“Ophelia After All”
by Racquel Marie (Feiwel & Friends, $17.99).
Senior year of high school is quite a trip. No one understands this better than Ophelia Rojas, the charming protagonist of Marie’s debut novel. Faced with the usual identity crises and lost innocence, she’s also trying to understand her burgeoning queerness. Ophelia is grounded in her Latina heritage, her love of rose gardening and her cheerful boy-craziness — but her feelings for her new friend Talia are throwing the last one into doubt. Talia and a wide array of side characters, many also LGBTQ+, navigate prom, graduation, joy and heartbreak alongside Ophelia. It’s in their relationships that Marie’s writing shines: the little dramas of high school feel like they do at 18, with appropriate weight and pathos. The novel is refreshingly unpredictable, free of cliché. Less successful is the dialogue. Particularly in the second half, some lines read more like Wikipedia entries on social issues or queer identities than authentic teenager-speak. It’s the mark of a promising author still developing her ear. Nonetheless, the heartfelt celebration of queerness, self-discovery and coming-of-age in “Ophelia After All” will win your heart.
“All My Rage”
by Sabaa Tahir (Razorbill, $19.99).
Don’t judge “All My Rage” by its cover: behind the teen rom-com-ready geometry is a heavy story of loss, mistakes and forgiveness. Best friends Noor and Salahudin (“Sal”) grew up in Juniper, a small town in the Mojave Desert where Sal’s parents own a motel and Noor works in her uncle’s liquor store. Come senior year, they’re fighting, Sal’s mother is ill, the motel is struggling and escape from Juniper looks near-impossible as Noor tries to apply to college without her uncle’s knowledge. “All My Rage” has a domino feel — everything that can go wrong goes wrong — but far from feeling predictable, it reads as carefully orchestrated dread. Noor and Sal jump off the page; even as they make realistically bad choices they’re compelling and impossible to root against. Also well-drawn are the side characters: a high school mean girl is a nuanced depiction of how racism can be disguised by civility and pettiness. The book is a bit of a downer, but also a powerful statement about survival and new beginnings. And it’s gripping: I finished “All My Rage” at 2 a.m., enthralled by Noor and Sal’s story.
— Reviews by Haley Zimmerman
“When You Get the Chance”
by Emma Lord (Wednesday Books, $18.99).
“When You Get the Chance” invites readers to experience some of the hardships of being placed for adoption through the character Millie Price, a singer, actor and perfectionist — a true triple threat. Whether it be her summer internship, auditions for the school musical, or her relationships, she concedes no room for error. When she is accepted into Madison Precollege and her dad feels she isn’t ready, she decides to search for her birth mother. Knowing her mom is a fellow theater lover, Millie believes that her mom would be supportive of her going to Madison and Millie journeys around New York City, tracking three women who might possibly be her mom. Between her need to be liked by all three women, maintaining her relationship with her dad, and simultaneously developing a new crush, Millie wrestles with parts of herself she may not be completely ready to accept. Author Emma Lord beautifully illustrates Millie’s roller coaster of emotions throughout. Not only is this book a page turner, but you will fall in love with every character you meet.
“All That’s Left in the World”
by Erik J. Brown (Balzer + Bray, $17.99).
Playing on a worst-case scenario of a global pandemic, the “Superflu” wipes out most of the population, leaving Jamison and Andrew to find each other. Andrew, injured and desperate, stumbles across Jamison in his cabin in the woods. Jamison is fully equipped for the world’s end, with solar-powered electricity, a stocked pantry and running water. Jamison reluctantly decides to care for Andrew’s wounds and finds he really quite enjoys the company. However, there’s more to Andrew than what meets the eye: a secret about his past he refuses to share. Erik J. Brown’s “All That’s Left in the World” gives dimension to any typical post-apocalyptic novel by marrying the harshness of humanity and a queer young love story. Between Jamison’s good-hearted nature and Andrew’s mentality of doing whatever it takes, they may just come out of this alive.
— Reviews by Elle Vonada
This article was written on special assignment for The Seattle Times through the TeenTix Press Corps, a teen arts journalism program sponsored by TeenTix (teentix.org), a youth empowerment and arts access nonprofit organization.