One of the things I’ve come to love most about living in Chicago is the size, strength, and warmth of the writing community here. Since moving here over seven years ago I’ve made friends with writers in just about any category and genre I could imagine, and I love the ways all these different writers interact so comfortably with one another. SCBWI in particular casts a wonderfully wide net, bringing together so many people who care about writing for young people of all ages, from babies to teens.
For this column, I’d like to take the call to Read Local literally and bring some attention to members of my particular corner of the writing world who’ve had (or will have) books coming out during the pandemic. (Spoiler alert: I’m one of them.) We’re all struggling with the usual feelings of anxiety about bringing new books into the world, exacerbated by the difficulty of getting the word out about those books, given how varied and pressing are the other demands on people’s attention.
It’s tempting sometimes to want to put aside attempts to publicize our work and to focus on all the other issues in our lives, but we need to resist that temptation for two main reasons. First, we all work incredibly hard on our writing, and we must honor that work by giving our books their best possible shot at success. Second, readers need that work, too. We’re heading into what may be a very difficult and lonely winter for many of us, and that’s when books can be the most important. We might be writing challenging books about the state of the world or beautiful romances designed to take our minds off our troubles, but no matter what, readers need books.
With these things in mind, here’s a list of middle grade and young adult novels that have come out recently or will be here soon, from a fantastic group of Chicago writers. I’ve listed them all on my Bookshop page, so you can purchase there or from any bookstore you like (although of course, buying local is best!).
If you’re looking for fun reads to take your mind off what’s happening around us, Gloria Chao’s Rent a Boyfriend might be just the solution. Or you could learn what it’s like to be the sidekick to a superhero in Crystal Cestari’s Super Adjacent.
For middle-grade readers, Kate Hannigan has you covered! She has not one but two books releasing during this complicated time: Mask, the latest book in her superhero series, and The Great Chicago Fire, a nonfiction history comic.
If getting away means entering a fantasy world, it’s best to start on the South Side of Chicago! Both Rena Barron’s Maya and the Rising Dark and Malayna Evans’s Aria Jones and the Guardian’s Wedja begin there, though both will transport you to unexpected places. If you prefer more witchcraft in your fantasy world, Hannah Abigail Clarke’s The Scapegracers will introduce you to a new coven.
For people who want their books with a side of television (or their television with a side of books), Stephanie Kate Strom’s Restless Hearts will introduce you to Katy Keene before she became TV’s fashion maven, and Caleb Roehrig’s The Poison Pen brings us to Riverdale, where Archie and his friends have to deal with a blackmailer before they can graduate from high school.
If contemporary drama is your preference, Samira Ahmed’s Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know will let you travel to Paris, while Jessie Ann Foley’s You Know I’m No Good will abduct you to a boarding school for troubled teens.
For those who want to dive into the darkness, Joelle Charbonneau’s Disclose will return you to the world she first introduced in Verify, where censorship rules supreme. And my characters will tell you How to Pack for the End of the World, if they can figure out their own problems first.
And finally, it’s always fun to look ahead to the holidays! Lauren Emily Whalen is one of a group of authors who will be published in a holiday anthology available only on Amazon called Link by Link: an Anthology of Haunted Holidays.
I wish everyone happy reading!
Michelle Falkoff is the author of several YA novels, including How to Pack for the End of the World