ALAN Picks (October 2023)

ALAN Picks: Self-Exploration, Intersectionality & Dealing With Change

This month’s ALAN Picks features a review of several young adult books by Latinx/Latine authors in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, as well as a young adult horror novel for those who are looking for a spooky season recommendation for students. The books include the exploration of sibling relationships with a social media influencer backdrop, How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliand; an exploration of intersectionality with LGBQT+ teens in This is Why They Hate Us by Aaron H. Aceves; the story of one boy’s immigration journey from Cuba in The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez and a horror novel about zombie girls created by a global warming catastrophe in This Delicious Death by Kayla Cottingham.

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.

Discovering self-acceptance and embracing who you are

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliand

Book Details
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: August 10, 2021
Page Count: 448
ISBN: 9781534448674
Genre:  Realistic Fiction, Romance, Magical Realism
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis:  In first-person narration, How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe is the story of Moon Fuentez’s journey to self-love and uncovering truths while being on the road as a “merch girl” with influencers across the country; including her sister. Always considering herself the ugly sister destined to be in the background of her sister’s stardom, she questions her fate as the unnoticeable and unloved Moon she had always deemed herself to be. Through an enemies-to-lovers romance that is sparked by close proximity, Moon finds herself on a path toward self-acceptance and most importantly, learning to love oneself for all that you are worth.


Gilliand uses Moon’s strong voice to showcase relatability in the struggles of fatphobia, religion, family trauma, sexuality, and learning to love yourself. Through the magical realism of nature and descriptions of Moon’s life, it creates a poetic coming-of-age tale that allows the reader to fully immerse into her first-person narrative on her journey to self-acceptance. While this is a very character-driven novel, through the plot we are able to see how Moon learns to love herself in how relatable a narrative this is, in which young adults struggle with body image and accepting their insecurities as that is what makes them who they are – human. In this emotional and relatable novel, Moon Fuentez finds the little miracles in life as she accepts herself for who she is, loving herself unconditionally.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections: 
Many of the topics discussed in this novel are crucial to understand and be aware of as students live in an age of social media. Teachers could teach these thematic topics in groups and or together as a class to analyze how these issues affect the characters in the novel. 

  • Body shaming/Fatphobia 
  • Online bullying 
  • Religion 
  • Sexuality 
  • Trauma/Parental Abuse 
  • Love 
  • Self-Acceptance 
  • Race/Ethnicity 
  • Sibling relationships 

Essential Questions

  • How important is trust in sibling relationships? 
  • What are ways to overcome the stereotypes associated with different body types? 
  • In what ways can body shaming affect someone? 
  • What are ways to promote self-love/acceptance with friends and peers?
Formative/Summative Assessments

Formative: Once students finish the book, as a class, they should compile a list of ways in which Moon learns to love and accept herself for who she is through the various characters she interacts with. After finalizing the list as a class, students should get into groups of four and create infographics of possible ways that self-love, acceptance, and body positivity can be promoted around their school and online. 

Summative: Once students finalize their infographics that promote these components, they should have a gallery walk to vote for the best infographic that goes with what the book advocates for. They can refer back to the themes from the book that highlight how well this will positively affect young adults’ mental health and emotional stability while being active on social media.

Other Creative Components

Other possible directions for discussion could be that students create visual one-pagers, with a set rubric from the teacher, in which they find ways they can relate and or identify with any and all characters in the book through the themes discussed.

Reviewed by: Natalie Rodriguez, English Creative Writing major at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Exploring Intersectionality in Fiction

This is Why They Hate Us by Aaron H. Aceves

Book Details
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: August 23. 2022
Page Count: 400
ISBN: 9781534485655
Genre: LGBT Romance, Contemporary, Fiction
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Enrique Luna wants to get over his crush Saleem, so he pursues other prospects. In doing so, Enrique tries to find clarity in his sexuality while being closeted from his parents, navigating his relationship with his best friend Fabiola, and dealing with the news that Saleem is leaving Los Angeles for the summer because his parents want him to meet a woman. In his pursuit to get over this, he meets a cast of prospects including a stoner named Tyler, a class president, Ziggy, and the enticingly scary Manny. Do these prospects bring Enrique to a conclusion about Saleem? And will living his truth lead to consequences?


Enrique’s answer to his hardcore crush on his friend Saleem is to get with as many prospects as possible. In doing so, we get to learn about the experience of this Mexican, Bisexual young man who comes to terms with the fact that he is worth more than his body image and self-esteem issues would have him believe. Aceves breaks down stereotypes of bisexuality by analyzing the reasons why someone like Enrique would sleep with other men due to his absolute abundance of love for one person who he wants to live with forever, and he learns this throughout the book. This book is an excellent example of queer identity and will help students understand intersectionality. This book does contain mature content and many sexual themes, but these scenes serve as an exploration of body and self, therefore, this book would be suited best for eighth grade and above.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis:
This book is a fantastic example of LGBTQ+ representation. It would be beneficial in a classroom for both students who identify with the community, and those who do not. The plot points are relatable to people of any identity while still driving home themes of sexual repression, discrimination, and confusion about one’s identity. 

  • Exploring sex as an LGBTQIA+ individual
  • Coping with lost love
  • Inability to come out to parents
  • Social anxiety
  • Judgment of Risks 
  • Breaking stereotypes of bisexual people
  • Coming of age
  • Race
Teaching Strategies and Assessments

Formative Assessments

  • Students are tasked to write about their own social and personal intersections up to their level of comfortability. I encourage teachers to go further beyond race and sexuality, as there are many other facets of identity that this book covers like social status and wealth using an identity wheel and linking it to the characters and the book as a whole. 
  • Students can create a self-directed response to a portion of the book, like writing to a main character or describing a scene that may have been in the book if they wrote it. 

Summative Assessments

  • Students can be tested for their ability to dissect themes from this book including but not limited to risk judgment, LGBTQIA+ struggles, and learning from past mistakes. 
  • Students might create a portfolio of their understanding of this book during the reading.

Teaching Strategies
This is Why They Hate Us intertwines sexuality with multiple other intersections of a student’s life, giving this book an excellent opportunity to shine in a curriculum centered around topics of race and sexuality.

Reviewed by: Joshua Ricci, English Education student at Colorado State University.

A Must Read Cuban-American Story

The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Book Details
Publisher: Knopf
Publish Date: September 6th, 2022
Page Count: 320
ISBN: 9780593372791 
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction 
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: A journey told through Hector, a boy who is only in 6th grade who is experiencing the emotional ride of growing up in Cuba in the 1980’s and learning about the tough decisions he has to make at such a young age. As he pursues this adventure he risks everything when fleeing Cuba during the Mariel boatlift. 


A heart wrenching story that sucks you in from the beginning and breaks down perspectives that you never would have thought of. Personally I feel the term a book you can’t stop reading is overused although this is a book that was so hard to put down. Learning about Hector’s journey, connection to family and friends, and his dreams made me feel disrespectful whenever I tried to put the book down. Putting the book down felt like ending a phone call with a friend mid-story because you get such a strong connection to Hector and all the other people in his life. We see the conflicts in the story build up and no spoilers, but it really makes you grateful for your life and even if you can relate to some of the conflicts in the book you still just wonder how much pain Hector has to go through when navigating through his life. 

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Connections:
The book includes themes that lead to a deeper understanding of immigrants through a person’s narrative and the challenges of the process. Another theme would be the importance of family and community and how important the people are in your life can be when it comes to seeking the best for you. 

  • Diversity 
  • Different time periods
  • Foreign policies
  • Friendship
  • Family
  • Immigration
  • Reality and dreams
  • Optimism 

Essential Questions:

  • How do you think moving affects who you are?
  • How close do you feel to your community?
  • How has your knowledge of the immigration process changed since reading the book?

Formative and Summative Assessments:

Formative: Teaching students on a way to interact with the book could be writing something they are grateful for and relating it to Hector’s journey. This book could also be great for a beginner level Spanish class as some of the dialogue is in Spanish giving students the context of the book for them to find out what is said in Spanish. 

Summative: Students could make a boat out of paper and decorate it as they please to use as a book marker.

Reviewed by: Seth Banquer, student of Colorado State, Fort Collins, CO.

Girls, Zombies and Global Warming

This Delicious Death by Kayla Cottingham

Book Details
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publish Date: April 25, 2023
Page Count: 287
ISBN: 978-1-7282-3644-5
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia/Horror/YA Lit
Find on Bookshop

Synopsis: Global warming causes a worldwide exposure resulting in a pandemic, known as the Hollowing. A small percentage of the human race become ghouls and start to crave human flesh. Synthetic flesh is soon created to help the Hollows remain in society, and this somewhat eases the mind of the masses. This Delicious Death follows a group of four hollowed girls—Zoey, Celeste, Valeria, and Jasmine—who embark on a trip to a music festival right before high school graduation. Their trip begins to shatter when one of them strays too far from governmental expectations, and they soon realize they are being targeted. Can they avoid going feral at the festival, or will anyone survive?


This Delicious Death is an extraordinary introduction to xenophobia and corruption of government with a dash of horror. It offers a new perspective on how one deals with a life-altering event that makes the whole world see you differently, including your parents. More than a vaccine is required when global warming causes the permafrost to melt, unleashing a global pandemic. It requires resilience to the extreme. News reports and social media reinforce many perceptions of you. It doesn’t help that even the government forces a person to log in what they are doing and who they see at all times. Kayla Cottingham does a masterful job of navigating these subjects with the struggles of trying to live an old life that can never be lived again.

Suggestions for Curriculum & Classroom Use

Thematic Analysis:
The themes in this novel are relatable for teen and adult readers, making this text enjoyable,and  thought-provoking. Some thematic topics explored in this novel include:

  • Corruption of government
  • Survival of mass outbreaks
  • World disaster/pandemic
  • Cannibalism
  • Drug-Alcohol Use
  • Global warming
  • Discrimination
  • LGBT 

Essential Questions:

  • How do authorities react to a global pandemic?
  • What are the consequences of governmental reactions to a global pandemic on a population?
  • What is your view of the “fairness” of consequences to governmental decisions?
  • How do the traits/conditions we have no control over shape our lives?
  • Stereotyping is judging someone based on preconceived perceptions. How do those perceptions affect our lives? Futures?

Student Engagement Activities:

Choose one of the recent pandemics (Influenza epidemic of 1918 or Covid-19). Before reading the book, students should research the following topics and complete the first column below. As the class is reading the book, compare/contrast the book to real life.

Topic Pandemic Chosen: This Delicious Death ???
Genesis of Disease
Initial government response
Result of government response
Spread of disease
Governmental communication
with the public regarding the infection
Government final response to control the
Ultimate end of the pandemic
Day-to-day living-post pandemic
Post-pandemic cultural changes
Anything you’d like to add as a
result of your research

Formative and Summative Assessments:

Formative: The table above acts as a primary formative assessment. In the fourth column of the above table, students should create their own pandemic and develop all the elements researched and discussed in the book. 

Summative: Students create their own short story set in the post-pandemic they created in the table above.

Reviewed by: Matthew Callaghan, English Creative Writing Major at Colorado State University, Fort Collins Colorado.