Since Minnesota’s governor announced on Sunday, March 15 schools would start distance learning because of the coronavirus, I have read 11 books. At first, I struggled to read as I could not wrap my head around what was happening, but my brain and body needed normalcy. Reading is my normal: what takes me away from the current world I’m in, what makes me think of others’ experiences, what helps me to understand others’ perspectives, what calms my mind, what relaxes my body.
Others, who are normally readers, have not found reading to come easily during this time, and that’s okay. We are all doing what we can during this time. I wasn’t sure I could get lost in reading either, but reading has helped me become less anxious about the virus. I’m not spending as many hours reading articles about it – still reading about it, but much less. I feel much calmer. Don’t get me wrong. I still worry, but when I’m lost in a book, my mind is not thinking about the virus at all. That’s worth it to me.
The list of books that follows is going to be a long one. I haven’t written a post since February, so some of the books are pre-pandemic and some are during pandemic. But, I’m grateful for all the books! I hope you can find one or two or three books from this list that will take your mind off of the craziness and worry we are all experiencing.
Finally, if you can, please support your local, indie book stores. I shop Moon Palace Books in South Minneapolis. They have shipping right now at 99 cents a book. Even if you aren’t from Minnesota, check them out!
Slay by Brittney Morris (7th grade and up)
Blurb: By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”
But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”
Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?
The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain (adult book – high school and up)
Blurb: When Caroline Sears receives the news that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect, she is devastated. It is 1970 and there seems to be little that can be done. But her brother-in-law, a physicist, tells her that perhaps there is. Hunter appeared in their lives just a few years before—and his appearance was as mysterious as his past. With no family, no friends, and a background shrouded in secrets, Hunter embraced the Sears family and never looked back.
Now, Hunter is telling her that something can be done about her baby’s heart. Something that will shatter every preconceived notion that Caroline has. Something that will require a kind of strength and courage that Caroline never knew existed. Something that will mean a mind-bending leap of faith on Caroline’s part.
And all for the love of her unborn child.
A rich, genre-spanning, breathtaking novel about one mother’s quest to save her child, unite her family, and believe in the unbelievable. Diane Chamberlain pushes the boundaries of faith and science to deliver a novel that you will never forget.
The Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi with Tamim Ansary (7th grade and up)
Blurb: Farah Ahmedi’s “poignant tale of survival” (“Chicago Tribune”) chronicles her journey from war to peace. Equal parts tragedy and hope, determination and daring, Ahmedi’s memoir delivers a remarkably vivid portrait of her girlhood in Kabul, where the sound of gunfire and the sight of falling bombs shaped her life and stole her family. She herself narrowly escapes death when she steps on a land mine. Eventually the war forces her to flee, first over the mountains to refugee camps across the border, and finally to America. Ahmedi proves that even in the direst circumstances, not only can the human heart endure, it can thrive. “The Other Side of the Sky” is “a remarkable journey” (“Chicago Sun-Times”), and Farah Ahmedi inspires us all.
Free Lunch by Rex Ogle (6th grade and up)
Blurb: Free Lunch is the story of Rex Ogle’s first semester in sixth grade. Rex and his baby brother often went hungry, wore secondhand clothes, and were short of school supplies, and Rex was on his school’s free lunch program. Grounded in the immediacy of physical hunger and the humiliation of having to announce it every day in the school lunch line, Rex’s is a compelling story of a more profound hunger—that of a child for his parents’ love and care. Compulsively readable, beautifully crafted, and authentically told with the voice and point of view of a 6th-grade kid, Free Lunch is a remarkable debut by a gifted storyteller.
Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe (7th grade and up)
Blurb: Revised and updated with new information, this Jane Adams award winner is an in-depth examination of the Emmett Till murder case, a catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement.
The kidnapping and violent murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 was and is a uniquely American tragedy. Till, a black teenager from Chicago, was visiting family in a small town in Mississippi, when he allegedly whistled at a white woman. Three days later, his brutally beaten body was found floating in the Tallahatchie River.
In clear, vivid detail Chris Crowe investigates the before-and-aftermath of Till’s murder, as well as the dramatic trial and speedy acquittal of his white murderers, situating both in the context of the nascent Civil Rights Movement. Newly reissued with a new chapter of additional material–including recently uncovered details about Till’s accuser’s testimony–this book grants eye-opening insight to the legacy of Emmett Till.
All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney (7th grade and up)
Blurb: Allie Abraham has it all going for her—she’s a straight-A student, with good friends and a close-knit family, and she’s dating cute, popular, and sweet Wells Henderson. One problem: Wells’s father is Jack Henderson, America’s most famous conservative shock jock…and Allie hasn’t told Wells that her family is Muslim. It’s not like Allie’s religion is a secret, exactly. It’s just that her parents don’t practice and raised her to keep her Islamic heritage to herself. But as Allie witnesses ever-growing Islamophobia in her small town and across the nation, she begins to embrace her faith—studying it, practicing it, and facing hatred and misunderstanding for it. Who is Allie, if she sheds the façade of the “perfect” all-American girl? What does it mean to be a “Good Muslim?” And can a Muslim girl in America ever truly fit in?
ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM GIRL is a relevant, relatable story of being caught between two worlds, and the struggles and hard-won joys of finding your place.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone (7th grade and up)
Blurb: Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.
Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.
It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers) by Trevor Noah (7th grade and up)
Blurb: The host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah, tells the story of growing up half black, half white in South Africa under and after apartheid in this young readers’ adaptation of his bestselling adult memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.
Trevor Noah shares his story of growing up in South Africa, with a black South African mother and a white European father at a time when it was against the law for a mixed-race child like him to exist. But he did exist–and from the beginning, the often-misbehaved Trevor used his smarts and humor to navigate a harsh life under a racist government.
Jackpot by Nic Stone (mature 7th graders and up)
Blurb: From the author of the New York Times bestseller Dear Martin–comes a pitch-perfect romance that examines class, privilege, and how a stroke of good luck can change an entire life.
Meet Rico: high school senior and afternoon-shift cashier at the Gas ‘n’ Go, who after school and work races home to take care of her younger brother. Every. Single. Day. When Rico sells a jackpot-winning lotto ticket, she thinks maybe her luck will finally change, but only if she–with some assistance from her popular and wildly rich classmate Zan–can find the ticket holder who hasn’t claimed the prize. But what happens when have and have-nots collide? Will this investigative duo unite…or divide?
Nic Stone, the New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out, creates two unforgettable characters in one hard-hitting story about class, money–both too little and too much–and how you make your own luck in the world.
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka (7th grade and up)
Blurb: In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka’s teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett’s family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett’s life. His father is a mystery — Jarrett doesn’t know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents — two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.
Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what’s going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father.
Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive.
Lovely War by Julie Berry (8th grade and up)
Blurb: It’s 1917, and World War I is at its zenith when Hazel and James first catch sight of each other at a London party. She’s a shy and talented pianist; he’s a newly minted soldier with dreams of becoming an architect. When they fall in love, it’s immediate and deep–and cut short when James is shipped off to the killing fields.
Aubrey Edwards is also headed toward the trenches. A gifted musician who’s played Carnegie Hall, he’s a member of the 15th New York Infantry, an all-African-American regiment being sent to Europe to help end the Great War. Love is the last thing on his mind. But that’s before he meets Colette Fournier, a Belgian chanteuse who’s already survived unspeakable tragedy at the hands of the Germans.
Thirty years after these four lovers’ fates collide, the Greek goddess Aphrodite tells their stories to her husband, Hephaestus, and her lover, Ares, in a luxe Manhattan hotel room at the height of World War II. She seeks to answer the age-old question: Why are Love and War eternally drawn to one another? But her quest for a conclusion that will satisfy her jealous husband uncovers a multi-threaded tale of prejudice, trauma, and music and reveals that War is no match for the power of Love.
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby (mature 7th grade and up)
Blurb: The unforgettable story of two young women—one living, one dead—dealing with loss, desire, and the fragility of the American dream during WWII.
When Frankie’s mother died and her father left her and her siblings at an orphanage in Chicago, it was supposed to be only temporary—just long enough for him to get back on his feet and be able to provide for them once again. That’s why Frankie’s not prepared for the day that he arrives for his weekend visit with a new woman on his arm and out-of-state train tickets in his pocket.
Now Frankie and her sister, Toni, are abandoned alongside so many other orphans—two young, unwanted women doing everything they can to survive.
And as the embers of the Great Depression are kindled into the fires of World War II, and the shadows of injustice, poverty, and death walk the streets in broad daylight, it will be up to Frankie to find something worth holding on to in the ruins of this shattered America—every minute of every day spent wondering if the life she’s able to carve out will be enough.
I will admit I do not know the answer. But I will be watching, waiting to find out.
That’s what ghosts do.
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates (adult book)
Blurb: “We were eight years in power” was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. Now Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”
But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period–and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation’s old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective–the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president.
We Were Eight Years in Power features Coates’s iconic essays first published in The Atlantic, including Fear of a Black President, The Case for Reparations and The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration, along with eight fresh essays that revisit each year of the Obama administration through Coates’s own experiences, observations, and intellectual development, capped by a bracingly original assessment of the election that fully illuminated the tragedy of the Obama era. We Were Eight Years in Power is a vital account of modern America, from one of the definitive voices of this historic moment.
Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen (mature 7th grade and up)
Blurb: When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since they were nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life.
Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually an infamous teen meet-market nicknamed Loveboat, where the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.
Free for the first time, Ever sets out to break all her parents’ uber-strict rules—but how far can she go before she breaks her own heart?
The Spaceship Next Door by Gene Doucette (adult book – completely fine for 7th grade and up)
Blurb: The world changed on a Tuesday.
When a spaceship landed in an open field in the quiet mill town of Sorrow Falls, Massachusetts, everyone realized humankind was not alone in the universe. With that realization, everyone freaked out for a little while.
Or, almost everyone. The residents of Sorrow Falls took the news pretty well. This could have been due to a certain local quality of unflappability, or it could have been that in three years, the ship did exactly nothing other than sit quietly in that field, and nobody understood the full extent of this nothing the ship was doing better than the people who lived right next door.
Sixteen-year old Annie Collins is one of the ship’s closest neighbors. Once upon a time she took every last theory about the ship seriously, whether it was advanced by an adult ,or by a peer. Surely one of the theories would be proven true eventually—if not several of them—the very minute the ship decided to do something. Annie is starting to think this will never happen.
One late August morning, a little over three years since the ship landed, Edgar Somerville arrived in town. Ed’s a government operative posing as a journalist, which is obvious to Annie—and pretty much everyone else he meets—almost immediately. He has a lot of questions that need answers, because he thinks everyone is wrong: the ship is doing something, and he needs Annie’s help to figure out what that is.
Annie is a good choice for tour guide. She already knows everyone in town and when Ed’s theory is proven correct—something is apocalyptically wrong in Sorrow Falls—she’s a pretty good person to have around.
As a matter of fact, Annie Collins might be the most important person on the planet. She just doesn’t know it.
Apeirogon by Colum McCann (adult book)
Blurb: From celebrated Irish writer Colum McCann comes a dazzling new novel set in Occupied Palestine and Israel. In an astonishing act of the imagination, McCann illuminates the political situation that has riven the region for more than seventy years in a completely new light. Using a fascinating blend of real events and people, he fictionalizes their stories. As the author says, “This is a hybrid novel with invention at its core, a work of storytelling which, like all storytelling, weaves together elements of speculation, memory, fact and imagination.”
McCann tells the story of Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian, and Rami Elhanan, an Israeli, and how they came together after the terrible loss of both of their daughters, one to suicide bombers and the other to Israeli police. Parents from both sides who have lost loved ones gather together in a Parents Circle to tell their stories, to heal, and to never forget their unimaginable losses.
Deploying a myriad of seemingly unrelated historical, cultural and biographical snapshots, this highly original and inventive novel reframes the never-ending Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The result is a breath-taking narrative based on events that actually happened.
McCann says, “Bassam and Rami have allowed me to shape and reshape their worlds. Despite these liberties, I hope to remain true to the actual realities of their shared experiences.”
Apeirogon is a completely mesmerizing novel. Driven by a compelling voice, Colum McCann has written a powerful and haunting narrative that is simply masterful in its universal implications.
They Went Left by Monica Hesse (7th grade and up)
Blurb: Germany, 1945. The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp said the war was over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal; her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered: Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else–her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja–they went left.
Zofia’s last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, and into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fiancé. And Josef, who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.
But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing? In the rubble of a broken continent, Zofia must delve into a mystery whose answers could break her–or help her rebuild her world.