Reviews of the Week with Brittney Morris, David Yoon, K. A. Holt, and More!

Every weekday we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

An online safe space marred by violence and misconceptions; a fresh take on a faux relationship; a budding and unexpected high-school romance; a vibrantly illustrated friendship between polar opposites; an informative chronicle of how humans first stepped onto the moon. An emphasis on younger voices and dazzling illustrations (after all, it’s still Graphic Novels in Libraries month!) connect this week’s Reviews of the Day, posted between July 15 and July 19, below.

Monday, July 15

SLAY, by Brittney Morris

So often, Black gamer girls and Black girls in STEAM are overlooked. However, Morris unapologetically brings both identities front and center with her explosive debut. Seventeen-­year-old gamer Kiera Johnson finds that being Black leaves her largely ostracized from the larger gaming community. As a result, she ingeniously creates SLAY, her own online virtual reality game that becomes more than a hobby—it becomes a community for thousands of Black gamers to embody Nubian personae in a role-playing game. The game functions as Kiera’s refuge from the racism and traumas of the outside world. But her precious, necessary safe space is threatened when a player is killed due to an in-game dispute. It creates a stir in the media and paints SLAY in a negative light.

Tuesday, July 16

Frankly in Love, by David Yoon

Frank Li has always known his parents expected him to date a fellow Korean American. It was an unspoken rule he tried not to think about until he finds himself kissing, texting, and overall obsessing over Brit—who’s white. To save himself from his parent’s disappointment (or outright condemnation) Frank hatches a plan to create a faux relationship with longtime family friend Joy, who has also fallen for a non-Korean. It seems like the perfect plan, at least, for a little while. With Frankly in Love, Yoon has created a story within the well-trod rom-com trope of fake relationships becoming more than a facade that is completely fresh.


Wednesday, July 17

Redwood and Ponytail, by K. A. Holt

With her latest novel in verse, Holt returns to the world of House Arrest (2015) and Knockout (2018), this time turning her focus to the story of Kate and Tam. Kate, with her “perfect swinging” ponytail, is next in line to be cheerleading captain, much to the satisfaction of her demanding, ex-cheerleader mother. Tam, tall as a redwood, is a popular volleyball jock whose “hippie” mother and elderly lesbian neighbors help her feel free to be herself. When the new school year brings the two girls together, they form an immediate bond, but it’s a friendship that soon feels like something more, and each of them must make sense of their feelings in the face of first love and the pressure of outside expectations. The free verse narration is totally accessible, flowing quick and clear, and Holt plays with form, beautifully highlighting the parallel internal journeys, often achieving something akin to a musical duet.

Thursday, July 18

Stargazing, written and illustrated by Jen Wang

The author-artist behind the award-winning Prince and the Dressmaker (2018) turns to middle grade in this exceptional friendship story. Initially, Christine isn’t so sure about Moon and her mother, who just moved into the extra unit at Christine’s family’s house. Moon is loud, artistic, and confident, and she doesn’t live under the same kind of rules as Christine does in her own Chinese American family. But despite these differences, they’re soon spending nearly all their time together. Then trouble arises: Christine feels pressure from her baba to spend more time on her schoolwork than with her new friend, and Moon’s popularity with their classmates starts to make Christine feel jealous. But when Moon’s artistic thinking turns out to be more than just freewheeling creativity, Christine realizes how important Moon is to her. Wang masterfully communicates the majority of these emotional turns with marvelously expressive faces and body language, rendered in just a few careful brushstrokes. Pien’s warm colors add great dimension to Wang’s figures, which are refreshingly varied in terms of body shape and size, and Moon and Christine’s lively doodles and drawings add playful insight into their characters.

Friday, July 19

Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight, written and illustrated by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

Alternating chapters informatively and elegantly trace a chronicle of humans reaching the moon. We start in situ on July 20, 1969, with the first moon landing, then take a small step and giant leap back to the theoretical origin of the moon and its earliest relationship to human culture and Earth, as a symbol for time-keeping and calendar creation, and its effect on the rise and fall of the tides. Moon-landing chapters are short and focused, shedding light on less overt but no less heroic moments and decisions. Historical chapters are lengthier examinations of the scientific thinking that deepened our understanding of the moon and how to reach it. Both threads spend time on the people involved, from astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins to thinkers, such as early theoretician Johannes Kepler, Nazi scientist Wernher Von Braun, Stalin-era Soviet scientist Sergei Korolev, USAF test pilot Deke Slayton, originator of the “Woman in Space” program, and proto-software engineer Margaret Hamilton. As with a trip to the moon, the role of artistry is less obvious but no less crucial.

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About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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