Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert; Hyperion, 368 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.
Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of William C. Morris Award-finalist "Conviction," has written a poignant, unforgettable novel, told through the eyes of 18-year-old Danny Cheng, the son of Chinese immigrants and a gifted artist. Danny and his friends Henry Wong and Regina Chan are immersed in their senior year at a Bay Area high school, dealing with the pressure of parental expectation and the college admission process and still reeling from the aftershocks of a classmate's suicide the year before.
As the novel begins, Danny has just been accepted early-decision at the Rhode Island School of Design, news that thrills his hard-working parents even though most parents in Danny's circle want their children to pursue more lucrative careers.
His father works in a physics lab, his mother as a nanny. His parents have told Danny their first child died, but they are strangely secretive about their past, a secrecy that often makes them seem cold and distant. Danny remembers a hasty move from Texas, a move that left him no time to say goodbye to his best friend, and a box of papers he finds in his father's closet raises more questions.
Danny is also experiencing an artist's version of writer's block, as a childhood encounter with a racist neighbor keeps echoing in his head, making him doubt his talent. In addition to offering a heart-rending depiction of the gritty realities of life for immigrants fearing deportation and a poignant exploration of a teen struggling to be open about his sexual identity, this novel also offers a thrilling mystery, gradually revealing a tragic secret that casts the family's entire history in a shockingly different light.
Votes for Women: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot by Winifred Conkling; Algonquin Books for Young Readers, 320 pages ($18.95) Ages 12 and up.
The United States next year will mark the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Award-winning author Winifred Conkling offers a fascinating, comprehensive look at the nearly 80-year struggle to win that right, opening her story with a scene in the Tennessee legislature in August 1920, when 24-year-old Harry Burns, heeding a plea from his mother, cast the deciding vote in favor, making Tennesee the 36th state to ratify the amendment. Conkling's lively narrative paints vivid portraits of the diverse personalities in the movement, from founders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to Victoria Woodhull, Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott and Alice Paul (who was arrested, went on a hunger strike and was force-fed in prison). Young readers will be fascinated with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a young girl becoming very aware that females were considered inferior beings - and her fierce determination to do something about it. (Women did not have the right to own property or keep their wages; women could be beaten by their husbands and fathers; women could not serve on juries or testify in court, women needed male escorts when they traveled.) Conkling does not shy away from uglier aspects of the battle including the suffrage movement's strained relationship with the abolitionist movement: Stanton and Anthony opposed passage of the 15th Amendment giving black males the right to vote. The extensive illustrations include photographs, political cartoons and headlines. At the end is a fascinating and helpful timeline of "the suffrage sisters," along with a list of primary sources and websites. The book also notes that several groups were denied the franchise longer than women were: Native Americans won the right to vote in 1924, Chinese-Americans in 1943, Japanese and other Asian-Americans in 1952. And voting rights of African-Americans in the South were restricted until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.