Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker follows a trans girl as she starts her new life at Monarch Middle School. Zenobia July used to live in Arizona with her father, but now she’s in Maine with her aunts. She’s no longer hiding behind a computer working on her hacking or coding. Now she’s getting out and working on living her new life in the gender she always knew to be right. It’s not long before she meets Arli, a gender-queer classmate with acceptance problems at home. When Muslim classmate Chantal is the subject of hateful and racist memes posted on the school’s website, Zenobia leaps into action. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of computers and the Internet, she is soon able to solve the mystery of the malevolent memes while also getting that much closer to figuring out her own identity. It’s not easy being yourself sometimes, and it’s made worse when Zenobia hears what one of her friends has to say about Elijah, a trans boy in their class. She decides to keep her identity a secret until finally she finds the one person she can trust with the truth. Zenobia July artfully deals with the issues of identity, friendship, and family, all through the eyes of a young trans girl just trying to belong. (Penguin Young Reader)

Squad by Mariah MacCarthy tells of a squad of cheerleaders that was not filled with cover models and drama queens. Instead they are all average students trying to be good cheerleaders and good people, too. Life isn’t perfect, that’s for sure, but Jenna is happy with her life on the squad with her best friend, Raejean. Then things change for the worse when Raejean doesn’t have time for Jenna because she has a new best friend in Meghan Finnegan. Pretty soon, there are words whispered behind her back and she finds she’s not getting invites for the “in” crowd like before. Jenna quits the squad, takes up LARPing, starts a relationship with a trans boy, and slowly finds herself coming full circle at the end in more ways than one. MacCarthy has penned a novel that will reach young readers in large part because they have written the book they needed to reach as a young closeted bisexual during high school. The characters are three-dimensional with faults and redeeming qualities. They get angry and hurt, and say and do things they later regret. There are no tidy resolutions, but instead a sense of realism as lessons are learned and life goes on. (MacMillian Children’s Publishing Group)

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All The Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle is a riveting, atmospheric and timely story of a young queer teen searching for the sister she refuses to believe is dead. On her 17th birthday, Deena plans to come out to her family, but then she receives news that her older and wilder sister Mandy was witnessed jumping from a cliff to her death. Her father doesn’t seem very concerned as the Rys women have always been troubled according to him. Then Deena starts receiving letters claiming to be from her supposedly deceased sister. Are they real? Should Deena investigate and will she be able to handle what she might learn about her family if she does? A desperate and harrowing cross-country trip will reveal the darkest secrets not just about her family, but also her community and country. Fowley-Doyle has penned a novel that speaks to the heart of a country, Ireland, that only recently overturned the dreaded Eight Amendment banning abortion. All The Bad Apples deals with serious subject matters but in a format and story that is age appropriate. (Penguin)

Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins takes the heteronormative girl-meets-prince story and gives it a lesbian flavor. Milly Quint is devastated when she learns her sort of best friend and girlfriend has been stealing kisses from another girl. She’s ready for a change so she begins applying for scholarships in some of the world’s most exclusive boarding schools. With her record she soon finds herself accepted to the Gregorstoun school in Scotland. This suits Milly just fine and she is soon safely tucked away behind ivy-covered bricks walls amid the lush, green rolling landscape of the Scottish Highlands. Her new roommate looks and acts just like a princess, in large part because she is an actual princess. The first meetings between the girls do not go entirely well. Despite their rocky beginnings, though, Milly soon finds that she has found another sort of best friend and girlfriend. Will this one survive longer than the last one, or will Milly discover that class and social hierarchy can break hearts on both sides of the Atlantic? Hawkins has penned a novel of young lives and royal romance that will pull at the heartstrings of young and old romantics alike. It’s a fish-out-of-water, queer rom-com that will keep you laughing and swooning from start to finish. (Penguin Random House)

The Kill Club by Wendy Heard asks the question how far would you go to save the most important person in the world to you. Jazz is asking herself this question more and more as of late. She escaped the religious fanaticism and woeful homeschooling of her foster mother Carol, but Jazz had to leave young brother Juaquin behind with the increasingly unstable woman. Things take a drastic turn for the worse when Carol locks the boy in his bedroom and refuses to give him his life-saving insulin because she believes the power of prayer is stronger than the power of doctors. She even puts bars on his windows to prevent Jazz from sneaking him his medicine. With nowhere else to turn, she soon receives an offer that is hard to refuse. The Blackbird Kill Club is an underground vigilante group that takes care of problems like Carol, but at a cost. Jazz can save Juaquin, but she has to kill a complete stranger first to join the club. If she makes a mistake, then she becomes a victim, too. Heard has written a novel filled with hard questions and uneasy answers, where secrets of the past become unresolved problems that boil over in the present. This is story that will keep you riveted and turning pages from the first to very last. (Mira)

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Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan is her much-anticipated sequel to Girls of Paper and Fire, which spent 10 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Lei, the country girl who slayed the cruel monarch, is back. Alongside her is Wren, her warrior love. Together they travel the kingdom to rally distant rebel clans to join in their cause. Making things even more treacherous is the large bounty placed on her head and the dark magic that threatens to stop both the rebels and the efforts of our heroic lovers. Will Lei be able to defeat the forces opposed to her while still protecting her love for Wren, or will she and those she seeks to save be destroyed? As in the original novel, Ngan’s characters are vividly constructed, and the pacing of the book encourages the young reader to get lost in the pages. The settings and mood are vividly constructed, and lure the reader into visualizing the blistering deserts, dank castles, and the mysteries of a world where dark magic is both real and deadly. Action-packed and featuring strong female and other inclusive characters and themes, Girls of Storm and Shadow is an adrenalin inducing read that more than lives up to the expectations. (Jimmy Paterson Books)

Ziggy, Stardust & Me James Brandon takes the young reader back to 1973 when the Vietnam War was raging, the Watergate scandal was unfolding, and homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness. Sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins is an anxious, asthmatic, and closeted boy who is getting bullied by just about everyone it seems. Other than his neighbor Starla, he has no real friends. Even worse, he’s undergoing electroshock therapy to cure his mental illness of being gay. It’s no wonder that Collins spends much of his time in an alternate reality inspired by rock visionary David Bowie and his Ziggy Stardust persona. In the private world of his mind, he can be anything he wants from being an astronaut or superhero. He hopes that his treatments will make him as straight in real life as he longs to be in his fantasy world. Before that happens, though, a new friend stumbles into his life. Web is fearless, fearsome, and not the least bit ashamed of being gay. In short, Web is everything Jonathan is not, so of course the boy finds himself falling for the new kid. Brandon has penned a novel that seamlessly melds a coming of age tale with the oppressive beliefs and actions of the time. The characters are real and complex, and their feelings honestly portrayed. (Penguin Young Readers)

Mean by Justin Sayre picks up the story and characters from his previous novels, Husky and Pretty. This time he follows Ellen, the videogammer girl whose honesty is perceived by others as cruel and mean. While other people gossip and talk behind her back, Ellen believes it’s best to be honest with people and sort out the aftermath later. Life in middle school is rarely easy, and Ellen certainly has her share of obstacles to face every day. Whether it’s the pubescent zombies filling the hallways or trying to figure out why her friend Duck is acting so strange lately, the young girl really has a full plate of social intrigue. Could it have anything to do with Charlie? The two boys had a falling out after Charlie revealed his feelings for Duck. It would all be so much easier if everyone was honest with each other, or so she thinks. Sayre is a former television writer for 2 Broke Girls and it shows in the snappy dialogue that feels real and not contrived. She effortlessly captures the roller coaster of emotions that dominate the lives of those just beginning the process of crossing over into adulthood. (Penguin Young Readers)

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The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff is part coming-of-age, part science fiction, and part love story. It tells the story of Conrad Aybinder, a high school student who was left a series of scientific journals when his chemistry teacher, Sammy Tamparie, passes unexpectedly. Everyone else thinks he died of a drug overdose, but Conrad believes the young teacher’s death might have something to do with his quest to discover the elixir of eternal life.

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