Tundra Telegram: Books for Your To-Be-Dread Pile

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we look at the things currently haunting readers, and recommend some petrifying publications in which to bury themselves (figuratively speaking, of course).

My fellow creatures of the night know that Halloween is just around the corner: the time to embrace all things spooky and eerie. In many parts of the world, this is the first year in a while that the young and ghoulish are able to gather at costume parties or take in a scary movie at the theatre or even trick-or-treat door-to-door. So, we’re a little more hyped for Halloween than usual.

Luckily, we’ve been able to scare up scads of scary, blood-curdling books, from those from the youngest readers to YA that might make Stephen King blanche. Read on – if you dare!

PICTURE BOOKS

Ghosts – they’re a classic Halloween costume. All you need is a sheet and two eyeholes. They’re also a classic element of many a Halloween book, and that includes some picture books featuring entirely friendly ghosts. There are few friendlier ghosts than Cale Atkinson’s Simon, who first rose to prominence with the picture book Sir Simon: Super Scarer. Simon is given his first house-haunting assignment, but it doesn’t go well because the kid who lives in the house, Chester, isn’t afraid and can think of nothing more fun than spending time with a real, undead ghost! And for the true horror fans, there are dozens of horror-movie Easter eggs throughout the book’s illustrations.

In other tales of failed ghosts, No Such Thing by Ella Bailey features a poltergeist who can’t seem to spook a clever, skeptical girl named Georgia. No matter what the ghost does, Georgia has an explanation! This picture book is a perfectly not-too-spooky blend of supernatural and STEM.

And Riel Nason and Byron Eggenschweiler’s The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt is a ghost who demonstrates that being different is great, even if it makes being a ghost a little harder than he’d like. The book also makes for a great homemade Halloween costume that’s a level-up from the traditional sheet.

Lest we forget Gustavo: The Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago, about a ghost who would love to make some friends – if only he could work up the courage. Technically a Day of the Dead book (rather than a Halloween one) – but that’s just a couple days after Halloween – Gustavo is a sweet story about introverted ghosts and companionship.

If these ghosts sound pretty cool and you need a few tips on how to make a ghost friend of your own, you need to read How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green. It whimsically provides tips for ghost care so you’ll make a spectral friend for life, including how to read your ghost spooky stories, and what snacks ghosts prefer.

Not to be outshone by ghosts, witches are also a time-honored Halloween favorite, and the perfect place to start, book-wise, is Leila: The Perfect Witch, by Flavia Z. Drago. From the creator who brought us Gustavo comes this other spooky picture book, featuring a witch who excels at nearly everything she does: flying, conjuring, shape-shifting. There’s only one thing she can’t do: cook. She tries to learn from her witchy sisters, but instead learns the value of trying your best, even if it’ll never win you any awards.

Witches are usually associated with Halloween, but what about Christmas? That’s where The Legend of the Christmas Witch by Aubrey Plaza (April Ludgate herself), Dan Murphy, and Julie Iredale comes in. The Christmas Witch is Santa Claus’s misunderstood twin sister, separated from the big elf at a young age, in a picture book that rethinks everything we know about witches and the holidays!

If you want to get a sense of the kinds of things witches get up to outside of the major holidays, Little Witch Hazel by Phoebe Wahl is for you. In four stories (one for each season), a tiny witch gets into adventures in the forest, be they rescuing an orphaned egg, investigating the howls of a ghost (this story is the spookiest), or lazing on a summer’s day.

But then, there are many other monsters to consider at Halloween, as well. Best to start with the guidebook, Monsters 101 by Cale Atkinson (man, he loves Halloween). Professors Vampire, Blob and Werewolf, along with their trusty lab assistant – a zombie named Tina – reveal some ridiculous and fang-in-cheek monster facts about creepy favorites from swamp creatures to demons.

And if you like monsters, you’ll want to read the story of the woman who created one of the granddaddies (if not the entire genre of horror): Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey and Júlia Sardà. This is the picture book biography of the girl behind one of the greatest novels and monsters of all time: Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein. The book is also a wonderful exploration of creativity and where stories come from, complete with spine-chilling and gothic illustrations.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

Once again, we start with ghosts, this time with beloved Canadian writing legend Kenneth Oppel giving us chills with Ghostlight. It’s a fun (though sometimes terrifying) horror story in which young Gabe’s summer job scaring tourists with ghost stories turns real when he accidentally summons the spirit of a dead girl – and must join forces with her to protect the world of the living. As a bonus, it’s partially based on a real ghost story about Toronto’s Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.

Like ghosts by the water? Well, Double O Stephen and the Ghostly Realm by Angela Ahn features ghost pirates. A kid who loves pirates, Stephen Oh-O’Driscoll, comes face-to-pale-face with the ghost of pirate Captain Sapperton, who needs his help to cross over to the titular ghostly realm.

Karma Moon: Ghosthunter by Melissa Savage looks at the intersection of the supernatural and the reality-television in the story of a girl whose father is a TV ghost-hunter! Karma stays in a haunted Colorado hotel and must face her own anxiety and help her dad’s flailing TV series in this spooky book that’s part Veronica Mars, part The Shining.

Ghosts and spooky dolls? Sign us up for The Dollhouse: A Ghost Story by Canadian master of the middle-grade macabre Charis Cotter. When Alice and her mom head to some small town where Alice’s mom has been hired as the new live-in nurse to a rich elderly lady, Alice finds a dollhouse in an attic that’s an exact replica of the house she’s in. Then she wakes up to find a girl who look a lot like one of the dolls from the dollhouse – let the creeping dread begin!

And Sir Simon returns – this time in comic form, with the Simon & Chester graphic novel series (again by Mr. Halloween, Cale Atkinson). In the three books that exist so far, the ghost and human friends solve mysteries (Super Detectives), stay up late (Super Sleepover), and visit the waterpark and a ghost conference (Super Family). Who says it’s all hauntings and eerie moans?

But we have witchcraft for early readers and middle-grade lovers, as well! Evie and the Truth about Witches by John Martz is about a girl who wants to be scared, and the usual horror stories aren’t doing it for her anymore (we’ve all been there). When she stumbles across a different sort of book, The Truth about Witches, she hopes she’s found a new scare, but she’s forbidden by a kindly shopkeeper from reading the last page out loud! Find out why in this graphic novel that is honestly quite unsettling!

Escape to Witch City by E. Latimer explores an alternate Victorian London where a sentence of witchcraft comes with dire consequences. Here, all children are tested at age thirteen to ensure they have no witch blood. So, Emmaline Black must attempt to stamp out her power before her own test comes. But the more she researches, the more she begins to suspect that her radically anti-witch aunt and mother are hiding something.

Speaking of witches and cities . . . readers so often encounter witches in the woods, standing over a bubbling cauldron. But what about urban witches? Crimson Twill: Witch in the City by Kallie George and Birgitta Sif features a little witch who loves bright colors as she ventures out on a big-city shopping adventure (think the Shopaholic series meets Bewitched). The book is also up for the Silver Birch Express Award, which makes us think there may be a few covens hidden amongst the Ontario Library Association.

And the city witches keep coming with Sophie Escabasse’s Witches of Brooklyn graphic novel series. Life in Brooklyn takes a strange turn when Effie discovers magic runs in the family when she starts to live with her weird aunts – and weird in the Macbeth version of the term.

Ghosts and witches are fine, but what about the scary stuff out there. You know, the creepy things from outer space that Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully protected us from? Then you need The Area 51 Files from Julie Buxbaum and illustrator Lavanya Naidu. When Sky Patel-Baum is sent to live with her mysterious uncle, she didn’t imagine she’d end up at Area 51, a top-secret military base that just so happens to be full of aliens.

And Natasha Deen’s Spooky Sleuths series, illustrated by Lissy Marlin, follows kids Asim and Rokshar as they uncover paranormal mysteries in their town. Whether it’s ghostly trees or teachers who glow in the moon or mermaids, the creepy supernatural encounters our heroes have are all based on ghost stories and folklore from Guyana!

Halloween in summer? It’s possible with New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White’s Sinister Summer books. In each, the Sinister-Winterbottom twins solve mysteries at increasingly bizarre (and creepy) summer vacation spots. The books begin with an amusement park that’s seemingly cursed (Wretched Waterpark), then travel to a suspicious spa in the Transylvanian mountains (Vampiric Vacation).

And from the creator of Séance Tea Party (which is also a good Halloween read), Remeina Yee, comes the uncategorizable creatures of the graphic novel My Aunt Is a Monster. Safia thought that being blind meant she would only get to go on adventures through her audiobooks. This all changes when she goes to live with her distant and mysterious aunt, Lady Whimsy (who may be – okay, definitely is – a monster).

YOUNG ADULT

Now, do you want to be scared, or have a good horror-adjacent time? Because we have YA for both moods. In the realm of real scares is How to Survive your Murder by Danielle Valentine, that comes recommended by Mr. Goosebumps R. L. Stine himself! Kind of like a more murdery Back to the Future, the book concerns Alice, a teen about to testify in her sister Claire’s murder trial. But as she approaches the courtroom, she’s knocked out cold. When she awakes, it is Halloween night (see?) a year earlier, the same day Claire was murdered. Alice has until midnight to save her sister and find the real killer in this inventive slasher.

Speaking of slashers, let’s talk Stephanie Perkins and There’s Someone Inside Your House. The thriller works like a classic slasher, with students at Makani Young’s high school dropping like flies to a grotesque series of murders. Makani tries to sort out the rhyme and reason as the body count increases. Read it, then check out the Netflix adaptation (don’t watch this trailer unless you’re not easily spooked!) and see which you prefer.

And the slasher gets witchy with Coven by Jennifer Dugan and Kit Seaton, a queer, paranormal YA graphic novel featuring a young witch racing to solve a series grisly supernatural murders of her coven members in upstate New York before the killer strikes again.

Like your spooky stories with a healthy heaping of Cronenberg-esque body horror? You need to be reading Rory Power. Her debut novel Wilder Girls starred three best friends living in quarantine at their island boarding school where a disturbing infection, the Tox, has started seeping into everything – and everyone. She then followed that up with Burn Our Bodies Down a creepy yarn about weird and dark secrets in a teen girl’s mom’s hometown, for fans of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and people frightened by corn mazes.

The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass gives sixteen-year-old Jake Livingston the ability to see dead people everywhere. But for him, watching the last moments of dead people is easy compared to the racism he faces as one of the few Black students at St. Clair Prep. Just when a little romance enters his life, he encounters a dangerous ghost: Sawyer Doon, a troubled teen who shot and killed six kids at a local high school before taking his own life. Jake finds his supernatural abilities bring him into contact with some very dark forces.

If you like the trappings and style of horror, but a little less distress, we have YA novels for you, too. Case in point: Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson. In it, teenage Wiccan Mila Flores investigates the murders of three classmates (including one friend), but accidentally ends up bringing them back to life to form a hilariously unlikely – and mostly unwilling – vigilante girl gang. Sounds rad, right?

What We Harvest by Ann Fraistat isn’t all fun-and-games – in fact, it’s a folk horror about an idyllic small town being devoured by a mysterious blight called Quicksilver – but it certainly has some funny moments. And when Wren finds herself one of the last in her town unaffected by the blight, she turns to her ex, Derek, and the two have to uncover the weird and disturbing secrets that kept their town’s crops so plentiful.

Jessica Lewis’s Bad Witch Burning is a witchy story full of Black girl (occult) magic. Katrell’s ability to summon the dead offers her a chance at a new life, as she figures it could help out at home, where her mother is unemployed and her dad avoids paying child support. So she doesn’t listen to the ghosts and takes her summoning a little too far, with very dark consequences.

Finally, The Babysitters Coven by Kate M. Williams is a funny, action-packed series about a coven of witchy babysitters who protect the innocent and save the world from evil. The series follows the indoctrination of seventeen-year-old babysitter Esme Pearl’s to this heroic lineage when she meets Cassandra Heaven, a force of nature who – for some reason – wants to join her babysitters club. And the sequel, For Better or Cursed, takes readers to the Summit of the Synod, the governing group of the Sitterhood – a sort of work conference for super-powered demon-fighting babysitters. Spells Like Teen Spirit wraps up the trilogy.

Tundra Telegram: Books that’ll Make You Sweat

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we simmer on topics that we’re all stewing on, and recommend some scalding stories to generate further discussion.

Much of Europe and North America and several provinces in China are in the middle of a massive heat wave. And while that sounds like fun and a good excuse to get ice cream, this is not the fun kind of heat. This is catastrophic heat that’s breaking records, cancelling rail travel, killing people, and contributing to massive wildfires in what some are calling a “heat apocalypse.”

The best course of action, should you be in the middle of a heat wave (and many of you reading this are), is to stay hydrated, limit your exertion, and – if needed (and possible) – get to a local cooling station. But if you want to read some books that are just as sweltering as the weather (the same kind of rationale as drinking coffee in the heat), get ready to sizzle – we’ve got hot books, books about how the earth is heating up, and books with the hottest summers ever recorded – so far.

PICTURE BOOKS

If you think you’re hot, imagine what it would be like in this heat as a long-haired dachshund! That’s the predicament the hero of Hot Dog by Doug Salati faces: this is a wiener pup who is overheated and overwhelmed. He’s had enough of a sizzling city summer, so his owner hails a cab and finds them so relief on the beach!

A book of value to anyone in a heat wave is Too Hot? Too Cold?: Keeping Body Temperature Just Right by Caroline Arnold and Annie Patterson. In easy-to-understand writing, young readers will discover the many different ways humans and animals adapt to heat and cold. Have you ever wondered why you sweat when you’re hot? Or why dogs pant in the heat? These burning questions and more are answered within.

How can young readers prevent this summer’s heat wave from being the first of regular occurrences? Climate Action: The Future Is in Our Hands by Georgina Stevens and Katie Rewse has a few ideas! Not only does this book outline for young readers the causes of climate change and how it is affecting our world, it provides some innovative ideas for tackling climate breakdown, inspired by the positive stories from young people effecting change all around the (currently very hot) globe.

CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE

If you’re looking for books about the causes of the incredible heat and how climate change contributes to it, but for a slightly older reading level, there are several great books to choose from. What Is Climate Change? by Gail Herman and John Hinderliter presents all sides of the climate change argument in this fact-based, fair-minded, and well-researched book that looks at the subject from many perspectives, including scientific, social, and political. And it has a polar bear on the cover, who we currently envy (even if its ice floe is looking mighty small!).

Once you’ve figured out what climate change is, and want to do something about it, you’ll want to read This Book Will (Help) Cool the Climate by Isabel Thomas and Alex Paterson, which offers 50 different ways to “cut pollution, speak up, and protect the planet” from bartering to assigning school some eco-homework. (No word on if anything will immediately turn the temperature down, but every bit helps!)

Want more ammunition on cooling the climate? Naomi Klein and Rebecca Stefoff’s How to Change Everything has what you need. As the book notes, temperatures are rising all over the world, leading to wildfires, droughts, animal extinctions and ferocious storms (and that’s just this week). Using examples of change and protest from young activists around the world, Klein shows we can help make things better – if we’re willing to change everything.

For something (mostly) fictional in the same vein, try Carrie Firestone’s The First Rule of Climate Club, in which eighth grader Mary Kate Murphy starts a podcast on climate activism and rallies her friends to create lasting change in their small suburban town. (It’s like the kids in this book read How to Change Everything!)

You may identify with the protagonist of our next book: Penelope March Is Melting by Jeffrey Michael Ruby. Set in a frozen town, Glacier Cove, that sits atop a literal iceberg, it seems like the book’s resident bookworm Penelope March need not worry about heat waves. But when the iceberg begins to melt, Penelope and her friend Miles must set out on an adventure.

And it wouldn’t be a heat wave without deadly forest fires. Cue Canadian Iain Lawrence and his forthcoming novel, Fire on Headless Mountain, in which eleven-year-old Virgil is separated from his siblings in the midst of a disastrous forest conflagration, and must use his wits and mother’s lessons to survive on his own.

YOUNG ADULT

Moving from forest fires to another kind of heat, Kasie West’s YA romance Sunkissed finds Avery spending a hot summer at a family resort, with – surprise, surprise – an even hotter resort staff member, Brooks. This swoony love story won’t give you heat exhaustion, but it will make you sweat.

And Say Yes Summer by Lindsey Roth Culli emanates a similar heat, as Rachel Walls spends a sweltering summer saying “yes,” to everything – yes to new experiences, yes to spontaneous road trips with crushes. Let’s just hope she also says “yes” to drinking plenty of fluids and finding shade.

Summer Fires by Giulia Sagramola is a graphic novel that depicts summer heat so well in its color palette and its characters languid movements, you’d think you’ve been transported to southern Italy. The book, translated from the Italian, follows two sisters faced with impossible choices of teenaged life, which mirror the massive forest fires (again!) in the surrounding hillsides of the town. Turn on the ceiling fan and dive in!

Speaking of forest fires, Julie Buxbaum’s Year on Fire uses fire season in Wood Valley as a backdrop for changing friendships as a single kiss with new boy Rohan shakes the foundation of the connection among twins Arch and Immie and their best friend, Paige. There’s even an arson in the school bathroom, if you need more heat!

There are few things better to beat the heat than ice cream. Melt with You by Jennifer Dugan is a funny and heartfelt queer YA rom-com about two girls on a summer road trip in an ice cream truck. Former best friends Fallon and Chloe haven’t talked since a fateful summer they hooked up. But a year later, a series of unfortunate events mean they’ll be working an ice cream truck together through a heated road trip. Not since the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today” music video has an ice cream truck been filled with such angst!

As Bruno Mars noted in “Uptown Funk,” there’s not much hotter than a dragon’s breath – at least we think that’s what he’s talking about when he croons, “Too hot. Make a dragon wanna’ retire, man.” E.K. Johnston agrees, as her book The Story of Owen: The Dragon Slayer of Trondheim combines the heat of dragon fire with the heat of climate change. See, sixteen-year-old Owen is training to be a dragon-slayer in modern-day Canada, so he (and his friend and bard Siobhan) can protect his rural town from dragons who feed on fossil fuels. Yes, in this world dragons feed on carbon emissions (!).

Sure it’s hot now, but is it horses-combusting-into-flame hot? Then you need to read Ashlords by  Scott Reintgen, an epic fantasy story about three “phoenix riders” who compete in a multi-day horse race in which the horses, made of ash and alchemy, are summoned back to life each sunrise with uniquely crafted powers to cover impossible distances and challenges before bursting into flames at sunset. (Kentucky Derby, time to up your game.)

Stay cool, stay hydrated, and enjoy some hot reads!

Pride Reading List 2022

June is Pride Month and we love books that celebrate love in all its form! Here’s a list of some recent YA titles featuring LGBTQ+ stories.

Bitter
By Akwaeke Emezi
272 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593309032 | Knopf BFYR
After a childhood in foster care, Bitter is thrilled to have been chosen to attend Eucalyptus, a special school where she can focus on her painting surrounded by other creative teens. But outside this haven, the streets are filled with protests against the deep injustices that grip the city of Lucille. Bitter’s instinct is to stay safe within the walls of Eucalyptus . . . but  her  friends  aren’t  willing  to  settle  for  a  world  that’s  so  far  away from what they deserve. Pulled between old friendships, her artistic passion, and a new romance, Bitter isn’t sure where she  belongs – in  the  studio  or  in  the  streets.  And  if  she  does  find a way to help the revolution while being true to who she is, she must also ask: at what cost? This  timely  and  riveting  novel – a  companion  to  the  National  Book Award finalist Pet – explores the power of youth, protest, and art.

Both Sides Now
By Peyton Thomas
300 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269750 | Penguin Teen Canada
There’s only one thing standing between Finch Kelly and a full-blown case of high school senioritis: the National Speech & Debate Tournament. Taking home the gold would not only be the pinnacle of Finch’s debating career, but the perfect way to launch himself into his next chapter: college in Washington, DC, and a history-making career as the first trans congressman. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, Finch could develop a teeny tiny crush on his very attractive, very taken, and very gay debate partner, Jonah. Never mind that Finch has never considered whether he’s interested in more than just girls. And that dream of college in DC? Finch hasn’t exactly been accepted anywhere yet, let alone received the full-ride scholarship he’ll need to make this dream a reality. Worst of all, though, is this year’s topic for Nationals: transgender rights. If he wants to cinch the gold, and get into college, Finch might have to argue against his own humanity. People say there are two sides to every argument. But, as Finch is about to discover, some things – like who you are and who you love – are not up for debate.

Hell Followed With Us
By Andrew Joseph White
416 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781682633243 | Peachtree Teen
Sixteen-year-old trans boy Benji is on the run from the cult that raised him – the fundamentalist sect that unleashed Armageddon and decimated the world’s population. Desperately, he searches for a place where the cult can’t get their hands on him, or more importantly, on the bioweapon they infected him with. But when cornered by monsters born from the destruction, Benji is rescued by a group of teens from the local Acheson LGBTQ+ Center, affectionately known as the ALC. The ALC’s leader, Nick, is gorgeous, autistic, and a deadly shot, and he knows Benji’s darkest secret: the cult’s bioweapon is mutating him into a monster deadly enough to wipe humanity from the earth once and for all.  Still, Nick offers Benji shelter among his ragtag group of queer teens, as long as Benji can control the monster and use its power to defend the ALC. Eager to belong, Benji accepts Nick’s term . . . until he discovers the ALC’s mysterious leader has a hidden agenda, and more than a few secrets of his own.

Iron Widow
By Xiran Jay Zhao
400 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269934 | Penguin Teen Canada
The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain. When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected – she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​ To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way – and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

Kings of B’more
By R. Eric Thomas
416 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593326183 | Kokila
With junior year starting in the fall, Harrison feels like he’s on the precipice of, well, everything. Standardized testing, college, and the terrifying unknowns and looming pressures of adulthood after that – it’s like the future wants to eat him alive. Which is why Harrison is grateful that he and his best friend, Linus, will face these things together. But at the end of a shift at their summer job, Linus invites Harrison to their special spot overlooking the city to deliver devastating news: He’s moving out of state at the end of the week. To keep from completely losing it – and partially inspired by a cheesy movie-night pick by his dad – Harrison plans a send-off à la Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that’s worthy of his favorite person. If they won’t be having all the life-expanding experiences they thought they would, Harrison will squeeze them all into their last day together. They end up on a mini road trip, their first Pride, and a rooftop dance party, all while keeping their respective parents, who track them on a family location app, off their trail. Harrison and Linus make a pact to do all the things – big and small – they’ve been too scared to do. But nothing feels scarier than saying goodbye to someone you love.

Kiss & Tell
By Adib Khorram
384 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593325261 | Dial Books
Hunter never expected to be a boy band star, but, well, here he is. He and his band Kiss & Tell are on their first major tour of North America, playing arenas all over the United States and Canada (and getting covered by the gossipy press all over North America as well). Hunter is the only gay member of the band, and he just had a very painful breakup with his first boyfriend – leaked sexts, public heartbreak, and all – and now everyone expects him to play the perfect queer role model for teens. But Hunter isn’t really sure what being the perfect queer kid even means. Does it mean dressing up in whatever The Label tells him to wear for photo shoots and pretending never to have sex? (Unfortunately, yes.) Does it mean finding community among the queer kids at the meet-and-greets after K&T’s shows? (Fortunately, yes.) Does it include a new relationship with Kaivan, the star of the band opening for K&T on tour? (He hopes so.) But when The Label finds out about Hunter and Kaivan, it spells trouble – for their relationship, for the perfect gay boy Hunter plays for the cameras, and, most importantly, for Hunter himself.

Man o’ War
By Cory McCarthy
336 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593353707 | Dutton BFYR
River McIntyre has grown up down the street from Sea Planet, an infamous marine life theme park slowly going out of business in small-town Ohio. When a chance encounter with a happy, healthy queer person on the annual field trip lands River literally in the shark tank, they must admit the truth: they don’t know who they are – only what they’ve been told to be. This sets off a wrenching journey of self-discovery, from internalized homophobia and gender dysphoria, through layers of coming out, affirmation surgery, and true freakin’ love.

Melt With You
By Jennifer Dugan
320 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593112564 | Putnam BFYR
Fallon is Type A, looks before she leaps, and always has a plan (and a backup plan). Chloe is happy-go-lucky, flies by the seat of her pants, and always follows her bliss. The two girls used to be best friends, but last summer they hooked up right before Chloe left for college, and after a series of misunderstandings, they aren’t even speaking to each other. A year later, Chloe’s back home from school, and Fallon is doing everything in her power to avoid her. Which is especially difficult because their moms own a business together – a gourmet ice cream truck where both girls work. When a meeting with some promising potential investors calls their parents away at the last minute, it’s up to Fallon to work a series of important food truck festivals across the country. But she can’t do it alone, and Chloe is the only one available to help. Tensions heat up again between the two girls as they face a few unexpected detours – and more than a little roadside attraction. But maybe, just maybe, the best things in life can’t always be planned.

Nate Plus One
By Kevin Van Whye
256  Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593376423 | Random House BFYR
Nate Hargraves is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. That’s why he dreams of being a songwriter instead of a singer. But things change the summer after junior year as Nate gets ready to fly to South Africa for his cousin’s lavish destination wedding. The trip is bound to be epic. Except – Nate just found out that his ex-boyfriend will be at the reception. Ugh. He does not want to face this one solo. Jai Patel, Nate’s best friend (and secret crush), has his own problems. The lead singer of Jai’s band, Infinite Sorrow, quit weeks before a contest that promised to be their big break. But Nate rocks Jai’s world when he agrees to sing with the band. Even though Nate’s not one for the spotlight, he knows this is the kind of stuff you do for . . . friends. In return, Jai volunteers to be Nate’s travel buddy around South Africa, a buffer against his ex, and his plus-one at the wedding. Maybe this summer will be epic after all. Now that Nate’s crush is on board, will love crash the party?

Right Where I Left You
By Julian Winters
400 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593206478 | Viking BFYR
Isaac Martin is ready to kick off summer. His last before heading off to college in the fall where he won’t have his best friend, Diego. Where – despite his social anxiety – he’ll be left to make friends on his own. Knowing his time with Diego is limited, Isaac enacts a foolproof plan: snatch up a pair of badges for the epic comic convention, Legends Con, and attend his first ever Teen Pride. Just him and Diego. But when an unexpected run-in with Davi – Isaac’s old crush – distracts him the day tickets go on sale, suddenly he’s two badges short of a perfect summer. Even worse, now he’s left making it up to Diego by hanging with him and his gamer buddies. Decidedly NOT part of the original plan. It’s not all bad, though. Some of Diego’s friends turn out to be pretty cool, and when things with Davi start heating up, Isaac is almost able to forget about his Legends Con blunder. Almost. Because then Diego finds out what really happened that day with Davi, and their friendship lands on thin ice. Isaac assumes he’s upset about missing the convention, but could Diego have other reasons for avoiding Isaac?

Swimming in the Moonsoon Sea
By Shyam Selvadurai
280 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781774880333 | Tundra Books
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Shyam Selvadurai’s brilliant novels, Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens, have garnered him international acclaim. In his first young adult novel, now with a new cover, he explores first love with clarity, humor and compassion. The setting is Sri Lanka, 1980, and it is the season of monsoons. Fourteen-year-old Amrith is caught up in the life of the cheerful, well-to-do household in which he is being raised by his vibrant Auntie Bundle and kindly Uncle Lucky. He tries not to think of his life “before,” when his doting mother was still alive. Amrith’s holiday plans seem unpromising: he wants to appear in his school’s production of Othello and he is learning to type at Uncle Lucky’s tropical fish business. Then, like an unexpected monsoon, his cousin arrives from Canada and Amrith’s ordered life is storm-tossed. He finds himself falling in love with the Canadian boy. Othello, with its powerful theme of disastrous jealousy, is the backdrop to the drama in which Amrith finds himself immersed.

The Gifts That Bind Us
By Caroline O’Donoghue
400 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781536222227 | Walker Books
It’s senior year, and Maeve and her friends are practicing and strengthening their mystical powers, while Maeve’s new relationship with Roe is exhilarating. But as Roe’s rock star dreams start to take shape, and Fiona and Lily make plans for faraway colleges, Maeve, who struggles in school, worries about life without them – will she be selling incense here in Kilbeg, Ireland, until she’s fifty? Alarm bells sound for the coven when the Children of Brigid, a right-wing religious organization, quickly gains influence throughout the city – and when its charismatic front man starts visiting Maeve in her dreams. When Maeve’s power starts to wane, the friends realize that all the local magic is being drained – or rather, stolen. With lines increasingly blurred between friend and foe, the supernatural and the psychological, Maeve and the others must band together to protect the place, and the people, they love.

The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester
By Maya MacGregor
360 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781635923599 | Astra Young Readers
Sam Sylvester has long collected stories of half-lived lives – of kids who died before they turned nineteen. Sam was almost one of those kids. Now, as Sam’s own nineteenth birthday approaches, their recent near-death experience haunts them. They’re certain they don’t have much time left . . . . But Sam’s life seems to be on the upswing after meeting several new friends and a potential love interest in Shep, their next-door neighbor. Yet the past keeps roaring back – in Sam’s memories and in the form of a thirty-year-old suspicious death that took place in Sam’s new home. Sam can’t resist trying to find out more about the kid who died and who now seems to guide their investigation. When Sam starts receiving threatening notes, they know they’re on the path to uncovering a murderer. But are they digging through the past or digging their own future grave? The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester explores healing in the aftermath of trauma and the fullness of queer joy.

Tundra Telegram: Books to Verse-Shift-fy Your Shelf

Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, a column in which we look at the subjects on readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.

One movie we can’t stop thinking about – and neither can some of our fellow readers and authors – is the Michelle Yeoh-starring, Daniels-directed action movie, Everything Everywhere All at Once (or EEAAO, for short). The frenetic action-drama-comedy is unlike much else currently on movie screens, but we’re thinking some page-turners might be able to fill the gap. Whether it’s the multiple parallel dimensions, the over-the-top martial arts action, or the multigenerational family conflict that appeals to you most about the film, we’ve got a few book recommendations that “every rejection, every disappointment has led you” to.

PICTURE BOOKS

Let’s face it, there aren’t a ton of picture books about alternate dimensions (yet), but a book that combines family with something a little superhuman – and one that mixes a few tears with laughs and a comic-booky premise, is Minh Lê and Dan Santat’s The Blur, in which a superhuman child zips and zooms through her childhood, with her parents frantically trying to keep up.

If your picture book story times could use a little more fight choreography, you’ll want to check out The Rise (and Falls) of Jackie Chan, a picture book biography of the inimitable action star by Kristen Mai Giang and Alina Chau. Read this book closely enough and you might be able to do what Waymond Wang does with a fanny pack.

And this may be a stretch, but if your favorite part of the movie involved a rock with googly eyes, you should definitely check out Marianna Coppo’s Petra, a picture book about a rock willing to just roll with the circumstances.

MIDDLE GRADE

S. G. Wilson’s Me vs. the Multiverse series (Pleased to Meet Me and Enough about Me) follows Meade Macon, a young boy who learns about the mysteries of the multiverse (and the many Meades), as first revealed to him in the form of a note written on an origami octopus.

Christopher Edge’s science-fiction adventure, The Many Worlds of Albie Bright follows a young boy who grieves the death of his astrophysicist mother by searching for her by universe-hopping to alternate timelines. And in his search, he stumbles upon the answers to life’s most challenging questions. (Seems like a positive side effect.)

For a little Canadian content in your multiverse meanderings, read Downside Up by Richard Scrimger. In it, Fred isn’t grieving his mother, but his dearly departed dog Casey, when he falls down a sewer grate into an alternate universe. In this other version of life, his dog is alive, his mom and sister are happier, and the version of him is happier, too. But something’s not quite as it seems.

We consider tax returns the adult equivalent of homework, so Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend by Katie Zhao, featuring a girl tackling school projects, family troubles, and otherworldly chaos follows EEAAO pretty closely plot-wise. Add to that a heroine who must quickly embrace new powers to save the world and you have a legendary book recommendation.

If the blend of family history, queer coming-out story, and the fantastic most appealed to you in the movie, you might like the widely acclaimed graphic novel The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen. Not only are those elements present, so is the generational conflict between first- and second-generation Asian immigrants – and the imagery is just as (googly) eye-opening!

YOUNG ADULT

If, like Evelyn Wang, you have lived a life of some regret, wondering how the many small choices you’ve made led you to where you are now, you’ll want to check out Kristin Cashore’s Jane, Unlimited. The book by the author of the Graceling series follows Jane, a girl with no direction a year out of high school, who is invited to a gala at her family’s island mansion called Tu Reviens. What she doesn’t know is Tu Reviens is a world of infinite choices that will ultimately determine the course of her currently untethered life.

If the Sliding Doorsesque idea of the parallel worlds created by seemingly simple choices intrigues you, may we also suggest Again, Again by TikTok’s favorite author, E. Lockhart? What if there were alternates universes and different version of you, who acted differently and made different choices to the same trying circumstances in life? Could you be braver, happier, lonelier? More in love? Questions that lie at the heart of both the film and this book.

And for reasons that will be clear only to those who have seen Everything Everywhere All at Once in all its bananas glory, we also suggest Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan. (IYKYK!)

#12DaysOfJanYouAry – Week 2

This January is all about YOU and what YOU want to read! We asked 12 readers what 2021 books they hope to pick up soon and we’re sharing them for the #12DaysOfJanYouAry. Here are the final six – make sure to follow along on Instagram as well!

Some Girls Do
By Jennifer Dugan
336 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593112533 | Putnam BFYR
Morgan, an elite track athlete, is forced to transfer high schools late in her senior year after it turns out being queer is against her private Catholic school’s code of conduct. There, she meets Ruby, who has two hobbies: tinkering with her baby blue 1970 Ford Torino and competing in local beauty pageants, the latter to live out the dreams of her overbearing mother. The two are drawn to each other and can’t deny their growing feelings. But while Morgan – out and proud, and determined to have a fresh start – doesn’t want to have to keep their budding relationship a secret, Ruby isn’t ready to come out yet. With each girl on a different path toward living her truth, can they go the distance together?

“My 2021 vibe has been all YA all the time, and I’m always intrigued by anything sapphic! The cover is stunning AND blurbed by Casey McQuiston?! Sign me up!”
@grayscalebooks

Spells Like Teen Spirit
By Kate M. Williams
400 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593304822 | Delacorte Press
Ever since Esme met Cassandra Heaven and discovered the truth about their shared legacy – that they’re Sitters, supernaturally gifted teens tasked with protecting the innocent from evil – her life has been moving at 90 mph. During the day, she chases wild toddlers, and at night, she employs a different skill set for a different kind of demon. Like, literal ones. And sometimes it’s almost fun. Her spells are getting better, her telekinesis is on point, and now that Esme’s dad and her best friend Janis know the truth, she’s no longer lying to the people she loves. She’s also learned that there’s a way to undo her mother’s curse, and with the Synod out of the picture, she might even have a chance to do it. If she could just figure out how. But she can’t, and even with her mom living at home again, Esme can’t shake the feeling that she’s failing. Throw in the fact that Pig is still gone, Esme’s crush is MIA, and it’s cold, slushy February, and she’s in bummer city. Esme needs a serious pick-me-up, and Janis has a plan: a Galentine’s stay-cation, with the Sitter friends Esme and Cassandra made at the Summit. Except things are getting weird in Spring River again. Esme and Cassandra just discovered a new band, and not in a good way: these guys reek of Red Magic, and their music sucks. Trouble is brewing, and if Esme’s not careful, this show might be her last – and no one likes a one-hit wonder.

“The title of the book alone had me immediately adding it to my TBR but the fact that I had two books before this one to read had me all over it. Sign me up for anything packed with magic and girl power.”
@literaryscents13

Fast Pitch
By Nic Stone
192 Pages | Ages 8-12 | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984893017 | Crown BFYR
Shenice Lockwood, captain of the Fulton Firebirds, is hyper-focused when she steps up to the plate. Nothing can stop her from leading her team to the U12 fast-pitch softball regional championship. But life has thrown some curveballs her way.
Strike one: As the sole team of all-brown faces, Shenice and the Firebirds have to work twice as hard to prove that Black girls belong at bat.
Strike two: Shenice’s focus gets shaken when her great-uncle Jack reveals that a career-ending – and family-name-ruining – crime may have been a setup.
Strike three: Broken focus means mistakes on the field. Shenice’s teammates are beginning to wonder if she’s captain-qualified.
It’s up to Shenice to discover the truth about her family’s past – and fast – before secrets take the Firebirds out of the game forever.

“Written by the magnificent Nic Stone ✔️
Girls playing softball ✔️
Uncovering the past ✔️
Should be fun, let’s play ball! ”
@onmybookitlist

The Righteous
By Renée Ahdieh
432 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984812612 | Putnam BFYR
Following the explosive events of The Damned, Odette faces a vampire’s final death. The Court of the Lions have done everything they can to save her but have failed. A healer from the Sylvan Vale could help her, but only Arjun Desai, as a half fey, can cross the boundary between realms. The Sylvan Vale is a world Arjun despises, and in return, it despises him. But knowing it could save Odette, he returns to the Vale with all haste, leaving the mirrored tare between two worlds open and unwittingly setting the stage for both love and war. It’s mere days until Pippa Montrose is to wed Phoebus Devereux and become a member of his well-heeled family, offering salvation to her own. But Celine is missing. Pippa has no idea where her best friend has gone, but she’s certain it’s in the company of vampire Sébastien Saint Germain and that Arjun can lead her to them. Pippa enjoins the help of Eloise, the daughter of a powerful sorceress, to discover the gateway Arjun uses to travel between worlds. Pippa, tired of hesitating in life, marches right through in search of her friend. But what she discovers on the other side is a dangerous, duplicitous world full of mischief and magic she doesn’t understand, and most unexpectedly, she finds love.

“First, this series has gorgeous covers (instant cover buy)! Second, there are vampires and romance (take all my money)! Third, Ahdieh’s writing style and characters will draw readers into this mythical version of New Orleans. ”
@abookishstar

Small Favors
By Erin A. Craig
480 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593306741 | Delacorte Press
Ellerie Downing is waiting for something to happen. Life in isolated Amity Falls, surrounded by an impenetrable forest, has a predictable sameness. Her days are filled with tending to her family’s beehives, chasing after her sisters, and dreaming of bigger things while her twin, Samuel, is free to roam as he wishes. Early town settlers fought off monstrous creatures in the woods, and whispers that the creatures still exist keep the Downings and their neighbors from venturing too far. When some townsfolk go missing on a trip to fetch supplies, a heavy unease settles over the Falls. Strange activities begin to plague the town, and as the seasons change, it’s clear that something is terribly wrong. The creatures are real, and they’re offering to fulfill the residents’ deepest desires, however grand, for just a small favor. These seemingly trifling demands, however, hide sinister intentions. Soon Ellerie finds herself in a race against time to stop Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves from going up in flames.

“The cover immediately drew me in, the art is just gorgeous. Also the summary sounds amazing. Beekeeping? It’s so interesting and rarely any books feature it. I can’t wait to learn more about beekeeping. This haunting tale seems like the perfect read for 2022.”
@she_who_reads_ya_books

Beasts of Prey
By Ayana Gray
496 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593405680 | Putnam BFYR
There’s no such thing as magic in the broken city of Lkossa, especially for sixteen-year-old Koffi, who holds a power within her that could only be described as magic – a power that if discovered could cost her life. Indentured to the notorious Night Zoo, Koffi knows the fearsome creatures in her care and paying off her family’s debts to secure their eventual freedom can be her only focus. But the night those she loves are gravely threatened by the Zoo’s cruel master, Koffi finally unleashes the power she doesn’t fully understand, upending her life completely. As the second son of a decorated hero, Ekon is all but destined to become a Son of the Six – an elite warrior – and uphold a family legacy. But on the night of his final rite of passage, Ekon encounters not only the Shetani – a vicious monster that has plagued the city for nearly a century and stalks his nightmares, but Koffi who seems to have the power to ward off the beast. Koffi’s power ultimately saves Ekon’s life, but his choice to let her flee dooms his hopes of becoming a warrior. Desperate to redeem himself, Ekon vows to hunt the Shetani and end its reign of terror, but he can’t do it alone. Meanwhile, Koffi believes finding the Shetani could also be the key to solving her own problems. Koffi and Ekon form a tentative alliance and together enter the Greater Jungle, a world steeped in wild, frightening magic and untold dangers. The hunt begins. But it quickly becomes unclear whether they are the hunters or the hunted.

“Can we just take a minute to appreciate this stunning cover?! Magical creatures, hunt or be hunted? I’m so ready for this wild (pun intended) adventure.”
@ilikescarystories