Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles; HarperTeen ($17.99) Ages 13 and up.
Critically acclaimed author Lamar Giles offers a brilliant exploration of gender roles, social pressure, toxic masculinity and what it means to be human in this smart, hilarious and heartfelt novel featuring the unforgettable voice of high school junior Del Rainey. Del has had a crush on Kiera Westing since kindergarten, and now that she's split with her boyfriend, Del sees his chance. Del and his mother have started attending First Missionary House of the Lord, and Del, following Kiera's lead, finds himself unwittingly signing up for a Purity Pledge, committing to chastity until marriage. Kiera is suspicious, since word around Green Creek High School is that Del is a player. (Del and classmate Shianne have never bothered to correct the false impression they had sex at a house party at 15; even Del's best friend Qwan doesn't know the truth.)
Meanwhile, Green Creek has become the focus of unwanted publicity after an unusual number of girls, including Shianne, have just had babies around the same time. The authoritarian widowed pastor of the church forces the teen moms in his flock to publicly confess their sin, a humiliating exercise that angers Del. Meanwhile, Del is taking a Healthy Living sex ed class at school, a class members of the church aren't allowed to take, and his friends in the Purity Pledge group badger him to ask the teacher the questions they have about sex. As Del schemes to find ways to throw himself into Kiera's company, help comes from Del's big sister, a college student who runs a popular feminist YouTube show. Giles has a gift for creating true-to-life characters and messily realistic situations, and Del's learning curve into a more mature and empathetic young man makes this excellent novel a must-read.
Magdalena Newman and her teenage son Nathaniel alternate voices in this Young Readers Edition of their inspiring and compelling memoir. Nathaniel was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, the same cranofacial syndrome as the boy from R.J. Palacio's novel "Wonder," and endured 67 surgeries before the age of 15. A native of Poland and a former concert pianist, Magdalena Newman offers a poignant account of her shock at his birth, the revelation that came with hearing Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," and goes into gritty detail about the frightening, complicated and messy tasks required to feed him and keep him breathing. "My destiny was to raise a child who was born deaf, unable to eat or close his eyes, barely able to breathe. A world where the most basic functions are hard-won victories. A world where only science and love make anything possible." Her own battle with cancer is saved for later in the book.
The Newmans had to deal with negative reactions to Nathaniel's face (including an adult neighbor who refused to allow him to attend her son's birthday party), instances they faced less often after the publication of Palacio's "Wonder." It's clear that Nathaniel has an upbeat attitude whether it was something he was born with or a result of his parents' determination to give him as normal a childhood as possible. The memoir details Nathaniel's squabbles with his younger brother, the family's dogs, the worries over medical bills. After 13 years of using a trach tube to breathe, 13 years of a hole in his throat, 13 years of cleaning and suctioning and infections, he underwent an 11-hour procedure to change the entire structure of his face, with a four-month followup of wearing a heavy cage around his head attached by screws. Nathaniel has the last word: "If your body works, be grateful. You don't have to think about it, spend time on it, work on it. We take it for granted that we're born with everything. I appreciate breathing."
In a meadow of dandelions about to bloom, one turns into a real lion with smiling round face, tiny legs and tail and dashes off on a wild journey of the imagination in this delicate wordless picture book by gifted illustrator Yoko Tanaka. Her mysterious illustrations show the lion, a small figure in yellow, against a nighttime backdrop, taking a ride on a locomotive, cradled on a woolly sheep, carried by clipper ship, then a seagull, as a tiny form against towering skyscrapers and bustling people on a crowded sidewalk, in a movie theater (a funny panel shows the dande-lion cradling a giant kernel of popcorn), whisked magically aboard a plane, a view of glittering city lights morphing into a field of fluffy mature dandelions, the breeze carrying their fluffy seeds into the sky.