To guide your summer getaway book selections, try this formula: E=FB²
Culture Children's Books
Piecing Me Together
In this Newbery Honor Book, Jade, an African-American girl, attempts to navigate the complexities of living in an underprivileged section of Portland, Ore., while attending on scholarship a mostly white prep school. The book explores her perspective on art, race relations, and what it means to be an “at-risk” youth. Jade is an interesting main character, and her different, developing relationships form the backbone of the story. Characters discuss police shootings and their reactions to them. The book is clean, with no sexual activity or swearing, but the characters have a secular perspective on topics related to sex and religion. (Ages 13-15)
The Warden’s Daughter
As the daughter of a prison warden, Cammie O’Reilly’s life is far from boring. But what she wants more than anything else is a mother. The story chronicles her exploits to find a stand-in mother and presents a moving look at the long-term process of grieving. In addition to Cammie’s loss, the book tackles other difficult topics: One of Cammie’s inmate friends hangs herself, and a man arrives at the prison for killing a young girl. Despite its heavy themes, the book offers amusing moments between Cammie and her friends. Cautions: some swearing and taking of the Lord’s name in vain. (Ages 13-16)
The Other Side of Lost
On the outside, social media starlet Mari Turner looks as if she is living the dream life. But then the façade crumbles, and Mari is left looking for an escape. When her aunt mails her the gear that was supposed to take her late cousin all the way to the end of the John Muir Trail, Mari decides to go in her place, hoping to find herself along the way. Both Mari and the plot get sidetracked by a trail romance that becomes uncomfortably intimate, though it stops short of sex. The story contains some bad language, and two side characters are in a sexual relationship. (Ages 16-19)
Girl in the Blue Coat
Hanneke is in the business of black-market groceries and trying to keep her family alive in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. But her learned survival instinct faces a challenge after a client asks her to find a missing Jewish girl. Although at first Hanneke declines to get involved, further revelations propel her into action. The story is a moving exploration of life in occupied Europe and why people often choose ignorance to survive. A main character comes out as gay in one of the final chapters, and the discussions surrounding his relationship are flavored by a very modern understanding of identity. Another caution: bad language. (Ages 16-19)
Two trending young adult fantasy books share a similar premise—and downfall.
The Cruel Prince (Little, Brown, 2018), by Spiderwick Chronicles author Holly Black, features a world where faeries coexist with the modern world. Jude, kidnapped and brought to Faerie as a young child, tries to take control of her life as a mortal in a world of magic and immortals. But the Faerie realm is cruel and petty, and Jude strives to gain power by being crueler than her tormenters. (Note: The plot features a bisexual character.)
In Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood (Flatiron Books, 2018), Alice Proserpine discovers that the fairy tales her estranged grandmother told are all true—and their characters are hunting her. This magical world is dark, violent, and grotesque.
Both books sadly lack the elements that made stories like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia so magnetic: a center of beauty and goodness that sheds light on a dark world. —R.A.