ALAN Picks (January 2023)

ALAN Picks: Feminism, Friendship & Beauty

This month’s ALAN Picks features reviews of three books that encounter the themes of feminism, friendship and conflict with society’s standards and rules for girls and women. These books include a contemporary coming of age story Does My Body Offend You? by Mayra Cuevas and Marie Marquard, a magical fantasy How to Succeed in Witchcraft by Aislinn Brophy, and a memoir A Face for Picasso by Ariel Henley. The books explore ideas of how girls and young women are affected by societal standards, how they stand up to those standards and how they support each other in the process. Check out these reviews for ideas on how to use these books with students in the classroom. 

ALAN Picks Update: ALAN Picks is now accepting reviews of books published as far back as spring 2020. This gives ALAN members who are interested in reviewing books more great titles to choose from, as well as accommodate some great books released during the beginning of the pandemic that deserve highlighting. If you have some books in mind that you would like to review, please reach out to me!

If you read an ALAN Picks review and end up using the book with your students, let us know! We want to hear all of your great stories and engaging ways you are using young adult and middle grades literature in your classrooms. Remember, ALAN Picks are book reviews by educators for educators! Click on the archives to see previous editions. 

–  Richetta Tooley, ALAN Picks Editor

Submit a Review: Would you like to submit a review? Check out ALAN Picks for submission guidelines and email ALAN Picks Editor, Richetta Tooley at with the book title you are interested in reviewing. Rolling deadline.

Friendship, Feminism, and Fighting the Power

Does My Body Offend You? by Mayra Cuevas and Marie Marquardt

Book Details
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: April 5th, 2022
Page Count: 432 pages
ISBN: 9780593425855
Genre:  YA fiction, Coming of Age
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Synopsis: After hurricane María destroys her home in Puerto Rico, Malena Rosaurio must start a new life at a new school in Florida. When she starts off on the wrong foot with administration for coming to school without a bra, they refuse to understand she has a bad sunburn and shame her for her body. As she fumbles with the panty liners that the Assistant Principal and Nurse insist she use to cover her nipples, Ruby McCallister, the school’s biggest feminist, swoops in to make her aware of her rights. Ruby and Malena learn more about themselves and each other as they work together to fight the dress code and navigate their complicated relationship with the world around them as young women.


Told in chapters by alternating by character perspective, readers can easily relate to and internalize the tensions between Malena and Ruby throughout the intensity and authenticity of the friendship. The way each character perceives the novel’s interactions and situations offers an important insight on the value of perspective and how aspects of identity contribute to the way one experiences the world. The story reexamines common young adult experiences of relationships (platonic and romantic), parties, and activism through the lenses of gender, race, and class. By giving equal time and space for each character’s thoughts and feelings, the novel beautifully demonstrates to readers the value of knowing when to speak out and when to step back.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections:

  • Feminism
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Race and racism
  • Family structures

Essential Questions

  • How can one make others feel heard?
  • What components make up one’s identity?
  • What does it mean to recognize your own privilege?
Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:
  • Research into the histories of liberation and empowerment through fashion/clothing
  • Examination of different school’s dress codes, using a critical lens to analyze what kinds of power dynamics they enforce
  • Close listening, reading, and comparison of the text to poems about intersectionality like “Suggestions from a White Feminist Poets” by Tova Charles and “Dress Code” by Liza Banzaca
  • Discussion about author’s intention and how reading is a gendered act based on insights from Chapter 5, The Social Construction of Gender: A Lens of One’s Own, of Deborah Appleman’s Critical Encounters in Secondary English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents.
Formative/Summative Assessments:
  • Choose a section of dress code from a school of your choice and revise it the way Malena and Ruby would. Use textual evidence to justify your modifications.
  • Complete short or extended research into other aspects of fashion as a component of identity/experience (topics of exploration may include but are not limited to school dress codes, religious dress, defying gender/beauty standards in the fashion industry, victim blaming, etc.).
  • Create a protest poster with a slogan and an image that one might see at the protests depicted in the novel. Students can hang the posters up around the room and do a gallery walk where they provide feedback with sticky notes of compliments and/or constructive criticisms.
  • Keep chapter journal responses with personal reactions to Malena and Ruby’s respective interpretations of their experiences. Use journals to later create a chart/graphic organizer that shows how different elements of their identities contribute to their experiences of the plot.
  • Open class discussion about what kinds of gender stereotypes the novel enforces and/or challenges.

Reviewed by: Arden Woodall, Undergraduate English Education student studying at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

A Magical World With Contemporary Issues for BIPOC & Queer Young Women

How to Succeed in Witchcraft by Aislinn Brophy

Book Details
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: September 27, 2022
Page Count: 416 pages
ISBN: 978-0593354520
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
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Synopsis: Shay Johnson is a junior at T.K. Anderson Magical Magnet School who has been fighting for the scholarship given to one senior that would secure her a spot in her dream university. When she and her greatest rival, Ana Alvarez, both get star leads in the school theater production, led by the head of the scholarship committee, Mr. B, Shay has to balance a hectic junior year: dedicating herself to her academics and the intensely-inclusive play. But as she finds herself trapped between a rivalry romance with Ana through the play, she discovers a much deeper, darker secret—Mr. B isn’t what he seems, and Shay must uncover the truth of how previous scholarship recipients were selected, putting her own dream in jeopardy.


How to Succeed in Witchcraft is a witchy contemporary fantasy based on the concept of if our modern-day society was established through magic. For a story with a light-hearted voice, deeper themes underlie the text’s story revolving around racism, microaggressions, grooming, and homophobia. With an all-BIPOC cast, Brophy addresses racial issues for young women, especially young queer women, through a beautifully-crafted magical history. This book features girls standing up for other girls to protect future women, and tackles real-world issues that young BIPOC and queer women face in an American public high school setting.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis:

  • This story features numerous themes revolving around the concepts of social justice and female empowerment. Some of the themes explored include:
  • Microaggressions
  • Grooming and predatory behavior in male figures with power
  • Racism
  • White performatism “inclusivity”
  • #MeToo movement
  • Girls standing up for girls
  • Female empowerment
  • Homophobia, specifically lesbophobia

Essential Questions

  • How does white performatism affect young women of color?
  • How can women work together to take the power away from white men?
  • How does identity affect academic opportunity?

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use:

  • Discussion and research of the #MeToo movement, especially how the movement affected women of color
  • Discussion on microaggressions  and microaggressions observed in the novel
  • Examination of intersectionality between a queer identity and being a woman of color
  • A close reading with themes from The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley to develop a greater understanding of the problems women of color face in their adolescence

Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative: Students are each assigned to a single character, and are to keep a journal throughout each chapter of how that character’s identity affects the character, within the greater themes of racism, homophobia, and power. Journal entries begin with a quote featuring the character’s identity, and analysis contains the student’s perspective of how the identity may relate to the student’s own social setting. By quoting and analyzing identity, the teacher can examine the student’s reading comprehension and understanding of the novel.

Summative: Students each individually research an article surrounding a microaggression they observed within the novel, write a summary on how it influenced the plot, then meet in groups to discuss. The goal is for the students to understand both how a microaggression affects plot and theme, and how it relates to the world around them. Examples of reliable sources for research include the University of Minnesota’s table on microaggressions, BMC Psychology’s study on microaggressions, or Columbia University’s study on microaggressions.

Reviewed by: Sarah Prather, sophomore at Colorado State University majoring in restoration ecology and minoring in creative writing, Fort Collins, Colorado

A Memoir About Beauty, Bullying & Crouzon Syndrome

A Face for Picasso by Ariel Henley

Book Details
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publish Date: November 2, 2021
Page Count: 400
ISBN: 0374314071
Genre: Memoir
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Synopsis: A Face for Picasso is a memoir by Ariel Henley that tells her personal stories of growing up with Crouzon Syndrome, a deformity of the skull in which the bones prematurely fuse together leaving no room for the brain to grow within. Because of this syndrome, Ariel’s face is left looking not quite like the people around her. Ariel recounts the different traumatic surgeries and school experiences she went through with her identical twin sister, Zan, who also suffers the bullying of Crouzon Syndrome. The book begins with some of her earliest memories and comes to a conclusion about where she is now in her adult life. Ariel also does a beautiful job of tying in a narrative about Pablo Picasso and how people she and her sister feel as if they were just cubist paintings by the problematic artist. 


A Face for Picasso is an astounding look into the experience of growing up with Crouzon Syndrome in a world where traditional beauty – what mainstream media tells us is correct – is highly valued. Ariel’s story is compelling and necessary to read, giving the reader a way to consider how it feels to be an outcast in society. This topic is necessary for young adults to read because of the constant stigma around beauty standards, especially at a young adult age. The language of the book was easy to follow but did not feel too immature for an adult to read as well. This book most definitely promotes empathy. Ariel gives many instances where the reader would be able to walk in her shoes. Empathy is something young students need to be aware of and this novel could definitely help students to become more empathetic individuals. When I was between 12 and 18 I definitely would have benefited from reading a book of this nature.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Essential Questions

An essential question for this memoir could be: “Does society ‘other’ people who do not fit within prescribed beauty standards?” Throughout the work, Ariel goes through and inserts situations where she was judged for her looks. She talks about a situation on the cheerleading team that specifically outlines how she was deprived of opportunities simply because her face does not look like others.

Teaching Strategies and Activities to Use

For a whole class study of this book, I would facilitate a discussion about the book regarding beauty standards. I would start by just asking the students about what kind of beauty standards they feel pressured to live up to. Some specific questions could be: “What beauty standards do you see in society?” and “Do you feel the need to live up to these standards?”. I would then have the students connect it back to the book and the different struggles Ariel’s experiences. Another way these questions could be posed would be in an online discussion board post. This way students could cite specific points in the book and show how the book deals with beauty standards and emotions because of them as they read. 

Summative Assessment

Students can write their own shortened memoirs and use Ariel’s memoir as a mentor text. In the book, Ariel talks about how she was inspired to write this memoir based on a memoir assignment that she did in one of her college classes. Another idea for younger grades would be to take the idea of a memoir and make a storyboard. The students would pick one memory they would like to write about and create a visual poster or project whether it be a comic strip, a PowerPoint, or pictures from their real life. This book is great to use when teaching memoirs to students. Memoirs can be so powerful for students to understand other’s stories, and this book is an example of that.

Reviewed by: Claire Shenker, Student, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN