Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

The image shows two characters as mirror images of one another , one in yellow shorts with no shirt and arms outstretched, the other in a blue shirt and blue rolled-up pants, clutching the gem of the pants. Both are up to mid-calf in blue-green water; the "reflected" person has a green-gold forest in the background.

By Ash B. 

When I started working here at the library, my favorite section to get acquainted with was the graphic novel section. One reason for this was the rate at which I could find LGBTQ representation; I’ve joked with friends and colleagues that sometimes I feel I have a ‘sixth sense’ for intuitively knowing whether an artist is queer based on their art style or the design of the book’s cover.  

Sometimes there are subtle clues about the book’s content, and sometimes there is something overtly LGBTQ-related about the cover, title, or summary. Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (pronouns: e/em/eir) falls into the latter category on all counts. As soon as I heard the title alone, I knew I needed to read it. 

Gender Queer is a memoir, formatted as a graphic novel, that recounts Kobabe’s experiences regarding gender and sexuality throughout eir childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. At its core, it is a book that addresses what it means, in Kobabe’s personal experience, to be nonbinary, queer, and asexual. As e explains in a Washington Post op-ed, Kobabe primarily wrote this as a way of explaining eir nonbinary identity to eir parents and extended family. However, Kobabe’s story has reached much farther than that, garnering praise from readers, reviewers, and the American Library Association (ALA). 

In my opinion, as a nonbinary reader, Gender Queer is so remarkable because there is nothing else quite like it. Through a talented combination of text and illustration, Kobabe addresses complex intersections of gender and sexuality with such specificity that I was honestly blown away. Never before I had felt so seen and understood by a piece of media. One of my favorite passages addresses the struggle to achieve a balance of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ gender expression when society is set on placing you on one side of the gender binary. I truly don’t have the words to fully express how meaningful this is to me… so let me share a brief anecdote instead: 

Around the time I was re-reading the book to prepare for this review, one of my (fellow nonbinary) friends texted me regarding a conflict they felt over an article of clothing they wanted to buy because they were concerned it would be read as ‘too feminine.’ Within our text conversation, I sent my friend two panels from the book.  

My friend’s response? They related so much that they started crying in the bathroom on their lunch break at work.

Representation matters. 

Even for those of us within the LGBTQ community who have come to terms with our identities, have community support, and hold privilege (whether it be whiteness, financial stability, ability, etc.) that improves our overall life outcomes – it is still hard to exist in a heteronormative society structured around the gender binary. At best, it is exhausting and invalidating, which still takes a hit to one’s mental health.  

Now imagine being a young person who lacks community support, lacks independence, and is questioning or struggling with accepting their identity. 

Books such as Gender Queer not only educate – they provide invaluable support to queer, trans, and questioning readers who need to see affirming, accurate, and nuanced representation. When we say these books can be a lifeline for readers, that’s not an empty statement; suicidality is significantly higher amongst LGBTQ youth, especially those who are trans, in comparison to their non-LGBTQ counterparts. 

Unfortunately, in the past year there has been a national surge – including in Howard County – in attempted censorship of LGBTQ books in school classrooms and media centers. Gender Queer has been one of the most controversial titles due to its frank discussion of (queer) sexuality and, to a lesser extent, gender dysphoria.  

This trend – the challenging and banning of books that contain content regarding sex, LGBTQ identity, or both – is not new. What is new is the influential role of social media and the internet, which allows far-reaching communication between book challengers and can create even more oppositional fervor towards the books that they have deemed “obscene,” “pornographic,” and so on. 

One of the problems with this overall pattern, however, is it increases divisiveness in public discourse. Parents, students, educators, librarians, and policymakers need to discuss these topics with the nuance, open-mindedness, and compassion necessary to truly educate and uplift youth. Instead, we are faced with a proliferation of outrage that doesn’t “protect” anyone – least of all LGBTQ youth. 

Some opponents are unapologetic in their homophobic and transphobic motivations, quite literally demonizing anything they hear is LGBTQ-related. (Do I need to explain further why these messages are extremely harmful to LGBTQ folks?) Other opponents claim they have no problem with queer-affirming books, but take issue with the books that contain passages regarding sex. I can understand where these folks are coming from – however, I would push back against the idea that teens need to be shielded from the type of “sexual content” that is in Gender Queer. This book isn’t meant to titillate – it is meant to inform, based on Kobabe’s own experiences of adolescence and young adulthood. 

So, before jumping to the conclusion that this book is inappropriate for high schoolers, consider Kobabe’s perspective: 

“It’s very hard to hear people say ‘This book is not appropriate to young people’ when it’s like, I was a young person for whom this book would have been not only appropriate, but so, so necessary. There are a lot of people who are questioning their gender, questioning their sexuality and having a real hard time finding honest accounts of somebody else on the same journey. There are people for whom this is vital and for whom this could maybe even be lifesaving.” 

Kobabe’s work gives language to some of the complexities that lie at the intersections of gender and sexuality. And with representation of asexuality and nonbinary genders still in short supply, Gender Queer is a much-needed addition. Mainstream narratives about LGBT people in the past few decades have often represented people who have “always known” they were transgender or “knew since they were three years old” that they were gay. But many of us do not have that experience. Many of us are in the dark about our true selves, until someone shines a light on all the possibilities of what queer existence can look like. Gender Queer has and will continue to have that positive impact on teens and adults alike.  

I hope this review will encourage you to see the value in this book for a variety of readers, LGBTQ or not. I urge you to read the book for yourself – and truly reflect on it. Print copies of Gender Queer: A Memoir can be requested to borrow here.  

Want to skip the waitlist? Your HCLS account also grants you access to the eBook version of Gender Queer on hoopla, a platform that allows titles to be streamed immediately or downloaded to devices for offline enjoyment later. For assistance with hoopla, view the tutorial on our website, visit your local branch, or reach out to us with your questions. 

Ash is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. This time of year, they are especially fond of reading while cuddling with their golden retriever and sipping hot cocoa or tea.

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa

The book cover shows a young man on the left, holding a soccer ball behind a net and looking at his cell phone, and a young man on the right in a maroon and white hoodie with his hands in his pockets. Between them is an isolated image of two hands clasping. There is a pink and peach-colored bright but cloudy sky in the background, and the title lettering is in teal green.

By Sahana C.

TW: Parental abuse & abandonment, homophobia & homophobic slurs, bullying 

In Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, Julián Luna is determined to make the most of his senior year of high school. He has plans on how he’ll make that happen: spending as much time as possible with his best friends, playing soccer, graduating, getting into UCLA, and, oh – making sure no one finds out that he’s gay. Especially not his father. But despite this secret he’s keeping, he manages to make the most of things, spending time with his tight-knit friend group. Until, of course, one day, just scrolling through Twitter, he sees pictures of a boy. Immediately, there’s a connection, and when they start texting and speaking more, Julián finds himself falling for the boy, Mat. The issue, then? Well, other than the fact that Julián isn’t out, he’s also in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Mat lives in Los Angeles. Despite the distance, the two boys start learning about each other, falling for each other, and hoping for a future together. But time, distance, and unplanned coming-outs get in the way.  

Garza Villa is honest about hardship from the start of the book, even writing in the dedication ““To all the queer brown boys still waiting for their chance to bloom. Quisieron enterrarnos, pero no sabían que éramos semillas.” They want to bury us, but they don’t know that we are seeds. That thread flows through the novel, including candid conversations about machismo in Latinx culture, religion’s intersection with homophobia, and conversations about bullying. And yet, despite the list of trigger warnings at the top of this review, the novel is intentionally not centering trauma in Julián’s life. Every moment of pain is followed by immediate love, support, and care. Garza Villa takes pains to ensure that joy is the central theme around which the rest of the story is built; of course Julián faces hardship, but he is never truly alone in how he responds to those traumatic moments. The idea presented in the dedication, “we are seeds”, is exactly how Julián responds to all the hardships in his life. He was buried deep, and with careful nurture, love, and support from his family and friends, he manages to bloom into something beautiful and loving, breaking the cycle of abuse.  

This book was wonderfully illustrative. I lost myself in Julián’s friend group, found myself falling in love with Mat along with Julián, and waiting with bated breath for college acceptance letters. But most significantly, I was swept up in a celebration of culture, cuisine, friendship, and queer joy. There is real heart here; Garza Villa paints an honest picture of the ways falling in love and doing long distance just as easily as he manages to bring to life all of the different characters that make up Julián’s friend group, who each are so vivacious and full of life without becoming caricatures.  

This book is perfect for any teens looking to find themselves, or adults who know that the blooming never stops. That if we are seeds, we will continue to grow, season after season.

Sahana is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She enjoys adding books to her “want to read” list despite having a mountain of books waiting for her already.

Explore the Ghoulish side of the Globe with the Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts!

The picture depicts a teal-colored fish-like monster with a yellow eye next to the book, which has a teal color and depicts a variety of monsters, including dragons, snakes, and Dracula.

By Claudia J.

Ok, I’ll admit it: I love Halloween but I’m not the biggest fan of scary things. You won’t catch me at a movie theater watching the latest film from the Halloween franchise or reading IT by Stephen King. I tend to focus on the lighter side of the season. Yet, when I was browsing through some of the oversized books that live upstairs at the Miller Branch, I stopped at a bright teal atlas filled to the brim with whimsical illustrations and trips around our world. However, instead of historic sites and tourist destinations, this atlas is filled with MONSTERS and GHOSTS!

Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts by Federica Magrin, with immensely detailed illustrations by Larua Brenlla, takes readers on a ghastly trip to hunt down the most fearsome creatures known to humanity. Each continent is covered throughout the pages, highlighting monsters and ghosts with cultural significance. I’m sure most of us already know of Bigfoot, King Kong, and the Boogeyman through classic stories and tales. But have you heard of the Smok Wawelski from Poland, a fearsome dragon from the cave at the foot of Wawel Hill? Or Krasue, the spirit from Thailand with the floating head who feeds on anything in her sights? These monsters and spirits are not only highlighted, but their stories are tied in with learning about each country’s tales and fables. One particular feature of the atlas that I enjoyed was that it gave special sections to the monsters and spirits of Greek Mythology and the ones from Japanese folktales, both of which have been spotlighted in various other stories, movies, and video games.

One fair warning for all my budding Monster Hunters: some of these stories, no matter your age, are not for the faint of heart despite its art style and its publisher, Lonely Planet Kids. Nevertheless, it was an interesting, spooktacular read, one that may send a chill up your spine, but which will definitely teach you something new along the way. What I learned is to not visit the places where these creatures have been spotted! I think I’ll opt for a warm beach instead.

You can borrow or request Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts at all HCLS locations for your horrific, spooky enjoyment.

Claudia J. is an Instructor and Research Specialist for Howard County Library System. She enjoys stories in all forms, from books to graphic novels, movies to video games: you name it!

Be Yourself, and Maybe a Little Magical

The picture shows all six book covers discussed in the blog post, against a dark background with the title "Books Are Inherently Magical" above them in gold letters.  Clockwise from upper right:  The first image is of the cover of The Witches of Brooklyn with main character of Effie in the forefront. A cityscape is set behind her.  The second image shows the cover of The Sand Warrior, the first in the 5 Worlds series. Main character Oona is in the middle with her friends An Tzu on the left playing a flute, and Jax Amboy on the right, whose left hand is glowing with energy. Oona is manipulating sand. The bottom of the image shows an alien landscape.  The third image is of the cover of Snapdragon with the main character Snap and her bike and dog who is missing a leg in the basket atop the back of the bike. The background is a forest with a spirit of a buck behind Snap.  The fourth image is the cover of The Witch Boy. Main character Aster reads a spell book over an altar made of liquid in a bowl, candles, and a mortar and pestle.  The fifth image is the cover of Beetle and the Hollowbones. Main character Beetle and best friend Blob Ghost are sitting atop a ledge set in front of a full moon over top of houses and trees.  The sixth image is the cover art for The Okay Witch. Main character Moth is riding atop a broomstick with a black cat behind her and pages flying out of a book in her backpack.

By Peter N.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, I haven’t had the desire nor the motivation to read. I know that’s a horrible thing to say as an employee of a library (a 5-Star Library system as a matter of fact), but it took me quite a while to get back into reading novels. So you know what I did? I did what I’ve suggested to many a parent who has come in trying to find something to get their child to like reading; I picked up a graphic novel.

Graphic novels can be about literally hundreds of subjects across any number of genres. Many authors have written wonderful original stories as well as graphic representations of classic novels. When a parent needs a suggestion for a book for their reluctant child or when someone wants something interesting to read, I almost always suggest a graphic novel. Why? Well, as a visual learner, I find myself more engaged with the story and with the characters when I see them visually represented, and it’s easier for my brain to follow along without distraction. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve read graphic novels for adults, teens, tweens, and children. From the many I’ve recently read, here are six picks that teach everyone to be who you are unapologetically, and if you can, be a little magical, too.

This image shows the cover of The Witch Boy. Main character Aster reads a spell book over an altar made of liquid in a bowl, candles, and a mortar and pestle.
The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

What I loved about this book is that it challenges the gender norms in Aster’s family and society. In his family, the girls are raised as witches while the boys are raised as shape-shifters. But that isn’t who Aster is, and he practices in secret since it is forbidden for boys to study magic. He desperately wants to be a witch but is afraid of his family finding out. When trouble brews and his magical skills are what’s needed to help save the day, he has to find the courage within himself to be who he feels in his heart that he is meant to be.

The image shows the cover art for The Okay Witch. Main character Moth is riding atop a broomstick with a black cat behind her and pages flying out of a book in her backpack.
The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Many will see the similarity between the events of the Salem witch trials and the events of Founder’s Bluff in this book. Moth has always loved all things witchy and magical, so when her powers emerge, she is immediately thrust into a world where the history of her hometown is intertwined with that of her own family. She discovers that her mother was once a member of a powerful coven of witches who separated from a world that despised them but broke away to live a life free of magic. As she discovers this history, she must come to terms with being a witch (which she finds kind of cool) along with the existence of people in town descended from those who discriminated and hated her family and those like her. What’s a fledgling young witch with a talking cat to do?

This image shows the cover of Beetle and the Hollowbones. Main character Beetle and best friend Blob Ghost are sitting atop a ledge set in front of a full moon over top of houses and trees.
Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle and the Hollowbones is a tale of outgrowing what society expects you to be, standing up for your friends even if it means standing up to them, and embracing and loving who you are. Much like the Witch Boy, Beetle is a goblin and goblins are only supposed to do a specific type of magic and none other. One day she meets Blob Ghost, a, well, ghost blob haunting the local mall that is inexplicably tied to its location. So when the mall is due to be demolished, it is up to Beetle to find out why he’s connected to the mall and rescue him. Along the way she reconnects with an old friend (and love interest) who needs to be reminded about their friendship, who they are, and to stand up to family even if they are family.

This image is of the cover of The Witches of Brooklyn with main character of Effie in the forefront. A cityscape is set behind her.
Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse

How would you feel if your life was turned upside down and inside out all of a sudden? That’s what happens to Effie. Having lost her mom and the only home she ever knew, she is suddenly taken to live with two estranged aunts. Once there, Effie learns more about her family than she ever thought possible, including the fact that they can do magic! This newfound knowledge and ability is almost too much for Effie, and it rears its ugly head at the worst of times. She soon starts to accept that this is her life now, that magic is a part of it, and that zany things are going to happen, including helping one of her favorite singers when she comes to Effie’s aunts for help with a nasty curse.

This image is of the cover of Snapdragon with the main character Snap and her bike and dog who is missing a leg in the basket atop the back of the bike. The background is a forest with a spirit of a buck behind Snap.
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snap’s town has a witch. Maybe. Possibly. At least that’s the rumor going around. When Snap needs help from the town “witch”, she learns that there’s more than meets the eye and discovers the power she has within herself. Aside from the super cool supernatural elements, the characters are all a delight to read. And especially the children. They’re the perfect example of prejudice being made, not born, because when given an upbringing that doesn’t include any of that, they can be perfectly accepting of everyone around them without thinking it’s “weird.” They celebrate and encourage uniqueness.

This image shows the cover of The Sand Warrior, the first in the 5 Worlds series. Main character Oona is in the middle with her friends An Tzu on the left playing a flute, and Jax Amboy on the right, whose left hand is glowing with energy. Oona is manipulating sand. The bottom of the image shows an alien landscape.
5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun

What happens when three friends are brought together by unforeseeable circumstances and their group, particularly young sand dancer Oona Lee, is what stands between saving the five worlds and their destruction? Oona must find the power within herself that she didn’t know she had, as well as the confidence to travel the five worlds, light all the beacons, and fend off attacks from the evil hiding in the shadows. Between all of this, she has to save her friend An Tzu, who also has mysterious origins and a tie to what can save everything, from a mysterious ailment. Beautiful art, rich characters, and full of world-building elements, you’ll love this series!

Disclaimer: There are a number of graphic novels on the same subject but these are only the most recent I’ve read. Please visit any Howard County Library branch to learn more!

Peter is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch and LOVES graphic novels and dogs. Especially fluffy dogs.

The Unpopular Vote by Jasper Sanchez

The book cover shows a diverse group of teens dressed for school, one with a backpack.  The title is in bright multicolored letters of different fonts, against a pink background, with a blue check mark in the center of the "O" in the word "vote."
Book cover of The (Un)popular Vote.

by Ash B.

School may be out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t hot new summer book releases that are set in school… 

If you enjoy contemporary YA fiction full of heart, humor, and drama, look no further than The (Un)popular Vote for your next summer read!

Mark Adams has grown up immersed in American politics, being the son of Graham Teagan, a prominent congressman. However, none of his new classmates realize who his father is, nor does the country realize Congressman Teagan has a son. Why? Mark is transgender, and has agreed to start at a new school and keep a low profile – as a cis-passing, straight-passing guy with no relation to Congressman Teagan – in order to maintain his father’s public image.  

However, between homophobic bullying of one of his friends and an upcoming student government election with candidates of dubious intent, Mark is spurred into action in pursuit of justice… by campaigning for student body president. Along the way, he must also navigate a burgeoning romance, unstable friendships, the disapproval of his father, and an investigative school journalist attempting to unravel his past for all the internet to see. 

This debut novel from Jasper Sanchez will appeal to teens and adults alike, especially lovers of The West Wing and The Politician, the latter being an especially fitting comparison given the precocious, serious, determined nature of the high school characters in both The Politician and The (Un)popular Vote.  

Sanchez does not shy away from having his characters show off their AP-level political and philosophical knowledge, and I will admit that many references went over my head. Nonetheless, I think the writing style makes this an accessible and engaging read. I truly struggled to put it down and always looked forward to getting a chance to read more, so I tore through it rather quickly and would happily read it again! 

The romance was even better than I expected, and I felt it was well-balanced along with the development of the student presidential campaign, Mark’s personal growth, and the rising tension between Mark and his father. Mark’s love interest was so sweet – honestly a standout character for me – and the dynamic between him and Mark was immaculate. I am always a sucker for the mutual pining trope, and Sanchez beautifully develops the bond between these two characters as they become closer while each grows as an individual. The (Un)popular Vote is both my favorite queer YA romance and my favorite trans-led novel since Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas! (Side note: our Reads of Acceptance book club will be discussing Cemetery Boys on September 20 and I’d love to see you there!)

Much like Cemetery BoysThe (Un)popular Vote is a refreshing example of a trans protagonist who has already transitioned before the first page of the book. Many mainstream representations of trans experiences, especially portrayals of trans youth, primarily deal with the questioning of one’s gender and the beginning stages of transitioning. Those stories are important, of course, but it is equally important to show trans people already living as their authentic selves.  

From the beginning, Mark is comfortable in his gender identity and is already out to himself, his parents, and his two best friends. Mark wears a packer and a binder daily, being mindful to bind safely, and this type of gender-affirming behavior is casual and normalized. His gender-related arc is not about the typical narrative of figuring himself out, or dealing with internalized transphobia, or even about coming out. Rather, and more interestingly in my opinion, it’s about the promise he made to his dad to remain ‘stealth’ in his transition; in other words, Mark is assumed to be a cisgender male by his classmates, and that’s how the situation should remain according to his father.  

And while Mark is repeatedly referred to by the wrong name and pronouns by his father – who is incredibly dismissive and toxic towards Mark – this book was ultimately a very feel-good experience as a queer, trans reader. There is no forcible outing and no transphobia from anyone within Mark’s circle (besides his dad). Mark’s friend group includes a neat variety of LGBTQ representation that felt organic, not tokenized, and these characters are nothing but supportive of each other’s identities. There are quite a few of them, and while I got a little confused at the beginning as I tried to keep track of names, I soon was able to distinguish each character from one another because they felt like individual people, not just words on a page.  

As for Mark himself, I found him to be a likeable and realistically flawed protagonist. He makes mistakes in his relationships that I found relatable and understandable, creating conflict to advance the plot and character growth without making me too frustrated at Mark. Themes regarding privilege, inequality, politics, and social change are woven throughout in a meaningful way as Mark experiences conflicting feelings regarding his own privilege, his ego, his family history, and his genuine desire to help the student body. Sanchez is also able to briefly yet poignantly integrate messages about toxic masculinity and feminism from a transmasculine perspective in a way I had yet to read in YA literature, and I very much appreciated it! 

Sanchez certainly gives weight to the issues that demand it, including instances of bigotry happening at the school in addition to Mark’s struggles with his dad. Ultimately, though, this novel is an uplifting pleasure to read, infused with plenty of queer joy, chosen family, resilience, and hope. The (Un)popular Vote is exactly the type of book I wish I had when I was in high school and am happy to read as an adult. I’m so grateful that it is available to teens today. Request a print copy today! 

Ash is an Instructor & Research Specialist at Central Branch and is a co-facilitator for Reads of Acceptance, HCLS’ first LGBTQ-focused book club. Ash is an eternal lover of coming-of-age stories, especially those that center queer and trans joy.

Everyone Has a Flavor

A figure in a yellow top and blue pants appears in front of Earth. The "O" in Space Boy looks like a big white oval.

“In space, the stars don’t twinkle. Apparently, twinkling only happens when you look at the stars through the atmosphere of a planet.

Oliver

For months I had noticed the Space Boy series by Stephen McCranie on the graphic novel shelves, and while it looked interesting, I never picked it up. That all changed a couple of weeks ago when I decided to check out book one and there it was: that moment when you start reading and wonder “why in the world didn’t I read this sooner?” I was hooked. And ultimately glad I had waited, because by now I had eight volumes to catch up on and I wouldn’t have to wait for more…at that immediate moment that is.

Book one starts out with a short introduction to Oliver, a boy who is filled with emotion and yearns to express it, yet is confined to what he calls the Nothing. There is immense loneliness in his opening thoughts, and we come to experience that the Nothing has taken almost everything away from him. Things shift to Amy, a young girl living on a mining colony in deep space. The colony is all she knows, but when her father is fired there comes the biggest change: they must move back to Earth. Leaving behind her home, her friends, and her life, Amy and her family are essentially shipped to Earth on a transport in cryogenic suspension. Thirty years pass by the time she reaches Earth and the implications soon hit her. Life has moved on and so has Jemmah and her other friends. Starting anew on a new planet, a new home, and a new school, Amy begins to acclimate to her environment. She makes new friends and starts to adjust. But along the way she meets Oliver, a boy with no flavor. See, she has the ability to identify another person’s flavor by looking at them. But with Oliver there is no flavor until she finally glimpses something through his stoic and expressionless exterior. There’s got to be more to him, and boy is there ever!

At this point I was hooked. The mystery, intrigue, and space exploration drew upon my love of space opera and I found myself devouring volume upon volume along with what was available to read on WebToons. Finally, there was no more and I fell upon that age-old waiting game. Subsequent volumes expand on the mystery behind Oliver, the secret organization that is pulling all the strings, and just what awaits out in space.

You can find volumes 1 – 10 available to reserve and checkout through the Howard County Library System website.

Peter is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch and has entirely too many books on his to-read list.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

An illustration shows a raggedy spit of land above a blue sea, with a red house with lots of windows at its very edge. Windswept trees and a blue and pink sunset sky frame the house.

by Sarah C.

Have you ever read a book that feels like a warm hug? Not just certain scenes either, like the entire story overall, start to finish, feels…happy. Comforting. Wholesome. And despite containing a large variety of themes, concepts and emotions, highs and lows, and a bit of magic, the book still manages to wrap itself around you like a soft, well-loved quilt?

Me neither…until now! To be fair, my preferences are usually hard-hitting realistic teen fiction with some fantasy and sci-fi thrown into the mix, and I tend to avoid gentler, softer stories. Maybe that is why this particular book was so surprisingly engaging for me. Regardless, let me tell you about this charming modern fairy tale of a novel that I had the absolute pleasure of reading.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (also available in eBook and eAudiobook format from Libby/OverDrive) was recommended by a colleague who is always on point with their choices, so I assumed I’d enjoy it, but was not prepared to fall in love like I did. Utterly and completely head over heels in love. After staying up late on a weeknight to finish this page turner, I then re-read it slowly over the weekend to savor it…then demanded my friends, my book club, my social media groups, my co-workers, and my family read it. Then I bought it, AND I requested it again from the library because at this point there was a decent waiting list but my copy was almost overdue. I proceeded to suffer greatly waiting for the copy I bought to arrive, so I began reading it yet again, together with my 11-year-old in the evening..and so on and so forth.

Perhaps you might like to hear about the actual book at some point, as opposed to my swooning?

Right, well this is the story of a group of misfit children with different special abilities and backgrounds, and the “normal” adults who play certain roles in their lives. Some try to raise and protect them, some try to control and contain them, while others fear and scorn them. Our main character, Linus Baker, is confused by them but curious and good-hearted, and throughout the book learns to see them for who they truly are and love them more for it. A lonely, rule following caseworker for the Department In Charge Of Magical Youth, Linus lives a dull and dreary life, until he is given a mysterious assignment to investigate the “dangerous” children being cared for at the Marsyas Island Orphanage and identify their threat levels. Without much information to go on, Linus embarks upon what becomes a life-changing adventure, filled with unexpected beauty and memorable characters. There might also be a sassy and insufferable pet cat, which is an added bonus.

Themes include found family, celebrating differences, facing bias and prejudice in ourselves and others, accepting help and love, and recognizing true bravery and learning that it’s never too late to start over or discover something new, with many parallels to today’s world. Darkness lurks around corners in Cerulean Sea as well as our own lives, and the author skillfully acknowledges this, lest the story become too unrealistic.  

As I finish this book for the third time, I am left with a renewed sense of hope for the future. I invite you to fall in love as I did with this intergenerational “must read” for 2021.

While you will have to request the title because it’s so popular right now, the wait will be worth the while!

Sarah is the Teens’ Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch, where she can be found geeking out over new graphic novels, spotting rainbows and drinking day-old coffee.

Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

The book cover depicts a girl in black silhouette, against a white background with various objects in black and shades of teal, including trumpets, musical notes, a basketball, acorns, seashells, and leaves.

by Carmen J.

I remember this phrase being said to me after I told a friend a boy was being mean to me in middle school. Maybe He Just Likes You. Because that didn’t make sense when I was in middle school, and it wouldn’t make sense today in modern day America. It’s the title of a timely and very thought-provoking book by Barbara Dee. This book was required reading for a work training, and I can’t say I would have stumbled upon it otherwise. I’m glad for the happy accident.

The story follows Mila Brennan, a seventh grader, as she navigates unwanted attention and advances in the forms of a guilt-tripped hug of a fellow male classmate, invasions of personal space on the bus, and not-so-innocent sweater petting. When the perpetrators are her friends and include a star student athlete and first-seat orchestra player, the line between only joking and tween-age Me Too becomes increasingly blurred. It is difficult for Mila to know what is right and what is completely wrong.

Maybe He Just Likes You offers a good and well-written story with characters you’d find as next-door neighbors. The better story is how it brings to light an important conversation to have with our young people regarding consent and what constitutes wanted and unwanted physical advances, as well as how these distinctions can vary so much from person to person, male to female. For example: I have a friend who would rather swallow garbage than have anyone hug her at any time. By contrast, I can’t wait until the pandemic is over so I may start the next bear-hugging movement. (Who’s with me? It’s OK, if you’re not with me).

There is extensive gender pressure for young men to act a certain way toward the opposite sex as early as middle school, maybe late elementary school, as if school cafeterias are the new singles bars. It’s my hope that more conversations are had about de-normalizing this behavior. Pump the breaks, guys and girls. There’s plenty of time for all of this after your childhood has developed. Please. Or better yet? Let’s keep our hands to ourselves. 

Maybe He Just Likes You is also available from HCLS in eBook and eAudiobook format from Libby/OverDrive.

Carmen J. is a teen instructor at HCLS East Columbia. Among her favorite things are great books, all things 80s, shamelessly watching The Bachelor, gardening, and drinking anything that tastes like coffee.

Slay by Brittney Morris

A slightly pixelated picture of a young Black woman with long natural hair and glasses features the quote, "I am a queen and this is my game."

by Eliana H.

“We meet at dawn.” Characters in the online virtual role-playing game Slay confirm duels with that line. In Slay, author Brittney Morris builds two worlds. She shows us the real-life world of high school senior Kiera Johnson, one of the only Black students at Jefferson Academy. We also get a glimpse inside the world of Slay, a video game that Kiera built from the ground up to celebrate Black cultures from around the world. In the game, Kiera is Emerald, a queen who cares for the tens of thousands of players, who use cards inspired by everything from Louis Armstrong to natural hairstyles to battle virtually. But the game Slay is a secret from everyone in Kiera’s real life, as she is confident that none of her friends or family would really understand and appreciate it. The only person Kiera can talk to about the game is Cicada, a friend she met through the game who is now a moderator, but Cicada and Emerald only exchange messages on Whatsapp and don’t know each other’s real names or locations. 

Kiera is preparing to graduate high school, looking ahead to her life in college and beyond, and planning for her future with her boyfriend, Malcolm. She is doing pretty well handling the stress of keeping her worlds separate, until one day when she sees on the news that a boy in Kansas City was killed in his sleep over a disagreement based in Slay. Kiera is devastated, tortured by the guilt she feels that what she created could lead to such a horrific event. Was it her fault? Adding to her distress is the analysis from pundits discussing whether Slay – which is designed specifically for Black players, and which you need a passcode to join – is racist. Of course, many “experts” declare that anything made for Black people and not explicitly welcoming white people is inherently racist. But all Kiera wanted was a place where others like her, who so often find themselves in a world trying to erase them, could shine as the kings and queens that they are. 

Over the course of the book, readers see snippets of other players’ experiences and journey with Kiera through her struggles to face the hard truth of who is threatening to destroy everything she worked so hard to build. 

Slay is also available from HCLS as an ebook through OverDrive/Libby.

Eliana is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She loves reading, even if she’s slow at it, and especially enjoys helping people find books that make them light up. She also loves being outside and spending time with friends and family (when it’s safe).

Celebrate Women’s History Month with #ELKReads

By HCLS Elkridge Branch staff

Every March, we celebrate Women’s History Month in the United States. March 8 has been honored as International Women’s Day since 1911, with nations around the world celebrating the movement toward women’s rights. This annual celebration gives us the opportunity to honor women past and present who have paved the way for continued progress for all. This includes trailblazers in politics, arts, sports, science, and more. Look back at those who have come before and be inspired to soar to new heights with these reads for all ages about amazing women. 

For Little Ones: 

The collage has the descriptors "Women's History Month" and "Picks for Little Kids." The book cover for Mae Among the Stars" depicts the title character in a space helmet with a starry background sky. The book cover of "The Girl Who Thought in Pictures" is a cartoon drawing of Dr. Temple Grandin, with thought bubbles depicting her thoughts about animals, rockets, and scientific concepts. The book cover for "Think Big, Little One" depicts three women role models: architect Zaha Hadid, artist Frida Kahlo, and musician Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The book cover of "Like a Girl" depicts the faces of three girls, and famous women participating in a collage of activities beneath them. The book cover of "Dreamers" depicts a mother and baby in a colorful natural environment, with teal and pink flowers and a bright orange monarch butterfly. The book cover of "Good Job, Athena" depicts the goddess Athena as a young child, with her hair in pigtails and an orange bow around the waist of her blue outfit.

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julie Finley Mosca – also available as an ebook through Libby/OverDrive

Little ones will love the delightful pictures and rhyming verse in this true American shero story. Diagnosed with autism as a girl, Temple Grandin embraced her unique way of thinking to help her invent revolutionary new ways to take better care of farm animals. A special note from Temple Grandin to readers is also included, along with a timeline and fun facts. 

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington 

Join your little one in reading this picture book inspired by the real-life story of Dr. Mae Jemison. Mae starts off with a dream to see the earth and later becomes the first African American woman in space. Burrington’s illustrations bring this story to life and will inspire your little one to reach for the stars! 

Like a Girl by Lori Degman, illustrated by Mara Penny

In this beautifully illustrated tribute to girl power, readers are introduced to 24 women who blazed trails in their respective fields. The author highlights all the wonderful things you can do “like a girl” and invites her audience to think about the ways they can change the world. More details about each subject are included in the back of the book.

For Big Kids: 

The collage has the descriptors, "Women's History Month" and "Picks for Big Kids." The book cover of Coraline depicts the title character against a dark Gothic background, with ghostly figures in pale grey reaching out for her. The book cover of "Hooray for Women!" depicts a cartoon parade of women in different costumes, contemporary and historical, with eight famous women depicted in boxes around the perimeter of the center picture: The book cover of "Not One Damsel in Distress" depicts two women fighting off dragons and a wild boar with a sword and bow and arrow. The book cover of "The Mighty Miss Malone" depicts the title character in a tan shirt looking over her shoulder. The book cover of "The Eagle Huntress" depicts the title character with a tethered eagle mounted on her arm. The book cover of "Herstory" depicts a group of women role models in a colorful collage.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman – also available as an ebook and an eaudiobook through Libby/OverDrive, as an ebook through CloudLibrary, as a book on CD, and in a graphic novel adaptation by P. Craig Russell

Coraline, a curious and adventurous young girl, moves into a new flat with her parents. While exploring her new home, she discovers a door to another world where she finds another mother and another father who want her to stay and be their daughter forever. At first, Coraline thinks this world is better than her own, but she soon realizes things are not as they seem in this other world and something terrible lurks behind its perfect facade. 

Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore and Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls by Jane Yolen

Forget about a princess needing a knight (or anyone else) to save her. These collections of folk tales from a wide range of countries showcase smart, strong, brave women. Learn about heroes who overcame harsh conditions, rescued their people, and fought for what was right as you explore cultures from around the world. The first title is an updated version of the second, with two additional stories.

The Eagle Huntress: The True Story of the Girl Who Soared Beyond Expectations by Aĭsholpan Nurgaĭvyn  – also available as an ebook on Libby/OverDrive

At 13 years old, Aĭsholpan Nurgaĭvyn became the first woman – and youngest person – to ever win Mongolia’s famous Golden Eagle Festival. In her inspiring memoir that will resonate especially with tweens and young teens, Aĭsholpan takes pride in sharing about her legendary Kazakh heritage, while also challenging traditional gender customs to train and compete with her beloved eagles. To learn more about Aĭsholpan’s amazing experiences, you can also check out the award-winning subtitled Kazakh-language documentary of her story – available on DVD.

For Teens: 

The collage has the descriptors "Women's History Month" and "Picks for Teens." The cover of "Feminism: Reinventing the F-Word" shows a clenched fist with red fingernail polish on the thumb. The cover of "Make Trouble" depicts diverse female faces against a pastel backdrop. The cover of "Votes for Women!" depicts a suffragette holding a copy of "Women's Journal and Suffrage News." The cover of Lumberjanes depicts a group of teens standing in front of a summer camp cabin, with animal trophies above their heads. The cover of Ms. Marvel depicts the title character, wearing a black shirt emblazoned with her lightning bolt logo, and a colorful scarf. The cover of Golden Compass depicts the compass itself against a teal sky and snowy ground, with a polar bear running with a rider astride his shoulders.

Feminism: Reinventing the F-Word by Nadia Higgins

The word feminism makes some uncomfortable, and many people define it in different ways. This book introduces readers to pioneers of feminism in the United States along with modern leaders who continue to fight to empower women in every arena. Explore what feminism is and what it means to you as you read the range of ideas and perspectives presented in Feminism: Reinventing the F-Word

Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead (Young Readers Edition) by Cecile Richards with Lauren Peterson, adapted by Ruby Shamir –  also available as an ebook on OverDrive 

Cecile Richards grew up in Texas, where her parents, one of whom was the first woman governor of the state, taught her the importance of working for change, including making trouble. This young reader’s edition of her biography shares the lessons Richards learned along the way and highlights the people who have supported her in her journey. Read Make Trouble to feel inspired to push for progress and empowered to fight for what is important to you. 

Votes for Women!: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot by Winifred Conkling – also available as an “always available” eaudiobook from Libby/Overdrive

Last year celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote in the United States. The fight to reach that goal encompassed decades of passionate work, including marches, protests, and even lawbreaking, on the part of many women working together. Votes for Women! provides a glimpse into the lives and experiences of many suffragists, including the uglier moments in the battle for women’s right to vote. 

For Adults: 

The collage descriptors are "Women's History Month" and "Picks for Adults." The cover of "She Caused a Riot has pink script on a yellow background. The cover of "The Left Hand of Darkness" depicts a lunar-like surface with two opposite-facing profiles carved out of rock, against a dark sky. The cover of "Difficult Women" has a stylized pink heart against a black background. The cover of "That's What She Said" has the title in black against a white background, surrounded by a gold vine. The cover of "We Should All Be Feminists" has three half-circles each at the top and the bottom, half-black and half-white, against an orange background. The cover of "Dear Ijeawele" has a dark purple silhouette of a woman with dark purple paint slashes against a paler lavender background, with the lettering in mauve.

She Caused a Riot: 100 Unknown Women Who Built Cities, Sparked Revolutions, and Massively Crushed It by Hannah Jewell – also available as an eaudiobook on Libby/OverDrive

In a witty, conversational, and occasionally sarcastic tone, Hannah Jewell explores the extraordinary lives of 100 women throughout history from all over the world. Sorted into chapters like Wonderful Ancient Weirdos, Women Who Wrote Dangerous Things, and Women Who Punched Nazis, the stories of these women range from triumphant to tragic, but never fail to inspire, and Jewell’s humor and enthusiasm for her subjects never fails to entertain. 

That’s What She Said: Wise Words from Influential Women by Kimothy Joy

That’s What She Said offers a brief introduction to over thirty influential women from various areas of life – some well-known and some women with whom readers may not be familiar.  Author and artist Kimothy Joy’s beautiful watercolor illustrations add to the enjoyment of this informational book. This is a great place to start for an overview of women’s history, or to find women or subjects that inspire deeper investigation. 

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin  – also available as an ebook, an eaudiobook, and an eaudiobook dramatization from the BBC on Libby/OverDrive

Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic The Left Hand of Darkness is a book about political intrigue and a forced epic journey across an icy planet (probably the fodder for a good miniseries). The book has the drama and action of an arduous journey as well as a personal journey of the protagonist to appreciate those different from him through the relationship he builds. The protagonist, an envoy from another planet, struggles to understand a gender-neutral people using the social constructs of his own culture. 

If you want to explore more exhibits and offerings in honor of Women’s History Month, take a look at the Library of Congress’s Women’s History Month page.

The Elkridge Branch + DIY Education Center opened the doors of its new building in March 2018. All our staff wish that we could see you in person, but we are happy to help you discover new reads while we are apart.