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Young Adult reviews from the Bookshop Santa Cruz Staff! Read more Young Adult staff recommendations on our website.

Come On In edited by Adi Alsaid

Have you ever been transported to fifteen different places in one book? The readers of Come On In edited by Adi Alsaid have. This book is a collection of fifteen different stories about immigration, with a focus on young people immigrating. All the characters and stories are drastically different, but immigration is a major element in all the stories, it shapes all the characters. From 1990s Indian teens, to 1930s Irish teens, to modern day Latinx teens, this book is diverse and full of adventure as well as heartbreak.

This was an amazing book because any reader could resonate with a story or writer’s style. Some stories were plot heavy, whereas others were more character based but in general the reader often wished the story hadn’t ended when they were finished. There were a few stories that were very poetic, with vibrant words that created wonderful landscapes for readers. The time jumps in other stories were flawless, which is very difficult to accomplish. Often characters were created with such care that they felt real, and whatever happened to them felt devastating or amazing. I could resonate with some of the stories because they were about first generation children like myself. A major thing I appreciated was that immigration was not only portrayed as something heartbreaking that separates people, but also something that creates new opportunities and hope. 

To wrap up, this is definitely a book I would recommend to others, not only to immigrants or children of immigrants, but people who want to begin to understand a little of what immigration is like. It shows immigrants as humans, which is immensely important as they have been dehumanized in the media. – Lynda O

Smash It! by Francina Simone

The stirring novel Smash It! by Francina Simone follows teenager Olivia James as she attempts to turn her year from predictable to exciting. Olivia notices that she has a tendency to give up on her aspirations, as well as, blend in with the crowd. She decides to write down what she wants to accomplish and follows through. Of course, alone she doesn’t realize her goals; her friends, new and old, push her to see it through. Unfortunately, Olivia loses sight of this as her relationships become more complicated and must recognize how she has wronged those around her, including herself. 

This story does an excellent job of portraying how complicated life and relationships can be when someone is young and trying to come to terms with their identity. The plot was clear as it was evident that the story was leading up to the school play. Elements like the unique characters, dialogue, and youthful style worked well. Despite this, some comments about how being friends with women is more difficult than being friends with men and other jokes did rub me the wrong way.

Looking past that, I would recommend this book to other teenage girls looking to learn to love themselves because it teaches that self love should always come first. – Lynda O

Maybe We’re Electric by Val Emmich

Maybe We’re Electric by Val Emmich is an emotional ride exploring the journey from self-consciousness to self-acceptance in two teenagers lives. Expectations, fears, and secrets all come unraveled in one night of extreme vulnerability. This is a book filled with hope, grief, and raw emotion.

Tegan Everly is the quiet girl with the messed up hand. Misunderstood, lonely, and hiding a guilty secret. Mac Durant is perfect, adored by all and surrounded by friends. It seems at odds that they’d both end up hiding from reality in a Thomas Edison museum, in the midst of a snowstorm. As the storm rages on and the hours go by, they might have more in common than they previously thought. For the first time they are seen, heard, understood. But all dreams must come to an end, and Tegan’s darkest secret might just send them spiraling out of control.

Within these two characters is the turmoil and strife adolescents go through in finding and accepting themselves. I give props to Val Emmich for capturing this teenage experience so well within his characters. Told within only a span of 24 hours, Emmich has managed to make these characters come alive and evoke strong feeling and attachment. This book is more about the characters and feelings rather than a strong plot arc, and Emmich has certainly brought that forth with his unique writing style.

This book is for anyone seeking a little reflection of the “teenage” experience confined within pages. I recommend for anyone feeling misunderstood, lost, or open to being a little vulnerable. – Kira K

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone

The novel Dear Justyce by Nic Stone expands the world of Stone’s previous novel Dear Martin by exploring the life of Vernell LaQuan Banks Jr., a black teenager who must face the possibility of spending twenty years in jail. Through flashbacks, letters, and third person narration the reader learns about Quan’s past to get a clearer picture of his present. Oftentimes, the lessons Quan learns about relationships, destiny, and hope lead him to expect more from his life. He even gets acquainted with coping mechanisms to deal with his anxiety when things in his life are less than ideal. 

This Young Adult book tackles many difficult themes in a very graceful way. Strained relationships, questionable role models, and feeling helpless are wonderfully portrayed through poetic writing. The only thing I would work on would be the slang and subtleness of the lessons. Minor changes could make some passages feel just as powerful as the rest of the book. Personally, this story was inspiring in the sense that it showed the legal system working successfully for one character, but also a reality check as many other characters still had to suffer because of the system. 

All in all, I would definitely recommend this book to others. It is important for young people to be aware of systemic racism and the effects it has on people in the present, it isn’t something to disregard as irrelevant but to actively point out and dismantle. This is a good book for a young person of color wanting to see themselves in a book, or someone who wants to learn about others struggles. – Lynda Otero

Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter

The novel Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter details the unrealistic romantic expectations of high school senior Liz Buxbaum. From the very beginning the reader learns of the character’s emotional attachment to romantic comedy movies and how they shape her view of relationships. When she thinks she’s been reunited with her perfect match, she recruits her neighbor to help her win him over. Once things get out of hand, Liz must reevaluate what each relationship in her life truly means to her, and if she even wants a movie worthy love story. 

This Young Adult book teaches it’s readers to be content with what they have instead of chasing a fantasy. Elements such as foreshadowing and pop culture references make this an enjoyable read. The slang and story outline could, however, be improved. Oftentimes the way characters communicated felt unnatural and the outcome of a situation was easy to predict. Personally, this story was fun to read and lose myself in. 

In conclusion, I would recommend this book to others. Because of the fun nature of the story, someone who is stressed with school or work could read this to take their mind off their responsibilities for a while. – Lynda Otero

Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco

Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco is a dizzying novel with so many plot points, characters, destinations, and magical items, it’s hard to keep track of. Although an enjoyable read, I’ll admit that I often found myself confused amidst the chaos.

In a world where magic is a necessity, used for everything from magical selfie sticks to a crackling, lightning whip, Tala Warnock finds herself in an awkward position. As a spellbreaker her only curse is to dissipate the magic around her. But as the evil Snow Queen hunts down her best friend, Prince Alexei of Avalon, in an attempt to steal Avalon’s most powerful weapon, the Firebird, she might prove more useful than she thought. Along with Avalon’s most skilled warriors they must embark on a journey to free Avalon of the Snow Queen and return Alex to his rightful throne.

Like I said before, this book is confusing! It wasn’t until half way through the book that I finally started to get my bearings and understand the terminology and characters. While the world Chupeco creates is interesting and the plot itself intriguing, I think the explanation could do with a little more work. It’s a mix of modern technology with old fairy tale characters that create an interesting mix.

Overall, I’d say this book is good for anyone willing to push through complex world-building to enjoy a fun, magical adventure. – Kira Kaplan

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Drawing on Yusef Salaam’s experience as a wrongly incarcerated teen, Ibi Zoboi has created a haunting reality within the pages of her book, Punching the Air. Written in verse, this novel uses beautiful language to describe the horrors of our criminal justice system.

Amal, a young artist and poet, is thrown behind bars for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Despite his innocence and lack of evidence towards the crime, the jury decides the only marker they need to prove his guilt remains within his skin. Thrust into a world where he doesn’t belong, Amal struggles to keep hope even as the rest of the world pulls him down. His art is his only comfort, but even that is taken away and squashed to some degree. His life has been decided for him based on actions he didn’t take, forever labeled a criminal.

Unfortunately Amal’s story is not unique within our world. It’s a recognizable tale of racism and bias within our criminal justice system, destroying black youth before they have a chance to live. This reflection of our society evokes that much more emotion within the reader. Zobois choice to write in verse gives the feeling of raw emotion filtering through the page, as if we’ve gained access to the very center of Amal’s mind.

Beautifully written with a heart-wrenching story, this book is not meant for plot but for reflection and awareness for the road we must pave for equality. – Kira Kaplan

If You, Then Me by Yvonne Woon

If You, Then Me by Yvonne Woon tells the story of Xia Chan’s sophomore year at an elite boarding school for coding prodigies. Her impressive programming abilities and invention of an AI she nicknames Wiser earn her a spot at the institution. She moves from her small town in Massachusetts with her small life—homework, chores, and chatting with an online pen pal to bustling Silicon Valley, California where her life is anything but dull. She meets new friends, a new love interest, and her coding idol, Mitzy. Mitzy promises to introduce her to the shiny life of being a tech founder, but Xia must decide if following that path is right for her. 

I enjoyed this book. Learning about what goes on behind closed doors in the tech industry was really intriguing. I also appreciated that the main character was an Asian-American woman programmer, as you don’t see many of those. That said, Xia made decisions throughout the book that made her less of a likable character. 

I would recommend this book. It was a fun read with some good messages. Those who enjoy coding and programming should definitely look into this one. – Sophie Cornish

After the Ink Dries by Cassie Gustafson

Cassie Gustafson’s new novel, “After the Ink Dries” is an eye-opening novel that describes the effects sexual abuse has on different people. Following the perspectives of Erica: a new girl with an internal superhero alter-ego, and Thomas: the lacrosse player with hopes of becoming a musician. The story begins with Erica waking up with a hazy memory and writing covering her body saying offensive words, inappropriate drawings, and the names of Thomas and his lacrosse teammates. Throughout the novel, Erica tries to piece together what exactly happened that fateful night, while Thomas tries to forget all about it. Gustafson includes every thought and movement as the protagonists go throughout the week. The story is told in the first person of both protagonists, making them all the more relatable. Excellent identity and personality building reflects the character’s feelings and transforms them into the readers’. As a sort of mystery novel, interest is piqued with eagerness to solve.  Gustafson’s writing technique is admirable for the author portrays exactly what is going through the characters’ minds. As the reader, you go through the journey with the characters. “After the Ink Dries” is a novel with a voice that needs to be heard. (TW! sexual abuse, sexual harassment, substance use, self harm, suicide, bullying.) – Zoe Cloar