An Infinite Moment in YA Fiction


Myracle, Lauren. The Infinite Moment of Us. New York: Amulet, 2013. 978-1-4197-0793-3. 316 p. $17.95. Gr. 10 +.
This heartwarming love story between Wren and Charlie begins just after high school graduation. However, their plans for the fall will take them in different directions, Wren to Guatemala and Charlie to Georgia Tech. Wren is an only child frustrated that she’s let her parents run her life. She followed their wishes and didn’t date during high school.  Charlie, a thoughtful foster child who is finally in a good home, works hard at his foster father’s shop. The summer heats up quickly as the author explicitly describes Wren and Charlie’s deep feelings and passion for one and other. An ex-lover complicates things and forces Wren to wonder if the pain of love is worth it. She struggles with jealousy and guilt when Charlie doesn’t put her first. In the end, we know they love each other deeply, but both Wren and Charlie believe the other doesn’t care. Wren considers staying home to be with Charlie, while Charlie is at the airport ready to join Wren in Guatemala.  The author’s skillful character development will draw readers in from the beginning. The language and graphic description of sexual behavior make this a book for older high school students.
Romance                    Michelle Hankin, Sandy Run Middle School

Taste Test What’s New in YA Fiction


Avasthi, Swati. Chasing Shadows. New York: Random House, 2013. 978-0-375-86342-4.  320 p. $ 17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Avasthi’s gritty novel, Chasing Shadows, is told in prose and enhanced by Craig Phillips graphic novel style illustrations of both the real world and the Shadowlands.  The Shadowlands, a world of superheroes, is seen by a young girl, Holly, while in a coma.  Corey and Holly are seventeen year old twins who along with their friend Savitri practice the dangerous hobby of freerunning across Chicago’s cityscape.  Savitri witnesses a hooded gunman target the twins, killing Corey and leaving Holly in a coma.  Holly awakens from the coma unable to cope with the death of her twin and becomes increasingly unstable.  Told through both verse and illustration, Holly’s emotional state manifests in the Shadowlands weaving together with her real life.  Savitri tries to be a friend to Holly while also grieving Corey, her boyfriend.  The book is fast paced and told through the alternating voices of Holly and Savitri.  This title is a good addition to graphic novel and fiction collections.

Urban, Fantasy (Mythology)              Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

This is a truly unique novel that blends text and hyper stylized graphic novel illustrations to tell a tough story about love and loss.  I found this book to be a good addition to my urban fiction collection but it will also appeal to student interested in mythology.  The Shadowlands world includes elements of both the real world, Chicago, and a mythological world of superheroes and villains taken from Hindu deities.  The content is graphic and best suited for high school and public library collections.



Black, Yelena. Dance of Shadows. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 973-1-59990-940-0. 384 p.  $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

A classic horror story wrapped up in the world of professional dance in New York City.  Vanessa follows her older sister, Margaret, to New York City as a member of the New York Ballet Academy, but like her sister she quickly finds herself drawn into the mystery of  rituals and demons in the basement of Lincoln Center.  Readers learn that Vanessa’s sister was cast in the role of a principal dancer and has since disappeared.  When Vanessa is cast in the same role she begins to piece together what happened to her sister.  This is a coming of age story with a classic horror storyline and a smattering of romance.  The romance is an after thought and does not add much to the main storyline, what happened to Margaret.  The eerie tale does not tie up all of the loose ends and is the first book of a planned trilogy.

Horror, Fantasy (Paranormal)                    Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Readers who enjoy creepy stories with a psychological twist will be drawn to the series.  However, several students had a difficult time reading the book with the many references to the world of dance and terminology.  There is a lengthy midsection that deviates from the mystery of what happened to Vanessa’s sister and sets up a lackluster love triangle.  Recommended for collections lacking in both horror and/or dance stories.



Blythe, Carolita. Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty Girl. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 978-0-375-99081-6. 336 p. $16.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Faye hates her Brooklyn Catholic school, her friends, her home life, and has been a victim of abuse for much of her life.  Along with two classmates Faye commits a robbery and during the groups get away knocks their elderly victim to the ground.  Racked with guilt she returns to the scene of the crime two days later to find the elderly woman still on the floor, but alive.  Faye helps to the woman to recover from her injuries, run errands for her, and cleans her house.  The woman Evelyn, now an aging former movie star befriends the fourteen year old and share with her much about acceptance and forgiveness.  The story unfolds slowly but Blythe examines what it means to be beautiful, realities of physical appearance, and taking responsibility for ones actions.

Realistic, Historical (1980’s New York)                 Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

I really enjoyed this complicated story of friendship and redemption set against the backdrop of 1980’s New York.  Blythe offers no easy answers or happy endings for her characters but instead examines the traits both good in and bad in all of us.  This coming of age story gives a glimpse inside the mind of a teenage girl who has suffered abuse but is not just a victim.  Faye, a teenager, realizes that she has been applying the same superficial judgements she objects to with herself to all of the people in her life.  Although her mistakes are not easily fixed she shows maturity in dealing with the gritty realities of daily life.  The story although set in a different decade will appeal to teen seeking characters they can relate to who are also struggling with their identities.



Cherry, Alison. Red. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 978-0-385.74293-1. 320 p.  $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Felicity St. John is the IT girl of Scarletville.  As a red haired girl in a town where red hair is a sign of status and beauty she is poised to be Miss Scarlet.  However, all of her plans are put to the test when someone in town discovers that her red hair is from a bottle.  Felicity finds herself at the mercy of a blackmailer and must complete any task asked of her.  Embracing ones flaws is a theme throughout the novel although told in a light hearted manner.  The mystery is witty but has many elements that will hit home with teenage girls.  The story will challenge readers to reconsider how they define beauty and find beauty in their own selves.  A lighthearted addition for high school library collections looking for mysteries without the angst.

Mystery, Realistic                                       Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

The premise for this story may seem silly at first, but the themes of acceptance and self worth will resonate with readers.  The story makes many interesting points of examining social standing and teenage issue of acceptance both with oneself and the world around them.  Although not a must have title a good book to pair with other popular realistic fiction and girl power centric titles.



Doller, Trish. Where the Stars Still Shine. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 978-1-616963-144-1. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Callie has never known what it is like to have a stable home or a place to even call home.  She and her mother have been on the run since she was a young child.  The running comes to end when her mother is arrested for her kidnapping ten years later.  Upon being returned to her family and father Callie learns all that her life could have been and how to move on with her new life.  The transition is not easy and Callie who has never been to school has many hurdles to her happily ever after.  A good addition for romantic realistic fiction titles in high school libraries.

Realistic                                                                                                                Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Callie may not have had the life of an average teen but students in my school found her struggles relatable.  Many students have home lives that involve separated parents, step parents, and unique living situations.  Although Callies situation is extreme with a parental kidnapping her introduction to a new life and living situation rang true for my students.  Doller writes in a very moving manner that allows the reader to commiserate with Callie’s pain but also see past the hurt to what live could be like for those willing to change their outlook.  The outlook for Callie require her to accept the good and bad parts of her life in order to move forward with a new life as a complete person.  Complex issues ranging from mental illness, parental neglect, and trauma make the text cathartic for those dealing with similar situations.



Durst, Sarah Beth. Conjured. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 978-0-8027-3458-7. 368 p.  $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Eve does not know who she is, where she has been, or why she is part of a witness protection program.  Her memory problems are compounded by the fact that every time she uses magic she blacks out and loses large chunks of time.  The novel is a blend of magical worlds, psychological thrills, and teen romance.  Durst’s writing is describes the truly grotesque violence and magical transformations of characters is great details.  There is a Twilight Zone tone to the book that anything could happen and even the writer might not know what is real and what is only in one’s imagination.

Fantasy (Paranormal)                                                                                      Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

This story is a tale of what appears on the outside to be a typical young girl who shelves books at the local library but in actuality is a person who can wield the powers of magical.  Due to Eve’s memory loss and the story being told in a first person narration they learn along with Even bits and pieces to the mystery of her life.  The title is a good fit for paranormal fans and would be a good addition for high school collections.



Feinstein, John. Foul Trouble. New York: Random House, 2013. 97800-375-86964-8. 400p.  $16.99. Gr. 9 and up.

The number one high school basketball player, Terrell Jamerson, is close to having it all or losing it all.  The outcome all depends on Terrell’s ability to hold true to himself and learning who he can trust in his life.  Terrell’s teammate and friend, Danny, also must decide if quick money is worth risking eligibility to play in college.  The story is told by a third person narrator and the alternating voices of each young boy throughout their senior year of high school.  Readers will be able to relate to both young boys’ struggle of family obligations and making good choices for the future.  The book concludes with a press conference where each boy announces their plans post high school.  This title is timely and touches upon several real life sports issues; recruitment incentives, NCAA officials, and the exploitation of young athletes.

Urban                                   Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Sports books are hard to find for high school students and Feinstein’s latest novel is a must have addition for high school collections.  I found myself eagerly reading this title to find out what Terrell and Danny do after graduation and the impact each’s decisions have not only on their futures but their families.  Students found the characters realistic and taught me more about college level athletics and the recruitment process through a book talk on the title.  A great addition and a must have for high school libraries looking for titles for male patrons.



Fiore, Kelly. Taste Test. New York: Walker Books, 2013. 978-0-8027-2838-8. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Reality television is a mainstay on television and for Nora Henderson it is her chance to make her culinary dreams come true with a $50,000 scholarship to study cooking in Paris.  As a contestant on Taste Test, Nora finds herself embroiled in behind the scene antics, love triangles, and sabotage.  The food descriptions throughout the book are detailed and will have readers hungry for more books by Fiore that combine food, mystery, and romance as the perfect recipe for reading.

Mystery, Realistic                       Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Fiore’s debut novel is a refreshing story that is accessible to readers and rooted in the reality of teenagers’ social media lives.  The story is fast paced and quickly introduces characters who are part of the reality landscape we have all come to know on television.  Students who love reality shows, especially those such as Top Chef, will enjoy this book.  The narrator, Nora, is the everygirl and will be relatable for teens despite the circumstances of her life.  I highly recommend this title for high school collections.



Klein, Lisa. Love Disguised. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 978-1-59990-968-4.  320 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Williams Shakespeare longs for life in London and finds love triangles, mistaken identities, villains, and inspiration for what will become the classic plays readers will recognize from their English classes.  Fact and fiction are woven together in this book to reimagine Shakespeare’s  youth through vivid writing that is full of historical details.  The endnotes provide a full historical context, story inspiration, and further reading suggestions to complete the tale of what happened to young Shakespeare.

Historical (Elizabethan England)              Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

This book is a great extension of what students may learn in English classes about both Shakespeare’s personal life and the lives of those in Elizabethan England.  The story is focused on Shakespeare’s move from Stratford to London and his early romances that shaped his writing and inspired some of his most well known characters.  The language Klein uses is authentic to the time period and will be difficult for some readers.  However, those who continue reading the entire book will be rewarded with a rewarding story of friendship and romance.  An excellent title to use as an extension for English classes studying Shakespeare.


Starry-eyed: 16 Stories That Steal the Spotlight. New York: Running Press, 2013.978-0-7624-4949-1.  400 p. $9.95. Gr. 9 and up.

A collection of short stories by some of the most popular young adult authors examines how difficult the teen years can be for anyone.  Characters in many of the stories feel out of place in their everyday lives and experiences but are able to find acceptance on stage through creative outlets.  Throughout the book are personal stories from many current day performers.  Readers do not need to be fans of the various authors and performers to relate with their own experiences growing up and growing into who they will become despite common teenage problems such as; insecurity, jealousy, young love, etc.

Realistic (Short Stories)               Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Students will enjoy reading not only the short stories but also the biographical sketches about their favorite performers and what their lives were like prior to fame.  The stories will resonate with readers and touch on many issues about self and acceptance that teenagers face daily in their lives.  The introduction written by Clay Aiken is touching and explores the theme about what it means to be true to oneself.  The short stories are focused on art and performing as more than an extracurricular but instead focus on each as a vocation or calling.  Highly recommended for high school collections.



Tabu, Melinda. Still Star-Crossed. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 978-0-385-74350-1. 352 p. $16.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Students who have already read Romeo and Juliet will recognize the main characters in Still Start-Crossed as supporting player now left to pick up the pieces after the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.  The novel is billed as a sequel to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet following the arranged marriage of Rosaline and Benvolio’s tale as historical fiction, detective story, and an action packed adventure tale.  The fast paced story brings a happy ending to what has been known as a tragic tale by focusing on the supporting characters from the original text.

Historical (16th Century Verona), Mystery                                                Robin Burns, Salisbury High School           

Tabu’s book works as either a stand alone novel or as an extension of the original work, Romeo and Juliet.  A great mix of old and new this story is unique and allows readers to access a piece of literature in a more tangible way with supporting characters.  I like many who have read Shakespeare often wondered what happened to those left behind.  This title is a good extension text or stand alone for its rich story and attention to detail of the original work.



Wallace, Sandra Neil. Muckers. New York: Random House, 2013. 978-0-375-86745-5.  288 p.  $16.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Based on a true story, Wallace’s novel examines small town life coping with the economic and political realities of life after World War II in America.  The story is complemented by excerpts from local newspapers that provide the feel for what life was like during this time of change and reexamination of what life was like in America.  The true events of a racially mixed high school football team’s last season in Arizona and their final chance to win the state championship.  The town’s mines are no longer profitable and with the loss of jobs the 1950 year’s team will be the last in history for Hartley, Arizona.  Readers without much knowledge of football will enjoy the historical context and individual stories of players on the scrappy team of “Muckers”.

Historical (1950’s Arizona), Realistic            Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

This story will appeal to readers who gravitate towards sports stories but also those who enjoy historical fiction.  There is a vintage feel to the story and knowing that the events described are based upon what really took place in one small Arizona town decades ago.  The fast pacing of the story with shorter chapters makes the text suitable for students in middle school through high school.  Several of my students who are not regular patrons have checked out this title and found it an accessible read due to the language used and details about something they are interested in, football.  I highly recommend adding this title to both middle and high school collection in need of sports stories.  Many of the social issues discussed in history classes such as integration of sports team, the Chicano rights movement, and Mccarthyism are tacked in this highly engaging book.



Zarr, Sara and Tara Altebrando. Roomies. New York: Little Brown & Co, 2013. 978-0-316-21749-1.  288 p. $18.00.  Gr. 9 and up.

A coming of age story and right of passage in many young people’s lives, going away to college, is explored through two very distinct voices of popular young adult author, Zarr and Altebrando.  Two college roommates begin to influence each other lives prior to move in day through emails the summer of their freshman year.  Elizabeth Owens lives in New Jersey and ready to leave behind her life for Berkeley to study landscape architecture.  Lauren is staying closer to home a San Francisco native who is used to sharing with five siblings was hoping for a single dorm but through email exchanges both girls share personal information and their life stories.  By the end of the summer both girls believe their rooming assignment may just work out their freshman year.  The main characters back stories are engaging and the supporting cast of family members and friends add depth to each girl’s story.  This book is recommended for high school collections due to the realistic and difficult topics covered including divorce, child abandonment, prejudice, etc.

Realistic                                  Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Zarr and Altebrando alternately narrate the entire book as each character, Elizabeth and Lauren, while maintaining two unique stories coming together through a random roommate assignment.  Readers will enjoy both girls unique story and find many similarities with each’s lives as well as difference.  This title works well in a high school library and has been read continuously since being added to my high school collection.  Student who enjoyed the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series as younger readers will find several similarities to the style and tone of the book.  However, Zarr and Altebrando take what could have been a very formulaic plot and make each character’s struggles come to life for the reader.


Are Experienced in YA Fiction?


Sonnenblick, Jordan. Are You Experienced? New York:  Little, Feiwel and Friends, 2013. 978-1250025647. 294p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Fifteen-year-old Rich gets caught playing guitar at a protest rally and feels the frustration of his depressed dad’s silence coming down on him. He breaks into his dad’s office and finds his dad’s treasured signed Jimi Hendrix guitar and decides to play it. With just one chord, Rich is transported back in time to Woodstock and meets his dad and his older brother who will overdose on heroin within weeks after the concert is over. Over the three day festival, Rich gets to know his fifteen- year-old dad and his uncle and meets an assortment of characters including Jimi Hendrix himself.  At times this story seems to glorify the drug and sex scene at Woodstock, but it also shows the negative effects of such reckless behavior. Not sure if many teens today will be able to pick up on all the cultural and musical references of the novel, but I did and enjoyed them.

This novel takes on the age old theme of what were our parents like at our age and what happened to them to make them the way they are today as parents. Rich’s father is overly protective of him and is afraid that he will get involved in drugs and overdose and kill himself like his brother did. I think this book does a good job of helping teens understand that we may not know our parents very well or understand them, but both dialogue and communication can help in just about any situation.

Fantasy                                        Marian Kohan, Erie School District



Strasser, Todd. Fallout. Massachusetts:  Candlewick Press, 2013.  978-0763655341. 258p. $18.00. Gr. 7-12.

This book takes an interesting look at the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and shows what would have happened to an average family if the nuclear bombs were dropped. Ten year-old Scott’s family is the joke of the neighborhood when Scott’s father decides to build a bomb shelter in their backyard to keep their family of four alive and safe for two weeks in the event that there is a war.  Even though the talk of war and bombs is everywhere, only Scott’s dad has prepared for the unthinkable. When the war does begin and bombs do drop, there is absolute panic in the neighborhood as everyone wants their family to be protected in the shelter. (Do you remember the Twilight Zone episode on the same topic?) Chaos ensues and by the time the door closes on the shelter there are ten people inside with barely enough supplies for four.  Scott’s mother is also injured in the melee and what later transpires is an honest and raw look at humans behaving mainly at their worst as they hope to survive.

Realistic                                   Marian Kohan, Erie School District

I really liked this book. The story is told from Scott’s point of view which is perfect and the use of flashbacks every other chapter to tell the back story also works well.  A student who liked read the book was not familiar with the Cuban Missile Crisis and then read more about it to get a feel for the history involved. He did like the book.

Just One isn’t Enough


Forman, Gayle. Just One Year. New York: Dutton, 2013. 978-0-525-42592-2. 323 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Picking up not from where Just One Day ends, but instead from the middle of the book when Allyson awakes to find Willem gone, Just One Year is the story of Willem’s trials and tribulations (and lots of travels) following his day with Allyson (i.e. Lulu) until her return to his home in Amsterdam one year later.  The novel opens as Willem awakes in Paris the morning after his day with Allyson to sirens, bright lights, and people asking his name.  He does not know where he is, but he knows he was doing something prior to ending up in the hospital; he just does not know who or with whom.  As his memories return, Willem realizes that he’s left Lulu alone and must return to her, but he cannot remember where he left her, so he begins his quest to find Lulu with Celine, who is useless, and ultimately find himself.  As Willem continues traveling the world, (Paris, home to Utrecht, The Netherlands, to Deauville, France, back home to Utrecht, on to Cancun, Valladolid, and Merida, Mexico, home to Mumbai, India (where he stars in a movie) with Yael, his mother, and finally back to Amsterdam), he is not only looking for Lulu and double happiness, but forgiveness and closure from the death of Bram, his father, and the loss of his relationship with Yael, his mother; something that he could not find standing still.  Through his travels and those he meets along the way, (Kate, the Ruckus theatre director and cofounder, his friends back in The Netherlands, Prateek, Yael herself, and finally Daniel, his uncle) Willem is able to reconnect with himself, and recognize that loss is not the end, but the beginning towards discovery, which Forman reconnects for us from Just One Day with a production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It.  “There’s a difference between losing something you knew you had and losing something you discovered you had.  One is a disappointment.  The other is truly a loss.  I didn’t realize that before.  I realize that now” (89).  Although this sequel to Just One Day, may disappoint readers who wanted the story to begin where the first one ended (with Allyson back in Amsterdam at Willem’s door), it will not disappoint readers who fell in love with Willem in just one book.

Realistic Fiction         Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

I have to admit that after finishing Just One Year (and while reading it), I wasn’t sure what to make of this follow up.  I loved (I can’t express it enough) Just One Day (I love Gayle Forman; she totally  rocks, and is so humble about her writing) and her previous novels If I Stay and Where She Went.  In Where She Went, I fell in love with Adam and was expecting the same with Willem, but I didn’t.  I wanted Just One Year to pick up where Just One Day left off, so when it didn’t I was disappointed.  I wanted the epic love story between Allyson and Willem, but instead it felt like a story of a whiny rich-kid who can’t accept anything, which I know it wasn’t, but felt like at times.  I understand the point of the second novel to develop Willem and his story, but it read more as a companion novel than a sequel.  

During a book club discussion of Just One Year (we loved Just One Day so chose this novel with great anticipation), all of the students had similar thoughts, essentially “What just happened?”  They enjoyed the travels and descriptions of the places and characters Willem met (especially Prateek, we all loved him), but we could not figure out why Forman chose this route for the novel.  It did get us thinking, so perhaps that was her intent.  All we can hope for is that this becomes a trilogy (perhaps Just After or The Next Day; maybe even Just Met) because we all need to know what happens with Allyson and Willem.  Although, we all agreed that the end was very touching as Willem thinks of Bram’s story of meeting Yael and just kissing her, and then he kisses Allyson.

Finally, I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the novel.  “It was just one day and it’s been just one year.  But maybe one day is enough.  Maybe one hour is enough.  Maybe time has nothing at all to do with it” (303).


Legendary Science Fiction

Lu, Marie. Prodigy: A Legend Novel. New York: Putnam Juvenile, 2013. 987-0-399-25676-9. $17.99. 374p. Gr. 8 and up.
Marie Lu continues the action where Legend concluded.  Day and June have managed to escape the Republic and the General and are trainbound to Low Angeles.  They intend to seek aid from the Patriots, and convince them to help Day find and rescue his brother.  Razor, the Patriot leader, has other plans for them.  When the Elector Primo suddenly dies and his son takes his place, the Patriots see an opportunity to spark a rebellion.  June will return to Denver and work with the new Elector.  She will participate in the Patriots’ plan to assassinate him, and Day will pull the trigger.  As June becomes close to Elector Anden, she realizes how different he is from his father and how much he needs her help and Day’s to create a new regime for the people.  If only she can message Day in time to thwart the plan.Romance between Day and June escalates and long distance creates tension as well.  Trust becomes an issue on their long-distance relationship as Tessa, who has always been like a sister to Day, reveals her affection for him and Anden begins to fall for June.  The two continue to alternate the narration keeping the reader on the edge of his seat trying to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s the double agent.

Science Fiction                            Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

Whenever a student walks into my library excited to tell me about a book she liked, chances are I have to read it, too.  One of my eighth graders introduced me to the Legend Trilogy.  Admittedly, she doesn’t always like to read but found herself unable to put this book down.  Now I recommend it to readers who are looking for something along the lines of Matched or Divergent.


Jarzab, Anna. Tandem (Many Worlds Book 1). New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 978-0-385-74277-1. 431p. $15.34. Gr. 7 and up.
Sasha’s parents were tragically killed in an accident when she was young, so she lives with her grandfather.  Ever since she has led a typically unremarkable life with a unrelenting feeling that she doesn’t truly belong.  When the cutest boy in school, Grant, asks her to the prom, she almost can’t believe her good fortune.  Too bad he’s a young man by the name of Thomas from a parallel universe on a mission to kidnap her.  Once they arrive in Aurora, Sasha learns she is an analog, or counterpart to the Princess Juliana.  The princess was recently kidnapped, and Sasha must take her place and marry Prince Callem in order to prevent a war between his country and hers.  If anyone will discover her true identity, it would be the Queen, Juliana’s stepmother.  In the midst of mystery and conspiracy, romance blooms.  While Thomas has not been completely forthcoming with the plans or his background, Sasha can’t help but begin to fall for him.  Prince Callem has also developed a fondness for Sasha, who he believes is the princess.  As the truth unravels and secrets are revealed, the General of Aurora has different intentions for the analog and Thomas, one entwined with a universal war looming in the near future.

Science Fiction                            Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

Sasha is a strong, delightful character.  The love triangle will keep readers interested, even through the scientific explanations of the eccentric scientist.  The surprise ending will have readers impatiently anticipating the next installment.


Belle Epoque


Ross, Elizabeth. Belle Epoque. New York: Delacorte, 2013. 978-0-385-74146-0. 323 p. $17.99. Grades 7 and up.

In Belle Epoque, Paris, anything goes, but it’s what “anything is” that leads Maude Pichon to question the truth behind Parisian society.  In her William C. Morris Honor Award debut, novelist Elizabeth Ross integrates the beauty of French noir with the truth of historical fiction.  Maude Pichon has run away from her home in Brittany to Paris to avoid a future bleaker than her present.  With little money and no friends, Maude answers an ad for the Durandeau Agency, an agency that provides services to society women for outings, balls, and other events in which one must look her best.  In other words, Durandeau is profiting off the insecurities of society women by providing them with “foils” – plain women to stand beside their client and make them look more beautiful and desired.  As Parisian society sets up for another “season”, Maude finds herself working for the Countess Dubern, a wretched woman whose daughter Isabelle must never know that Maude is “hired help”.  As Maude begins to befriend Isabelle, she realizes that Isabelle is not her mother, and her desire for knowledge and a future of her own is the same desire that brought Maude herself to Paris.  This is a wonderful story about a time period not often portrayed in YA fiction.  Ross seamlessly connects timeless wants for freedom and independence to a period of history in which these characteristics were incredibly limited for women.  This is a beautiful French bildungsroman.

Historical Fiction                  Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

I am not a French history buff, so I had no idea what Belle Epoque was when I picked up this novel.  In fact, I only started reading it because of the cover art.  I was intrigued by the noir style of the photograph on the cover.  I was quickly pleased to find the story was just as interesting as the cover art (perhaps you can judge a book by its cover).  Maude Pichon is a lovely young girl trying to find her way in a big city.  This seems like a repetitive story, but set in Belle Epoque Paris, it takes on a beauty that is not always found in coming-of-age YA fiction. It is hard to explain, but Maude seems so true, not innocent, but something about her grasped me as the reader and made me want to continue with her story.  She makes tons of mistakes, but her flaws are what make her real.  I also loved Ross’s characterization of the Countess Dubern, a woman who has everything and yet has nothing.  The realism of this historical piece is what hit me immediately.  This story could happen today: a “fake friend” with a horrible mother-daughter relationship; a realization that I can do more for myself, and a friendship out of nothing.  Yet, set in Belle Epoque gives it a magic that is not found in our society today.

As a curriculum tie-in, I might suggest this to a French teacher to pull in aspects of French history and culture.  Students may not need to read the entire novel, but the settings and descriptions of repoussoirs are very interesting and will add to students’ general knowledge of French historical culture.  This is also a wonderful book for literary analysis, especially if using contemporary fiction.  It is a great novel for questioning how literature reflects life, especially historical fiction.

Time to PANIC


Oliver, Lauren. Panic. New York, HarperCollins, 2014. 978-0-06-201455-9. 408p. $17.99 Gr. 9+.

The underground game of Panic surges through the small town of Carp, New York like electricity, pushing its players to near hysteria….forcing them to confront their biggest fears.  It changes everyone, affects their lives one by one.  Heather Nill and Dodge Mason are just two of the players in the game and each are playing Panic for different reasons.  Heather is the daughter of an alcoholic, drug addicted partier who initially wants to play so she can prove to herself that she’s not a loser, but ends up playing to provide for herself and her 12 year old little sister.  Dodge is solely playing for revenge.  Since his older sister was paralyzed two year earlier when she was one of the last two players left in the game, his only motivation is to hurt the family who destroyed his sister’s dreams.

Lauren Oliver effectively creates empathy for each character.  Readers will root for both Heather and Dodge to be the lone survivor knowing that only one person can win.  The supporting cast is rich with personality, filled with love and their own unique lives.  The alternating chapters between Heather and Dodge allow both male and female readers to enjoy the high intensity story.

Fantasy         Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School


Meloy, Maile. The Apprentices. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013. 978-0-399-16245-9. 407 p. $16.99. Gr. 5-9.

In her follow up to The Apothecary (2011), Meloy once again integrates historical fiction, mystery, magic, and little bit of mayhem.  Set in 1954, just two years after Janie first meets Benjamin, Janie Scott has returned to school in the U.S.   Continuing to develop her scientific knowledge and understanding of chemical reactions and atomic breakdowns, Janie is a star student at the elite Grayson Academy, that is until she is turned in for “cheating” and kicked out of school right when she’s about to make a breakthrough in her desalination experiment.  Meanwhile, Benjamin Burrows and his father are continuing their work against atomic development in the jungles of the South Pacific.  As Janie’s world and work begin to unravel, she realizes that she and Benjamin are not that far apart, yet she cannot connect to Benjamin in time to save him (and herself) as the evil Magnusson makes his move to change the world forever.

Historical Fantasy               Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

I loved this follow-up to Maile Meloy’s, The Apothecary.  Meloy does an amazing job of writing in such a way that the reader is fully consumed by the story and can easily place the setting, characters, conflict, and plot in a historical period.  This novel screams fantasy through the integration of magic and unrecognizable (at least for me) science, yet also is firmly placed in the Cold War period of U.S. history.  Her ease of integration between the history and fantastical is what allows the story to move freely, quickly, and easily.  Meloy swiftly integrates new characters in this follow-up novel, yet it feels like they have been here all the time.  I hated Opal, the Magnussons, and Janie’s headmaster, yet quickly integrated Raffaello into the story as though he had been in the first.  And then there’s Pip; who doesn’t love Pip.

Although I would have liked to have seen more direct connections between Benjamin, Janie, and the science, I did enjoy how the characters and fantastical were connected.  I liked the back story of Jin Lo and learning about her mysterious past, but I wanted to see more integration with her story; it felt separated from the rest.  I also wanted to see more with Janie’s kidnapping and more back story for Magnusson and his “reign of terror” on the world.

Overall, I found The Apprentices a quick read and very interested.  I hope to see more of Janie Scott and Benjamin Burrows soon.

Text and Screen – Film Tie-in


Napoli, Donna Jo.  Storm.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014.  978-1-4814-0302-3. $17.99.  Grades 9 and up.

Sebah is the sixteen year old daughter of a Canaanite farmer and his wife.  The beans she grows with her brothers to sell at the market help support the family.  One day, while Sebah and her brothers are preparing beans for sale, it begins to rain.  No one thinks anything of the rain at first, but the rain grows stronger and doesn’t stop.  Sebah loses her family in the resulting flood and can only survive by climbing the tallest tree she can find.  Her tree attracts two other refugees: a small kitten she calls “Screamer” and a young man named Aban.  Aban claims Sebah as his wife and the three of them survive as well as they can, until a lightning strike forces them off the tree and onto a handmade raft.  Sebah watches helplessly as Aban grows weaker.  When their raft gets caught on a rope going up to a great ship, she decides to climb the rope and becomes a stowaway on Noah’s Ark.

Sebah sneaks into a cage with two bonobos and lives in the shadowed corners of their pen.  During her time as a stowaway on the ark, she comes to know Noah’s family and feels their hopelessness at being stuck on the ark.  Sebah is also carrying Aban’s child and will one day give birth on the boat.  This story follows the human and animal inhabitants of the ark through forty rainy days (and the three hundred plus days it takes for the water to recede from the Earth).  After some time on the ark, Sebah meets Og, another stowaway, who becomes her partner and adoptive father to her child on the new Earth.

This was a fascinating novel.  It provided a glimpse into the life of a regular family living in Biblical times and gave new depth to the story of Noah.  Noah and his family members, like families throughout time, have distinct personalities and experience conflict. The author also manages to give the animals in this novel their own characteristics/behaviors.  The portrayal of the bonobos was especially multi-faceted; these primates play, express sadness and anger, and mate (a lot).  Sebah, the center of the novel, is a caring young woman.  She is not particularly religious, but she has a nurturing soul; she even grows seedlings in the animal dung found on the ark.  The novel talks about things like sex and childbirth in a matter of fact (but not detailed) way.  For example, Aban forces himself on Sebah sexually because it is the way a man would claim a woman as his wife at that time.  These elements could cause this book to be controversial with certain audiences.  Storm might also be controversial with those who view the Bible  as the literal word of God, since Donna Jo Napoli does take liberties with the Noah’s Ark story.   Teens will see themselves in Sebah, however, with her resourcefulness and willingness to fight for her family.  This book is highly recommended.

Historical Fiction (Biblical Era)                Susan Fox, Washington Jr/Sr High School

New Steampunk 2013


Gleason, Colleen.  The Clockwork Scarab.  San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2013.  978-1-4521-1070-7. $17.99.  Grades 8 and up.

Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes are prominent members of society in a steampunk Victorian London.  Evaline’s brother is the famous author Bram Stoker and Mina’s uncle is Sherlock Holmes.  The young women share the talents of their distinguished family members; Evaline is a vampire hunter and Mina is a skilled investigator.  One day, the two receive a summons to the British Museum by Miss Irene Adler, who has been retained by The Princess of Wales to solve a mystery.  Prominent young women of society are disappearing and being found murdered.  It is the Princess’ hope that these crimes can be solved in a discreet manner, and it is the reason that Evaline and Mina have been summoned.

Mystery, Steampunk Fiction                                    Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. High School

Evaline and Mina begin investigating the crimes, and come to discover that the girls who have disappeared were involved in a secret cult based on Egyptology.  The more they discover about the mysterious cult, and its message of liberation for females, the more danger they put themselves in.  Fortunately, they are not alone in their efforts to discover more about the cult.  Other story characters include Inspector Grayling from Scotland Yard, Pix (a mysterious figure who always seems to be nearby when needed), and Dylan Eckhert (a time traveler).  The male characters add different perspectives to the story, as well as some romantic interest.

This story is not wrapped up in a neat package by its end; there will be more adventures involving Mina, Evaline, and the other characters.  I thought this was an engaging mystery and the steampunk version of Victorian London is very atmospheric.  The best thing about the novel was the relationship between the two main characters.  Mina is proper, intelligent, and an expert at logical reasoning.  She has many insecurities, though.  Evaline is beautiful, physically strong (essential for a vampire hunter), and decisive.  However, her decisiveness can quickly turn into impulsiveness.  The two young women don’t like each other at the beginning of the book, but they grow to appreciate each other’s talents.  Their abilities are complementary, and I am looking forward to more novels featuring Mina Holmes and Evaline Stoker.