Round III, Bracket IV: Belle Révolte vs. Grown

Belle Révolte by Linsey Miller

Emilie des Marais is more at home holding scalpels than embroidery needles and is desperate to escape her noble roots to serve her country as a physician. But society dictates a noble lady cannot perform such gruesome work.

Annette Boucher, overlooked and overworked by her family, wants more from life than her humble beginnings and is desperate to be trained in magic. So when a strange noble girl offers Annette the chance of a lifetime, she accepts.

Emilie and Annette swap lives—Annette attends finishing school as a noble lady to be trained in the ways of divination, while Emilie enrolls to be a physician’s assistant, using her natural magical talent to save lives.

But when their nation instigates a frivolous war, Emilie and Annette must work together to help the rebellion end a war that is based on lies.

Trigger Warning: Belle Révolte includes descriptions of violence.

Emilie des Marais and Annette Boucher come from different worlds: one is noble-born, while the other “ate dirt as a child.” One wishes to be a physician in a man’s world, while the other wishes to to study magic at whatever cost. Miller’s world is like a detailed quilt of fantasy tropes – a world of gendered magics, alchemy, magical schools, class struggles, switched identities, a simmering political uprising, and rebellious wealthy teens. This is not to say that some of her inventions aren’t unique and interesting, but much of the book relies heavily on familiar motifs to carry the story.

What makes much of Belle Révolte interesting is Miller’s exploration of gender, sexuality, and power. In the French-coded country of Demaine, magic is offered as a binary. The midnight arts, including the arts of scrying, divination, and alchemy, is traditionally considered women’s work; the noonday arts, where magic is channeled into medicine, is for men (coincidentally, the king is a noonday artist). Emilie wishes to escape her mother’s rigid ideas of what young womanhood should look like for a girl of noble birth and study the noonday arts, calling to mind similar themes in Makenzi Lee’s A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. 

In addition to the gendered societal constraints, there is a burgeoning revolt among the country’s lower class citizens, inspired by the anonymous revolutionary Laurel, who broadcasts evidence of the crown’s corruption across Demaine. The wealthy feed off the poor, using them as “hacks” to channel their magic so as not to wear down their bodies. Annette, who is worried about spending her entire life in servitude to a wealthy artist, jumps at the chance to study at the finishing school Emilie is meant to attend. Emilie runs to the university while Annette takes her place, and soon, both girls become mired in the political goings-on at their respective schools, and eventually, in the oncoming war itself. 

If all of this sounds complicated, it’s because it is. Miller’s book could have used a lot more editing than it received – while the story becomes increasingly enjoyable as time goes on, the first third of the book is almost painfully slow. The political plotline is convoluted and dense, and I often had to repeat passages or reference early parts of the book to understand what was going on. That being said, Miller’s prose is lovely, and despite her use of tried-and-true fantasy tropes, her strengths lie in her characters and their relationships. Both the story’s main characters and its supporting players are well-rounded and complex; many of these characters also fall somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and their storylines are treated with nuance and care. Though some readers will certainly be turned off by the book’s slow start, teens who enjoy political intrigue, magic, light romance, and books with multiple perspectives will be entertained by this.

Adaptions: Belle Révolte would be best suited as a film. The cinematic plot and interesting magic system would make for great visuals.


Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Korey Fields is dead. 

When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.

Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.

Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields? 

All signs point to Enchanted. 

Trigger Warning: Grown includes descriptions of abuse, sexual assault, and a toxic relationship.

Grown is not a horror story, but it is terrifying; Jackson wrote a heavy, brutal book. The story is difficult to look at straight on, but it’s also impossible to look away from. The book begins with a gruesome scene: Enchanted Jones wakes up in a room filled with blood and a dead man on a bed, a knife between them. She doesn’t know what happened, only that she’s glad he’s dead. But this isn’t the most horrifying part of the book.

Almost immediately, the reader is ripped backwards through time to the beginning of Enchanted’s story. When Enchanted meets Korey Fields, she is excited and hopeful; finally, this professional in the industry sees something in her and thinks she can make it. But Enchanted recognizes too late the manipulation and abuse that Korey is capable of, and while she comes to understand that she’s been groomed and ensnared in Korey’s web, she has no idea how to free herself.  

When Enchanted comes forward with the truth of what happened to her at the hands of Korey Fields, she is painted as the liar and manipulator. The public cannot believe that this beloved musician would do something so horrifying; therefore, it must be Enchanted at fault. This speaks to the deification of celebrities and other public figures, which leaves victims vulnerable to victim blaming and additional abuse. Think of the responses to films Surviving R. Kelly and Leaving Neverland. As Enchanted railed against the justice system that was failing her, I couldn’t help but think of the cases of Cyntoia Brown and Chrystul Kizer, both of whom were imprisoned for killing their traffickers in self-defense as teenagers. 

What Jackson does particularly well in this book is the delicate nuance of character. She does not condescend to her characters – some authors may have painted Enchanted like a naive fool, others as a helpless victim. But Jackson so frighteningly and accurately portrays how abusers pull their victims in before they even have a chance to realize that something is wrong. Enchanted is strong, and she is smart, but she is a kid. And that is what makes this book so important. Grown so deftly mirrors recent current events and is a vital addition to the bevy of #MeToo literature that has sprung up in the last few years. It shows how Black women especially are maligned and ignored and blamed at every turn when violence is committed against them, and how frequently Black girls are denied their very childhoods.
Grown asks us to question not only how truth is defined and decided in our justice system, but also the ease with which young girls are left vulnerable by a system that functions on technicalities and laws that uphold white supremacy. As Ms. Jackson states clearly in her author’s note, “…this book was inspired by a case…but this book is not about R. Kelly.” It is about abuse and abuse of power, about the systems we uphold that leave young girls vulnerable and without hope. The novel’s final chilling revelations do nothing to assuage the fear and discomfort this story inspires, which feels very intentional on Jackson’s part. It is not an easy book, but it is an important one.

Adaptions: Grown would be best suited by a TV show – the book’s heavy content would be difficult to sit through as a film, but with the story’s various subplots and flashbacks, it would make for a great mini-series.


Winner: Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

This was an incredibly easy choice. While I enjoyed both books, Belle Révolte is fun but feels ultimately inconsequential next to Grown. Of course, these books are also quite different in every way, so they won’t necessarily appeal to the same readers. But when given the choice, Grown is the clear frontrunner. Jackson’s book is a monumentally difficult one to read, but I’m so glad that it’s in the world. Teens who feel they can handle the heavy content will love Enchanted’s strong voice, the book’s pacing, and the tight spiral of action that leads to the final, frightening moments.


Mariel Fechik is a Teen Services Advisor at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. She is a musician, a poet, and a lover of YA lit. 

Round III, Bracket III: Cemetery Boys vs. Legendborn

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.

Trigger Warning: Cemetery Boys includes descriptions of transphobia and violence.

First off, that cover! Stunning. 

Cemetery Boys is everything a reader could want in a book; it truly lived up to the hype it’s received. It’s full of excitement, emotions, romance, and wonderful characters (even the side characters are well fleshed out). Teens will love the atmosphere that Aiden Thomas has created and will enjoy learning about another culture or seeing their culture represented. The only weakness I felt the book had was the pacing was a tad off at times, but was still easy to follow.

I’d recommend this book to teens who are wanting to read something spooky that still has romance involved. 

Adaptions: The cover of Cemetery Boys highly affects my decision to believe that this would be an incredible animated series. 


Legendborn by Tracey Deonn

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.
A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.
And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.

Legendborn was a refreshing urban fantasy inspired by King Arthur legends. The main character, Bree, is a strong female lead that is well-developed and is the highlight of the book. Tracy Deonn does an excellent job at creating an exciting new world and connecting real-world issues; however, it was a bit information-heavy. Including a glossary or hierarchy chart would help readers understand a bit better. The love triangle is a trope that is a bit overdone, and the length of the book can be daunting to readers. 

I’d recommend this book to teens who are already fans of fantasy books, but are looking for something more modern.

Adaptions: I think a TV series for Legendborn would be a great way to dive deeper into the magic system.


Winner: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

It was a hard decision to choose between the two. Legendborn is a fabulous book, but I feel Cemetery Boys is a perfect read and has a broader teen appeal. The characters were well-written, the romance was exciting, and the story flowed nicely. Since Legendborn can be challenging for some readers, I think Cemetery Boys is the true winner.


Sonya Hill(she/her) is the Teen Librarian at the Ela Area Public Library. When not in the library, she can be found with her three cats and three snails listening to music or out on a motorcycle exploring (not with the cats or snails, sadly).

Round III, Bracket II: You Should See Me in a Crown vs. The Black Flamingo

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her ​small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down… until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams—or make them come true?

Trigger Warning: You Should See Me in a Crown includes descriptions of racism, homophobia, and a public outing of a character.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson is a heartfelt and adorable contemporary romance novel. Teens will enjoy the well developed and relatable characters, and the romance is well-written and fans of the genre will enjoy how Liz and Erin’s relationship grows. Liz’s friendships are a strong part of the novel, which can draw in readers who enjoy reading about other relationships in addition to romance. Leah Johnson has crafted a novel that teens can really relate to, and characters they can see themselves in; readers will be excited for their achievements and feel empathy for their struggles.  The quality of Johnson’s writing is excellent and the pacing is good.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy rom-coms and realistic fiction. This book has the qualities of a rom-com; for example, there is a meet-cute and a happily ever after. It also contains the struggles of a queer teenager of color as she comes out in a conservative community. The intersectionality of the protagonists adds a level of realism which balances out the fluffier aspects of the novel.

Adaptions: You Should See Me in a Crown would be a great movie.


The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Michael is a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London. All his life, he’s navigated what it means to be Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican—but never quite feeling Greek or Black enough.

As he gets older, Michael’s coming out is only the start of learning who he is and where he fits in. When he discovers the Drag Society, he finally finds where he belongs—and the Black Flamingo is born.

Told with raw honesty, insight, and lyricism, this debut explores the layers of identity that make us who we are—and allow us to shine.

Trigger Warning: The Black Flamingo includes descriptions of homophobia and racism.

Black Flamingo by Dean Atta is a touching coming-of-age story written in verse. Teens will relate as Michael struggles to find his place in the world, while also navigating high school and college. Michael is a very relatable character, and teens will enjoy seeing the world through his lyrical perspective. The relationships he gains and loses throughout the novel, as well as his perseverance, will keep readers of all ages engaged, though younger teens may have difficulty relating to Michael as he navigates college. However, older teens will enjoy glimpsing Michael begin to become an adult.

I would recommend this book to older teens who enjoy realistic fiction. Older teens may be better able to relate to the characters, since the book covers Michael’s high school years as well as the beginning of college. I also think this book could be a good choice for reluctant readers since it is written in verse. Teens will be able to make progress through the book quickly as it is very engaging.

Adaptions: The Black Flamingo would make a fantastic graphic novel.


Winner: You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

I chose You Should See Me in a Crown as the winner because I think it appeals to a broader audience of teens. It has many aspects, such romance, friendship, and family struggles, that can and will really engage readers. While both books encourage teens to be true to themselves, I found You Should See Me in a Crown to be more relatable. Additionally, You Should See Me in a Crown has a wide range of popular read-alikes. Overall, I recommend both books but think You Should See Me in a Crown will be more engaging for teens.


Caitlin Atkinson is studying Library and Information Sciences at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. She currently works at Hinsdale Public Library as a Youth and Young Adult Library Assistant. When not in school or working, Caitlin can be found with a pile of books, playing video games, or hanging out with her cat. 

Round III, Bracket I: Furia vs. When You Were Everything

Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez

In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life.

At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.

On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.

But the path ahead isn’t easy. Her parents don’t know about her passion. They wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. And the boy she once loved is back in town. Since he left, Diego has become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by her feelings for him. Things aren’t the same as when he left: she has her own passions and ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, Camila is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and ambition of a girl like her.

Trigger Warning: Furia includes descriptions of abuse, misogyny, and violence.

This heart-pounding sports book takes on first love, toxic masculinity, pursuing your dreams, the impact of a culture of violence, and more, and manages to do so in under 400 pages. Set in Argentina, readers are quickly immersed in several cultures all at once–the culture of Camila’s family, her neighborhood, her country, and the culture of fútbol that she’s grown up in. The expectations surrounding her from all these cultures can feel smothering, but Furia keeps an intense, quick moving pace that keeps readers involved, but not overwhelmed. 

You know how I can tell Méndez is an amazing author? I have never been a huge fútbol fan, but there were moments on the field where I nearly dropped the book and cheered. While Camila has been living in the shadow of her brother’s sports career, her love interest’s sports career, and her father’s sexist expectations for her, when she is on the field as Furia, it melts away to leave a strong, fierce, talented girl who readers will absolutely fall in love with. 

The experiences in this book are so specific. We’re given so many ways to see how Camila’s world has been shaped by the history of violence against women in her culture, and how her own struggles fit into the larger flow of the struggle for justice. While soccer is her way of fighting back against toxic masculinity, so is her intelligence and her relationships with others. But despite this very specific character and these very specific cultures, Méndez gives readers the tools to find themselves in this story, to find things that look like their own world or neighborhoods, their own triumphs and troubles.

The storytelling in Furia is cinematic, making it a great read for teens who like sports but also one for a reader who may get bored with books fairly easily. The plot is straightforward, but the narrative is complex, and the running threads of tension will keep a lot of readers fully engaged.

Adaptions: Furia would make an excellent feature film or graphic novel.


When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk

It’s been twenty-seven days since Cleo and Layla’s friendship imploded.

Nearly a month since Cleo realized they’ll never be besties again.

Now Cleo wants to erase every memory, good or bad, that tethers her to her ex-best friend. But pretending Layla doesn’t exist isn’t as easy as Cleo hoped, especially after she’s assigned to be Layla’s tutor. Despite budding friendships with other classmates–and a raging crush on a gorgeous boy named Dom–Cleo’s turbulent past with Layla comes back to haunt them both.

When We Were Everything is a slow burn, character driven contemporary that focuses on friendship rather than romance, which makes for a refreshing change of pace. Watching a friendship fall apart from the aftermath, then diving back into the why was so engaging and so heartbreaking. 

Cleo, our lead character, is a really authentic and well-developed voice. She’s deeply flawed and at points she is clearly aware of her flaws, but can’t help falling into old habits. While readers watch her push people away at the slightest hint that they may have other priorities outside of Cleo, she never becomes so toxic that you stop wanting to read her narrative. Other characters she interacts with, Layla especially, have these same sorts of flaws–you can see the cracks that make them human, but no one is irredeemable. You feel like you really know everyone in this book, and you can feel the other stories happening just off the edge of the page. 

Friendship break-ups are a very real part of life, especially when you’re a teen, and they often feel as messy and awful as a romantic break-up; often they feel worse. This book does a masterful job of exploring those feelings in a way that doesn’t lay blame on anyone, but doesn’t pull punches. Woodfolk captures the messiness of real friendship in such a tangible way, I think most teen readers would find many elements of the story that look like their life.

While this book will appeal to most readers who enjoy character driven contemporary novels, it will especially appeal to readers who like messy friendships and who want characters to feel real. There’s plenty of humor in this quiet book, but also plenty of angst for the teen who really wants a book to break their heart.

Adaptions: When You Were Everything would make a great Netflix mini-series, a la Dash and Lily.


Winner: Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez

Both of these books are phenomenal; honestly, either of them would be great for a teen reader and they are both show-stopper books, so it’s hard to choose between them. When You Were Everything certainly feels like it has a broader appeal–after all, not every teen plays sports, but who hasn’t had a messy friend break up?  But while Furia feels more specific and less relatable to some readers, it is also a narrative we’re sorely lacking in YA spaces. It fully immerses readers in a time, a place, a family, and a moment. The stakes are high because that specificity lets the stakes be high in a way that a book with broader appeal may not quite hit.

I could think of other books I could give a reader if I didn’t have When You Were Everything on hand that may hit their interests or needs, but if Furia was the right book for a reader, it would be harder to find an alternative. Because of that uniqueness, my winner has to be Furia.


Maisie Iven is a teen librarian for the Naperville Public Library. Outside of work, they spend most of their time talking about fat cats, going on hikes, and obsessing over all things ukulele.   

Round II, Bracket VIII: Grown vs. Go With the Flow

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Korey Fields is dead. 

When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.

Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.

Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields? 

All signs point to Enchanted. 

Trigger Warning: Grown includes descriptions of abuse, sexual assault, and a toxic relationship.

Inspired by true events, Jackson’s Grown takes the reader into the dark and dangerous world of fame and the countless victims it can leave behind. The story is centered around 17-year-old Enchanted whose dream is to become a singer and break free from the life she’s living. Enter 28-year-old R&B singer Korey Fields who discovers Enchanted and promises her the world as he takes her under his wing. From the get-go, there is a distinct and uncomfortable dynamic between the two as readers can immediately see the red flags in the relationship, but Enchanted is blinded to it all due to her naïveté and dreams of stardom. Jackson does a fantastic job with character development because we get to see Korey‘s evolution from a charmer to a monster. The subtlety with which it all happens is eye-opening and an educational tool for anyone in any form of toxic relationship. We also see how Enchanted went from a girl with big dreams and personality surrounded by friends and loved ones to someone cut off entirely from the world. Korey took everything from her and she was a victim to it all.

By no means is this an easy read, because it tackles issues of abuse, sexual assault, drug addiction, and toxic relationships. We see how far Korey manipulates Enchanted to the point she protects him out of fear and lets herself be imprisoned by him. It is horrifying, but sadly not an uncommon occurrence in the world. Jackson, a master of social commentary, also addresses the way in which society treats Black girls and those who live in poverty – our most vulnerable demographic. Enchanted is constantly made to feel less and treated as though her body is not her own, which plays into one of the reasons she is able to be so easily taken advantage of. In this sense, Grown works as a great conversation starter because while Enchanted’s exact story may not be everyone’s, the topic of toxic relationships, both romantic and platonic, is something everyone experiences in some form at one point in life. 

Both Jackson and her publisher offer a content warning at the beginning, which is crucial for the novel and something that should be more commonplace in literature. The character of Enchanted is written with such authenticity that it’s easy to be drawn into her story and understand the circumstances that led to her captivity. Watching the story unfold in a dual timeline format with it toggling between the past and present helps us understand what lead to the moment of Korey’s murder through a buildup of tension that ended in a climatic revelation showing us what happened to Korey. The reader also gets to experience all of the same fears, doubts, and confusion alongside Enchanted and view how easily predators are able to manipulate their victims. 

Not without fault, though, at times it did seem to be filled with one too many unnecessary plot twists that felt as though were merely used for shock value, which interrupted the flow of the story. Also many of the supporting characters, like her friend Gabby, felt more like tools used to make a plot point work rather than enhance it. I wish these characters had been fleshed out better so as to add to the cohesiveness of it all.

While very serious and difficult issues are discussed, the book opens the floor to issues teens may not have previously been aware of and while an uncomfortable read, it serves to educate. Teens will enjoy the social commentary and authenticity with which Jackson writes Enchanted, who is someone you’re rooting for until the end. At the end of the day, she’s still a teen with normal issues many readers can relate to — Korey storyline aside, of course. Fans of mysteries and thrillers will easily enjoy this book.

Tagline: “How much of yourself would you be willing to risk losing to achieve your dreams?”


Go With the Flow by Lily Williams & Karen Schneeman

Good friends help you go with the flow.
Best friends help you start a revolution.

Sophomores Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are fed up. Hazelton High never has enough tampons. Or pads. Or adults who will listen.

Sick of an administration that puts football before female health, the girls confront a world that shrugs—or worse, squirms—at the thought of a menstruation revolution. They band together to make a change. It’s no easy task, especially while grappling with everything from crushes to trig to JV track but they have each other’s backs. That is, until one of the girls goes rogue, testing the limits of their friendship and pushing the friends to question the power of their own voices.

Now they must learn to work together to raise each other up. But how to you stand your ground while raising bloody hell?

At the core, Go with the Flow is a story about female friendships. Authors Williams and Schneemann beautifully interlace the main topic of periods and menstruation throughout the graphic novel, and it’s what inevitably brings the four main characters, Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha, together. They’re a diverse group of girls that are not only experiencing their periods in different manner – from one of them having it for the first time to another suffering from endometriosis – but are attempting to navigate their teenage lives as best they can. What the authors do best, though, is depicting healthy and powerful female friendships, which is sadly not the norm in literature. The girls have open and honest lines of communication and handle conflict in a way that’s mature and authentic. Williams and Schneemann also bring great diversity and LGBTQ+ representation in a way that highlights it, without making it a device used to just carry a storyline or highlight another character. Each of the four girls are different and they stand out because of who they are and not what they’re supposed to represent. It’s important for that representation to be there and it’s handled delicately with respect. 

Aside from Judy Bloom’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Williams and Schneemann tackle a topic rarely discussed in teen literature: the period. It’s a topic that no matter how much time has passed or progress made remains somewhat taboo and is not openly talked about. The authors discuss the economic disparities, stigmas, shame, and lack of resources surrounding periods that people face on a daily basis. The authors’ pepper in a lot of information and history without bogging down the story or coming across as too academic. Periods are tricky enough as it is without adding more complications.

Formatting the story in graphic novel format also makes it more accessible to readers, and opens the lines of dialogue in a way not normally found in books or general conversation. It’s a fun and great resource that can help many, especially for those who feel alone in their period struggles, and really drives the message across in an engaging manner. The artwork lends itself perfectly to the story to elevate it one step further. Having every panel primarily in red adds to the theme, but it’s never a distraction. Text isn’t used in every panel and in some cases is missing for a few consecutive pages, but the detail and expressions in the characters’ faces still drive every scene. There’s an effortless flow in each panel that’s carried to the end. 

While I understand needing a voice for this movement, at times it became too much and took over Abby’s entire character, since that’s practically all she talked about; you never got to know her outside of this one thing and there was so much more to her. She needed to rein it in a little because it would get somewhat annoying at times and disruptive to the story. It was also a little far-fetched how much national recognition she received for her big demonstration at the end. The entire book was so well written and authentic that to have something this hyperbolic seemed a bit out of left field. Nonetheless, it was still a fantastic read and these small hiccups didn’t take away anything from it.

Teens of all backgrounds will easily enjoy this read. Even though there is a lot of information scattered throughout, it’s done in such a way that doesn’t seem forced or preachy. At the end of the day, it’s a coming-of-age story that tackles a lot of heavy issues that teens deal with without sugarcoating anything; fears of not fitting in, figuring out your identity, high school romance, and more are all topics teens, and even some adults, face on a daily basis. Go with the Flow is a conversation starter that allows talk of periods to become more normalized in daily conversation without fear or shame. At the end there’s an Author’s Note with more information and resources for those interested. Any teen who is not only going to experience their period, but is interested in learning more, would get a lot out of this book.

Tagline: “A story of the power of friendship and how it can fuel a revolution.”


Winner: Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Both are phenomenal books that teens and readers of all ages should read, which made picking a winner nearly impossible. However, Grown has more universal appeal and due to the current social climate we’re in, edging it just past Go with the Flow to victory. It is especially important to read stories like Enchanted’s in order to continuously educate ourselves and grow, and teens will be immediately submerged from the beginning pages to the very end.


Marion Olea is the Head of Adult and Teen Services at the Northlake Public Library District. Her hobbies include baking, gaming, traveling (soon again, hopefully) and submerging herself in all things pop culture.

Round II, Bracket VII: Belle Révolte vs. They Went Left by Monica Hesse

Belle Révolte by Linsey Miller

Emilie des Marais is more at home holding scalpels than embroidery needles and is desperate to escape her noble roots to serve her country as a physician. But society dictates a noble lady cannot perform such gruesome work.

Annette Boucher, overlooked and overworked by her family, wants more from life than her humble beginnings and is desperate to be trained in magic. So when a strange noble girl offers Annette the chance of a lifetime, she accepts.

Emilie and Annette swap lives—Annette attends finishing school as a noble lady to be trained in the ways of divination, while Emilie enrolls to be a physician’s assistant, using her natural magical talent to save lives.

But when their nation instigates a frivolous war, Emilie and Annette must work together to help the rebellion end a war that is based on lies.

Trigger Warning: Belle Révolte includes descriptions of violence.

This high fantasy novel addresses so many issues we face in society today which teens can relate to. The world building is well done; it is clear from the beginning the current government’s agenda is and why there are those who are rebelling against it. I also really enjoyed how, once our characters found out how misled they were by the government’s disinformation they quickly organized their revolt, not only for their own freedom but for freedom of others.

I really enjoyed that this novel has young woman taking control of their own future. The characters are diverse and well-developed. The relationships between the characters are wonderful as well. They clearly communicate consent, boundaries, conflicts, and biases.

The only weakness really was pacing. There were times where the plot moved a bit leisurely and then picked up and resolved too quickly. It also made the final section of the book feel very impulsive considering how long the rebellion had been building up and organizing against the government.

I think teens interested in political activism would be interested in this novel, as well as teens who enjoy magical realism. I would also recommend it to teens who enjoy historical fiction. I think if you take magic out of the equation what you have at the heart of the story are teens struggling to find their place in a world where they do not fit the societal hierarchies. I think this reads well into what happens when you choose a side in a war, and what it is like to be allied to rebels. So for someone who may not read fantasy regularly, this may help introduce them to the genre.

Additionally since it’s a standalone novel, it’s a great introduction to the fantasy genre.

Tagline: “These girls won’t let society dictate their magic anymore!”


They Went Left by Monica Hesse

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.

I think this book does a great job of showing the readers what trauma can do to us mentally. The writing style almost has you feeling like you are experiencing the episodes Zofia is. They Went Left also does a great job constructing Eastern Europe after the war is over, and how fragmented and disorganized the continent is. This part of history isn’t always depicted so I really appreciated the opportunity, while fictitious, to read what many experienced upon liberation.

The character development was excellent. All the characters are so complex, everyone wants to remember, and forget their past as they choose their futures, in a world that is no longer the same.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy stories with unreliable narrators. In this case, our narrator is unreliable because of the very real and terrifying trauma of the Holocaust, versus their own omission. I think this would appeal to readers of this genre because it gives them the opportunity to try and identify what is missing from Zofia’s memory, and see if they can help find Abek.

Tagline: “When all is lost and broken, where do you go to find family?”


Winner: Belle Révolte by Linsey Miller

Both of these books would appeal to teens for various reasons. Both feature strong teen characters facing strong external pressures outside of their control. However, I think Belle Révolte will appeal more widely to teens because of how relatable the characters are. More importantly, I think they societal and political issues that appear in this novel are issues teens can recognize and see themselves addressing in real life.


Angie Zalatoris is an MSLIS candidate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign iSchool. When not
working or studying, she enjoys baking, reading, and playing her ukulele.

Round II, Bracket VI: Legendborn vs. Each of Us a Desert

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.
A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.
And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.

Legendborn is a reimagining of Arthurian legend, where the powers of the Knights of the Round Table have been passed down through the generations in secret. Themes of the original story, including friendship, betrayal, romance, power, and the moral ambiguity of magic, all come into play in this modern extension of the mythos.

Tracy Deonn clearly has a talent for world-building. A big challenge of setting fantasy in the real world is integrating the supernatural without it feeling implausible. The author’s use of college secret societies to hide the magic in plain sight makes the concept work, while highlighting harsh realities about the openness of white institutions to people of color. The parallel systems of magic, which have different histories, purposes, and rules, serve as both an important plot point and a metaphor for how power, trauma, and resilience can be passed on through generations for better or worse. There are a few points where the believability falters; for example, Early College seems like an awkward device to get a 16 year old protagonist into university, when it might have made more sense to simply have Bree be 18. That said, there is an element of wish fulfilment to the Early College scenario which may be appealing to high-schoolers! 

The characterization was strong, with a clear-voiced protagonist and unique supporting characters. Deonn does a fantastic job of giving even her side characters lives outside the story so that no one feels like a prop. Bree, who is Black, finds a number of different perspectives on race and power among the Legendborn she meets, even as they all perpetuate a hierarchical and racist system. There is casual queer representation throughout, including a character who uses they/them pronouns. The romance between Bree and Nick, which deepens as they uncover similar trauma, is believable, but so is Bree’s discomfort with their power imbalance and her conflicted feelings about Selwyn.

Legendborn is a strong start to what will hopefully become an ongoing fantasy series exploring powerful and relevant themes: Grief and trauma, resilience and recovery, heritage and harm, and race and power.

I would recommend Legendborn to lovers of Arthurian legend, teens who have outgrown or never saw themselves in The Dark is Rising sequence, people looking for tales of grief and resilience, and urban fantasy readers who need a break from vampires and fae.

Tagline: “Resilience is power.”


Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro

Xochitl is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enigmatic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.

Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.

One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous conqueror. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.

Each of Us a Desert is a book about the power of truth, told in the form of a story given up to Solís, the deity whose ritual obligations rule the main character’s life at the start of the book. As a cuentista, Xochitl is responsible for absorbing the confessions of her neighbors before their dishonesty takes on a nightmarish physical form. It is a sacred duty, but as her life becomes more and more constrained by her role and as a violent threat to her community takes shape, Xochitl leaves her village to seek something more.

Oshiro has constructed a multifaceted tale with the air of myth about it. On the surface it is about Xochitl’s desperation to get rid of her power, but the plot encompasses much larger themes: the search for truth, the power of words and stories, and the role of ritual and religion in society. While the storytelling style is formal, the larger questions surrounding morality, faith, and the self may be appealing to teens who are struggling with some of the same issues.

A major strength of this book is its backstory; in the wake of an ecological disaster caused by Solís as a punishment, communities must struggle for survival in a harsh desert and live scrupulously by Solís’s commands and Their rituals. The world Oshiro builds feels expansive, including stories of forested non-desert regions and an echo of the present-day North-South dichotomy of the border. The setting and Spanish words and phrases throughout imply that the setting is a post-apocalyptic Mexico or U.S. desert Southwest.

Unfortunately one of Oshiro’s weaknesses is characterization– while Xochitl as the narrator and protagonist is complex and has her own voice, we meet many other characters in the book and get to know very few of them. Additionally, the climax of the story is rushed; too much time is spent on the journey, only to have the central mystery be fully explained in a matter of pages. On the positive side, there is casual queer representation throughout, and they/them pronouns are used for a few human characters, the deity Solís, and other supernatural beings.

Despite its weaknesses in pacing and characterization, Each of Us a Desert is an original story, told in a format not often seen in fantasy literature. Its themes and questions will likely resonate deeply with some teens, if they can get past the very formal tone of the book, making this a potentially powerful book for the right reader.

I would recommend Each of Us A Desert to readers of magical realism, people who enjoy emotionally intense stories of personal growth and discovery, novels told in verse or epistolary format, and gentle romance.

Tagline: “Searching for the truth behind the myth.”


Winner: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

It was incredibly difficult to decide between these two books, since they are written in very different styles seemingly for very different audiences. Each of Us a Desert is a haunting work which will resonate deeply with the right reader and I would not hesitate to recommend it. However, ultimately I believe that Legendborn will have a broader appeal to a teen audience. As a contemporary, compelling, and relevant take on a very old story, with a kick-butt protagonist and awesome magic, Legendborn is my winner.


Hester Klinke (she/her) is the consistently over-caffeinated Youth and Teen Services Team Lead at Sycamore Public Library. Hester is an avid reader of fantasy for all ages and enjoys spending time with her family, baking, and labradors.

Round II, Bracket V: Cemetery Boys vs. Elatsoe

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.

Trigger Warning: Cemetery Boys includes descriptions of transphobia and violence.

I’m not one to read summaries about books before I read them, as I like to let the story unfold rather than being told what is going to happen; I was not prepared for what I was about to experience. Cemetery Boys has a lot packed into the story, but nothing feels like it is trying too hard or out of place. Aiden Thomas weaves a story that part cultural identity, part LGBTQ+ identity, and part murder mystery. All parts flow together seamlessly.

Learning about the brujx culture and what is expected from every brujo and bruja was an interesting juxtaposition to showcase against the current culture norms. It demonstrates what happens when the gender roles of generations are met with the dismantling of those norms, especially when Yadriel’s gender identity is accepted by Lady Death, even though his family cannot accept it. It’s distressing that Yadriel had to prove his rightful place as a brujo without the support of the rest of the brujx, but also empowering that he was able to conduct the rituals himself to achieve his birthright. 

Initially I was annoyed by Julian and I was not looking forward to enduring him for the entirety of the story; however, he proved to be my favorite character. I assumed that he was going to be very two-dimensional: an obnoxious bad boy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time who may have one or two redeeming qualities, but would ultimately stay obnoxious. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. Julian was obnoxious, but he was also compassionate, understanding, and passionate about the people he cared about. It was an unusual and unexpected character development because his character didn’t change, we just were allowed to learn the intimate details about Julian that only his friends and family got to see. 

I think this book is an easy sell to teens. The characters are relatable and the story is exciting. There are so many aspects of the book to focus on that it reaches several types of readers.

Tagline: “Living in a graveyard is weird enough, until a ghost follows you home.”


Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Imagine an America very similar to our own. It’s got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream. There are some differences. This America has been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day.

Seventeen-year-old Elatsoe (“Ellie” for short) lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered, in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect façade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family.

Trigger Warning: Elatsoe includes descriptions of grief, racism, and violence.

I was so excited to read this one for 2 reasons. First, it’s an #OwnVoices book from an Apache writer and secondly, it’s magical realism, which I love! This book could have easily been overwhelmed by a lot of world building and backstory, but Darcie Little Badger did a fantastic job explaining just enough to feel a part of the world. The backstory was necessary, but she integrated it within the book with stories about her six-great-grandmother that felt natural and transitioned smoothly.

It was refreshing to see a platonic friendship represented in this book, but even more so that the main character was asexual. It seems that so many authors are coerced into creating sexual tension between friends which would have been so unnecessary in this relationship. Yes, Ellie and Kirby’s relationship was arguably the best because little else beats a ghost dog for a pet, but I was so into the Ellie/Jay friendship. They both also had this ancestral magical source that existed that was their own and not broadcasted to others. I did fangirl a bit at the part when Jay reveals he’s fae and a descendent of Oberon; it was a rad little inclusion. 

The only issue I had with this book was that sometimes conversations sounded a bit predictable or easy. When Ellie starts digging into the death of Trevor and discovering some pretty seriously dark evidence, her mom kinda let her run the show. I’m assuming that’s because of a connection to six-great-grandmother, but it felt like a cop out. As if the adults were merely there because there couldn’t be just two teens doing this alone. It wasn’t constant and it wasn’t blatant but I did start to notice a pattern, particularly in the end battle where Ellie confronts the Big Bad and the mom basically leaves her alone for most of it.     

I do think this book is also an easy sell, although the cover read a bit juvenile in comparison to the subject matter. 

Tagline: “Just a girl and her ghost dog trying to solve a murder.”


Winner: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

This was so incredibly hard- the similarities between these two books are insane! Non-cisgender main characters use cultually-specific magic passed down from generations to speak and see spirits and help solve a murder. I will say that I loved both of these and neither is really a loser, except that only one can move forward.

I chose Cemetery Boys because I felt that it has a bigger reader appeal, only because I can see teens telling each other about this book more. This was so hard that I feel the Elatsoe book sitting next to me is looking at me with sad ghost puppy dog eyes. Honestly, just read both because they are equally amazing. 


Brandi Smits is the Youth Services Manager at the Orland Park Public Library, although she spent most of her pre-manager life working with teens. Cross-stitching and nostalgic teen rom com movies helped her grasp onto some sanity this past year. 

Round II, Bracket IV: The Black Flamingo vs. Punching the Air

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Michael is a mixed-race gay teen growing up in London. All his life, he’s navigated what it means to be Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican—but never quite feeling Greek or Black enough.

As he gets older, Michael’s coming out is only the start of learning who he is and where he fits in. When he discovers the Drag Society, he finally finds where he belongs—and the Black Flamingo is born.

Told with raw honesty, insight, and lyricism, this debut explores the layers of identity that make us who we are—and allow us to shine.

Trigger Warning: The Black Flamingo includes descriptions of homophobia and racism.

The Black Flamingo is written in stanzas and also contains poetry written by the main character Michael, as well as some text messages between him and his friends. The supporting cast of characters in this book are well-fleshed out and feel like real people in their interactions with Michael. While the book highlights major milestones in Michael’s life such as starting middle school and college, it is sometimes difficult to perceive the passage of time between scenes.

I would recommend The Black Flamingo to those who enjoy books that aren’t romance, but have romantic themes.

Tagline: “Be confident. Be proud. Be you.”


Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam

The story that I thought
was my life
didn’t start on the day
I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think
will be my life
starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

Trigger Warning: Punching the Air includes descriptions of police brutality, violence, and racism.

Like The Black Flamingo, Punching the Air deviates from traditional prose by writing in stanzas instead of paragraphs. Through his memories and current experience, the reader understands the main character Amar and where he’s coming from with his frustrations about the system that he’s trapped in. While it is easy to envision Amar as a character, there is less detail given to the world around him and it is difficult to visualize the setting and the other characters. The book also ends suddenly with little explanation.

I’d recommend Punching the Air to those who enjoy reading books adapted from true stories

Tagline: “Question your place.”


Winner: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Through beautiful prose, The Black Flamingo tracks Michael’s path of self-discovery from middle school through the start of college. On this path, we get to know Michael and the people in his life—his family members, friends, and classmates–and the different relationships that he has with each of them. In each of these relationships, Michael experiences high points and low points. For example, his mom is willing to accept him for who he is but still has trouble making assumptions sometimes about who he should be such as suggesting that he should like shopping because he’s gay. This book shows how these relationships shape Michael and how he discovers who he wants to be. It authentically portrays how the people around us can influence the people we become in both positive and negative ways.


Katie Peterson is former math teacher now studying for her MSLIS at the iSchool at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Round II, Bracket III: More Than Just a Pretty Face vs. You Should See Me in A Crown

More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood

Danyal Jilani doesn’t lack confidence. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he’s funny, gorgeous, and going to make a great chef one day. His father doesn’t approve of his career choice, but that hardly matters. What does matter is the opinion of Danyal’s longtime crush, the perfect-in-all-ways Kaval, and her family, who consider him a less than ideal arranged marriage prospect.

When Danyal gets selected for Renaissance Man, a school-wide academic championship, it’s the perfect opportunity to show everyone he’s smarter than they think. He recruits the brilliant, totally-uninterested-in-him Bisma to help with the competition, but the more time Danyal spends with her . . . the more he learns from her…the more he cooks for her . . . the more he realizes that happiness may be staring him right in his pretty face.

Trigger Warning: More Than Just a Pretty Face includes a non-consensual recording of sexual content.

More Than Just a Pretty Face has a great deal of strengths and weaknesses. One strength is character development; those interested in characters with more personality than a plank of wood should be pleased to hear that characters do go through growth, like developing thoughts after meeting and talking to others, trying to better themselves from stereotypes that they’ve been dug into, and trying to follow one’s dreams.

There’s also a breadth of representation when it comes to both culture and religion. It includes discussions about Muslims, Desi standards, phrases and meanings, historical events, and marital customs. Those interested in reading about other religions/races should definitely give this book a try.

There’s a few things that readers should be aware of going into More Than Just a Pretty For those who do not like strong language or frank discussions of sex, this one might not be for you. In that vein, if you’re looking for a light read that does not delve into social, political, and/or psychological depths, you should look elsewhere.

In terms of weaknesses, More Than Just a Pretty Face has a few. For one, the pacing tends to chug along fairly steadily until you get about three-fourths into the book when the ending begins to shift a little faster which might be off-putting. Additionally, the world-building can be seen as pretty basic for general fiction novels. The writer tends to focus on the important locations that characters will be found at, or find necessary; School, Home, Friends’ Houses, Job, Meet-Up Locations, Date Locations.

I would recommend this book to readers who are interested in an unconventional romance, enjoy reading about social justice where maybe everything isn’t solved but mindsets are changed or challenged, or those who enjoy reading about strong female characters and males who don’t force females to fall for them.

Tagline: “If you don’t follow your dreams, no one else will.”


You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her ​small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down… until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams—or make them come true?

Trigger Warning: You Should See Me in a Crown includes descriptions of racism, homophobia, and a public outing of a character.

You Should See Me in a Crown has a lot to offer readers. There’s a full cast of characters, though some fall into stereotypes. Liz is an anxiety-filled band nerd with few friends, Gabi is the best friend with rich parents who are going through a divorce, Britt is friend who is into sports and is boisterous and threatening (if the situation calls for it), Stone is that weird friend who’s into Astrology and horoscopes, Rachel is the angry arch-rival who’s the generic popular girl who needs everything to go their way. Though stereotypes are found, the characters also go through some development; some good, some not. One example is Jordan and Liz’s relationship; he begins the book as a popular Jock who used to be friends with Liz, but as the story progresses Liz and Jordan reignite their friendship and Jordan becomes a sort of protective brother.

The pace of the book can be considered generally exposition and detail-heavy, but thankfully the pace does kick into a nice speed once the beginning information has been given. The book transports readers back to (or into) high school and the author does well enough on creating a setting for readers to visualize in their minds.

I would recommend You Should See Me in a Crown to readers who are into contemporary romance (and are LGBT+ friendly), those who want a feel good story, and those who hate the cliché that ‘the popular kids always win the competitions’.

Tagline: “#EffYourFairytale.”


Winner: You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Between More Than Just A Pretty Face and You Should See Me In A Crown, I felt like readers would be able to enjoy You Should See Me In A Crown a touch more.

While both novels had their main characters fight for something that was important to them, You Should See Me In A Crown felt less ‘heavy’ for readers. While more triggering scenarios happen in You Should See Me In A Crown (homophobia, racism, and a public outing) they go about it in a quick ‘rip the band-aid off’ manner. More Than Just A Pretty Face throws heavy hitting topics into the reader’s face (colonialism, manipulation, ‘Us versus Them’ mindsets, non-consensual recording of sex, being mocked at school for being ‘dumb’, religion bombardment) and doesn’t give much time in between themes before the next topic is thrown at you.


Britta Schwaeger is a Teen Services Associate at the Wheaton Public Library. In her spare time, Britta is a stereotypical nerd (gamer, D&Der, graphic novel/manga reader) with two guinea pigs, and never enough time in the day.