Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart (2016)

Eighth grade is hard enough for any kid, but at times it feels almost impossible for Lily Jo McGruther, a girl born into a boy’s body. As Lily struggles with her transition, figuring out who she is, and wishing her father would accept her as Lily, not Tim, she also makes a new friend. Dunkin (birth name Norbert) has just moved to Florida from New Jersey and is fighting his own battle, one against himself and his bipolar disorder. Between school bullies, doctors, parents, and grandparents, Lily and Dunkin come together to try to save their favorite tree, which is due to be cut down. Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart is a beautiful coming-of-age story about love and acceptance that’s sure to leave you with a warm heart and a big smile.

The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo (2017)

This powerful debut novel is about two American military nurses during WWII.  Jo, who was raised in New York City, is in France trapped behind military lines in a makeshift medical tent refusing to leave her six critical patients as bombs fall around them and the enemy moves closer.   Kay, a small town girl who was raised in Pennsylvania, was at Pearl Harbor and then at Corregidor in the Philippines, where she was taken prisoner and tries to nurse her fellow inmates with no supplies, no food, and sometimes no hope.

I thought their brave, heroic story was told in a compelling straightforward manner. Teresa Messineo’s The Fire by Night highlights a little told role of women in WWII. For more novels set during WWII, check out our book list.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017)

Angie Thomas’ novel is about two childhood friends who were at a party. They hadn’t seen each other for a long time, as they had grown apart and gone their separate ways. Then, they hear gunshots. They leave the party to go home, only to be stopped by a police officer. This stop had tragic consequences for them both. The aftermath is about the surviving friend and how she deals with the death of her friend and the repercussions for not only herself, but her friends, family, and the entire community. The Hate U Give looks at the perception of how people see you versus what you believe about yourself, as well as the difference between right and wrong.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2012)

Harold Fry has lived a fairly ordinary life. He has managed to avoid conflict, but there are some unresolved terrible secrets in his past. One letter from an old coworker, one conversation with a perfect stranger, and Harold is about to do something extraordinary. Powerful, emotional, showing it’s never too late to change, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a journey the reader will not soon forget. Check out Rachel Joyce’s debut today.

Arena by Holly Jennings (2016)

In the not-so-distant year of 2054, virtual reality games have become the biggest sensation in televised sports. The players on each team must not only be excellent video game players, but in top physical condition, as the RAGE tournament games mimic real-life abilities. In her early career as a RAGE competitor, Kali Ling fights to become the first female team leader in a male-dominated world. But while Kali can prove herself in a fight, this world demands more than she can handle. Her every move is dictated by sponsors and team management; a teammate recently died of a drug overdose; his replacement is difficult to work with; and her own grasp on reality is getting weaker with each trip into the virtual world.

Packed with intense and cinematic action scenes, a love story, and diversity in multiple forms, Arena by Holly Jennings is a must-read for adult and older teen fans of Ready Player One and The Hunger Games.

The Fox was Ever the Hunter by Herta Muller (2016)

Herta Muller’s words form images assembled as a collage and story for the reader to follow. The Fox was Ever the Hunter is rich in images and symbols to lead one along the path of fear and frustration caused by the totalitarian regime the author grew up with in Romania. The secret service lurks ever present and for Adina, they threaten with notes and gradual dissection of her fox fur bought years ago with her mother. Clara finds that her special friend with whom she shares the evening rest is not just a lawyer but an agent of that dreaded service. All are suspicious of others and fearful of what may come, but hope for a brighter day.

For more about the book and the author, check out The New York Times review.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers (2017)

In 1863, sixteen-year-old Placidia agrees to marry Gryffth Hockaday after knowing him for a very short time. He is a soldier on leave, so while he goes back to fight for the Confederacy, she travels to his South Carolina farm to look after it and be a mother to his young son, Charles. Being alone and isolated, living with only the slaves and no other family leaves Placidia vulnerable. When Gryffth comes home after the war is over, he finds that she has been accused of having a child while he was gone and then murdering the baby. Placidia finds herself arrested, in jail, without her husband’s support. What really happened while Gryffth was gone? The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers is a perfect read for those who enjoy historical fiction (especially Sandra Dallas) that highlights the everyday lives of women.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)

At turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, Trevor Noah’s candid memoir is a powerful, moving story of his life as a mixed race child growing up during apartheid. Told in vignettes, Born a Crime documents his relationship with his mother, his childhood and teenage antics, and his struggle to fit into a world that considered him a crime (at the time of his birth, interracial relationships were illegal).

Perhaps best known as the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, Noah does infuse humor into his stories, but this is not your typical comedian’s memoir. Listen to the audiobook: the author’s command of multiple languages and skill at impersonations shine in his engaging narration.

Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain (2015)

Another great book by Diane Chamberlain! She has a remarkable talent for developing complex, relatable characters facing difficult situations and telling thought-provoking stories that make me feel a whole host of emotions. Pretending to Dance centers around Molly who, with her husband, is hoping to adopt a baby. This process brings up painful memories from Molly’s past which she has kept hidden from her husband. The story deftly switches between present day and Molly as a rebellious 14 year old. Her very close relationship to her father, Graham, who is a paraplegic from MS, is handled with sensitivity and humor. Graham was my favorite character, with inspirational wisdom and loving insight into life. There are unexpected twists and turns throughout the storyline, and many issues raised in a compassionate manner.