooking. Emoni narrates and shares her school community, her challenges as a single mom and her own quiet struggle to reach for the dreams of actually working towards her goal of becoming a professional chef.

The Line Tender

Kate Allen

$17.99 $16.55

Kate Allen opens this luminous coming-of-age novel with a Rachel Carson quote: Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature-the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter." There is an abundance of thoughtfulness and clarity of emotion in the book, which follows Lucy Everhart through a summer of love, loss and a reconnection with her late mother as she explores her mom's research on sharks and marine biology and suffers another very haunting personal tragedy. Set is a small Massachusetts town, the book makes the ocean another character, and as we follow the lives of the protagonists, the light and landscape of their world is clear and impactful. Allen explores loss as a primary theme, but also manages to explore the ever-resourceful heart's capacity to encapsulate and process loss as well. I have to applaud the author for including enough academic information on marine biology (plus awesome shark drawing chapter headings!) to make the book not only a wonderful story, but a doorway into the fascinating world of sharks, as well as a glimpse into research both in the field and the laboratory.

Aurora Rising

Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

$18.99 $17.47

It isn't a perfect book (there are a few too many stereotypical descriptions of the stunning attractiveness of many characters and a couple of overworked cliches) but for reading fun and world building Aurora Rising rocks. Basically an interstellar band of outcasts story which includes space cadets (literally), a girl from another time period, unspeakably ancient cultures and enough humor to keep it fun.

The Truth Is

Nonieqa Ramos

$18.99 $17.47

A YA novel with depth and heart, The Truth Is is narrated by 15-year-old Verdad, who shows us how far away she's moved from the world after the violent death of her best friend Blanca. Ramos is a great sentence-level writer with an enthusiasm and honesty which carry her through times where the narrative descends into character description and loses its momentum. Despite some muddy plotting and rapid changes of tone, the overall themes of love, loss and acceptance remain steady. Issues of race, gender identity, violence, privilege and power are skillfully explored by a character who we come to really trust.

Wintergirls

Laurie Halse Anderson

$18.99 $17.47

I had somehow missed this book until now, and while I won't say it is my favorite (Speak and Shout take those spots) Anderson is a master at getting you inside the heads and hearts of her characters. An eloquent exploration of pain--eating disorders, early death, mourning and mental illness are the focus of the book, but the ultimate lesson involves the true strength that underlies most weakness.

Patron Saints of Nothing

Randy Ribay

$17.99 $16.55

With a real and believable first person narrator and a truly thoughtful author who delves into the reality of both families and history this is an amazing book. Traveling between the Midwest and the Philippines our narrator takes us on a journey to discover the truth behind his cousin’s death and at the same time some deeper truths about the Filipino government, society and the way individuals interact with the world from a personal to a global level.

Dig

A. S. King

$17.98 $16.54

A marvelously intertwining and well-plotted contemporary almost-realistic fiction that draws you in with its unusual narrators and keeps you hooked with a building series of seemingly-unrelated revelations. Voices are individual and compelling, and truths, ugly and stupid and petty as they can be, are turned out and examined. Race, identity, racist belief versus reality are at the core of a complex and compelling book.