Genuine Fraud


Genuine Fraud
E. Lockhart
Delacorte Press
September 2017

Starting from chapter 18, the first chapter in the book, it’s clear that Jules is a young woman with a particular set of skills. We quickly find out that, like Liam Neeson, one of those skills is kicking people’s asses. But what else is Jules capable of? Impersonation? Theft? Fraud? Murder? Her intense friendship with wealthy college drop-out Imogene takes Jules on an International journey to the playgrounds of the rich – New York, London, Mexico, the Caribbean, San Francisco, Martha’s Vineyard – to cover her tracks and claim what chance handed her a shot at – a life among the rich and careless. Similarly to her last YA novel We Were Liars, with Genuine Fraud E. Lockhart plays with time and tests your assumptions about young adult books are and can be.




Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League
Dan-El Padilla Peralta
July 2015
Read for The 2016 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge
Alex Award winner

When Dan-El was a small child, he traveled with his mother and father from the Dominican Republic to New York City where his mother gave birth to his little brother. While dad went back to the D.R., mom decided to stay with her two sons past the time of their tourist visa, making them illegal immigrants. Staying first at a homeless shelter and then living on welfare in the projects in New York City, Dan-El and his family had a tough life in the states. Through a natural intelligence and love of reading, some caring adults, and, as he himself admits, quite a bit of luck, Dan-El went from a run-down public elementary school to a prestigious private middle school and high school on scholarship. From there he got into the Ivy League – Princeton – also on scholarship. All the while, and particularly when he headed to college and beyond, his immigration status was a hurdle to his education and employment, one that seemed almost insurmountable many times. Again, with help, luck, and perseverance, things end up alright for Dan-El, but several times there was a good chance he and his family (except his little brother who is a U.S. citizen by birth) would be deported back to the D.R. without the bat of an eyelash by the U.S. government.

Dan-El went to college back in the early 2000s when the DREAM Act, bipartisan legislation that would allow illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children a path to citizenship through education and accomplishment, was first being introduced to Congress. It is still, more than a decade later, wallowing in the legislative process, but in 2012 President Obama enacted DACA to give many of the benefits of DREAM to undocumented children. Dan-El is basically the poster boy for why the country needs the DREAM Act, and this memoir really puts into perspective the kind of people we would be turning out of the country when they have so much to contribute.

Initially I thought this would be the kind of book I would take on my outreach visits to places like the juvenile detention center where some of the teens are affected by their or their family’s illegal immigration status. However, after reading it, I am having second thoughts. While Dan-El’s story is inspiring, it is highly uncommon, almost to the point of being completely relatable for the average person. He was exceptionally smart and had many caring adults and support programs to help him. Because of these things, not only was he able to work his way up to college, but he came to equate success exclusively with getting into the Ivy League, a narrative that just isn’t realistic for many teenagers these days, even ones of relative privilege. I hesitate to hand this book to someone for whom reading at grade level, graduating high school, or simply getting out of juvenile detention is the definition of success. I’m not saying they shouldn’t aspire to something more, but I wish I had an inspiring story of someone who gets into trade school or even state college against the odds and is held up as a success. Someone needs to write that book.

Read alikes

The Circuit series by Francisco Jimenez



Melanie Crowder
January 2015
Read for The 2016 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge
On the YALSA list of Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults

Melanie Crowder’s novel in verse tells the story of Clara Lemlich, a women’s labor activist in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. We follow Clara from the Russian shtetl where her family was the victim of pogroms to Ellis Island and a new but still impoverished life in New York. With her father and three brothers occupied studying Torah full time, Clara and her mother must find ways to earn money to support the family. Clara finds work in garment sweatshops with abusive managers, unreasonable hours and quotas, locked doors, child laborers, and unsafe working environments, all to earn less than $10 a week. Seeing the injustice and danger in working in such conditions, Clara sets out to unionize the female workers. She is met with opposition from her family, the men’s union, the managers, and their hired goons who beat her up on several occasions, but she won’t be silenced. At great personal cost, Clara perseveres and makes greater gains than her doubters could have imagined. While Clara’s story is compelling – even more so with the modern fight for wage equality and raising the minimum wage – the end of the book is unsatisfying and feels a bit unfinished. Extensive back matter elaborates on Clara’s story and labor issues of the time.

Clara’s family’s Jewish traditions and lifestyle were particularly interesting to me. I’m currently living in Jerusalem and am learning so much about the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Much of it is unchanged from what the book describes in the early 1900s. Still today it’s very common for the men in ultra-Orthodox families to study Torah while the women of the family are the main providers, both financially and domestically, usually for families with 6 or more children. In Israel, the government has a welfare system to make sure these families don’t starve, but it is expensive and these families still live in relative poverty. Keeping Kosher while traveling and working on Shabbat are other issues that modern Jews still deal with, though access to packaged food and labor laws regarding religion make these much less of a big deal than they were for Clara’s family.

My other takeaway from this book – I’m shocked by how much Clara gets beat up! There is some serious violence against women in this book, and it is just amazing to me how this doesn’t scare Clara into silence. She really was so brave. She deserves to be held up as an example of standing up for what you believe in.



Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
Candlewick Press
January 2015
Read for The 2016 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge
On YALSA’s 2016 list Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults

Malcolm X is a historical icon of the civil rights movement, but how much does your average person know about his young life that led him there? In X, Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz, with co-writer Kekla Magoon, presents a fictionalized telling of her father’s young, fast life and illegal escapades starting in Lansing, Michigan when he is 15, and ending in a Massachusetts prison complex by way of Boston and Harlem. It’s not all jazz bars and zoot suits, though there is a lot of those. Malcolm Little, as he was known then, is also in a lot of emotional pain over his father’s death, his mother’s institutionalization, the killing and oppression of black people in America, and the disappointments and betrayals that seem to meet him at every turn. The story is told first-person by Malcolm, who despite some of the illegal and immoral things he does, comes across as a very sympathetic character, someone to root for in spite of his choices. The Harlem and Roxbury settings come alive with music and dance halls and dodgy characters. The back matter is extensive with several notes about the time period, Malcolm X’s life after the book ends, a timeline, a family tree, and further reading.




Daniel José Older
Arthur A. Levine Books
June 2015

In the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn, Sierra Santiago passes the time painting murals, hanging out with her tight-knit Puerto Rican family, and partying with her friends. One day her mural starts to shed tears and her abuelo, a recently bed-ridden stroke victim, comes out of his half coma and starts mumbling “lo ciento” – “I’m sorry.” Soon after, Sierra finds herself the target of attacks by some zombie-like creatures. An enchanted photograph, some research, and a couple of dates with sexy loner and artist Robbie lead her to the conclusion that she and many of her family members are shadowshapers, people who are able to control spirits by giving them form through art, basically causing their art to literally come alive. Robbie, also a shadowshaper, shows her how to use her power and it soon becomes clear that she has a natural talent for shaping. However, Dr. Wick, an academic who studies the supernatural, including shadowshaping, seeks to destroy the shadowshapers and take all their power for himself. Sierra must find a way to stop Wick and save her powers, her friends and family, and herself in order to take her destined place among the shadowshapers.

Shadowshaper is the urban fantasy I didn’t know I wanted until I read it. Beyond the story, which is fresh and suspenseful, this book has some serious meat on its bones. Themes covered include art as power, gentrification, gender equality, body image, cultural diversity, colonialism, and on and on. Sierra, the narrator, is strong yet insecure, street smart but not jaded, artistic and modern and impeccably written. I had to remind myself that a man was writing this character! I think he was a teenage girl in a past life. Read chapter 12 and you’ll know what I mean.

Daniel Jose Older has set the bar for contemporary urban fiction. I’ll be book talking the shit out of this book at my juvenile detention visits from now on.

Read alikes

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

NaNoReadMo: When I Was the Greatest

when I was the greatest

When I Was the Greatest
Jason Reynolds
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
January 2014

Ali, who lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, with his mother, Doris, and sister, Jazz, is an amateur boxer and pretty good kid considering his circumstances. He often takes care of Jazz while his mother is at work, and he befriends the brothers next door, Needles and Noodles. Noodles always seems to be looking for trouble – stealing, fighting, skipping school – but Noodles, who has Tourettes Syndrome, just wants to knit with the needles that Doris gave to him to help him focus and control his symptoms. Ali struggles with doubts about his boxing abilities, and Noodles and Needles deal with absent parents and where their next meal will come from, but otherwise they run wild in their neighborhood, causing pretty low-stakes trouble. That is until their friend Tasha invites the boys to an adult party, with alcohol and everything, and even Noodles couldn’t have expected the trouble they get into.

Urban fiction is a genre that I don’t think gets nearly enough love. In my work as an outreach librarian in Boston, I work with a lot of Black and Hispanic teens, particularly in Boston’s juvenile detention centers, who want to see themselves, their neighborhoods (or one similar to them), and their problems reflected in the books they read. Critical acclaim and writing comes secondary to the story, the setting, and their ability to relate to the characters. When I Was the Greatest, with its strong first-person narrative, realistic setting complete with tenement apartments, absentee parents, bodegas, and gangs, provides the best of both worlds. Also, Noodles, Needles and Ali get into trouble but not that much trouble, making this a great introduction to urban fiction for younger YA readers and uninitiated adults alike.

Read alikes and other good urban fiction for teens:

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
The Contender by Robert Lipsyte
Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older (urban fantasy!!!)
The Bluford High series by various authors

NaNoReadMo: Lair of Dreams


Lair of Dreams (Diviners book #2)
Libba Bray
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
August 2015

The mystics of Manhattan, first introduced in The Diviners, are back. Evie has gone public about her ability to read people’s pasts through objects and hosts a hit radio show that has turned her into a celebrity. Sam and Jericho are trying to save the “creepy crawlies” museum from tax collectors at the same time that Sam tries to track down his long lost mother and keep up a sham relationship with Evie for the cameras. Theta and Memphis are having a hard time with their relationship because of Theta’s secrets from back home in Kansas. Mabel is still just pining around. Not a ton of surprises here. Out of all the characters, there are really only two new plot lines here. One is a “sleeping sickness” that is sweeping through Chinatown after some construction workers disturb an old subway tunnel. People fall asleep, dream about a woman in a bloody dress and/or a man in a stovepipe hat and never waking up again, dying after a few days and covered in bloody blisters. Dream walkers Henry and Ling, a new character who is half Irish-half Chinese, accidentally get involved with solving the mystery of the sleeping sickness while trying to find an old acquaintance of Henry’s via the dream world. The other new story is that there are mysterious government operatives following the diviners around, torturing people, and generally being really creepy.

Lair of Dreams suffers from second-book-in-a-series syndrome. It presents a lot of intrigue and mystery with almost no resolution to any of it, with the exception of the sleeping sickness. It’s a ton of exposition – like 613 pages’ worth – with little pay off. If I didn’t understand that this is book two in a four book series and fully recognize that Libba Bray is setting up the next book, I would feel seriously ripped off. All will be forgiven if books 3 and 4 rock, which if I know Libba Bray’s work, I think they will.

Hands down my favorite thing about this book is the role tunnels play. I don’t know what it is, but I love it when scenes in books are set in tunnels, sewers, catacombs, crawl spaces, or any mysterious, forgotten, subterranean space. Maybe it comes from reading too much Victorian literature, but there is just something about these spaces that is so automatically atmospheric. Nothing good happens in an abandoned tunnel or sewer. How cool is it to think about a whole other world below our feet and all the shady things that may be happening down there? I think “lair” in the title really captures this feeling nicely.

In honor of lairs, this read alikes list is dedicated to the books in which people go underground and face some creepy stuff. I’m forgetting or missing a lot of good ones. Add subterranean books in the comments.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
by Stephen King
Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy
 by Terry Pratchett
Drood by Dan Simmons
Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon