This middle-grade novel uses space-themed metaphors to showcase all the ways depression threatens our livelihood—all the places depression tries to hide and all the ways we try to cope before we've even begun to heal. Pluto has the summer to prove to herself she can do the things that will make her feel "normal" again. Her checklist to recovery, complicated by family/friend dynamics and her inability to find happiness in the things she once loved, makes progress difficult. I love that Melleby doesn't offer a neat wrap-up for the nuances of mental illness, making the characters feel real and relatable.
Shelley Parker-Chan’s debut novel is equally breathtaking as it is devastating. "She Who Became the Sun," pitched as "Mulan" meets "The Song of Achilles", is a queer and lyrical reimagining of wartime romances, forbidden lust, antiheroes, and sacrifice due to personal gain. This multilayered and complex story follows the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang, and the famine, plagues, peasant revolts that swept across China in the fourteenth century. In his place is Zhu Chongba, a Nanren girl born into hardship and poverty on the Huai River Plans of Southern Henan in 1345. After the rebels come close to taking her life at her heartless father’s sacrifice, Zhu flees to a monastery and takes over her brother’s identity in an attempt to escape her fated “nothingness."
Bruised is a contemporary YA novel about grief, identity, and queerness. While there are many things to love about this book, the queerness and roller derby scenes are arguably two of my favorite parts. After losing her parents in a horrifying car crash, Daya finds a second family in the Killa Honeys—the local derby team. Using bruises from the rough full contact sport as a coping mechanism for her internalized pain, Daya eventually realizes there are many ways to be tough and many ways to be soft. What follows is a coming-of-age story that tackles how to find oneself and deal with pain in a healthy way amidst the subplot of a burgeoning queer romance.