Holiday Gift Ideas: Reading Recommendations
Young Adult Recommendations:
The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein
1940. Facing a seemingly endless war, Luisa Adair wants to fight back, make a difference, just do something, anything, to escape the Blitz. She accepts a position in Windyedge, Scotland caring for an elderly German woman, though it hardly seems like a meaningful contribution. Still, the war feels closer than ever there. Ellen, a volunteer driver with the Royal Air Force, and Jamie, a flight leader for the 648 Squadron, are facing a barrage of unbreakable code and enemy attacks they can’t anticipate. The paths of the three converge when a German pilot lands in Windyedge and plants a key that leads Louisa to an unparalled discovery: an Enigma machine that translates German code. They must work together to unravel a puzzle that could turn the tide of war but doing so will put them directly in the enemy’s cross-hairs.
Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer
Prudence Daniels is always quick to cast judgement. Her dreams of karmic justice are fulfilled when, after a night out with friends, she wakes up with the ability to cast instant karma on those around her. Pru giddily makes use of the power, punishing everyone from vandals to gossipers. But there is one person on whom her powers consistently backfire: her slacker lab partner Quint. He’s annoyingly cute and impressively noble, especially when it comes to his work with the rescue center for local sea animals. When Pru volunteers at the rescue center for extra credit, she begins to uncover truths about baby otters, environmental upheaval, and romantic crossed signals–not necessarily in that order. Her newfound karmic insights reveal how thin the line between virtue and vanity, generosity and greed, love and hate, and fate really is.
In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she’s never met. She turns to crime boss Frank for help, but before she can ask a single question, he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin. Wielding that hatpin is Merlin, a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones). With the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), he belongs to an extended family of magical beings who, in addition to running several bookshops, also police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world. Susan’s search for her father, and Merlin’s search for the entity that killed his mother, quickly, and strangely, begin to overlap. Who, or what, was Susan’s father? They must complete their shared quests as the Old World begins to erupt dangerously into the New.
Speaking directly to the reader, The Black Friend calls up race-related anecdotes from the author’s past, weaving in his thoughts on why they were hurtful and how he might handle things differently now. Each chapter features the voice of at least one artist or activist, including Angie Thomas, Jemele Hill, April Reign, and eleven others. Touching on everything from cultural appropriation to power dynamics, microaggressions to overt racism, this book serves as a conversation starter, tool kit and window into the life of a former “token Black kid” who now presents himself as the friend many readers need.
Miley, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each other, and they’ve never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they’re surprised…and curious. Their parents are all clear on one point–not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother’s good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it’s immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious– and dark– their family’s past is. The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn’t over–and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.
If you’re in the mood to read something that’s spooky and strange, can handle body horror, and could use a little more Black girl magic in your life, then Ring Shout by P. Djéli Clark is exactly what you’re looking for. Ring Shout is non-stop action and P. Djéli Clark doesn’t shy away from the terrifying history and nature of racism. It’s magical, full of complex and instantly likable characters, prescient, and a story that’ll make you feel like you’ve been punched square in the chest in the best way possible.
The Compton Cowboys is an insightful and enlightening look at the black men (and women) who have defied stereotypes by taking care of and riding horses since the Compton Junior Posse was founded in 1988. While black cowboys have existed throughout history, Hernández focuses on telling the stories of ten riders in particular. This new generation of cowboys face personal hardships as they pursue rodeo championships, donors to keep their organization afloat, and try to remake their image for generations of cowboys to come. What rings true for all of them, and what Hernández captures beautifully, is that the horses in their care provide a form of freedom and respite from violence that not everyone has access to. Needless to say, Walter Thompson-Hernández has painted a compassionate portrait of the city of Compton, its complicated history, and the men and women who continue to push back against stereotypes by continuing an age-old tradition.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a strange and sumptuous book that follows in the footsteps of the gothic tales that came before it while still managing to turn the genre on its head. Drawing from scandalous stories full of madness and murder as well as the dark side of Mexico’s history, Mexican Gothic begins when Noemí’s father receives an unsettling letter from her cousin. Despite her reservations, Noemí heads to High Place, the distant house that her cousin has been calling home. What she discovers there is equal parts menacing and alluring, and impossible to escape.
Gideon Belman’s life is abruptly uprooted when his family is forced to leave Bath and move to Ormesleep Farm. It’s an ancient and agrarian homestead that harbors resentment, jealously, and possibly (at least according to legend) a sleeping dragon. Grounded in realism, Ormeshadow is a remarkable story about family legacy, the depths of what it means to be human, and the power of storytelling. It’s part complex coming-of-age drama and part enchanting fairytale.