Tundra Telegram: Books That Blue Us Away

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we run through the issues giving readers grief, and suggest a few books for reading AND weeping.

Since 2005, people have acknowledged “Blue Monday.” (Celebrate is not exactly what we’d say happens.) The third Monday of January was given that name by a UK travel company, since they had allegedly calculated it as the most depressing day of the year. (One can assume they hoped to inspire some January travel to combat said blues.) Relatedly, “Blue Monday,” the song by New Order, has been acknowledged since 1983 to be a serious banger.

Whether there is any basis for “Blue Monday” being the saddest date on the calendar – many mental health professionals have dismissed it as pseudoscience – we nevertheless felt it’s never a bad time to recommend some books for all ages that discuss sadness, grief, and clinical depression. (Though, as a content warning, we should note many of the YA books, in particular, feature frank depictions of mental illness, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.) That said, let’s wallow in some great books about being blue.

PICTURE BOOKS

The titular ursine friend in Cecile Metzger’s Invisible Bear is not necessarily sad or depressed (per se), but he does spend his days alone in his quiet, colorless home in a forgotten place, where no one comes to visit him. That is, he does until the colorful Madam Odette bursts into his life as a friendly neighbor and both their lives are forever changed for the better.

The Pink Umbrella by Amélie Callot and Geneviève Godbout is similarly about the transformative power of friendship over sadness. Café owner Adele finds the care that she gives her customers and community is returned when she finds herself in the midst of (emotionally and physically) rainy days. One café customer helps her find the sun during a period of severe gray weather.

There are many metaphors for sadness – lack of color, rainy days. And in What’s Up, Maloo? by skipper of sadness Geneviève Godbout, it’s a kangaroo who loses his hop. Maloo the kangaroo starts stepping everywhere instead. His animal pals look for ways to help Maloo to un-stop the hop, and find patience and support can help get a bounce back.

Some say grief is love persevering, which is a beautiful analogy. But for the purposes of this list, grief is a deep sorrow, usually caused by a great loss. A Garden of Creatures by Sheila Heti and Esmé Shapiro is a tender and moving picture book about a great loss and the big questions it poses. Featuring a little bunny and cat whose friend, a big bunny, passes away, the book is a perfect read for anyone struggling with grief and a non-traditional meditation on death that offers tranquility.

Grief is also at the heart of Rodney Was a Tortoise by Nan Forler and Yong Ling Kang, a book that perfectly captures the sorrow of losing a pet. But as devastating as Bernadette’s loss of her dear friend Rodney is, the book shows the importance of expressing kindness and empathy, especially when people are experiencing some of life’s most trying moments.

Completing our grief picture book trilogy is Many Shapes of Clay: A Story of Healing by Kenesha Sneed. Eisha’s mother helps her make a special shape out of clay that reminds her of her father. But as her day goes on, the piece of clay hardens and then eventually shatters into pieces when Eisha bumps into it. Eisha has to live with the loss, and work to make something new out of what is left behind. This is a very subtle book about grief, as well as a book about the joys and pain of the creative process.

Kids don’t always know what to do with their sadness, nor do the adults in their lives know how to respond. The Rabbit Listened by Cory Doerrfeld has lessons in sadness for all ages. Young Taylor doesn’t know who to talk to when feeling sad. All the animals Taylor approaches have their own reactions – they want to talk, they want to get angry. But only the rabbit, who simply listens, can provide Taylor with any comfort.

Eva Eland’s When Sadness Is at Your Door is similar, but suggests young readers treat a feeling of sadness as if it were a guest. Sadness – especially when it lasts a long time – can be confusing and overwhelming. This book suggests you give your sadness a name, maybe do some activities to do with it, like sitting quietly, drawing, or going outside for a walk. This is an excellent book that helps separate sadness from the self, and eschews the idea of “getting over it” or that sadness is, in itself, inherently bad.

And once you finish that, you can read the follow up, Where Happiness Begins, that anthropomorphizes happiness in the same fashion. The book gives happiness a shape, and show readers where they might find it (though it can be elusive).

Being sad or depressed can be a heavy emotion. And Whimsy’s Heavy Things by Julie Kraulis is about a young girl whose things keep weighing her down. Whether she tries to sweep them under the rug or set them out to sea, they keep returning to trip her up. Only by dealing with her heavy things one at a time does Whimsy’s fortune change.

A Shelter for Sadness by Anne Booth and David Litchfield also looks at depression through a figurative lens, and shares some similarities with Eva Eland’s work. In it, a boy creates a shelter for his sadness so that he can visit it whenever he needs to, and the two of them can cry, talk, or just sit. The book views sadness as something that needs to be tended and cared for as much as any friend.

Rachel Tomlinson and Tori-Jay Mordey’s A Blue Kind of Day is less fanciful and more straightforward in its depiction of childhood depression. Coen is depressed and his family members all think they know the way to cheer him up. But (like The Rabbit) only when they begin to listen can they hear what Coen needs as support.

While there are many emotions depicted in Big Feelings by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman – anger, fear, glee, anxiety – sadness is certainly one of the stars of the emotional show. And the adorable kids from the class first seen in All Are Welcome navigate their emotions together, partially by trying to empathize and see multiple points of view.

Finally, Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond and Daniel Minter may not be about sadness or depressions, but Blue Monday is a perfect opportunity to recommend this fascinating cultural history of the color blue. From Afghan painters grinding sapphire rocks to the slave trade’s connections to the demand for indigo pigment and the ways blue jeans are worn, Blue will make you think twice about what colors mean.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

Susin Nielsen’s No Fixed Address is a very funny book that deals with some difficult issues. Felix is a twelve-year-old kid who lives in a camper van with his mom and has a knack for trivia. While the book chronicles his quest to hide his family’s poverty and compete on a national quiz show to earn them a windfall, it also documents his mother Astrid’s struggles with depression and how their poverty affects how she manages, looking at the economic contributors to mental health.

Natalie in The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller also has a mom with depression. And while Felix thinks winning a quiz show will solve most of his problems, Natalie leans into an egg drop competition for similar reasons. With the prize money, she can fly her botanist mother to see the miraculous Cobalt Blue Orchids – flowers that survive against impossible odds – and bring some hope into her life. The novel is a great read for any kid trying to grasp the nuances of depression and loneliness, especially in a parent or guardian.

Laura Tucker’s All the Greys on Greene Street also features a depressed mother – in this case it’s Olympia’s mother, who falls into a deep funk after Olympia’s father, an antique painting restorer, mysteriously leaves in the middle of the night. Olympia’s mom’s depression is depicted with honesty and sensitivity, and the book looks at family, friendship, and art – all set in 1981 Soho, New York City.

But – as you probably know – it’s not just parents who have depression. And Dunkin Dorfman, one half of the titular duo in Donna Gephart’s Lily and Dunkin, is a thirteen-year-old new in town with bipolar disorder. His best friend is a trans girl and together, they’re going to do their best to survive school, despite the odds stacked against them.

Lucy’s mother in Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton also has bipolar disorder, and Lucy finds it a challenge in her efforts to become a world-famous robotics scientist. But despite her frustration, Lucy and her baby sister Izzy will go to great lengths to protect the mother they love in a empathetic portrayal of manic depression.

Delsie in Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt does not, as far as readers know, have bipolar disorder or depression, but she is having one cruel summer in Cape Cod. She’s dealing with the loss of a best friend, bullying, and her absent mother. But in time, Delsie learns to live with gratitude and in a way that helps others respond in positive ways.

YOUNG ADULT

Nothing is more emo than YA, so obviously there are tons of great novels that delve into sadness and depression. Exhibit A: The Year After You by Nina De Pass, in which Cara is consumed by grief and survivor’s guilt after she survives a tragic accident on New Year’s Eve – but her friend does not. Months later, at a boarding school in Switzerland where no one knows the accident happened, new classmates Ren and Hector try to break through the walls Cara has built and help her begin to forgive herself.

Do you need another novel about a young woman trying to outrun tragedy in her past written by someone named ‘Nina’? Try We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, a moving portrait of loss and loneliness, which one GoodReads reviewer said had her crying “in a park while staring into the unsympathetic rodent eyes of a squirrel hiding nuts for the winter.” Sounds perfect.

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow is a difficult book that looks at self-harm, one method many teens sadly use to handle their grief and sadness. And protagonist Charlie’s life is filled with traumas – a dead father, abusive mother, life on the street – that can be hard to read, but her journey to put herself back together and find new outlets for her grief is inspiring.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (which is now also a movie!) is a romance between two very sad (read – trigger warning – suicidal) teens, dealing respectively with deep grief or bipolar disorder. But when Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the school’s bell tower, it’s unclear who saves whom. Together, they decide to discover the natural wonders of their state of Indiana and give them reasons to live – finding they can really be themselves with each other. But how long can that feeling last?

There’s a similar journey to an unknown land in Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini: Kayla is sent to Canada (!) from Trinidad to live with an estranged aunt after she is hospitalized for depression. Her mother sees it as the only solution (someone didn’t read When Sadness Is At Your Door!) and Kayla finds herself in the cold and confusing North. But Canada – in addition to frozen landscapes and Tim Hortons iced capps – also could feature the chance at a family that loves unconditionally, some new friends, and the promise of a hopeful future.

Julia in Erika L. Sánchez’s I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a teenager moving through the grief of losing her older sister – the perfect daughter her parents had all their hopes pinned upon. Not only must she deal with her own devastation, she finds her mother is channeling her grief into criticizing her for all the ways she is not like her dead sister.

For a book about depression and – in particular – intergenerational mental illness, readers should check out How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox. Biz, who lost her dad when she was seven, has begun seeing her dad again. But she keeps this information – along with her many dark thoughts – from everyone in her life, so she seems like she’s just floating along, totally fine. Biz slowly begins to come undone, but the book explores the beautiful places loss can sometimes take people and how – ultimately – to return to the world.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram documents a nerdy Persian American who never feels like he’s enough, as he takes his first-ever trip to Iran. He feels out of sorts, and his clinical depression is hard for him to explain to his grandparents. But things start to look up when he meets a sweet boy next door, Sohrab.

Not only is the content of Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker profoundly emo – the soundtrack is, too! One of the funnier novels about depression, the book features a seventeen-year-old Black girl in mostly white suburbia dealing with clinical depression (largely through listening to Sunny Day Real Estate).

Many of Heather Smith’s bittersweet novels have their moments of intense sadness, but we wanted to limit ourselves to one. That one book is The Agony of Bun O’Keefe, mainly because “agony” is in the title. But also, we love the 1980s Newfoundland setting and the found family Bun discovers after leaving her solitary life in an unsafe house – though those found family members she ends up rooming with all have their sad tales to tell, as well.

Unhappy reading, friends!

Holiday Spotlight: Random House Children’s Books 2022

Here at Penguin Random House Canada, we’re lucky to work with so many different publisher lists. This holiday season, we’ll be highlighting each one with a dedicated post to help you find the perfect gift (or your next read). Today’s post is all about Random House Children’s Books.

All Are Neighbors
By Alexandra Penfold
Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
44 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593429983 | Alfred A. Knopf BFYR
Let’s go walking down our street.
Friends and neighbors here to greet.
There are oh so many folks to meet.
We all are neighbors here.
Moving to a new place can be hard, but when your neighbors welcome you with open arms, there are so many things to discover and celebrate. Come along with the kids from the bestsellers of All Are Welcome and Big Feelings as they introduce the new kid to a community where everyone has a place and is loved and appreciated – no matter what.

Five Survive
By Holly Jackson
400 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593374160| Delacorte Press
Red Kenny is on a road trip for spring break with five friends: her best friend and her older brother, his perfect girlfriend, a friend from school, and the guy Red wishes was more than a friend. But they won’t make it to their destination. When their RV breaks down in the middle of nowhere, with no cell service, they realize this is no accident. They have been trapped out there in the dark, by someone who wants them dead. With eight hours until dawn, the six friends must escape, or figure out which one of them is the target. But is there a liar among them? Buried secrets will be brought to light, and tensions inside the RV will reach deadly levels. Not all of them will survive the night . . . .

His Dark Materials: The Collectors
By Philip Pullman
Illustrated by Tom Duxbury
80 Pages | Ages 10+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593378342 | Alfred A. Knopf BFYR
In this darkly delicious tale, internationally acclaimed author Philip Pullman invites readers to meet the mysterious girl who will one day become the sinister Mrs. Coulter. On a cold winter’s night, two art collectors are settled before a fire in the senior common room of a college in Oxford, discussing two new unusual pieces – a portrait of a striking young woman and a bronze sculpture of a fearsome monkey. How could they imagine that they are about to be caught in the cross-fire of a story that has traveled across time and worlds . . . .

Memories and Life Lessons from the Magic Tree House
By Mary Pope Osborne
Illustrated by Sal Murdocca
144 Pages | Ages 7+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593484548 | Random House BFYR
Celebrate the 30th anniversary of the #1 New York Times bestselling series with heartfelt advice from Mary Pope Osborne’s own life and her magical adventures with Jack and Annie – perfect for Magic Tree House fans of all ages! Look for heroes, far and near. Give your gifts to the world. Have compassion for all creatures. These are just a few of the lessons that Magic Tree House fans will learn on their magical journey through this book. With quotes from the series and classic art by Sal Murdocca, Mary Pope Osborne, beloved author of the #1 bestselling Magic Tree House series, shares the wisdom she’s gained from her own childhood and thirty years of whisking Jack and Annie away in the magic tree house

Nubia: The Awakening
By Omar Epps and Clarence A. Haynes
368 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593428641 | Delacorte Press
For Zuberi, Uzochi, and Lencho, Nubia is a mystery. Before they were born, a massive storm destroyed their ancestral homeland, forcing their families to flee across the ocean to New York City. Nubia, a utopic island nation off the coast of West Africa, was no more, and their parents’ sorrow was too deep for them to share much of their history beyond the folklore. But New York, ravaged by climate change and class division, is far from a safe haven for refugees, and Nubians live as outcasts, struggling to survive in the constantly flooding lower half of Manhattan, while the rich thrive in the tech-driven sky city known as the Up High. To many, being Nubian means you’re fated for a life plagued by difficulties and disrespect. But Zuberi, Uzochi, and Lencho are beginning to feel there might be more. Something within them is changing, giving each of them extraordinary powers. Extraordinary and terrifying powers that seem to be tied to the secrets their parents have kept from them. And there are people Up High watching, eager to do anything they can to become even more powerful than they already are. Now Zuberi, Uzochi, and Lencho will be faced with the choice – do they use their inheritance to lift their people, or to leave them behind. The fate of their city, and their people, hangs in the balance.

Soul of the Deep
By Natasha Bowen
304 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593120989 | Random House BFYR
To save those closest to her, Simi traded away everything: her freedom, her family, and the boy she loves. Now she is sworn to serve a new god, watching over the Land of the Dead at the bottom of the ocean. But when signs of demons begin to appear, it’s clear there are deeper consequences of Simi’s trade. These demons spell the world’s ruin . . . and because of Simi, they now have a way into the human realm. With the fate of the world at stake, Simi must break her promise and team up with a scheming trickster of a god. And if they succeed, perhaps Simi can also unbreak her heart along the way, and find herself again.

Sweet Valley Twins: Best Friends
By Francine Pascal
Illustrated by Claudia Aguirre
Adapted by Nicole Andelfinger
224 Pages | Ages 8–12 | Paperback
ISBN 9780593376461 | Random House Graphic
Jessica and Elizabeth have always been inseparable twins, but starting middle school means a chance for new beginnings! Elizabeth is excited to organize a school newspaper, but Jessica is more interested in joining the exclusive Unicorn Club. What will happen when the twins realize they might not be as alike as they thought? Middle school is hard enough, but with these twins each dealing with becoming their own person – will they be able to stay friends at the same time? Francine Pascal’s beloved Sweet Valley Twins comes to life in a brand-new graphic novel that will have old and new fans delighted as they meet Jessica and Elizabeth in graphic novel form. With the lively artwork of Claudia Aguirre, Sweet Valley Twins: Best Friends is a contemporary middle-grade graphic novel filled with heart, laughter, and lots of twins.

The Area 51 Files
By Julie Buxbaum
Illustrated by Lavanya Naidu
304 Pages | Ages 8–12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593429464 | Delacorte Press
When Sky Patel-Baum is sent to live with her mysterious uncle, she didn’t imagine she’d end up here: Area 51. A top-secret military base with a bajillion rules and so classified not even the president knows its secrets. Also, it turns out the place is full of aliens. Lots and lots of aliens. But they prefer to be called Break Throughs, thank you very much. As Sky sets out to explore her extraordinary new home with her pizza-obsessed pet hedgehog Spike, she meets her otherworldly next-door neighbor Elvis and his fluffy pup, Pickles. But something mysterious is afoot in Area 51. Some of the Break Throughs have gone missing . . . at the exact same time Sky arrived. Where could they be? How can Sky and her uncle convince everyone they had nothing to do with the disappearance? And why does the macaroni and cheese at Area 51 Middle have eyeballs in it? New best friends Sky, Elvis, Spike, and Pickles try to crack the case, but the clock is ticking . . . .

The Little Book of Joy
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Illustrated by Rafael López
40 Pages | Ages 3–7 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593484234 | Crown BFYR
In their only collaboration for children, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu use their childhood stories to show young people how to find joy even in hard times and why sharing joy with others makes it grow. The two spiritual masters tell a simple story, vibrantly brought to life by bestselling illustrator Rafael López, of how every child has joy inside them, even when it sometimes hides, and how we can find it, keep it close, and grow it by sharing it with the world. Sprung from the friendship, humor, and deep affection between these holy men, the book is a perfectly timed and important gift from two revered spiritual leaders to children. It is a reminder that joy is abundant – no matter what challenges we face – and has the power to transform the world around us even in the darkest of times.

Well, That Was Unexpected
Jesse Q. Sutanto
353 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593433973 | Delacorte Press
After Sharlot Citra’s mother catches her in a compromising position, she finds herself whisked away from LA to her mother’s native Indonesia. It’ll be exactly what they both need. Or so her mother thinks. When George Clooney Tanuwijaya’s father (who is obsessed with American celebrities) fears he no longer understands how to get through to his son, he decides to take matters into his own hands. To ensure that their children find the right kind of romantic partner, Sharlot’s mother and George’s father do what any “good” parent would do: they strike up a conversation online, pretending to be their children. When the kids find out about their parents’ actions, they’re horrified. Not even a trip to one of the most romantic places on earth could possibly make Sharlot and George fall for each other. But as the layers peel back and the person they thought they knew from online is revealed, the truth becomes more complicated. As unlikely as it may seem, did their parents manage to find their true match after all?

Tundra Telegram: Books That You Should Never Ever Put Down

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we talk about things that are our current mood, and recommend some sick books you might low-key love.

We’re cheating a little this week by talking about yet another Netflix television series, but the entire Tundra team was just too excited for the return of one of the funniest teen comedy-dramas in some time, Never Have I Ever, to avoid it. And as star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan hails from Mississauga, Ontario, our Canadian pride was just too strong to resist. Plus, there are so few children’s books about heads of state taking classified documents.

Resultingly, this week we’re recommending picture books, middle-grade titles and – perhaps most fittingly – YA that connect, in one way or another, to the popular teen comedy series chronicling the victories and embarrassments of Sherman Oaks high school student Devi Vishwakumar. Read on, fellow Coyote Girls and Boys.

PICTURE BOOKS

We’re sure that Devi (and the actor who plays her, Maitreyi) can relate to Mirha, the protagonist of picture book That’s Not My Name!, written and illustrated by Torontonian Anoosha Syed. Mirha’s classmates mispronounce her name, she can’t find a monogrammed keychain at the gas station, and begins to wonder if she should find a new one until Mama helps her see how special her name is.

Whether it’s grief that causes temporary paralysis or a volcanic anger that leads to verbal altercations with her mother and declaring nuclear war at model U.N., one thing Devi has is Big Feelings, which is also the name of a picture book by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. The book, much like Devi’s therapist Jamie Ryan, helps children’ navigate life when they feel mad, frustrated, or overwhelmed.

This isn’t a spoiler, as Never Have I Ever essentially opens with the death of Devi’s father, Mohan, but a lot of the emotional challenges Devi faces are traced back to the loss of a parent. Many Shapes of Clay: A Story of Healing by Kenesha Sneed uses ceramics to tell the story of a mother and son (Eisha), coping with a lost father. Eisha learns to live with the sense of loss and of the joyful power of making something new out of what is left behind (even if it’s just a single voice mail).

More than a few times Devi’s father’s death has manifested itself in her dreams, which reminds us of another wonderful book about grief for young readers, A Garden of Creatures by Sheila Heti and Esmé Shapiro. After a bunny and cat lose their fellow garden friend, the big bunny, a strange dream prompts the smaller bunny to begin asking questions big questions about death. Along those same lines, Lost in the Clouds by Tom Tinn-Disbury, part of the new series, Difficult Conversations for Children, acts as a guide to talking to young kids about grief, as it follows Billy and his father while they navigate the loss of Billy’s mother

Never Have I Ever also makes us happy as it features a main character who is the romantic interest of several appealing suitors – and she has body hair. It reminds us of Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand and Nabi H. Ali, in which young Indian-American girl Laxmi falls in love with the hair on her upper lip, her arms, legs, and between her eyebrows!

The show wouldn’t be the same without the incredible narration from tennis star John McEnroe. Not only do McEnroe and Devi share a reputation for hot tempers, Devi’s story has sentimental connections to the tennis star. For a picture book that combines tennis greatness, temporary debilitating injuries, and social-emotional learning, you have to check out former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu’s Bibi’s Got Game, co-written by Mary Beth Leatherdale and illustrated by Chelsea O’Byrne.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

One element we haven’t dwelled on much yet is how uproariously funny Never Have I Ever is. Need another hit of humor? Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever. has got you covered. Edited by Betsy Bird and featuring hilarious stories by Cece Bell, Libba Bray, Raina Telgemeier, and many more – all featuring funny girl friends (not unlike Devi, Eleanor, and Fabiola).

For a book that more precisely marries comedy with the challenges of being a second-generation teenager in America, try Jessica Kim’s beloved Stand Up, Yumi Chung! Yumi, a shy outsider whose parents run a Korean barbecue restaurant, plots to become a stand-up comedian (under a false identity) while she’s supposed to be studying for a private school scholarship. Like Never Have I Ever, it’s a charming story with bighearted characters.

In The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller, Natalie and her friends’ interest in science may be more of a Fabiola thing than a Devi one . But it’s a funny story about three friends who hope to use science to win an egg-drop contest in order to get Natalie’s mom out of a depression funk. And, like much of the show, it’s all about a kid learning their mother is a real person, too!

And though the protagonist of The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan by Salma Hussain is a first-generation immigrant (from Dubai), and lives about 30 years before Devi’s story, we think there are definitely similarities. It features a headstrong young girl who falls in love and deflects from big problems with humor: “We didn’t even get any days off school!” she notes, when talking about the first Persian Gulf War.

YOUNG ADULT

Debate club? Witty banter? A headstrong brown girl fighting back against some anti-Indian online memes. High school romance? While those sound like the ingredients of an episode of Never Have I Ever, they also describe the new YA novel TJ Powar Has Something to Prove by Canadian Jesmeen Kaur Deo, in which a pretty, popular debater, TJ, sets out to demonstrate she can let her body hair grow naturally and still be beautiful.

Academic high-achieving rivals to lovers – shades of Devi and Ben Gross – Kavya and Ian anchor Beauty and the Besharam by Lillie Vale. Kavya has always been told she’s a little too ambitious, a little too mouthy, and a little too much – or besharam (remind you of any TV characters?). But when she’s cast as Ariel in a job that supplies Disney princesses to children’s birthday parties, and her academic rival Ian is cast as Prince Eric? You know what happens next!

With a teen romance in the robotics club, My Mechanical Romance by Alexene Farol Follmuth falls more into the Fabiola territory. But like Devi, protagonist Bel has no interest in robotics or engineering (even if she’s good at it), until handsome Mateo Luna (the book’s Paxton Hall-Yoshida), captain of the robotics club, insists they need her talent.

While there’s a conspicuous lack of Bollywood content on Never Have I Ever, we still feel Nisha Sharma’s very funny romance My So-Called Bollywood Life should be included with our recommendations. Sure, Winnie Mehta is obsessed with Bollywood films and Devi shows no interest in them, but they both experience romantic disaster with comic results and are feisty, second-generation heroines readers will root for.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon is the story of Frank Li, who – like Devi – is a teenager living in Southern California and is torn between the more traditional expectations of his family (who sacrificed a lot to raise him in the U.S.A.) and his strong desire to live the life of a “regular American teen” – and that includes dating a white girl. Plus, like Devi’s cousin Kamala, he winds up in a fake relationship within his culture that turns out to be something more.

And Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi, follows Parvin Mohammadi, a bassoon-playing, frizzy-haired, Cheeto-eating Iranian-American who’s just been very publicly dumped. But she’s got a scheme to solve all her problems with dating the hottest boy in school, Matty Fumero. She just has to study rom-coms and be the perfect dream girl. But over the course of the book she learns, as Devi so often does, that to get the boy, you just have to be yourself.

Happy reading, friends!