City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (2017)

This mystery, set in Kenya and the Congo, packs an emotional and disturbing punch.

Recommended grade level: mature 8th graders and up

Pages:   401 (for ISBN 9780399547584)

Genre(s) and keywords: mystery, thriller, realistic, diverse, international, Africa (Kenya and the Congo)

Tone/Style: gritty

Pace: moderate

Topics: murder, investigations, refugees

Themes: family, trust, revenge, traumatic family history

Summary: In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill’s personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it. Continue reading

Click Here to Start by Dennis Markell (2016)

clickThree twelve-year-olds hunt for treasure in a book that integrates virtual escape-the-room games into its mystery.

Recommended grade level: 5 and up

Pages:  320 (for ISBN 9781101931875)

Genre(s) and keywords: mystery, adventure, puzzle, diverse

Tone/Style: analytical, curious

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: escape rooms, World War II, Asian-Americans, Jewish Americans

Themes: friendship, family, legacies

Summary: What if playing video games was prepping you to solve an incredible real-world puzzle and locate a priceless treasure?

Twelve-year-old Ted Gerson has spent most of his summer playing video games. So when his great-uncle dies and bequeaths him the all so-called treasure in his overstuffed junk shop of an apartment, Ted explores it like it’s another level to beat. And to his shock, he finds that eccentric Great-Uncle Ted actually has set the place up like a real-life escape-the-room game! Continue reading

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016)

ghostAn up-and-coming rockstar of a writer takes on a younger audience in this quick, charming book about the healing power of a track team.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages:   192 (for ISBN 9781481450157)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic, sports, diverse, African-American protagonist, award winner

Tone/Style: conversational, African American Vernacular English (AAVE)

Pace: fast

Topics: running track, shoes, stealing, traumatic past experiences, incarcerated parents

Themes: opening up about difficult life experiences, accountability, causes of misbehavior, hard work and determination, new friends

Summary: Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. (Source)

Who will like this book?: At 192 pages and with a sports theme, this should appeal to many reluctant readers. The book also has a fabulously diverse cast that offers representation to readers who may not see enough of themselves in literature. Castle (aka “Ghost”) is an honest and relatably flawed narrator. Ghost weighty enough that teachers should like it, too, making it a great choice for book reports.

Who won’t like this book?: It’s more of a character development book (though an unusually fast-moving one) than a plot-based book, and certain types of readers may reach the end and feel that not much happened in it.

Other comments: I read this as a physical book, but my coworkers tell me the audiobook is excellent. It won an Odyssey Honor this year. Ghost is also a National Book Award Finalist. It looks like this will be the first of several books about different members of the track team.

Sequel(s): Patina (expected August 2017); two more titles forthcoming (presumably called Lu and Sunny).

Readalikes: Jason Reynolds exploded onto the scene a few years ago and hasn’t stopped since. His  When I Was the Greatest and The Boy in the Black Suit are a good choices about urban black boys for slightly more mature audience (recommended for grades 7 and up). Ghetto Cowboy and Chess Rumble by G. Neri and Riding Chance by Christine Kendall are also books about black boys who find outlets in new hobbies. Readers interested in track can also try the ever-popular The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.

-Kylie Peters

Image credit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28954126-ghost

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5 to 1 by Holly Bodger (2015)

5to1A dystopian society, Indian culture, and feminist commentary combine to make this a unique read.

Recommended grade level: 7-10

Pages:  244 (for ISBN 9780385391535)

Genre(s) and keywords: dystopian, verse, diverse, Asia (India, fictionalized)

Tone/Style: bleak, determined

Continue reading

Booked by Kwame Alexander (2016)

bookedKwame’s novel-in-verse follows in the tradition of Newbery Award-winner The Crossover.

Recommended grade level: 4-8

Pages:   320 (for ISBN 9780544570986)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, verse, sports, diverse, reluctant readers, African-American protagonist

Tone/Style: cool, lyrical

Continue reading

Code of Honor by Alan Gratz (2015)

codeThis is a rare action story that sheds light on serious issues in current events like racism, Islamophobia, and terrorism.

Recommended grade level: 6-10

Pages:   228 (for ISBN 9780545695190)

Genre(s) and keywords: action, diverse, protagonist of Middle Eastern descent

Tone/Style: exciting, tense Continue reading

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (2013)

counting

This sad and thoughtful book has enjoyed great popularity in the last few years.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages: 380 (for ISBN 9780803738553)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, diverse, African-American protagonist

Tone/Style: precise, melancholy

Pace: leisurely

Topics: orphans, gifted students, surrogate families

Themes: grief and loss, being different, finding family, moving on

Summary: Counting By 7s is the story of Willow Chance, a twelve-year old girl who has been identified at an early age as ‘gifted’. Willow lives in Bakersfield, California and comes home from school one day to the news that her parents have been killed in a traffic accident. Continue reading