Category Archives: YA

Deposing Nathan by Zack Smedley

cover art“A superb story, told in an original and masterly way. Smedley navigates the novel’s refreshing ideas about sexuality and religion with grace and intelligence.” ―The New York Times
“A heartbreaking case worth revisiting again and again.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred review.

I read this book because it was written by an alumni of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I knew it was going to pack a punch emotionally, but I wasn’t prepared by just how deeply I would come to care for these two flawed characters. Sometimes when authors put their teenage characters through difficult experiences, the characters make decisions that seem beyond their years, lessening the character’s believably and, ultimately, the reader’s chance to understand or relate to youth. But here, in this book, are two teenage boys who try, together, to reconcile Christianity with (bi)sexuality. They come alive on the page, and I won’t forget them any time soon. I was surprised, too, that a new author of young adult fiction had managed to write a book wherein every single scene, every line of dialogue, every step of the way felt like a valuable addition to the story. This is immeasurably important for any book, but especially a book with themes and elements of self-hate, emotional and physical abuse, sexuality, and self-harm. It’s clear that the main character, Nate, makes some deeply unkind, and at times cruel decisions that hurt the people around him, but I always understood the reasoning behind those choices.

This is a hard book to read, but a necessary one. Over and over, I found myself heartbroken yet unable to put the book down. I am grateful for the story, and I am glad that the ending was so healing. This book came out in May, just in time for Pride month this June. If you read any book this month (or this year), read “Deposing Nathan.” LGBT+ youth are three times more likely to seriously consider suicide than heterosexual youth, according to the Trevor Project. This book and the themes it contains does not exist in isolation, and your actions have consequence. If you’re looking to have a greater understanding of the experiences of LGBT+ youth, this is the book to go to.

Please take a look at the content warnings before reading, and make a decision that works best for you. Content warnings for this book include instances of: swearing, homophobic slurs, physical abuse, psychological abuse, toxic relationship, anti-bi rhetoric, religious anti-gay rhetoric, child abuse, self-harm.

You can find a greater description of the content warnings, written by the author, here:

To read the official description of the book, go here:

Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Submitted by: Sage Burch
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Published in 2019

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

Eight Cousins cover

Eight Cousins, a lesser known Louisa May Alcott gem in COSMOS, is a recommended read. Little cousin Rose is orphaned and is trundled off to live with her doctor uncle and great aunts. Her seven rowdy boy cousins and aunts and uncles live nearby up the ‘ant’ hill.This quaint story depicts the changes to meek, sickly, timid Rose under the careful tutelage of her uncle as she learns be a kind, inquisitive, active young lady loved by all. Perhaps a tad too saccharine, but I enjoyed it.

Availability: COSMOS,
Review Submitted by: M Denise Brace nee Lerch (’82)
Rating: Recommended

The Last Girls of Pompeii by Kathryn Lasky

The Last Girls of Pompeii by Kathryn Lasky chronicles the weeks preceding the fateful eruption in A.D. 79. Julia, a young noble and her slave, Sura, prepare for Julia’s older sister’s wedding blithely unaware of both the impending doom and the nefarious plans Julia’s parents have in store for both girls. Julia had been stricken since birth by a withered arm, an affront to the gods, so her parents plan to secret her away. As the girls seek to aid each other and thwart the plans, their world figuratively and literally collapses around them.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: M Denise Brace nee Lerch (’82)
Rating: Highly Recommended

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

I read the first book of the Red Rising series, Red Rising, by Pierce Brown. It is young adult, dystopian, science fiction. It is about Darrow, a miner in the Red caste who was proud to be sacrificing for the good of humanity, but eventually realizes that Reds are really just slaves.

It starts out a little slow, but at about 1/3 in, it became very captivating. I enjoyed the world, caste system, and the characters. Although I enjoyed the story and wondered “what next,” I was never worried about Darrow – I did worry about other characters. I was willing to suspend belief on the results from his medical transformation, but some may not be able to.

I also really enjoyed the references to other books:

  •  “So this kid is what? A predestined Alexander? A Caesar? A Genghis? A Wiggin? I ask.” (I assume this is an Ender’s Game reference)
  • In the third book one of the ship names is Dejah Thoris (I assume this is from the princess in the Warlord of Mars books)

Availability: COSMOS,
Review Submitted by: Andy Ashenfelter
Rating: Highly Recommended (with the caveat that it is YA, so not for everyone)
Challenge: A book with a color in the title

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

A coming of age tale following Aristotle and Dante, Mexican-American teenagers confronting all of the normal problems of growing up – friendship, love, loss, family, and identity. I think that this book is technically classified as ‘Young Adult Fiction’ but don’t let that fool you. This is a great composition with true characters and a compelling story. Being a teenager isn’t a simple thing in today’s world and that feeling really comes across in Saenz’s words. When Ari first meets Dante they couldn’t seem more unalike. Dante –  confident and intelligent, and Ari – very unsure of himself. Both come from strong families, that help guide the two young men in to figuring out who they are.

As an added bonus, I listened to the audiobook of this story, read by Lin Manuel Miranda who really added a great deal of life in to the story.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Kevin Emerson
Rating: Must Read

Willow by Julia Hoban

Willow cover

Willow deals with the aftermath of the death of the protagonist’s parents. After Willow’s parents are killed while she’s driving them home on a rainy night, Willow turns to self-harm and withdraws from the world to deal with her guilt. The novel tells about her emotions and how her worldview changes when she begins seeing a guy who wants to help her heal.

I enjoyed Willow as a peek into how someone who self-harms might think or feel. The plot of the novel was interesting enough to keep reading and the characters were easy to relate to, even as someone who hasn’t experienced the same things Willow has. I would recommend the book, with an added trigger warning for self harm, depression, and other related things.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Hannah Yeager
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Book with a one-word title

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

FLowers for Algernon cover

Flowers for Algernon is a pretty famous book, and rightfully so. The book was a quick, easy read, but the content makes it a “must read” for me. It’s about a mentally disabled man, Charlie, who undergoes a surgery to make him more intelligent. The book, written in the style of reports Charlie writes about his progress, follows his life as his intelligence increases and he begins to understand the world and people around him. Of course, he learns that not everything is as it seemed to him before, especially his relationships with his friends and the doctors who performed the experimental surgery.

Flowers for Algernon makes the reader consider how society’s treatment of the mentally disabled compares to how we treat people of average or above average intelligence, and the morality of that difference. Since this is essentially the overarching theme of the book, I don’t want to give away too much, but Charlie’s perspective of how people see him, speak to him, and treat him before his surgery vs. after, as his intelligence grows, is quite interesting to consider. The novel was adapted into a film in 1968, for which the lead actor won an Oscar. I haven’t seen the movie, but reading its synopsis, it seems to focus more on romance than Charlie’s relationship with the world around him, which I would think would take away from the main message of the novel.

Availability:  COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Hannah Yeager
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Book to film