When We Vanished: A Review

When We Vanished by Alanna PetersonAndi Lin and her mother are doing everything they can to keep anyone from finding out that her father’s new job is actually participating in a clinical trial at the food corporation Nutrexo.

After Andi hears executives whispering about a dangerous research study at a company party, she worries it might be the same study her dad is involved with–especially since she hasn’t heard from him in over a week. When Andi asks her neighbor Cyrus Mirzapour to help, they wind up in over their heads when a nonviolent protest ends with a bombing and both of them being held captive alongside Cyrus’s older brother, Naveed and younger sister, Roya.

Trapped and desperate to discover the truth and save themselves, Andi and Cyrus find themselves at the center of a conspiracy with consequences that are hard to imagine–and closer to home than either of them realize in When We Vanished (2020) by Alanna Peterson.

Find it on Bookshop.

When We Vanished is Peterson’s debut novel and the start of her Call of the Crow quartet. The book is published by Peterson’s newly created publishing company Rootcity Press which, as their website states, “operates on a not-for-profit model, and donates a portion of all proceeds to grassroots-based organizations focused on racial justice and food equity”

As such, this eco-thriller works to raise awareness about the dangers of fast/processed foods and genetically modified foods some of which can be seen on the book’s companion site Nutrexo Truth.

Unfortunately in sharing these timely messages Peterson’s novel highlights graphic scenes of animal cruelty with “EcoCows” kept in unsanitary and inhumane conditions at Nutrexo and scenes of torture when Naveed is sprayed with a noxious pesticide as part of the villain’s continued experiments leaving him with lasting nerve damage.

While these scenes viscerally showcase the dangers of modifying foods, particularly the increased spread of antibiotic resistant infections, the violence that will stay with readers far longer than the message.

When We Vanished is an unflinching eco-thriller best suited to readers comfortable with gore and grit.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal*

Booklist: Activism Starts With You: Nonfiction Books to Inspire and Instruct

This piece originally appeared at the YALSA Hub Blog in 2017.

You can also find the list at Bookshop.

It’s been a wild and sometimes scary ride lately with the political climate changing in the wake of the 2016 United States Presidential election, the current health crisis and, unfortunately, racism and hatred spreading wildly. It’s hard to know where to start when you can’t vote and may not be old enough to work. The best first step: Getting information. These books can help teens do just that as you get informed and inspired.

  • Strike! The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights by Larry Dane Brimner: A carefully researched account of the 1965 strike and the ones that followed as migrant Filipino American workers fought to negotiate a better way and set off one of the longest and most successful strikes in American history.
  • Yes You Can! Your Guide to Becoming An Activist by Jane Drake and Ann Love: This book includes accounts of the founding of organizations like Amnesty International and Greenpeace along with practical steps for social change including how to run meetings, write petitions, and lobby the government.
  • It’s Getting Hot in Here: The Past, Present, and Future of Climate Change by Bridget Heos: With so many people denying its impacts, it’s more important now than ever to know the full story about climate change. This book features real talk about global warming and ways we can all help by taking action.
  • The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip M. Hoose: The true story of the teenage boys whose acts of sabotage (and eventual arrests) helped spark the Danish resistance during WWII.
  • Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen: An essay and art-filled guide to what it means to be a feminist from forty-four unique voices.
  • We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson: In May 1963 4,000 African American children and teenagers marched in Birmingham, Alabama where they were willingly arrested to help fill the city’s jails. These young marchers were crucial to the desegregation of Birmingham–one of the most racially violent cities in America at the time.
  • The March Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell: These graphic novels share Lewis’ firsthand account of his lifelong involvement in the fight for human rights including his key role in the Civil Rights movement from his early years in a segregated classroom through the 1963 March on Washington.
  • Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks: The true story of three of the most important scientists of the twentieth century–women who risked their lives pursuing their research and protecting the primates they studied.
  • Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager: Queer author and activist Prager delves into the world’s queer history and heritage through the lens of these twenty-three trailblazers.
  • This Land Is Our Land: The History of American Immigration by Linda Barrett Osborne: This book follows the changing reception immigrants to the United States have faced from both the government and the public from 1800 through the present.
  • You Got This! Unleash your Awesomeness, Find your Path, and Change your World by Maya Penn: Everything you need to know to find your passions, reach your potential, and speak up from teen entrepreneur, animator, eco-designer, and girls rights activist Maya Penn.
  • Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Kate Schatz: This book highlights forty women from around the world and from all walks of life along with their varied accomplishments and contributions to world history.
  • The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin: In 1944 hundreds of African American servicemen in the Navy refused to work in unsafe conditions after Port Chicago explosion. Fifty of those men were charged with mutiny. This is their story.
  • Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters by Laurie Ann Thompson: A step-by-step guide to identifying social issues, getting informed, and taking action.
  • How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of A War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana: In her memoir Uwiringiyimana discusses her survival of the Gatumba massacre and her move to America where she began to recover through healing and activism.
  • I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb: Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Her story started when the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley and she fought for her right to an education but that’s only the beginning.

This list is by no means comprehensive. If I’ve missed any key titles, please share them in the c

Aquicorn Cove: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Aquicorn Cove by Katie O'NeillLana isn’t sure what to expect when she and her father return to their seaside hometown. It can’t be the same–not when Lana’s mother is gone–but maybe helping her aunt and  the other locals clean up after the latest big storm can make it close to the way it was.

The last thing Lana expects to find while picking up debris on the beach is a magical seahorse. It turns out that the aquicorns have always lived near the village in the coral reef. But as the local fishermen take in larger and larger catches, the aquicorns aren’t sure how much longer they can stay.

The village is only a small one and Lana is only one small girl in it. But as she learns more about her family and the aquicorns she starts to realize that sometimes even small actions can turn into big changes in Aquicorn Cove (2018) by Katie O’Neill.

This standalone graphic novel blends fantasy elements with a strong message about environmental conservation and one girls efforts to move on after an unthinkable loss.

Aquicorn Cove is filled with cute characters and adorable creatures in equal measure. This story also has a very clearly defined arc giving the narrative a strong focus and a satisfying level of closure. Finished copies of Aquicorn Cove will also include back matter about ocean conservation.

O’Neill’s artwork is vibrant and whimsical. Bright colors and bold lines bring Lana’s village and the underwater home of the aquicorns to life. Rounded edges and a consistent palette also help to imbue the artwork with a soft and calm quality as well.

Aquicorn Cove is a sweet and gorgeously illustrated story. A unique premise, thoughtful fantasy elements, and a winning case of characters makes this one a winner. Recommended!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*