Helen

Unscripted by Nicole Kronzer
In this fantastic, assured, YA debut, Zelda wins a place at a two week improv camp. It's a camp where scouts from Second City come to watch the Varsity team’s performance on the final night. It's Zelda’s big chance, especially when she’s picked for said Varsity Team. But, good improv depends on back and forth and trust among team mates. The guys on her team quash her ideas and humiliate her with sexual innuendos.

Her coach constantly contradicts her ideas and acting when she is working in improv scenes, until he finally asks her to stay after class. Suddenly, he’s telling her she’s brilliant and funny. At first Zelda is flattered, though a bit uncomfortable. Soon, she’s just uncomfortable...

As heavy as this sexual harassment plotline is, Zelda and her fellow female campmates are extremely funny. As a bonus, there are many diverse & LGBTQ characters. This is one of many #MeToo books female patrons need to be able to read.

Young Adult Fiction Hardcover pr5384924

He Must Like You by Danielle Younge-Ullman
The bar was extremely high for this book, as far as my expectations, as detailed below. It was a delight to have those expectations met, and surpassed.

There is much to love about this book. Our imperfect protagonist Libby sincerely struggles to improve as her world, ummm... does not. Her best friend supports and shields her (online and literally with her body), while Libby’s parents – though well-intentioned – are among the most destructive aspects in her world. With a memorable, unique and charming, romance, there is so much more to this book as well. But, the author’s treatment of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape are among the most clear and useful that I have ever read – fiction and non-fiction alike.

I would have read Danielle Younge-Ullman’s next book no matter what, because I so loved her novel, Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined. Plus, she’s Canadian! Also, her dedication to her daughters is worth the price of admission.  That said, this novel is extremely engaging, never didactic, and points young women in healthy directions to protect themselves, while offering ways to seek help if they have been harmed. Bravo! This is another brilliant #MeToo title.

Young Adult Fiction Hardcover pr5579280

The Case of the Missing Auntie: A Mighty Muskrats Mystery by Michael Hutchinson
In this mystery, the Mighty Muskrats go to the city to visit relatives and attend the Exhibition Fair. Since they have proven their investigative skills time and again at Windy Lake First Nation, Chickadee decides to try to track down their grandpa’s little sister, while they’re in the city. He hasn’t seen her since she was taken although he often dreams of her.

Some of the Muskrats are hearing about this sister – their Great-Auntie Charlotte – for the first time. As they learn about what happened to her the reader learns about how the sixties scoop and residential schools affected the Mighty Muskrats family. These explanations are extremely well done and even handed, perhaps to a fault. They are not didactic or opinionated. Various adults and kids explain history and facts in small segments, spliced seamlessly into the action of the story. They do say that these separations are/were heart breaking but leave outrage, blame, etc. to the reader.

This is the first time some of the Muskrats have been to the city. The first time they’ve been on buses, to malls, etc. They are conscious of being visible minorities for the first time and crowds make them feel panicky. They also volunteer at a street fair and meet a guy from their favourite rock band. Both things they’d never experience at home on Windy Lake First Nation. Their pursuits of information about their Auntie are equally two sided. At government agencies, they meet resistance, delays, obstacles and rules that seem to be unnecessary. They also encounter kindness and people willing to take personal risks, break rules, protocols and policy in order to help them.

The story ends with a FaceTime call. The author tempers the super emotional, climactic scene with the Mighty Muskrats’ crazy technical challenges. They rig “borrowing” a WiFi signal from a neighbour which results in hilarious antics, people tearing from the backyard to the living room, ducking their neighbour’s windows, etc.

Give this book to kids who love mysteries, and kids doing homework projects, alike.

Juvenile Fiction Paperback pr5289270

Genius Jolene by Sara Cassidy / Illus. by Charlene Chua
Jolene has a positive relationship with both of her parents. They both call her Genius Jolene. In fact, her grades are strong enough that she can travel for a week, each year, with her dad in his eighteen-wheeler truck. Her teachers give her special projects each year. This year, her teacher gives her a camera, asking her to record special moments throughout the week. Upon her return, she’ll share the photos in a presentation for the class. These photos become the illustrations in the book. Jolene climbs into the cab on the first page. She and her dad play a game each year, trying out and rating different foods – cheeseburgers, hashbrowns, milkshakes, etc. This year, they choose onion rings. Part way through the trip, there is a rockslide ahead of them. Jolene’s dad leaps into action, pulling an injured woman to safety as Jolene calls 9-1-1. It’s an action packed story.

As a bonus, this book in the Orca Echoes series also checks a lot of boxes: diverse characters, LGBTQ characters, mixed marriage, and divorce. While travelling, Jolene remembers all the changes in the past year. How Jolene’s parents explain that her dad has realized he has romantic feelings for a man, and not her mom, is really well done. Jolene asks her mom if she's mad. Her mom says no, and that she's actually proud of him. Divorce books Jolene read were full of yelling and crying kids. Jolene remembers that there was none of that. Her mom is very sad, and her dad feels bad, but there was no yelling.

The book ends with two recipes, one for Jolene’s favourite onion rings and one for spruce tip syrup. You can also put spruce tips in a salad! How very Canadian.

Juvenile Fiction Paperback pr5589478

All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney
I have read a few excellent YA novels with Muslim protagonists. These novels have offered many valuable perspectives on both positive and negative aspects in the lives of young Muslims. Like them, this book also deals with the protagonist’s Muslim community and family, secular society, negative stereotypes, hostile strangers, perspectives on dating, school, etc. Like real, live, Muslim people – of course – Muslim protagonists’ attitudes, ideas and beliefs vary. This is, however, the first protagonist who begins the story with very little understanding of actual Islamic teaching.

Allie Abraham’s father was raised Muslim, his first languages were Circassian and Arabic. His mother doesn’t speak English. He wanted his daughter’s childhood to be different from that. He refused to teach her Arabic, they don’t pray daily – or ever, really - they celebrate Christmas but don’t fast at Ramadan, etc. Allie’s mother is blonde and American, and, although she converted, she and Allie – red-haired – aren’t recognized as Muslim, unless they tell people, which Allie never has. Her family moved around a lot while her dad sought tenure through various short term positions. Now, that he has a stable career, Allie's family has settled for the first time. Mirroring this development, Allie is establishing roots in a new way, too. Throughout the course of the book Allie buys her first Quran, her first hijab , makes her first Muslim friends, etc. With them, she studies her Quran, is excited to learn Arabic, and looks forward to a new connection with her grandmother. She asks her friends, “what do we believe?”, because, even though her knowledge of Islamic history is extensive, she has never known what certain Islamic beliefs actually are. As Allie learns, the reader learns. Studying her Quran and praying, offer Allie a new peace and solace. She learns why Muslims fast at Ramadan and then - for the first time - she fasts, too.

Where other books with Muslim protagonists have been more plot driven and focused on exterior challenges, while the faith of the character remains fairly constant, this book focuses on Allie’s spiritual life and how her faith grows, enriching her life and relationships. Although much more is going on, I felt this aspect of the book to be brilliant and extraordinary.

Check out Nadine Jolie Courtney's interview with Kirkus Reviews!

Young Adult Fiction Hardcover pr2777857

Itty Bitty Princess Kitty: The Newest Princess by Melody Mews / Illus. by Ellen Stubbings
A colleague recently commented that his daughter loves a popular series for fledgling readers; said series shall remain unnamed to protect the guilty. He and his daughter read the books together, which is lovely. Lovely, except that the plot of every book is exactly the same, which he finds tedious. Enter Itty Bitty Princess Kitty!

In this first book – also targeting fledgling readers – Itty Bitty Kitty learns that she will become a princess. Suddenly, she is entitled to tutors, new dresses, hairdressers and a renovation of her room. These things make her feel sad and uncertain. She wants to keep going to school with her friends; she likes dresses she can run and play in; she likes her hair plain – the way it is, and so on. She feels guilty, and worries she’s letting everyone down. Her parents realize something is bothering her, so they sit her down. Once she tells them how she feels, all is resolved.

Although most little girls aren’t likely to become princesses, they will have to face change, and this book will help them with that. Itty Bitty Princess Kitty (which is just so much fun to say!) is a sweet little character, with a positive relationship with her parents. Supporting characters, her friends, an “announcement fairy”, etc. all have some level of character development, which kids and parents will find fun and funny.

Full disclosure - I am a cat person (in case you didn't know already). Dog people might not find this series so much fun. I particularly loved the scene in the climbing room: Itty Bitty Princess Kitty finds her parents climbing and leaping around in a room covered floor to ceiling with impressive climbing structures. When I was little, I would have loved to imagine such a place. Little girls will also enjoy Itty Bitty Princess Kitty’s adventures. Beyond this, I think the Itty Bitty Princess Kitty series – there are four books scheduled so far - promises adventures dads and daughters can enjoy together, while also opening opportunities for important, positive conversations.

Juvenile Fiction
Hardcover pr5240326
Paperback pr5238664

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