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Review: New YA books from Kelly Jensen, Jennifer Latham and Danielle Younge-Ullman

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World

Edited by Kelly Jensen

Algonquin Young Readers, 240 pages, $24.95

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Teen non-fiction about gender issues usually brings to mind cringe-worthy puberty guides steeped in strict binaries, often promising secrets to understanding the opposite sex. Not this book. In an exceptionally inclusive and diverse anthology featuring pieces from 44 creators, editor Kelly Jensen has curated a definition of feminism that is a safe space of equality and acceptance for everyone. Four Canadians are included and their contributions represent the impressive range of the collection; Professor Brenna Clarke Gray writes a primer on the inclusivity of fandom; designer and artist Pomona Lake contributes a photograph entitled "Judgements" on the way women dress; author Courtney Summers makes a powerful argument about so-called "unlikable" characters in YA fiction; and writer/activist Anne Thériault highlights "Ten Amazing Scientists (who also happen to be women)." A top-notch guide for all.

Dreamland Burning

By Jennifer Latham

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 384 pages, $24.99

The corpse of a mystery man links two biracial teenagers living almost a century apart in Tulsa, Okla. Seventeen-year-old Will is living in 1921; his father is white, his mother belongs to the Osage Nation and he's struggling with his own racism amidst the growing presence of the KKK in his town. Rowan, also 17, lives in the present with her black mother and white father. When a skeleton is discovered on her family's property, she dives deep into local history to determine the cause of death. Rowan and Will's struggles with their own identities combine with a genuinely intriguing mystery (featuring some truly nasty villains) that culminates during the horrifying night of the violent 1921 Tulsa race riots. It's difficult to put down and Latham sticks a rewarding, thoughtful resolution with a big, jaw-dropping reveal about that corpse.

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined

By Danielle Younge-Ullman

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Razorbill Canada, 368 pages, $21.99

Toronto author Danielle Younge-Ullman tackles a complex mother-daughter relationship in her debut novel. As a child, Ingrid travelled the world with Margot-Sophia, her opera-sensation single mother – she also supported her through waves of debilitating depression. Now a teenager, Ingrid is on the cusp of independence. But before she can realize her own dreams, she must endure the difficult wilderness survival program that Margot-Sophia has signed her up for. Younge-Ullman's theatre background shines as the novel alternates between the past and present. Young Ingrid's memories of growing up in opera houses are lush and fully realized, standing in stark contrast to the gruelling demands of the survival program. Though the narrative feels a bit overstuffed with several mysteries, a sexual assault and an explosive final twist, it's an honest examination of the messy pain inherent in breaking away from a parent.

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