New Releases

Author Spotlight: Jen Petro-Roy

Today is Valentine’s Day, but for middle-grade author Jen Petro-Roy, February 19 is the day to celebrate. Why? She has not one but TWO MG books launching that day, both from Feiwel & Friends: Good Enough, a contemporary middle-grade novel that explores a preteen’s recovery from anorexia, and You Are Enough, a self-help book for young readers who are struggling with eating and body-image issues. Here, Petro-Roy discusses why she chose to address the theme of disordered eating, and what she hopes readers will gain from her books.

MR: First, happy book(s) birthday, Jen! Publishing two books on the same day is a huge achievement—and highly unusual. What was your publisher’s strategy behind this? And what does it feel like to launch two books at once?

JPR: It is unusual—and exciting! I don’t think this is done very often in publishing, and I’m honored that Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends believed in me enough to market and publish these books together. Good Enough was the second book of my publishing contract (my MG debut, P.S. I Miss You, was published in 2018), and after I began writing it, I realized that besides the manuscript that I was writing, I wasn’t aware of many middle- grade books that featured a protagonist suffering from an eating disorder.

This made me realize that there weren’t many self-help books out there for teens and tweens with eating disorders, either–and that this disease, which seems to be starting earlier and earlier, is an all-too-common occurrence. When I was sick, the “recovery literature” was mainly geared towards college-aged kids or adults—either that, or to parents, and I really wanted there to be something out there that kids could turn to when they compared themselves to their friends; or saw their peers or parents going on a diet; or felt like their body was defective in some way. So I wrote up a proposal and my agent sent it on to my editors. They accepted, and I got to work!

MR: Let’s talk first about your contemporary MG, Good Enough. In this novel, 12-year-old Riley, an aspiring artist, is placed in an in-treatment facility for anorexia. I’ve read that the topic of disordered eating is a personal one for you. Can you tell us how this is reflected in your book?

JPR: Like Riley, I suffered from anorexia nervosa, with an accompanying exercise addiction. Unlike Riley, though, I got sick later in life, when I went to college. However, the feelings that I felt, both when I was sick and when I started to go through treatment and recovery, are universal. There’s fear and hope, bargaining, and doubt. There’s relapse and struggle and so much more. I have a huge stack of old journals from when I was sick, and like Riley, I wrote about what I went through and the people I met through treatment. I definitely cried at some points while writing this book, but I’m so glad that I reflected the journey accurately. I’ve heard from some readers who had once had an eating disorder that they related to Riley a lot.

MR: What most connects you most to your main character, Riley? How is she different from you? How is she the same?

JPR: Riley and I are definitely a lot alike. Like her, I struggled with running as a symptom of my disease and felt like my family didn’t understand how hard recovery was for me. I actually felt like no one understood what I was going through, which was a major reason I wanted to write this book; to assure kids that they aren’t alone, and to help others become more empathetic to the struggles of those dealing with an eating disorder. Riley and I are both highly internal and like to reflect on the world through words. She’s absolutely her own person, though; she has different insecurities than I do and her relationships play out in different ways. I love her so.

MR: Writing such a deeply personal book must have been an extremely emotional experience for you. How did you deal with the highs and lows? Were some sections/chapters harder to write than others?

JPR: Like I mentioned, I absolutely did tear up. I think that unpacking those emotions was really cathartic. I’ve gone through therapy but there’s always more to deal with, and it was interesting to be able to see my feelings and journey through Riley while also making her a unique character of her own. The beginning of the book, when she is more ambivalent and conflicted about recovery, was definitely more difficult for me to write. From my vantage point, I wanted to just tell her to get better; that life is so much more fulfilling on the other side! But I knew that for Riley, as for the many other kids who suffer from eating disorders, recovery is a process and she had to go through these struggles to move forward.

MR: What kind of research did you do for Good Enough? And what about for your self-help book, You Are Enough: Your Guide to Body Image and Eating Disorder Recovery?

JPR: I did so much research, and I honestly enjoyed every second of it. Above all, I wanted to make sure that You Are Enough was super inclusive, so I interviewed males who had suffered from eating disorders, those who identify as LGBQTIA+, people with chronic illnesses, and those who aren’t the size that stereotypically suffer from eating disorders. I also talked to people active in the fat-acceptance movement, to body-positive nutritionists, and to those who suffered from bulimia, binge-eating disorder, and more. The end result is that this book isn’t about the “typical” eating- disorder sufferer. It has lessons for anyone who is struggling with their self-image.

MR: Speaking of which, what is the main message behind You Are Enough? Do you consider it a companion to your novel?

JPR: I do consider You Are Enough a companion to Good Enough; in fact, I’m sure Riley would have gotten a lot of out of it! But the books can be read independently from each other, too. They’re connected in their message, though; that you don’t have to look a certain way, or act a certain way, or “seem” a certain way to have value. You don’t have to control your life through an eating disorder, because eventually it will come to control you. Deep down, you are enough just as you are. All you have to do is live…and BE.

MR: Finally, your first MG novel, P.S. I Miss You (Macmillan, 2018), garnered considerable controversy when schools and libraries, in both liberal and conservative parts of the country, declined visits from you, due to your book’s frank examination of sexual orientation, teen pregnancy, and religion. How did this affect you overall? And how did it affect your approach to writing Good Enough? Was it a help, or a hindrance?

JPR: I honestly don’t think the pushback that P.S. I Miss You received affected Good Enough in any way. Partly because the book was drafted by the time of my debut’s release, but mostly because I firmly believe that kids need books that deal with “tough” issues; books that talk about the sensitive issues that everyone deals with in some way. Every reader may not have an eating disorder, but they may know someone with one. Or they may struggle with another issue. It’s only by bringing the full range of humanity into the light that we can learn how to have to empathy for others and realize we are not alone.

For more about Jen Petro-Roy, visit her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

February New Releases For Cozy Winter Reading

Brrr…it is -35 degrees where I live today. It might not be that cold in your world, but February offers a number of excuses to grab a good book and read.

Today, February 1, is World Read Aloud Day! What better reason than to cuddle up with a book together and read aloud to each other?
If you miss the fun, mark your calendars for National Read in the Bath Tub Day on February 9.

Of course, there’s always Valentine’s Day. Perhaps one of the following titles will appeal to the middle-grade readers in your life.
Great titles by amazing authors! Enjoy and keep warm!

To kick things off, one of our very own Mixed Up Files contributors, Andrea Pyros has a new release coming out February 1! Yay Andrea!

Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas, written by Andrea Pyros (Capstone Press) February 1
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Twelve-year-old Josephine has a lot on her plate―best friend issues, first crush issues, divorced parent issues, twin brother issues . . . and then her mom hits her with news that shakes her to her core: a breast cancer diagnosis. Josephine doesn’t want anyone to know―not even her best friend. Sharing the news means it’s actually real, and that’s something she’s not ready to face. Plus it would mean dealing with the stares―and pity―of her classmates. She got enough of that when her parents split up. Unfortunately for Josephine, her twin brother, Chance, doesn’t feel the same way. And when Chance dyes his hair pink to support his mom, the cat is out of the bag. Suddenly Josephine has to rethink her priorities. Does getting an invite to the party of the year matter when your mom is sick? And what if it does matter? Does that make her a monster?

Pay Attention, Carter Jones
, written by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion Books) February 5
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Carter Jones is astonished early one morning when he finds a real English butler, bowler hat and all, on the doorstep—one who stays to help the Jones family, which is a little bit broken.

In addition to figuring out middle school, Carter has to adjust to the unwelcome presence of this new know-it-all adult in his life and navigate the butler’s notions of decorum. And ultimately, when his burden of grief and anger from the past can no longer be ignored, Carter learns that a burden becomes lighter when it is shared.

Sparkling with humor, this insightful and compassionate story will resonate with readers who have confronted secrets of their own.

Ruby in the Sky, written by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) February 5
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Twelve-year-old Ruby Moon Hayes does not want her new classmates to ask about her father. She does not want them to know her mother has been arrested. And she definitely does not want to make any friends. Ruby just wants to stay as silent and invisible as a new moon in the frozen sky. She and her mother won’t be staying long in Vermont anyway, and then things can go back to the way they were before everything went wrong.

But keeping to herself isn’t easy when Ahmad Saleem, a Syrian refugee, decides he’s her new best friend. Or when she meets “the Bird Lady,” a recluse named Abigail who lives in a ramshackle shed near Ruby’s house.? Before long Ahmad and Abigail have become Ruby’s friends―and she realizes there is more to their stories than everyone knows.

Song for a Whale, written by Lynne Kelly (Delacorte Books for Young Readers) February 5
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In the spirit of modern-day classics like Fish in a Tree and Counting by 7s comes the story of a deaf girl’s connection to a whale whose song can’t be heard by his species, and the journey she takes to help him.

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?

Full of heart and poignancy, this affecting story by sign language interpreter Lynne Kelly shows how a little determination can make big waves.

The Bridge Home, written by Padma Venkatraman (Nancy Paulsen Books) February 5
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Four determined homeless children make a life for themselves in Padma Venkatraman’s stirring middle-grade debut.

Life is harsh in Chennai’s teeming streets, so when runaway sisters Viji and Rukku arrive, their prospects look grim. Very quickly, eleven-year-old Viji discovers how vulnerable they are in this uncaring, dangerous world. Fortunately, the girls find shelter–and friendship–on an abandoned bridge. With two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, the group forms a family of sorts. And while making a living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to laugh about and take pride in too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves and no longer dependent on untrustworthy adults. But when illness strikes, Viji must decide whether to risk seeking help from strangers or to keep holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.

The Simple Art of Flying, written by Cory Leonardo (Aladdin) February 12
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Perfect for fans of The One and Only Ivan, this irresistible debut novel combines plucky humor and a whole lot of heart in a story about the true meaning of family.

Sometimes flying means keeping your feet on the ground…

Born in a dismal room in a pet store, Alastair the African grey parrot dreams of escape to bluer skies. He’d like nothing more than to fly away to a palm tree with his beloved sister, Aggie. But when Aggie is purchased by twelve-year-old Fritz, and Alastair is adopted by elderly dance-enthusiast and pie-baker Albertina Plopky, the future looks ready to crash-land.

In-between anxiously plucking his feathers, eating a few books, and finding his own poetic voice, Alastair plots his way to a family reunion. But soon he’s forced to choose between the life he’s always dreamed of and admitting the truth: that sometimes, the bravest adventure is in letting go.

To Night Owl from Dogfish, written by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (Dial Books) February 12
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From two extraordinary authors comes a moving, exuberant, laugh-out-loud novel about friendship and family, told entirely in emails and letters.

Avery Bloom, who’s bookish, intense, and afraid of many things, particularly deep water, lives in New York City. Bett Devlin, who’s fearless, outgoing, and loves all animals as well as the ocean, lives in California. What they have in common is that they are both twelve years old, and are both being raised by single, gay dads.

When their dads fall in love, Bett and Avery are sent, against their will, to the same sleepaway camp. Their dads hope that they will find common ground and become friends–and possibly, one day, even sisters.

But things soon go off the rails for the girls (and for their dads too), and they find themselves on a summer adventure that neither of them could have predicted. Now that they can’t imagine life without each other, will the two girls (who sometimes call themselves Night Owl and Dogfish) figure out a way to be a family?

Good Enough: A Novel, written by Jen Petro-Roy (Feiwel and Friends) February 19
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A young girl with an eating disorder must find the strength to recover in this moving middle-grade novel from Jen Petro-Roy

Before she had an eating disorder, twelve-year-old Riley was many things: an aspiring artist, a runner, a sister, and a friend.

But now, from inside the inpatient treatment center where she’s receiving treatment for anorexia, it’s easy to forget all of that. Especially since under the influence of her eating disorder, Riley alienated her friends, abandoned her art, turned running into something harmful, and destroyed her family’s trust.

If Riley wants her life back, she has to recover. Part of her wants to get better. As she goes to therapy, makes friends in the hospital, and starts to draw again, things begin to look up.

But when her roommate starts to break the rules, triggering Riley’s old behaviors and blackmailing her into silence, Riley realizes that recovery will be even harder than she thought. She starts to think that even if she does “recover,” there’s no way she’ll stay recovered once she leaves the hospital and is faced with her dieting mom, the school bully, and her gymnastics-star sister.

Written by an eating disorder survivor and activist, Good Enough is a realistic depiction of inpatient eating disorder treatment, and a moving story about a girl who has to fight herself to survive.

Revenge of the Enginerds, written by Jarrett Lerner (Aladdin) February 19
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Ken and his EngiNerds crew return in a new, nutty and nerdy adventure that’s the perfect follow-up to EngiNerds.

When last we met, the EngiNerds were battling a horde of ravenous robots, but in this latest caper, they’re on the hunt for just one rogue robot. But who knows what kind of mayhem one mechanical creature can cause? And why is Ken the only EngiNerd who’s worried about the runaway robot?

The rest of the crew seems be missing in action and Ken fears it’s because of Mikaela Harrington. She’s the new girl in town who’s UFO and alien-obsessed and wants to join the EngiNerds. But as far as Ken is concerned, the EngiNerds are Y-chromosome only, no X’s allowed!

Will Ken allow a rogue robot and a know-it-all, genius girl to wreak havoc on the entire universe? He just might not have a choice!

Game of Stars (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #2) written by Sayantani DasGupta (Scholastic Press) February 26
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The sequel to the critically acclaimed debut-fantasy The Serpent’s Secret!

Saving the multiverse is no game

When the Demon Queen shows up in her bedroom, smelling of acid and surrounded by evil-looking bees, twelve-year-old Kiranmala is uninterested. After all, it’s been weeks since she last heard from her friends in the Kingdom Beyond, the alternate dimension where she was born as an Indian princess. But after a call to action over an interdimensional television station and a visit with some all-seeing birds, Kiran decides that she has to once again return to her homeland, where society is fraying, a terrible game show reigns supreme, and friends and foes alike are in danger. Everyone is running scared or imprisoned following the enactment of sudden and unfair rules of law.

However, things are a lot less clear than the last time she was in the Kingdom Beyond. Kiran must once again solve riddles and battle her evil Serpent King father — all while figuring out who her true friends are, and what it really means to be a hero.

The Moon Within, written by Aida Salazar (Arthur A. Levine Books) February 26
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Celi Rivera’s life swirls with questions. About her changing body. Her first attraction to a boy. And her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid.

But most of all, her mother’s insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It’s an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be?

A dazzling story told with the sensitivity, humor, and brilliant verse of debut talent Aida Salazar.

Diversity in MG lit #5 Refugees

I’ll start with a picture book, because MG readers still love them. ME AND MY FEAR by Francesca Sanna is the follow up to her deeply moving THE JOURNEY from last year. Sanna’s new book explores the territory of a newly arrived refugee who wants to get to know her new neighborhood but is held back by Fear–a marshmallow like creature who grows in response to the stress of navigating a new culture. This story felt so honest and real (in spite of the fanciful externalization of fear) I think it will make a great conversation starter.

From the team that created the Artimis Fowl graphic novels comes a book about the North African refugee experience. ILLEGAL by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano is the story of two brothers who leave their small town in Ghana to find their older sister who has already traveled to Europe. The journey is a harrowing one and this is not a book for the tender-hearted reader. Still there is plenty of heart in young Ebo who tries to do the decent and kind thing in increasingly harsh environments. This book moves back and forth in time which I found a little distracting but the art is beautiful and the story is gripping.

REFUGEE by Alan Gratz is an ambitious story that weaves together the journeys of a German refugee in 1938, a Cuban refugee in 1994, and a Turkish refugee in 2015.  This story is well rooted in research but is not based on a the story of a particular refugee. The end matter contains detailed maps of each refugee’s journey and a detailed author note about what in the story is based on real persons or events. It contains suggestions for how to help refugees in your community and in the world. The author will be donating a portion of his proceeds to UNICEF for its relief efforts to refugee children world wide.

 

I’m going to call your attention to one more book which will be out in the first week of January in 2019. WE ARE DISPLACED: MY JOURNEY & STORIES FROM REFUGEE GIRLS AROUND THE WORLD is written by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Did you know that there are more than 65 million displaced persons in the world? Yousafzai shares her own story and the stories of displaced girls like herself that she has met through her activist work all over the world, putting a human face on the refugee experience.

I have chosen to focus on new books in this collection but most public libraries have a resource list of books about the refugee experience for young readers. Here is a list, including older titles, from the New York Public Library,

As always if you have a favorite book for MG readers about the refugee experience, please chime in below. Thank you!