January is off to a great start, with new releases that will draw in teen readers. Without being formulaic, they contain popular elements that make them sure bets.
School Statue Showdown, by David Starr (James Lorimer, Jan. 1): British Columbia high school principal Starr’s latest deals with big themes in an accessible way. This short novel helps fill the need for books for teens who welcome complexity but are intimidated by huge tomes. The book follows a conflict in a Canadian logging town, where First Nations activists want acknowledgment of the ongoing impact of past injustices and a white boy faces his family’s personal history of complicity. Starr realistically models ways that communities can work through the process of truth and reconciliation.
Ghost Roast, by Shawnelle Gibbs and Shawneé Gibbs, illustrated by Emily Cannon (Versify/HarperCollins, Jan. 2): The Gibbs Sisters, a writing duo with plenty of Hollywood experience, join debut artist Cannon to present a vibrant, appealing graphic novel combining romance and paranormal adventure with an exploration of U.S. history. Chelsea is a Black New Orleans teen whose father runs a ghost-removal service. Working with him over summer break, she’s shocked to learn that she can communicate with the ghosts at a plantation house. Her entanglement with one of them, a young man named Oliver, leads her to research local history and uncover buried secrets.
Diary of a Confused Feminist, by Kate Weston (Simon & Schuster, Jan. 2): Middle-grade readers have lots of humorous books to choose from. Teens are unfortunately not so lucky, but British stand-up comedian turned author Weston is doing something about that. Fifteen-year-old Kat wrestles with being a feminist in funny, stream-of-consciousness diary entries relating her escapades. When their irate principal punishes Kat and friends for spray-painting graffiti on the playground, she muses, “You can’t go at feminist activism half-heartedly. When you think about it, a detention isn’t quite as bad as what the suffragettes went through.”
The Colliding Worlds of Mina Lee, by Ellen Oh (Crown, Jan. 23): This duology opener, the latest from Oh, a founding member and the president and CEO of We Need Diverse Books, builds on the continued popularity of webcomics. Korean American Mina’s emotional journey of self-discovery and self-affirmation is enlivened with a love triangle and fantasy elements. While trying to persuade her father to support her passion for art—something that inextricably connects her to her late mother, an artist—Mina launches a new action-packed webcomic. But she didn’t count on getting pulled into its world and having to save the day.
Wander in the Dark, by Jumata Emill (Delacorte, Jan. 30): Journalist Emill offers readers a page-turner filled with timely social commentary. Amir and Marcel, two half brothers with very different home lives, attend an exclusive private school where there are few other Black students. When a party turns tragic and Amir is arrested, relatively privileged Marcel confronts some ugly truths. As Amir says, “Only guilty men run, the police will say. Nah, Black dudes who wake up in a white girl’s house and find her dead run. And we run ’cause we don’t get the benefit of the doubt.”
Laura Simeon is a young readers’ editor.