Margin Notes



Hands, written by Torrey Maldonado, is a story that every teacher must read and have in their classroom library. When my colleague returned from NCTE with a signed copy, I was elated. I placed it on my book stack with the promise to get to it right away. But life happened and obligatory reads took over. My advance reader copy got buried in my stack waiting for me to find the time it deserved. On this languid Sunday afternoon, my advance reader copy, no longer advanced, found its way into my hands and it did not leave them until I finished this story written from the heart.

Trevor’s experience with his family and friends and finding himself through that turmoil will speak to every student in every classroom. Hands sheds light on the quiet strength of the student falling asleep during class who feels like they are in an impossible situation and doing their best to hold it all together. Trevor Junior’s current reality is a mirror for students that need hope that they too can respond to their challenges in ways that empowers them. His experience speaks to the capacity of human connection and that we can seek advice and help from those in our lives who will help us make the right choices, from our “F.R.I.E.N.D.S” as described by the acronym in the author’s note:

“Fight for me

Respect me

Involve me

Encourage me

Nourish me

Develop me

Stand by me.”

I love how Maldonado ingeniously threads how hands can be used to in many ways throughout each chapter: to express ourselves, to interact with the world around us, to create, to care for others, to communicate our love for others, to fight, to hurt and harm others. This aligns beautifully with Maldonado’s exploration of the different implications of the word promise throughout the story and how it too can be used to give hope but also make us feel hopeless. How fitting is it that Maldonado’s inscription on the inside cover is a promise of the impact of educators, “Our world is in your hands.” I hope you get your hands on a copy today!



I must admit, as a middle school teacher, I was hesitant to read this title out loud, however this cheeky title is a great read. Readers will love how the author, Huda Fahmy, writes about growing up and moving to a small town in Dearborn Michigan. As a Muslim teen, Huda knew exactly who she was in her old town, but in her new town, she feels lost. Huda is trying to figure out what every teen is essentially trying to figure out: their identity. With essential themes of micro aggressions and stereotypes, family and friendships, Huda retells her high school experience.

The story centers around her upbringing in a family of five girls and two loving parents who have high expectations of her. Huda finds every moment to make us all laugh at her awkward high school moments. Students will be able to relate to the idea that fitting in is hard and knowing who your true friends are is not always easy to figure out. Along the way she tries a variety of friend groups to see where she belongs. It takes an incident in the Principal’s office with her mother to make her come to terms with who she wants to be. I enjoyed this graphic novel in one sitting, and I highly recommend it for your classroom library.

Tina Kelly teaches language arts at George Street Middle School. She has over 25 years of experience with middle schoolers and loves nothing more than recommending and sharing great literature. Inspired by Nancie Atwell, she believes in the philosophy of the Readers Workshop and the importance of giving students the choice to read what they want.




Part ghost story part epic adventure novel The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home will haunt you & have you in stitches. Not because she put wax on your stairs while you were sleeping Edward, but for other. more novel appropriate, reasons.

I’m not going to lie to you, it’s gnarly. There are a lot of animal guts – more than you’d expect from an old lady but that’s the thing with our antagonist (and she certainly does antagonize), she’s unexpected. How did this old woman get into your home? Why is she still here? How does she watch you (and she certainly does watch you) without eyes? To find out this & more you’ve got to read the book.

The novel is written entirely from the perspective of The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home & details her childhood and unrelentingly long life. It’s got everything: doomed young love, doomed middle aged love, doomed old woman love. It’s got people using their trauma to propel them forward and it’s got people letting their trauma propel them to revenge! It’s equal parts vicious & voracious. It is not a novel for the weak of heart (because of the animal guts.) but it is a brilliant and well-crafted piece of literature for anyone looking for something a touch macabre.

Esther Soucoup is a BEd Student at the University of New Brunswick. They’ve been involved in several local theater productions, most recently being Ask You Like it produced by Bard in the Barracks. Esther has become friends with her Faceless old Woman because she talks to her cat at 4am while they’re sleeping, which stops the cat from destroying everything they own. It doesn’t stop the old lady… but baby steps. Baby steps…



Salahudin and Noor are teenagers growing up in the desert town of Juniper, California, who dream of escaping their working-class lives. Salahudin’s parents immigrated from Pakistan before he was born, purchasing a run-down motel with the hope of a fresh start. Noor immigrates from Pakistan after an earthquake kills her parents, where she and Salahudin become best friends, both labelled outsiders by their young classmates. As they grow up, their bond intensifies until unrequited love causes the friendship to dissolve, just as Salahudin’s family life, and Noor’s academic future, fall apart. A sequence of tragedies, followed by bad decisions, forces Salahudin and Noor to face each other and learn to define themselves in an unfair world. Through the themes of love, family and forgiveness, and the use of alternating perspectives, Salahudin and Noor in the present and Salahudin’s mother in the past, Sabaa Tahir showcases that fear and love connect us all.

Tahir highlights the injustices faced by people of colour, in addition to the everyday struggles they face. Her writing makes the reader rage along with Salahudin and Noor as they face racism and injustices no one should have to endure. You will want to reach into this book and comfort the characters; make them feel safe. Not only does Tahir capture the effects of generational trauma on young people, but she also captures the intricacies of family. Sometimes those who care for us the most have no blood relation, and who you consider family is for the individual to decide.

This book should be in every High School English classroom, and I would even go as far as to suggest its use for book clubs. Its target audience is mature students, grade eleven or twelve, as it deals with physical and sexual abuse, trauma, addiction, Islamophobia, and parental death. Students will see themselves in Salahudin and Noor, regardless of their skin colour, religion, or family dynamic. Fears associated with an unknown future, and disappointing those closest to you, are familiar to us all, regardless of background. I would not hesitate to give this book to any student who enjoyed The Hate U Give or They Both Die at the End.

Tanya Senechal is a Pre-Service Teacher completing her Education degree at the University of New Brunswick. She is an avid reader of YA fiction and YA fantasy who sometimes reads passages aloud for her cat, Nebula.




How Do You Live? tells the story of Jun’ichi “Copper” Honda, a teenage boy growing up in Tokyo. The book was first published in 1937, but only recently translated into English for the first time after the announcement of a film adaptation directed by Hayao Miyazaki through his Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro).

After the death of his father, Copper forms a close bond with his uncle, who becomes a mentor figure as Copper navigates ethical questions about how to live a good life. The story follows a loose narrative, but is largely episodic: an event from Copper’s daily life at school or with friends is recounted and his uncle responds with insights and questions in a notebook he shares with Copper, helping his nephew to see how the event relates to larger issues that he will continue to reflect upon throughout his life. These cover a wide range of subjects, from friendship and heroism, to the relations of production and poverty. The uncle’s notes are not condescending, but supportive and challenging. For example, when Copper shares his discovery of a theory about human relations, his uncle explains that many thinkers have explored this idea before, but encourages him by remarking that it is an achievement to have come to that understanding independently. The writing is approachable and pleasing, with many beautiful descriptions, and readers will quickly become attached to Copper and his friends.

How Do You Live? is a great book for young people curious about exploring big questions. It is an excellent entry to philosophical thinking and will encourage young people to reflect upon themselves, their families and friendships, and their place in the world.

Iain McMaster grew up in Montréal and is an avid reader of translated fiction. He is working towards a Bachelor of Education degree at the University of New Brunswick and holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh.



Bluebird is a book that will have you gripping its pages and turning them frantically to see what happens next, skipping over chapters, going back to chapters, and throwing the book because you are scared about what is going to happen on the next page. Reading Bluebird is not for the faint of heart!

Bluebird is about a young woman who is caught up in the aftermath of World War 2 and the power games surrounding those who had been involved in the experiments conducted in concentration camps. The story jumps back and forth between her new life in America and her past in Berlin. This combined with the addition of flashback scenes creates a vivid, dynamic plot that sucks the reader deep into the story.

As suggested by the above introduction, I would not give Bluebird to every reader. There is intrigue, conspiracy, and fictional events that are based on real history–subjects that many readers enjoy. However, it does also include brutal action, mind manipulation, parental abuse, and torture. This thrilling novel should therefore be recommended with some caution. Sharon Cameron pulls you into this world and her readers are left at the edge of their seats, waiting for the roller coaster ride to end–and the end never comes until you’ve suddenly reached the last page and you’re left processing the magnitude of what you have just read.

Taheera is currently working on her BEd at the University of New Brunswick, focusing on English and Music. Her free time is taken up with her many hobbies, including cooking, knitting, writing, and of course, reading. Some of her favorite genres include historical fiction, letter biographies, and adventure fantasy.



“Life is like…”

I believe that this community recognizes that different text forms can have value and impact a reader strongly, so I am happy to have the chance to share with you all a manga that moved me greatly.

Yoru Sumino is well known for her light novel I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, but today I would like to recommend the manga adaptation of her light novel I Had That Same Dream Again. The story follows Nanoka Koyanagi, an elementary student, as she attempts to find an answer to her school assignment “What is happiness?” She explores this topic through discussions with her three unusual friends, while also dealing with loneliness and other personal struggles. The manga has many relatable storylines, and I feel that all readers will be able to connect with the story in some way. It has a simple, yet profound, message that kept me turning the pages long after my bedtime. I Had That Same Dream Again leaves readers asking themselves as well, what is happiness for them, and I think this is a valuable question for students to reflect on.

Though the protagonist is a young child, this manga is targeted towards teenagers as it does deal with some serious topics. This is a coming-of-age story, though it has its own unique twist on the genre, which I will leave readers to discover themselves. Though many will predict the reveal early on, this does not take away from the emotional impact of the story in the slightest. Yoru Sumino manages to delve thoughtfully into the themes of family, friendship, courage, identity, happiness, and more in a contained and concise text. Content warnings for self-harm, suicide, and bullying.

Rowan Little is a pre-service teacher currently studying at the University of New Brunswick. They have had a passion for English as long as they can remember and are eager to share their passion with their future students.



“It took me going far away

To feel this close to you

It took dreaming of a memory

To change what I thought I knew.”


David A. Robertson’s The Barren Grounds is a book I hope many get the chance to read. The Indigenous author and public speaker recently published The Barren Grounds in the fall of 2020 as Part One of the Misewa Saga. It is marketed as a middle-grade book although I believe it would be a fantastic read for any student who enjoys themes such as fantasy, adventure, and self-discovery. The story follows two Indigenous children Morgan and Eli who have been placed in the same foster home in a white suburban Manitoban town. Morgan is our protagonist, a strongminded avid reader who at times is a little hard-headed and blunt, offering comedic relief during tense scenes. Morgan has been through several foster homes and struggles to remember who her family is – only dreaming brief visions of a woman speaking to her in Cree. Although she is apprehensive about opening up to her foster family, she bonds with Eli over his hauntingly detailed drawings. While hanging out in the attic, the two discover a portal to another world that is stuck in a cycle of wintery famine. There Morgan and Eli meet a stoic Fisher and witty Squirrel, and the two children help them reclaim their land from the infections of human greed.

The Barren Grounds is a story of losing yourself and finding yourself, of insatiable hunger and contentment, of greed and generosity, and of fear and courage. If Cree is not a language that you’re familiar with, I recommend pairing this book with the audio version as there is Cree dialogue throughout the chapters. The audiobook helped to further immerse me into the land of Misewa and hear the language as it is spoken. It is a story rich in Indigenous culture and tradition and would open any reader’s eyes to the heartaches Indigenous families across Canada face after being separated from their loved ones, their languages, and their cultures. This book will make you laugh, cry, and put you back together again.

Sarah Levita is a pre-service teacher in the Bachelor of Education program at the University of New Brunswick. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and language from the Memorial University of Newfoundland and has a background in teaching English as a Second Language. She loves to write, travel, and spend time with her Pomeranian, Chloe.



The Girl that Fell Beneath the Sea is a beautifully written historical fantasy that reimagines the classic Korean fairytale “Shim Cheong”. Mina, the novels protagonist, takes the reader from a cursed Korea, forgotten by the Gods they love, and plagued by war and violent storms. An unsuspecting heroine, Mina, sacrifices herself to become the Sea God’s bride to break the curse and save her people. However, Mina soon realizes that the Sea God’s underwater
kingdom where spirits, immortals, and mythical beasts roam, is just as dangerous as it is enchanting. As she races against a ticking clock to save her village, Mina will form unbreakable bonds with magical friends and allies, but never forgets what she holds most dear.

Axie Oh’s standalone novel is perfectly suited for a younger YA audience. Oh cleverly explores themes of free will versus destiny through each characters’ relationship to the idea of fate. Fate is both literal in the red-string that connects soul mates for eternity, but acts of agency, bravery, and loyalty are also required in Oh’s world for characters’ to meet their fate. Through beautifully interconnected realms of mortal and supernatural, Oh also confirms the power of love and family to overcome all.

Fans of Hayao Miyazaki will enjoy this novel for its similar themes of friendship, love, culture, history, and nature. However, any reader that enjoys magical settings, enchanted characters, adventure, mystery, and mythology, will love The Girl Beneath That Fell Beneath The Sea.



The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas is a young-adult fantasy novel that mixes aspects of Mexican/Aztec Mythology with more modern elements. The book tells the story of Teo, a trans teenager, a Jade semidiós, and the son of the goddess of birds. While Teo has been told his whole life that he is less important, not as strong, and no hero in comparison to the “Gold” semidióses, this is put into question when he and another Jade are chosen to compete among 8 golds in the Sunbearer Trials- an important ceremony that happens only once every ten years in which 10 young semidióses compete with one another to appease the sun god Sol. He begins to question everything he’s ever known while trying to keep himself and his friends out of harm’s way in the trials. This book feels very reminiscent of The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson & the Olympians.

There is so much great representation in this book. First, there is the representation of different types of mythology. So often books and movies focus on Greek mythology but forget about Aztec mythology, Indigenous mythology, Germanic mythology, etc. This book does a great job of tying real aspects of Aztec mythology into this fast-paced story. The identity of the main character Teo as trans (as well as other characters being part of the LGBTQ+ community) is written about in a refreshing way. Teo’s identity is written about in a way that does not hyperfocus on the struggle of being trans, but simply acknowledges his identity and carries on. Along with the great representation and storyline, the underlying message behind this story is amazing. It is a classic underdog story, that shows is that physical strength is not the only strength, and it is often not the best. Things like intelligence, kindness, altruism, and determination can be just as valuable.

About me: I am a 23 year old bachelor of education student at the University of New Brunswick, originally from Sudbury, Ontario. I love to read YA, historical fiction, horror, some romance, and really anything I can get my hands on. I’m so excited to share my love of reading with my future students.