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Florence Gonsalves on writing Love & Other Carnivorous Plants

Florence Gonsalves photoA couple of years ago, when I’d just graduated from college, scared out of my mind with no idea what the future would hold, humor kind of saved my life. “Ancient Greece isn’t hiring,” I told people who asked how my philosophy degree would influence my career path. “I’ll probably be permanently unemployed in the year 450 BCE.”


At first, I’d tried the whole, “I’ll probably go to law school!” approach, but that wasn’t the truth at all and telling that little white lie was making me feel worse and worse. The truth was I was petrified, and the only way I could access those emotions was by poking a little fun at myself. Once I started joking about my predicament, I was able to come to terms with it and eventually move past it.


Instead of law school, I ended up writing what would become my debut novel, Love and Other Carnivorous Plants. The story follows nineteen-year-old Danny’s summer after her freshmen year of college. It covers a lot of taboo subjects—eating disorders, mental health concerns, drug and alcohol abuse, and questioning one’s sexuality. Danny’s approach to such “touchy” issues is to joke about them, which results in a lot of humor for a book about some pretty serious stuff.


One of the beautiful things about fiction is its capacity to speak to real life issues in a person’s life, but to do that the characters (and of course, the author!) have to somehow find a way into what is otherwise hush-hush. So often taboo topics aren’t discussed at all because they are treated so seriously. And treating a subject as so serious that it can’t be joked ironically increases its taboo.


As a writer, humor gives me the permission to approach the things that society tells me I shouldn’t. It is the access point to otherwise unapproachable topics, and if we never approach such things, how can we expect to confront them at all? If Danny couldn’t joke about her bulimia, for example, she wouldn’t have been able to talk about it, which would have been a missed opportunity to really explore the pain (but also the occasional lol! moment) of her situation. Taboo creates shame and shame creates secrets, as well as shadows where even darker emotions hide. I think it’s much more important that difficult subjects be broached in the first place, especially because usually those difficult subjects make a person feel lonely and laughter is a universal connector. A good HAHA! brings people together at times when connection is most needed, and at some point the humor does fall away, making room for other emotions.


I am so grateful that humor exists as a way of shedding light on those parts of ourselves that most need it. Laughter allows transformation to occur through acknowledgment and acceptance of what is, regardless of how lousy things seem. When it comes to expressing our struggles, I say, as Vievee Francis does, “Say it. Say it any way you can.” Find a way in to a find a way out. Crying is inevitable. Why not let laughter be, too?


Little & Lion

Little & Lion cover

Little & Lion

By Brandy Colbert

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Mental Illness; LGBT; Alternative Family; Siblings; Girls & Women; Prejudice & Racism

Grades: 10 & up


When Suzette returns to Los Angeles from the boarding school where she was forced to spend the past semester, she’s uncertain of whether she wants to return to Massachusetts or stay in California. CA is where her friends and family are (as well as her crush, Emil); and her step-brother Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support. When Suzette and Lionel begin to fall in love with the same girl, however, Lionel’s disorder takes a turn for the worse and spirals out of control, forcing Suzette to confront her own demons. Having betrayed a secret girlfriend in her boarding school, allowing her to take the brunt of homophobic bullying, Suzette must face her own past mistakes, come to terms with her bisexuality, and find a way to help her brother, before he hurts himself–or worse.

The Truth about Twinkie Pie

The Truth About Twinkie Pie

By Kat Yeh

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subjects: Family Life: Parents/Siblings/Babies, Personal Development: Self-Discovery

Grade: 3-7


Educator Guide Listen to interview with author


Take two sisters making it on their own: brainy twelve-year-old GiGi (short for Galileo Galilei, a name she never says out loud) and junior-high-dropout-turned-hairstylist DiDi (short for Delta Dawn). Add a million dollars in prize money from a national cooking contest and a move from the trailer parks of South Carolina to the Gold Coast of New York. Mix in a fancy new school, new friends and enemies, a first crush, and a generous sprinkling of family secrets.


That’s the recipe for The Truth About Twinkie Pie, a voice-driven middle grade debut about the true meaning of family and friendship.



“Yeh’s nimbly voiced, combination fish-out-of-water, personal transformation and emotional family tale is stuffed with charm.” – Kirkus Reviews


“[A] delight. GiGi’s voice keeps the story light and humorous… Endearing characters will keep readers engaged throughout as more than one character learns the true meanng of family and friendship.” – School Library Journal



If You Find This

If You Find This

By Matthew Baker

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subjects: Adventure: Mysteries, Family Life: Grandparents and Extended Family, Personal Development: Friendship

Grade: 3-7


Download Educator Guide Listen to author interview


Mixing mystery and adventure in the tradition of Louis Sachar, Avi, and E.L. Konigsburg, If You Find This is the story of unlikely friendships, unexpected bravery and eleven-year-old Nicholas Funes’s quest to prove his grandfather’s treasure is real.


Nicholas is a math and music genius with no friends and a huge problem: His father has lost his job, and they’ll have to sell their house, which holds the only memory Nicholas has of his younger brother. Just in time, Nicholas’s senile grandfather arrives, filled with tales of priceless treasure he has hidden somewhere in town–but where?


With the help of misfit classmates, two grandfathers, a ghosthouse, hidden messages, séances, and an uncanny mind for numbers, Nicholas stages a nursing home breakout, tangles with high schoolers in smugglers’ tunnels, and gets swept up in a duel with the biggest bullies in the neighborhood. Will it be enough to find the treasure and save his house?



★ “The vivid setting, complex characters, and original writing style result in a story with lasting impact. Reminiscent of Louis Sachar’s Holes (1998), this is a rich, captivating tale about family and redemption that redefines the meaning of treasure.” – Booklist, starred review


“[T]his intriguing and multilayered novel will provoke interesting discussions.” – School Library Journal

The Darkest Part of the Forest

The Darkest Part of the Forest

By Holly Black

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Magic/Fantasy, Family Life: Parents/Siblings/Babies, Personal Development: Responsibility

Grades: 7-12


Listen to interview with author Watch Booklist Myth Masters webinar Educator Guide


Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.


Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.


At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointy as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.


Until one day, he does…


As the world turns upside down and a hero is needed to save them all, Hazel tries to remember her years spent pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?



★ “Terrific…  Black is in fine form here.” –VOYA, starred review


★ “Black returns here to the dark faery realm that spurred her initial success, and if anything, she’s only gotten better, writing with an elegant, economical precision and wringing searing emotional resonance from the simplest of sentences…  [C]aptivating…” –The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review


“Expertly weaving fairy-tale magic into a contemporary setting, Black slowly reveals Hazel’s mysterious involvement with the fairy court and her heroic role in setting the prince free…  Black’s stark, eerie tone; propulsive pacing; and fulsome world building will certainly delight her legion of fans.” –Booklist


“Black blends magic with the ordinary world deftly and believably…  Her empathetic protagonists are familiar in their vulnerability but compelling in their bravery. Rich descriptions of beautiful but terrible creatures and the thorny briar circling a fairy mound draw readers in to the vividly conjured world.” – The Horn Book



Freaks & Revelations

Freaks & RevelationsFreaks & Revelations

By Davida Wills Hurwin

Genre: Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Teen Life: Prejudice; Relationships; Sexuality

Grades: 10 & Up


This raw, moving novel follows two teenagers-one, a Mohawk-wearing 17-year-old violent misfit; the other, a gay 13-year-old cast out by his family, hustling on the streets and trying to survive. Acclaimed author Davida Wills Hurwin creates a riveting narrative told in alternating perspectives of their lives before and after the violent hate crime that changed both their futures. This tragic but ultimately inspirational journey of two polarized teens, their violent first meeting, and their peaceful reunion years later is an unforgettable story of survival and forgiveness.


This story is inspired by the real lives of Matthew Boger and Timothy Zaal, who have shared their story on The Oprah Winfrey Show and NPR.


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Stonewall Book Award Finalist


Inheritance by Malinda LoInheritance

By Malinda Lo

Genre: Science Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Aliens/ Ghosts

Grades: 10 & Up

The sequel to Adaptation keeps the suspense through the roof.

Reese and David are not normal teens. At least not since they were “adapted” with alien DNA by the Imria, an extraterrestrial race that has been secretly visiting Earth for decades. Now everyone is after Reese and David: the US government, the Imria, and a mysterious corporation that would do anything to gain the upper hand against the aliens.

Beyond the web of conspiracies, Reese can’t reconcile her love for David with her feelings for Amber, her ex-girlfriend and an Imrian. But Reese’s choice between two worlds will play a critical role in determining the future of humanity, the Imria’s place in it, and the inheritance she and David will bring to the universe.



“Dialogue rings true, and the characters are appealing … the alien and political machinations provide menace, a brisk page-turning plot and lots of fun.” –Kirkus

Lies My Girlfriend Told Me

Lies My Girlfriend Told MeLies My Girlfriend Told Me

By Julie Anne Peters

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Curriculum Subjects: Personal Development: Loss, Relationships/Sexuality

Grades: 10 & Up

An emotional story from National Book Award Finalist Julie Anne Peters about a teen mourning the death of her girlfriend, Lies My Girlfriend Told Me also deals with the complicated stories lovers tell each other.



“Peters deftly captures the intense passion and obsession of first love and masterfully depicts the sadness and frustration of love lost to circumstances byond our control.” –VOYA

“Romance fans of any persuasion will be swept away by this slow-paced but ultimately sweet story.” –SLJ

“Peters has written another insightful, absorbing novel of relationships that is both emotionally and intellectually satisfying.”  —Booklist

Rapture Practice

Rapture Practice by Aaron HartlerRapture Practice

By Aaron Hartzler

Genre: Non-fiction

Curriculum Subjects: Teen: Life Religion; Family, Personal Development: Self-Discovery

Grade: 10 & Up


Educator Guide Watch Video


Sometimes salvation is found in the strangest places: a true story.


Aaron Hartzler grew up in a home where he was taught that at any moment the Rapture could happen. That Jesus might come down in the twinkling of an eye and scoop Aaron and his family up to heaven. As a kid, Aaron was thrilled by the idea that every moment of every day might be his last one on planet Earth.


But as Aaron turned sixteen, he found himself more attached to his earthly life and curious about all the things his family forsakes for the Lord. In this funny and heartfelt coming-of-age memoir, Hartzler recalls his teenage journey to find the person he is without losing the family that loves him.




★ “His story emphasizes discovery more than rebellion, and the narrative is carefully constructed to show and not judge the beliefs of his family and their community… Hartzler’s laugh-out-loud stylings range from the subtle to the ridiculous…A hilarious first-of-its-kind story that will surely inspire more.”  — Kirkus Reviews


“Effervescent and moving, evocative and tender.” — The New York Times Book Review


“Hartzler writes with a keen eye for detail… he is equally sure-footed describing his inner turmoil… One of the best things, however, is how lovingly Hartzler portrays his parents, even as they anger him.” — Booklist


“What rings very true… is the author’s thoughtful search for answers to his heart’s biggest questions, and his pragmatism and sense of humor on the journey.” — Publishers Weekly


“[Aaron Hatzler’s] memoir is appealing because of his honesty, and forthrightness… clear and lively.” — School Library Journal



By Malinda Lo

Genre: Science Fiction

Curriculum Subjects: Adventure: Aliens

Grade: 10 & Up

A bold contemporary science fiction thriller from the acclaimed author of Ash and The Huntress.

Across North America, flocks of birds start hurling themselves at airplanes, causing many flights to crash. The scary part? The birds seem to be doing it on purpose. Government fears of terrorism ground all other flights stranding thousands of travelers including teens Reese and David. They just want to get home to San Francisco. A frantic car ride north through the Nevada desert ends in a horrible crash no one could survive. But Reese and David survived, though a bit … changed.


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A CBC Best Children’s Book of 2013

A 2013 Top Ten Rainbow Project Book


“Absolutely compelling.” –The Horn Book


“Slot this on the shelf between Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and The X-Files.” –Kirkus