The Scapegracers: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail ClarkeThe “township of Sycamore Gorge doesn’t fuck around where Halloween is concerned” which is why October is the one time of year where Eloise “Sideways” Pike earns a modicum of respect and attention from classmates who would otherwise ignore her as the resident lesbian witch whose dads run the local antique shop.

After years of “skulking near the bottom, lurking behind the bleachers, doing magic tricks for bottles of Coke,” Sideways is suddenly and irrevocably catapulted to the top of the West High social pyramid when Jing Gao, Lila Yates, and Daisy Brink pay Sideways forty dollars to add some real magic to the start of “scare-party season.”

Sideways is almost as surprised as Jing and Yates and Daisy when the magic works. As she puts it: “Even following my spell book by the letter, the most I could do was burn paper, unbreak dishes, make scrapes and cuts scab faster. What the four of us could do was something else. I felt seasick and disgustingly in love with it, with them.”

Party magic soon leads to dead deer in a drained pool, an unknown party guest nearly assaulting Yates, devils, and trouble as the girls start to learn more about the magic they all share and what it means for their fledgling friendship in The Scapegracers (2020) by Hannah Abigail Clarke.

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Sideways’s first person narration is descriptively lyrical observing the pale “bruise-lavender blue” air even as she remains extremely grounded when it comes to her own loneliness and lack of social skills. Sideways sees herself better suited to “skulking under bridges” than befriending the most popular clique in school, let alone flirting with Madeline–the stranger recruited as a fifth for their coven. Despite meddling efforts from her new friends, the course of love, much like magic, does not run smooth for Sideways.

Clarke cleverly dismantles classic popular girl tropes as Sideways and readers learn more about the triumvirate who quickly adopt Sideways into their ranks with surprising loyalty and affection. Sideways, Daisy, and Madeline are described as white, Yates is Black, and Jing is Asian—presumably Chinese. The characters are also diverse in terms of sexuality with lesbian Sideways and bisexual Jing among others.

Clarke’s debut is the start of a trilogy filled with magic, lilting prose, snappy dialog, and witches embracing their own power. Feminist themes and strong character bonds make this book an ideal companion to Kim Liggett’s The Grace Year, Hannah Capin’s Foul is Fair, and Leslye Walton’s Price Guide to the Occult. The Scapegracers is an excellent addition to the recent crop of novels highlighting sisterhood (especially unlikely ones) fueled by both feminist rage and solidarity.

Possible Pairings: Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin, Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian, The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis, Wilder Girls by Rory Power, The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney, Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

Tigers, Not Daughters: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha MabryEveryone in Southtown knows the four Torres sisters. And everyone remembers the night they were caught trying to run away — especially the boys across the street, who flock to Hector’s house at night to watch Ana, the eldest at almost 18, undress in her bedroom window.

While she does, they dream of all the ways they could save her from their “old neighborhood, with its old San Antonio families and its traditions so strong and deep we could practically feel them tugging at our heels when we walked across our yards.”

If it wasn’t for their infatuation and accidental intervention in the sisters’ escape attempt, everything might have been different. Ana would never have fallen from her window; she “wouldn’t have died two months later and her sisters wouldn’t have been forced to suffer at the hands of her angry ghost.”

A year later, after “a brief but catastrophic mourning period,” the girls’ widowed father is barely keeping it together. Jessica is trying to focus on her boring job at the pharmacy, her boyfriend, and not much else. Iridian hasn’t left the house in weeks — all the better to read Ana’s old supernatural romances and write the best scenes of her own. And Rosa, the youngest, always “more attentive than most people,” tries to follow the signs — the connections — when a hyena goes missing from the zoo on the anniversary of Ana’s death in Tigers, Not Daughters (2020) by Samantha Mabry.

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Set primarily over the course of 10 days, this book follows the surviving sisters in close third-person as they move through the grief over Ana’s death and the increasingly obvious signals that she isn’t entirely gone.

Flashbacks narrated collectively by Hector’s friends relate all of the ways in which the boys bear witness to the disasters that befall the Torres sisters and, more importantly, highlight “the many times we could have said or done something and, instead, we said and did nothing.”

These multiple viewpoints allow the story to shift between the girls’ linear narrations and the boys’ flashbacks that chronicle all the ways the sisters have been objectified — and failed — by the men in their lives.

This shift is especially obvious as Jessica repeatedly tries to move out of her overbearing and abusive boyfriend’s shadow, “tired of boys pulling on her, attempting to invade the life she’d tried so hard to keep protected.”

Though each sister has her own journey to complete while making peace with Ana’s sudden death, all three learn the importance of saving themselves — and each other — instead of remaining, as Iridian thinks, at the mercy of men “trying to leave their bruises all over her and her sisters.”

Throughout Tigers, Not Daughters, author Samantha Mabry blends elements of magical realism, moments of connection and grief, and genuinely eerie scares to create a story exploring the “magic in small things,” as well as a timely ode to sisterhood and feminism.

Possible Pairings: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee, When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter, Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth, The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters, Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf

With the Fire on High: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

cover art for With the Fire on High by Elizabeth AcevedoEmoni Santiago knows that when people see her name, they get an idea of the person they’re going to meet — the same way people thought they knew the kind of girl she was when she got pregnant her freshman year at Schomburg Charter High School.

She didn’t want to give away information like that for her daughter. Instead, she explains:

“I wanted to give Babygirl a nice name. The kind of name that doesn’t tell you too much before you meet her, the way mine does. Because nobody ever met a white girl named Emoni, and as soon as they see my name on a résumé or college application they think they know exactly what kind of girl they getting.”

But even if people who see her as a teen mother think they know her, Emoni knows they don’t see the full picture. They don’t understand that her top priority since Babygirl was born is to be a good mother.

Even with help from her grandmother, ‘Buela, at home, Emoni has a lot more than college plans on her mind at the start of senior year in Philadelphia. While her best friend, Angelia, is looking at the best graphic-arts programs and enjoying her relationship with her new girlfriend, Emoni is trying to decide if college (or a relationship) can have a place in her future alongside the hopes and dreams she wants to make a reality for Babygirl. And she wonders if it’s time to focus on doing rather than “spending four years pretending to do” in college.

When an opportunity to take an immersive culinary-arts class comes up at school, Emoni knows this is one thing she has to do even if she isn’t sure what to expect — or even if she can afford the class’ trip to Spain alongside the day-to-day costs of helping ‘Buela keep their house afloat.

“If you ask her to tell it, ‘Buela starts with the same story” of Emoni hopping up on a stool and seasoning her first meal at age 4. Emoni doesn’t know what to believe, but “ever since then ‘Buela is convinced I have magical hands when it comes to cooking. And I don’t know if I really have something special, or if her telling me I got something special has brainwashed me into believing it, but I do know I’m happier in the kitchen than anywhere else in the world. It’s the one place I let go and only need to focus on the basics: taste, smell, texture, fusion, beauty.”

Unfortunately, her natural affinity for food and years of experimentation in the kitchen don’t go far when it comes to prepping Emoni for the rigors of the culinary class. Chef Ayden wants to prepare them for work in a restaurant, but Emoni chafes under the structure and restrictions that seem designed to impede her creativity.

Emoni already knows a lot about taking care of herself and the people she loves, but over the course of her senior year, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to learn even more about cooking, family, and opening her heart in With the Fire on High (2019) by Elizabeth Acevdo.

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Author Elizabeth Acevedo’s follow-up to her blockbuster verse-novel debut, The Poet X, is another sensational contemporary story. Broken into three parts, With the Fire on High follows the sour, savory, and bittersweet moments as Emoni moves toward graduation and tries to figure out what’s next both for herself and her family.

Emoni’s first-person narration is frank and introspective. She is confident and secure in who she is and the choices she has made, but she also knows that people may have misconceptions about her as a result — something that the novel explores especially well through Emoni’s rivalry and eventual cautious friendship with her classmate “Pretty Leslie Peterson,” about whom Emoni has her own preconceived notions.

Quick, evocative descriptions bring Emoni’s Philadelphia to life as she moves through her neighborhood, where “the sounds of West Allegheny Avenue rush in to greet [her]: cars honking, buses screeching to a stop, rapid Spanglish yelled from the corners as people greet one another, and mothers calling out last-minute instructions to their kids from open windows” and beyond to other parts of the city.

While a romance as sweet as any of her desserts unfolds between Emoni and a new student, the core of this story is the found family and support system that Emoni creates for herself and Babygirl — a family that gets even bigger once she is willing to ask for help when she needs it, because, “like Chef Ayden always says, sometimes you need a team to help you.”

With the Fire on High is a delectable confection filled with optimism, humor, and an obvious affection for each and every character — especially Emoni, a heroine readers will not soon forget.

Possible Pairings: A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Your Destination is On the Left by Lauren Spieller, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

The Vanishing Stair: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

cover art for The Vanishing Stair by Maureen JohnsonEllingham Academy is a prestigious Vermont boarding school founded by eccentric billionaire Albert Ellingham. Its students are encouraged to think of learning as a game while pursuing their passions. Some of them come to the academy to write, others to create. That’s the one thing that binds the students together: “Everyone at Ellingham Academy had a thing.”

Stevie Bell’s thing is crime; specifically, solving the Ellingham case.

In 1936, Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter, Iris and Alice, were kidnapped. Despite doing as the kidnappers asked and paying a ransom, Ellingham never reunited with his family. Iris’ body was soon found; Alice was never recovered.

The biggest clue in the case was the “Truly Devious” letter — an eerie poem reminiscent of Dorothy Parker that promised violence and maybe even death.

Stevie isn’t the first person to try to solve the case. But she has something no one else does: new evidence. It’s all contained in an old tea tin filled with “a bit of white feather, a bit of beaded cloth, a tarnished, gold-colored lipstick tube with the mummified remains of a red lipstick, a tiny enameled pillbox in the shape of a shoe, some pieces of notebook paper and black-and-white photographs, and the unfinished draft of a poem.”

Together, these “humble objects” are proof that the infamous Truly Devious letter may not have been tied to the case at all, but a student prank.

The problem is that Stevie’s parents pull her out of Ellingham mere weeks into her first term, after the death of another student, Hayes Major (whose murder Stevie tried to solve). Knowing what happened to Hayes, and knowing that another student was likely involved, Stevie senses missing pieces.

Was Hayes’ death an accident or something worse? And what happened to Ellie, the most likely suspect, after she disappeared through a passage before she could be interrogated?

Stevie isn’t sure how she can answer these questions without being at Ellingham — a problem remedied by the unlikely and unlikable Edward King, “the worst man in America” (and a thinly veiled imitation of Donald Trump), who offers Stevie the chance to return to Ellingham in exchange for keeping tabs on his son, David, who is finishing his last year there, ideally without impeding his father’s presidential aspirations.

It’s an impossible bargain, and Stevie knows she has to accept even if it means avoiding David and their mutual attraction. Knowing her time at Ellingham can end at any moment — especially since her presence seems to be doing very little to ground David — Stevie focuses on solving the case, which leads to shocking revelations about the school’s past in The Vanishing Stair (2019) by Maureen Johnson.

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Maureen Johnson, a mystery lover and true-crime aficionado, imbues her heroine and this second installment of the Truly Devious series with that same love and respect for investigation. Stevie’s work isn’t glamorous, nor does it involve shortcuts. She knows she doesn’t “have all the answers,” but she isn’t afraid of the grunt work it takes “to find the lead, to find the single sentence in the single piece of paper that made you stand so suddenly that your head spun and then you’d know that you cracked the case.”

Stevie’s keen eye for investigation is tempered by real-world concerns like figuring out what her feelings for David mean and managing her anxiety with a combination of medication and other coping mechanisms. Stevie’s friends are quick to help, but she knows that her anxiety can manifest at any time since “anxiety and excitement are cousins: they can be mistaken for each other at points.”

The novel follows Stevie with a close-third-person narration. Trial transcripts and witness statements are interspersed throughout as Stevie delves deeper into the Ellingham case. Alongside her, readers follow the case to its surprising conclusion via chapters chronicling the varying perspectives of key players and witnesses.

While much of the Ellingham case is solved here, readers can expect a new mystery as Stevie is left to figure out how to reveal her findings — not to mention lingering questions over the school’s more recent spate of deaths. This series is a must-read for YA-mystery lovers, but be sure to start at the beginning with Truly Devious before diving into this one.

Possible Pairings: City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson, Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett, Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend by Karen Blumenthal, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallero, Overturned by Lamar Giles, Running Girl by Simon Mason, Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, Pasadena by Sherri L. Smith

You Are the Everything: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

cover art for You Are the Everything by Karen RiversSixteen-year-old Elyse Schmidt is eager to get home to California. Anywhere is acceptable, as long as it’s away from the damp Parisian air that irritates her Junior Idiopathic Arthritis (or “Junky Idiotic Arthritis,” as she calls it) and all of the things that didn’t happen on her trip: romance, kissing, and, most disappointing of all, bonding with her longtime crush, Josh Harris.

Elyse and her school band had been “in Paris to play in a band festival, which turned out to be no different from every band festival in America,” except this time, Elyse was hungover and played badly, and her band placed third. On the plane home, she wishes she could “undo everything, especially the stupid fight” she’s in with her best friend, Kath.

But she can’t, which becomes painfully clear as the plane continues its progress home.

Elyse’s wish for something to happen on the plane, “something that would make this trip worthwhile after all,” goes horribly awry when the plane crashes, leaving Elyse and Josh as the only survivors in You Are the Everything (2018) by Karen Rivers.

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During the disaster, Elyse reminds herself of all of the things that she never made time for before: “You never went to Wyoming. You never fell in love. You never decided who you were going to be. You never finished your graphic novel. You didn’t live long enough to warrant an autobiography. You never thought of a good name for the YouTube channel that you never started.”

She hopes to do things differently if she has a second chance.

Elyse is “aware of deciding” of choosing between living and dying. Then it’s a few months later. Elyse is in Wyoming. Despite the horrendous losses (of Kath, of her classmates, of her own eye), her new life could be pulled from the pages of the graphic novel she never finished: Me and Josh Harris: A Love Story.

She always knew she “might be able to make the story real if [she] want[ed] it badly enough,” and now, in Wyoming, she and Josh are finally together. She is “the girl who was dead and is now alive.” She is Josh Harris’ girlfriend — part of the couple everyone else at school wants to talk about. She is happy. This, Elyse knows, “is what dreams look like when they come true.”

She still isn’t as confident as she could be, but after the crash, Elyse realizes that she is “so much braver and sharper, as though the crash carved off [her] dull edges, leaving [her] as glistening and dangerous as a razor.”

Her brain doesn’t work the way it did before. Time doesn’t pass the same way. Elyse tries to ignore these changes and what they mean, but slowly, painfully, she sees how spotty her memory has become and how the pieces of her new life don’t quite fit together the way they should.

Elyse realizes that “it’s only possible to ignore an obvious truth for so long before you have to acknowledge it” and is forced to confront what really happened during the crash, along with all of the regrets that come with that reality.

Memories and dreams blend with the visceral reality of the crash. This heady story capitalizes on the reader’s limited point of view to give the novel’s conclusion the most impact. The stream-of-consciousness style and sweeping tone of Elyse’s second-person narration are striking contrasts to the pace of the story, much of which is set on Elyse’s flight home.

The unusual choice to write the novel in second person lends an immediacy to the text and gives each pronouncement more impact as the story builds toward its poignant conclusion: “Your mouth is full of blood and teeth and regret for all the things you didn’t do and you are crying for the year when you were seventeen, which isn’t going to happen.”

While parts of the story feel emotionally manipulative, the blend of affecting prose and a character-driven plot make for a smart and sometimes surprising premise. Readers of books in the vein of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart or A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma may guess the novel’s inevitable outcome long before Elyse herself does.

You Are the Everything is an emotional novel about unmet potential and missed connections, resignation, and acceptance, and, at its center, a girl who never had the chance to finish deciding what kind of person she wanted to become. “Just a splice in time when all of the everything can happen that will ever happen and now you can just stop trying so hard, you can just let go.”

Possible Pairings: But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

A Room Away From the Wolves: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:
cover art for A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma
Sabina “Bina” Tremper is used to being known as a liar and a thief. The real surprise comes when Bina’s mother, Dawn, sides with Bina’s stepsisters and refuses to even consider that. this time, Bina might be telling the truth.

Hoping to defuse the situation, Dawn plans for Bina to temporarily move out. She hopes if Bina stays with her stepfather’s church friends, the girls will have time to reconcile.

But Bina has other plans. She instead decides to go to New York City.

New York City has always been a dream for Bina — a dream she used to share with her mother before Dawn abandoned it for safety and stability in the suburbs with Bina’s churchgoing stepfather.

It feels a little like destiny when Bina calls Catherine House and finds out they have a room available right when she needs it. Catherine House is “a boardinghouse for young women, first opened in 1919 after a personal tragedy,” when an incident took Catherine de Barra’s life. The house was also the site of many of her mother’s cherished stories from a summer spent in New York City before she returned to the abusive boyfriend she would marry soon after Bina was born.

Bina is certain that going to the city is the answer and her chance for a new start. “With an old suitcase and a fresh black eye,” Bina follows in her mother’s footsteps, hitchhiking to Manhattan and making her way to Catherine House at the intersection of Waverly Place and, yes, Waverly Place.

Inside the house, Bina is expected to follow rules that are “binary and boring and lifted from another time,” including a strict curfew and keeping the upper floors of the house as a “no-male zone at all times.”

The last of the rules is a vow asking boarders to promise they will not speak to “reporters, authors, historians, or anyone else, excluding female blood relations in the first and second degree (mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters) about the goings-on inside the house, nor the founder, though deceased, while in residence or afterward, effective up to 99 years.”

The stipulation doesn’t bother Bina. She’s more than willing to follow the rules and sign the vow, so long as it means she will finally have a room to call her own in the city in A Room Away From the Wolves (2018) by Nova Ren Suma.

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The glamor and camaraderie from her mother’s stories about Catherine House never materialize for Bina. The closest thing she has to a friend is Monet Mathis, her downstairs neighbor and, according to Bina, “the first person on this patch of crowded earth who knew who I was and not who I tried to be.”

Monet could be Bina’s greatest threat in the house, her closest friend, or maybe even something more. Unlike everyone else in her life, Bina is able to meet Monet as equals — liars and thieves and girls who are only able to take off their masks with each other.

Tangled up in her fascination with Monet and the girl’s lavish lies about her past, Bina begins to suspect she’s also unearthing secrets about the house — something to do with the summer her mother spent there all those years ago, a ring that should be lost but suddenly isn’t, and a photograph of the house’s founder, Catherine de Barra, that seems to move with a purpose Bina can’t quite grasp.

A Room Away From the Wolves is an exploration of unfulfilled potential, female friendship, and second chances as much as it is an ode to New York City and all of the things that make it “sinister and strange and perfect.”

Deliberate, tense plotting combined with an unreliable narrator and looping prose obscure as much as they reveal both about Bina and the boardinghouse. This novel is part mystery, part ghost story, and intensely focused on growing up and what that means for a girl who already has a reputation for all of the wrong reasons.

Readers familiar with Suma’s earlier novel The Walls Around Us will recognize similar themes as Bina is forced to strip away her reputation and her bravado until she is left with only the truth about herself and her place in the house.

A Room Away From the Wolves is a timely book about a flawed girl who learns that she is allowed to be broken, so long as she can also keep trying and continue chasing that best version of herself.

Possible Pairings: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, You Are the Everything by Karen Rivers, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Tell Me No Lies: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

cover art for Tell Me No Lies by Adele GriffinIt’s October 1988, and Lizzy Swift is finally in 12th grade at her all-girls high school. She was promised glamor and excitement, certain that, at Argyll, “there was no bigger prize” than being a senior.

But now, all she feels is tricked.

So far, the year has been just like every other; she hasn’t taken part in any of the big moments that she always thought would make up her senior year. Instead, Lizzy is busy filling her transcript with items to add to her Princeton application.

She studies to stay on the honor roll, works on drawings for her AP art portfolio, and tries to convince her best friends and fellow nerds, Gage and Mimi, to step outside of their comfort zones with her. But athlete Gage is happy just marking time until college, while Mimi’s free time is spent chatting with her boyfriend.

Lizzy used to think all she wanted was to blend in, to make it easier to pretend no one knows about her epilepsy. It’s been years since she had a grand mal seizure during chorus class, after all.

Since then, Lizzy has managed to largely ignore her condition, never talking about her medication, the doctor, or the risk of seizures that makes her parents overprotective. But she’s constantly on guard, always waiting for her next seizure. And being dubbed “spaz” by popular Wendy Palmer hasn’t helped her social standing.

Lizzy is as shocked as anyone when new girl Claire Reynolds chooses to lavish attention on her, first with shared eyeliner and later with secret trips into the city. Claire is effortlessly cool in a way Lizzy desperately wants to emulate.

Of course, Claire has her own secrets about why she came to Argyll during her senior year, but Lizzy is so thrilled with the friendship that she’s willing to overlook Claire’s secrecy in Tell Me No Lies (2018) by Adele Griffin.

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(While Lizzy’s epilepsy plays a large role in her character arc, readers may lament that there is no author’s note included to detail the research and resources Griffin may have used to try to authentically portray the condition.)

She also keeps picking up the tab for Claire, despite the fact that Claire and her divorced mother now live with their extremely wealthy aunt and her 16 cats. These, Claire explains, “had the run of the house and could do anything they wanted, plundering like pirates, knocking over vases, scratching curtains and portraits, sleeping anywhere.”

Despite her misgivings about Claire, Lizzy treasures their friendship, as it allows her to present a new version of herself for the first time in years. Her newfound confidence even leads Lizzy to date a longtime crush, Matt Ashley.

But even with their obvious chemistry and affection, which Griffin sweetly shows on the page, every time Lizzy and Matt try to connect physically, it feels like something is off — especially during an awkward hand job that seems to push them further apart instead of bringing the couple closer together.

Is it because Lizzy skipped third grade and is the youngest in her class? Or is something else making Matt hold back every time they’re alone together?

While Lizzy’s focus for most of the novel is her relationship with Claire and Matt, she — and readers — come to appreciate the constant and familiar presence of her best friends, who support her even as they struggle to understand her changing tastes and attitude.

Attention from Mimi’s older brother, Theo, a college student and model described as a “Korean James Bond,” is a confusing addition to Lizzy’s rather overfilled senior year, as their once-easy friendship shifts to a more intense flirtation.

This YA novel about the excitement of new relationships and experiences plays out against the backdrop of fear and paranoia surrounding the AIDS crisis and the shifting norms and politics of the times.

Offhand references to Keith Haring, Joy Division, and other key figures of the period further help set a scene which may feel very remote for today’s teen readers. Plot threads, including sexual abuse by a teacher, closeted gay teens, and the constant fear of HIV, are timely given the setting, if somewhat unnecessary additions to this already jam-packed novel.

Still, Tell Me No Lies is an atmospheric ode to the joys of self-discovery and true friendships. It’s an ideal choice for anyone interested in the 1980s or looking for a compulsively readable piece of historical fiction.

Possible Pairings: Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan