Perfect Ruin


DeStefano, Lauren. Perfect Ruin. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013. 978-1442480612. 368 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

In this dystopian novel, the people of Internment live on a piece of land floating in the sky above the ground. Most citizens of Internment are content with their lives, but there are some who approach “the edge” in order to see what is beyond-or below. Morgan Stockhour’s older brother attempted the jump, and though he survived he has changed and become withdrawn. The story begins with the murder of a young girl, a scarce event which shocks the population. Soon, excerpts from the murdered girl’s school paper begin appearing, and these selections exhibit radical ideas about Internment. Morgan realizes the girl was a classmate of hers, and Morgan’s curiosity about what is beyond the edge and her need to know the truth causes her to try to find out what truly happened to the girl. She soon discovers that Internment is not as idyllic as she was taught or led to believe. The story has some twists and turns that will keep readers interested until the end, and the first-person narration assists with the element of mystery as the readers discover with Morgan the secrets of Internment. Students who enjoy dystopian fiction and are looking for something to read after The Hunger Games, Matched, or Divergent will enjoy this title. The ending is a cliffhanger, so be prepared to order the next in the series as soon as it is released.

Dystopian          Lindsey Myers, Peters Township HS

I generally enjoy dystopian fiction, and love seeing how authors design unique, futuristic or parallel worlds.  There has, however, been an abundance of this type of fiction ever since The Hunger Games became such a popular series. Thus, it can sometimes be hard to find a novel that can contend with that excellent trilogy by Suzanne Collins, or even the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth (especially since these have become movie blockbusters!).  Lauren DeStefano does attempt to do that with Perfect Ruin, and succeeds for the most part. I can absolutely see many teens enjoying this series and being eager to read the next installment. The writing is solid and there are many quotable passages. There is a love story between Morgan and her betrothed, Basil, but the main focus of the plot is the mystery surrounding Internment’s origins and why people are discouraged from approaching the edge.

I did recommend this book to a student who loved The Hunger Games and Matched, and she quickly downloaded it onto her Kindle to read. Since it has been difficult to keep any of the books from The Hunger Games or Divergent series on our shelves, I am eager to share this selection with other students and find out their thoughts on this new dystopian series. And whether or not they believe that it will join the line-up of numerous young adult novels being made into movies.

One…Night in Shanghai


Mones, Nicole. Night in Shanghai. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.  978-0547516172. 288 p. $25.00. Gr. 9+

Night in Shanghai tells the story of expatriate Jazz musicians living in China prior to the start of World War II and life in Shanghai before and after the Japanese takeover of the city. The story begins with African American piano player Thomas Greene arriving in Shanghai after being recruited by Lin Ming to lead a Jazz orchestra that plays in a club owned by Lin’s father Du Yuesheng, a notorious crime boss in Shanghai. Soon, Thomas becomes enamored with the lovely and passionate Communist Song Yuhua, who was sold to Du to repay her father’s debts. As long as Song is still a possession of Du’s, however, Thomas cannot be seen with her. Surrounding their love story is the contentious atmosphere in China during the Japanese invasion and the beginning of Hitler’s conquests in Europe. Many musicians begin to flee as the Japanese take over, but they are replaced by Jews fleeing from Nazi controlled countries in Europe. This story of star-crossed lovers gives an interesting and sometimes little known (to American students) depiction of the turmoil in China during the 1930s and 1940s. The cosmopolitan and diverse city of Shanghai is highlighted throughout, and some of the most enjoyable scenes are in the Jazz nightclubs and hotels, where the music is given center stage. The novel also provides a non-Western view of the Holocaust, since the author includes real events and people in her novel, and describes in detail the actions of one Chinese diplomat who risked his life to save many Jews. Recommend this story to young musicians who enjoy historical novels, or those who want to know more about the influence of the Holocaust in non-European countries.

Historical Fiction (China WWII)        Lindsey Myers, Peters Township HS

I picked up this book for two reasons: one, because it was a historical fiction and this genre is generally my go-to for summer reading; and two, because it incorporated an area of history that I am not that familiar with, that of the lives of Jazz musicians in China during the 1930s. I absolutely love getting lost in an historical fiction book during the summer, and flying away to different eras and times. While this title was not the best book I read this summer, it is definitely an interesting story that should appeal to a variety of students. It is not marketed as a YA book but has clear appeal to this population.

The story does start off a little slow, but once WWII begins and the main characters have more contact with each other and we learn more about each of them, about their hopes and dreams, and passions, the plot moves quickly. I have to note that my favorite parts of the book involved references and stories relating to the Holocaust. It was interesting to learn how the Jewish population was assisted by some Chinese diplomats and how many Jews were actually saved. The author includes an afterword detailing historical moments and characters, and the extensive research that she completed for the novel.

Our Honors English 10 students must all read one historical fiction novel as an independent reading selection, and I am excited to share this title with them. I often have musicians asking for interesting stories that incorporate music or depict the lives of famous musicians, or students interested in learning more about the Holocaust. And, this novel is not as lengthy as many historical fiction novels, so that is a big bonus with students as well! I look forward to reading other titles by this author.

A Moment Comes…2013 YA Fiction


Bradbury, Jennifer.  A Moment Comes.  New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013.  978-1-4169-7876-3. 288p. $16.99.  Gr. 7 and Up.

A Moment Comes is set in India during 1947.  Great Britain has given up its rule over the Country and is in the process of drawing the “Radcliffe Line”, the border designed to create a new Muslim nation (Pakistan).  This is the story of Margaret Darnsley, whose father is a cartographer working on the border.  It is also the story of Tariq, a Muslim teenager who desperately wants to study at Oxford, and Anupreet, a young Sikh woman whose face was slashed in a mob attack.  Tariq and Anu are employed in the Darnsley household.  Anupreet is Margaret’s maid and Tariq is Mr. Darnsley’s assistant.  As one might expect, there is some romantic tension between the three teens.  Margaret believes she is in love with the exotically handsome Tariq, but Tariq finds himself drawn to Anu.  None of these relationships are realized, however; the cultural and religious barriers between the three are simply too high.

The strength of this book is in its depiction of the ever increasing conflict between Muslims and Sikhs.  India is a very dangerous place at this time, although the unrest hasn’t really touched the people who are drawing the border.  The Darnsley’s own precarious situation changes when a mail bomb is delivered to their house. Tariq intercepts the package (sent by his childhood friend, Sameer) and endangers his own life in the process.  Tariq becomes a man without a home; he refuses to join his family in Pakistan, an Oxford education seems impossible, and he is now an enemy to India’s Muslim militants.  This novel’s ending seems abrupt and somewhat unrealistic, but this book is still highly recommended.  It depicts a time and place in history that is rarely discussed.  Margaret, Anupreet, and Tariq are very relatable and students may see themselves in these characters.  This book would be a useful complement to the study of Britain’s colonial history.

Historical Fiction (India, Mid-20th Century)   Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. High School

Medieval + Space + Cleopatra + Third Generation = New in Children’s Lit.

Martin, Ann M. Best Kept Secret: The Third Generation. (Family Tree Book Three).  New York: Scholastic, 2014. 978-0-545-35944-3. 219 p. $14.49. Gr. 3-6.
The book opens in July of 1977 as Francie is getting ready for school unexcited as she struggles to read due to dyslexia. A total of 19 chapters advance the book to August 1988.  During second grade she meets Kaycee, who becomes a best friend for life. Francie yearns for more independence during fourth grade but that is unsettled when she is almost abducted, and she does not share this happening with her parents. Shortly after, a girl is abducted in the area and is not found causing Francie not to act like herself and giving her a secret that she does not share.  There are secrets that she learns about her family, such as her great-uncle who has been living in a group home for a long time. Her beloved Adele, aunt to her mother Dana, battles against cancer and at that time learns her parents will be divorced. As Francie’s grandmother gets older, Dana volunteers to take care of Francie’s compassionate adult uncle who must always be supervised due to his condition. The epilogue brings the reader to June 1994 sharing that Francie has graduated college perusing writing like her mother, is married, pregnant and moving back to her childhood house.
Historical Fiction                    Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School
In truth, I have not read the first two books in the Family Tree series and it probably is a good idea to read the series in order. The book as a standalone did not present me with a close connection to Francie’s grandmother, mother, or other family members.  It is a novel concept to have the series span four generations and reading the books in order will best show this development. When suggesting this book to students, be certain that they have read the first two books before reading Best Kept Secret.
Jeffrey, Gary. Graphic Medieval History (series). New York: ABDO, 2014. 48 p. $23.54 each. Gr. 5-8
The Black Death. Illustrated by Alessandro Poluzzi.  978-0-7787-0400-3.
Castles. Illustrated by Nick Spender.  978-0-7787-0396-9.
Crusades. Illustrated by Terry Riley. 978-0-7787-0397-6.
The Dark Ages and The Vikings. Illustrated by Nick Spender.  978-0-7787-0401-0.
Knights. Illustrated by Nick Spender.  978-0-7787-0398-3-
Rebellion and Revolt. Illustrated by Terry Riley.  978-0-7787-0399-0.
Medieval history includes brutal events, and this series does not shy away from this truth. Each books begins with a two page spread on the featured topics and events such as Castle Buildings, Wars of Independence, After the Romans, Warrior Elite, and The First Crusades. The art is detailed showing the grandeur of castles and landscape, but also more graphic images such as the lancing of buboes, draining of blood, or sheep eating corpse as can be found in The Black Death. In addition, images in Crusades include severed heads in a basket, and blood covered ax with dead covered in of pools of blood. The section “Edward I Conquers Wales” in the book Castles, opens with the head of a sheriff and tax collector prominently displayed from the doorway showing the level of violence. The book follows up on the topic by providing a page spread of facts, artwork and other full-color images. A page spread glossary of terms is found in each book ranging from abdicated, phalanx to usurper. All books close with an index. With the wide variety of topic areas, this set provides a window into the medieval world with narrative, facts and artwork. Medieval history is most commonly found in the middle school curriculum and this series will help supplement lessons or projects but also serve as a general reading interest book for many students.
Medieval History; Graphic     Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School
Black Death (614.5) Castles (355.4) Crusades ( 909.07) Dark Ages (942.01) Knights ( 929.7) Rebellion (941.03)
Maihack, Mike. Cleopatra in Space. (Target Practice Book 1). New York: Scholastic, 2014.  978-0-545-52843-6. 169 p. $12.99 Gr. 3-6.
Science fiction is high flying with none other than a teenager Cleopatra in this full color graphic novel divided into three chapters. Cleo is about to turn fifteen years old at the start of the book and does not enjoy  algebra. Quickly, through her adventures, she is sent into the future, thought to be the Savior of the Nile Galaxy. In the new setting she must attend school at Yosiro Academy.  She becomes friends with her roommates Akila and Brian, a creative inventor making each moment exciting.  The fun will carry on with the next book in the series Book Two: The Thief and The Sword. This is a great book to introduce readers to graphic novels with striking artwork and an inventive story.
741.5  Graphic Novels; Science Fiction             Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

The Test(ing Trilogy) is Over…it’s Graduation Day!


Charbonneau, Joelle.  Graduation Day (Book 3, The Testing trilogy).  New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 9780547959214.  304 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

Graduation Day, the third and final book in The Testing trilogy, picks up where Independent Study left off.  The book follows Cia Vale, survivor of the brutal Testing and one of the University’s brightest and most promising students, as she seeks to uncover more information about the corrupt government, the Testing, and the imminent rebellion that threatens to ravage the United Commonwealth.  When she expresses her concerns about the Testing and the rebellion to the President, she is charged with eliminating several high-ranking officials in order to squash the rebellion and end the Testing itself.  While she knows she will not be able to execute the plan on her own, she questions which of her peers she can and cannot trust.  The future of the United Commonwealth lies on her shoulders, and Cia is forced to take chances on her classmates and risk lives as she struggles to succeed at this final test.  The strong female protagonist, dystopian society, plots turns, and questionable loyalties in this story are all reminiscent of The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies, and fans of those series will devour this one as well.

Dystopian                  Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

This series was actually recommended to me by a student while we were discussing The Hunger Games series.  As a fan of that series, she felt that I would enjoy this one as well.  She was not wrong.  Overall, I thought this was an excellent series with a lot of action and constant plot twists that kept me on the edge of my seat.  Cia was an extremely likable character, and the themes of loyalty and corruptness could spark some excellent classroom discussions.  Like the other books in the series, Graduation Day did not disappoint.  As an ending to the trilogy, however, it did leave a lot to the imagination in the form of unanswered questions.  Therefore, this may not be the series for those who enjoy tidy endings without loose strings.​

New YA Nonfiction…Historical Disasters and Art


Goldsmith, Connie. Bombs Over Bikini: The World’s First Nuclear Disaster. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2014. 978-14677-16123 88 p. $26.00 Gr. 7-Adult.

Post-World War II, in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the race was on to increase scientific knowledge of nuclear bombs and radiation, and to outmaneuver enemies with the knowledge.  Plans were made, locations investigated, and the Marshall Islands were deemed the ideal locale for detonations.  “Would you be willing to sacrifice your island for the welfare of all men?”  So asked a Commodore of the U.S. Navy of the Bikini Islanders in 1946.  The answer was yes, and the people left with hopes of returning.  But it was not to be.  Author Connie Goldsmith investigates these events and details in-depth how three bombs in particular were detonated, how the islands and people were affected, and how the government either knew very little or kept it hidden or both.  She presents A-bombs Able and Baker, detonated in 1946, and H-bomb Bravo, detonated in 1954.  The immediate devastation was powerful, and the long-term hazards of radiation were staggering.  In the 1980s the Marshallese were promised compensation but have received very little.  This is a powerful look at a tumultuous time, and students can weigh the moral and military, ethical and scientific.  Well-written, with engaging sidebars and purposeful black-and-white photos and an intriguing title, this book will pull in readers.  Source notes, Glossary, Selected Bibliography, Further Information, Index.

623.4; Disasters                      Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



McMullan, James. Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014. 978-161620-2522 113 p. Gr. 7-Adult.

James McMullan today is a distinguished artist, designer and children’s book award winner (for I Stink! with wife Kate), but his early life was wonderfully complex.  Born in 1934, McMullan lived the early years of his life in Cheefoo, China, as a privileged, hesitant (much to his father’s distaste) boy.  The grandson of missionaries who built a successful orphanage and resultant fabric business, his parents continued the work—and lifestyle—as esteemed foreigners.  That is, until World War II, when the Japanese took control of China.  His parents hoped to stay in the life they knew, but with increasing loss of freedoms and increasing fear, his parents opted for a dangerous leave.  In order to freely go, they left the vast majority of their material wealth and, importantly for James and his mother, any sense of stability.  While James and his mother returned to her Canadian family, but eventually skip-hopped the globe (Shanghai, San Francisco, Darjeeling, and so on), his father devoted himself to soldiering with the Allied Forces and for three years did not see his wife or son.  James artfully recalls standout memories of his life from 1934-1946 on double-page presentations, an exquisite watercolor opposite the description of the event and emotions.  He shows many ups and downs, from stability with his aunt and uncle, to the humiliation of “failing” at being the strong, sturdy son his father clearly wished him to be.  The striking artwork conveys both the preciseness and ethereal quality of a life lived learning to enjoy space and place, when neither was guaranteed.  A treat for budding artists or anyone interested in the worldwide effects of World War II.

741.6 Art; Autobiography                Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

As the Wolf Loves Winter…New YA Mystery by a PA author


Poyer, David.  As the Wolf Loves Winter. Charleston: Northampton House Press, 2014. 978-1-56895-379-3. $26.00. 323p. Grades 9 and up.

W.T. “Racks” Halvorsen knows the Kinningmahontawany, the most remote and isolated section of the forest, better than anyone else in town.  At a young age, he hunted and trapped in the forest and pumped oil from the ground as a grown man.  Now retired, he ventures into the forest for one last hike.  Some would call it closure, but Halvorsen senses an inexplicable mystery lurking somewhere in the deep, melancholy woods.  What he discovers will change lives forever, but only if he manages to escape from the ominous predators and live long enough to share his new-found discovery.  

Interwoven around Halvorsen’s story is Becky’s.  It’s hard to make friends when you move around, but practically impossible when a click of mean kids ostracize you.  Sometimes her stepdad appears indifferent, and her mother is preoccupied with Jammy’s illness. When Becky recalls a fairytale she used to tell Jammy at night, she ventures into the same woods looking for answers sometimes only found in fantasy.

The adventure and mystery are brought to life through captivating similes, and the raw beauty of the woods is reflected in the powerful figurative language.  Wolves have lived in the sinister woods of fairytales and haunted our nightmares since the dawn of time, but what if there was more to their story?

Mystery                       Christine Massey, JW Parker Middle School

As the Wolf Loves Winter is the third book in the Hemlock County series by David Poyer, a Pennsylvania native.  The series is set in Northwestern Pennsylvania.  It is a great PA author book to add to your collection.

Who I’m Not…new YA Realistic Ficiton


Staunton, Ted.  Who I Am Not. Victoria: Orca Book Publishers, 2013. 978-1-4598-0434-0. $12.95. 186p. Gr. 8 and up.

Danny has gone by countless names during the last few years, but that’s normal when you’re working with a conman.  Soon his life changes though; Harley is shot.  Danny now finds himself sitting in front of child services attempting to lie his way out of the keying incident.  He refuses to be placed back in foster care; never to revisit the “bad times”.  That’s when he decides to become Danny Dellomondo, missing kid.  When he’s reunited with the Dellomondo family, his acceptance is immediate and unquestioned even though he doesn’t resemble the real Danny all that closely.  His family may be willing to move on and look to a prominent future, but Detective Griffin refuses to let the case rest.  Ty, Danny’s drug-addict brother adds a certain nefarious element to the situation as well, so Danny continues to plan his escape as soon as he has the money.  In the end readers may find themselves wondering, who’s conning whom?

Realistic Fiction    Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

Danny is a despicable yet likable character.  Orphaned at a young age, he has experienced his share of abuse and mistreatment.  When Harley enters the story, he convinces Danny’s guardians to sell the boy, and Danny becomes an integral part of every con.  While he doesn’t trust anyone, he slowly opens his heart to Gillian.  Possibly because of her name, but something stronger than a simple connection to character from his favorite children’s story.  Gillian is living a life shrouded with rumors of her father’s promiscuity and squander, so she understands keeping secrets and maintaining anonymity. The two seem to be a perfect match, but destiny may not agree.

YOLO…Book 4 of the Internet Girls


Myracle, Lauren. Yolo (Internet Girls Book 4). New York: Amulet, 2014. ISBN 978-1419708718. 208 p.$16.95. Gr. 9 and up.

Maddie, Angela and Zoe, the girls of TTYL by Lauren Myracle, are back and beginning their freshman year of college in Lauren Myracle’s YOLO.  The three bffs are spread across the United States but keep connected through electronic messaging.  The girls quickly decide they need to get out and make friends¸ or they will be in their dorm rooms to wallow in self-pity.  Once they make the yolo pact, “You Only Live Once”, they make it a point to try new things.  Maddie, the boldest and furthest away, is boarding with a clique of local girls who were friends before going off to college. Trying to fit in with her suitemates, Maddie misses her boyfriend and two best friends—Zoe, devoted to her high school boyfriend, and Angela, the group’s soul virgin, who are tangled up in new friendships and relationships of their own.  Packed with personal conflict, the friends are always texting to keep up with each other’s drama.  There is so much going on with the girls, it’s hard to believe YOLO happens within a span of three months. An accurate representation of freshman year at different universities, readers will be able to relate to the story without having to read the first three in the series.

Realistic Fiction                                           Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School

This book reads almost as if a movie script.  An introduction to theater or film class could easily use this novel as an example of character and character development.  The girls use parenthetical inserts to show emotion and body language throughout the texts.  Even though the three friends are the primary characters, readers are still able to “meet” their friends and boyfriends through the text conversations.  Using this type of characterization, Myracle shows how to effectively build characters using what primary characters say about secondary characters.  Because of all the app and electronic references (Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.), it would pair nicely with an introduction to communications class, discussing the evolution of modes of communication and social media.  Finally, mature content (oral sex, gambling, date rape, and hazing), may turn some educators away from the novel.

August 2014 BOB Picture Books


DiPucchio, Kelly. Gaston. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014. 978-1-4424-5102-5. 40 p. $16.99. Gr. K-2.
Mrs. Poodle is the proud mother of four pups. Three perfect poodles, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La, and a fourth, Gaston. Gaston is completely different in every way. In looks, demeanor, and even in his name. Gaston happily tries his hardest to be like his siblings, but can never get it quite right. One afternoon Mrs. Poodle takes her four pups for a walk in the park where they stumble across a bulldog mother, 3 perfect bulldog puppies, Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno, and a fourth, Antoinette. Antoinette, is very different from her bulldog family too. Everyone grows silent as they realize that in every way, in looks, demeanor, and even in name, Gaston fits in with the bulldog family while Antoinette fits in with the poodle family. Thinking there must have been a mistake, Gaston goes home with the bulldogs and Antoinette with the poodles. While things seem right and look right after the trade, both families quickly agree that things just do not “feel right”. Despite the many differences and challenges, Gaston and Antoinette return to their own families where they are happiest.

This sweet, charming story provides a nice lesson in accepting and appreciating differences in others. I also like the point of appreciating the differences within ones own family. This would be a great addition to any story time or discussion focusing on unique family structures and dynamics.
Picture Book                    Lisa Naylor, Concord Elementary