Mafia Girl

Blumenthal, Deborah. Mafia Girl. Chicago: Albert Whitman & Company, 2014. 978-0-8075-4911-7.  $16.99. Gr. 8 and up.
Gia is New York’s current cutting-edge bad girl.  Circulating rumors affiliate her family, and father more importantly, to the mob, so kids at school either revere or avoid her.  She only has two genuine friends she can trust, Ro and Clive.  When she’s joyriding with her bestie Ro in a borrowed car, Officer Cross or “McHottie” pulls them over and issues multiple citations as Gia’s conspicuous flirting and crude mouth build sensual tension.  At the station, Super Mario, the family lawyer, smooths over the incident, but Gia can’t get the young, gorgeous officer out of her head.  Her innocent schoolgirl crush soon turns to obsession as she stalks him at his local hangouts, hoping for a hot and steamy makeout session.  When she confides in Clive, he helps her look into her crush’s past with the help of his hacking skills and father’s state-of-the-art computer only to discover a shocking secret link between the two families that may doom the star-crossed lovers before they have a chance at real intimacy.
While it’s tempting to view Gia as a pampered diva, there’s an underlying sweetness about her character shown subtly in the way she interacts with Clive and her family.  Accustomed to getting what she wants, Michael Cross is a unique ambition since he refuses Gia’s advances in spite of his own growing attraction.  Irreconcilable family backgrounds, promiscuous rendezvous, and intense passion all speak to the excitement and ardor of first love.

Realistic Fiction    Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

China Dolls…Adult fiction for Young Adults


See, Lisa. China Dolls. New York: Random House, 2014. 978­0812992892. 400 p.$27.00. Gr.10+.

Lisa See has again struck gold with her latest novel, China Dolls. Similar to her past novels, the story tells of the relationships among Asian women and comments on the racial and gender inequalities that occurred in American history. This novel takes place entirely in the United States, mainly San Francisco, before, during, and after WWII. The plot centers around three girls who meet and become dancers in Chinese nightclubs in San Francisco. Grace arrives in San Francisco after fleeing her small town in Ohio
to escape her abusive father. She meets Helen, a member of a wealthy family but also a young widow with a sad past. They team up with Ruby, a Japanese dancer who is masquerading as Chinese in order to get a job in a club. Their lives are forever intertwined as they fight for higher positions in nightclubs and the entertainment world, the affections of men, and the affection they feel for each other as WWII begins and their lives change. The story is told in alternating chapters in first person by each girl.  Through this technique, the reader gains insight into the actions of each woman and the author creates characters that are multidimensional and engaging while evoking a feeling of sympathy for each girl that would have been noticeably absent had the story been told from one point of view. In keeping with See’s style, the book is extensively researched and brings to light a somewhat lost part of history while engaging the reader in a wonderful story of the relationships among Chinese and Japanese men and women in the 1940s. Give this title to students who enjoy historical fiction and want to read about the homefront during WWII.

Historical (WWII) Fiction   Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School
I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Lisa See at the National Book Festival in August, and I just happened to be reading China Dolls during that time. I was delighted to hear more about Lisa See’s experience and research while preparing to write and subsequently writing this engaging novel.  Her style is reminiscent of Amy Tan, who I absolutely love. I still remember buying all of Tan’s books on ebay when I was in high school, and proudly display them on my shelf to this day. I loved Tan’s descriptions of the interactions between mothers and daughters, and See’s similar method of illustrating and highlighting the relationships among female friends and family is equally enjoyable and enlightening. I was ecstatic when I discovered See, and look forward to each new title that she releases.

I did book talk this novel for our 11th grade Honors and Academic English classes. I will also be sharing this with our 10th grade Honors English students when they come in to select their historical fiction books in a few weeks. So many students have enjoyed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in the past that I know this title will be enjoyed as well.

Great Filmmakers

Great Filmmakers (series).  New York: Cavendish Square, 2015. 80 p. $25.00 ea. Gr. 7-12
   Clint Eastwood  978-1-62712-948-0
   James Cameron  978-1-62712-951-0
   Kathryn Bigelow  978-1-62712-939-8
   Peter Jackson  978-1-62712-942-8
   Sofia Coppola  978-1-62712-945-9
   Steven Spielberg  978-1-62712-936-7

Want a look behind the scenes of your favorite movies? Pick up one of these books about some of the greatest producers and directors of all time!  These colorful books include a biography of the filmmakers along with numerous tidbits about the movies they produced, such as how much money each movie made and how long the filming of the movie took.  Each chapter also portrays a 1-2 page “Director’s Cut” that delves into details about the filmmakers personal life or actresses/actors the filmmaker has worked with.  The final pages of the book include a filmography of all of the movies the filmmaker has acted in, written, directed, or produced, along with the years of movies, and a glossary of terms associated with filmmaking.  These books are great to pick up if you have a special adoration for the filmmaker, watch a great deal of movies, or are conducting researcher on one of the filmmakers.

791  Films, Biographies          Nicole Starner  Biglerville HS/Upper Adams MS

Unbroken…a YA look at history


Hillenbrand, Laura.  Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive.  New York: Random House, 2014.  978-0-385-74251-1.  320p.  $19.99.  Gr. 7-12.

Unbroken was originally published in 2010 and tells the riveting story of Louis Zamperini.  This edition has a slightly different title and has been adapted for young adults.  Louis Zamperini was born in 1917 and grew up in California.  As a boy, he was a juvenile delinquent headed toward a life of crime.  His Italian immigrant family worried about the choices he was making and his older brother, Pete, finally got Louis into track.  Suddenly, the speed Louis exhibited while escaping angry neighbors and the police was channeled into running races.  Louis was very, very fast and quickly became famous.  He qualified for the 1936 Olympics and hoped to medal in the 1940 Olympics.  However, World War II ensued and Louis joined the Army Air Corps.  During a rescue mission, Zamperini’s B-24 was shot down.  He spent 47 days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean with two fellow airmen. On the 48th day, Louis and his buddy Phil were found, but the soldiers that rescued them were Japanese; the two men became POWs.

Louis was moved to different prison camps, each more brutal than the last.  At the Omori POW camp, he met Mutsuhiro Watanabe, a sadistic corporal who spent the rest of the war trying to break Louis’ body and spirit.  The cruelty described in this book is almost beyond belief and Louis’ determination to survive is amazing.  Eventually, the atomic bomb ended the war in Japan and he made his way back home to his family.  After he came home, Louis faced a new battle- this one against alcoholism.  Once again, Louis’ family, now including a wife and children, fought to keep him from going over the edge.  In the end, his life was saved by a Billy Graham service that encouraged him to turn his life over to God.

This edition of Unbroken makes Louis Zamperini’s story, one that deserves to be told, accessible to a younger group of students.  It seems more action-oriented than the original.  Some of the more graphic details about life in the POW camps have been edited out.  Finally, this book is substantially shorter than the adult edition.  High school librarians should consider acquiring both editions of the book.  Each has its own strengths and each deserves to be a part of your collection.

92 Biography  Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School

Empire Girls…historic fiction for adults, but loved by young adults


Hayes, Suzanne, and Loretta Nyhan. Empire Girls. Don Mills, Ont.: Harlequin MIRA, 2014. 978-0-7783-1629-9. 285 p. $14.95. Gr. 10 and up.

Growing up in sleepy upstate New York, sisters Rose and Ivy Adams always found themselves at odds. Twenty-two year old Rose is a homebody who wants to spend her life at the idyllic family estate, while headstrong 21-year old Ivy longs for the excitement of New York City. It is the height of the Roaring Twenties, after all! When their father passes away suddenly, leaving the estate to a previously unknown half-brother, the girls travel to the city with only a photo to guide their hunt for the mysterious Asher Adams. Ivy is ecstatic to finally be in the heart of the city during the steamy summer of 1925, “letting [her] sister tag behind like a tin can bouncing from a newlywed’s bumper.” They rent a room at the Empire House, landing smack in the midst of a colorful cast of characters who seem to know more than they are letting on about Asher and his whereabouts. In alternating chapters, Rose and Ivy dive into New York City’s lively speakeasy scene and find first love where they least expect it, testing the bonds of sisterhood and family along the way.
Historical Fiction (1920s); Romance   Amy Pickett, Ridley High School
I learned about Empire Girls through a Booklist webinar, and it immediately appealed to me as a crossover title that might have strong teen appeal. The main characters are already in their early twenties, but they are also leaving home for the very first time. Although historical fiction is usually a hard sell with my students, the Prohibition era is among the more appealing time periods (speakeasies, flappers, and jazz do sound awfully fun). Both sisters fall into intense but sweet romances, but the book is not explicit, which sets it apart from so many “new adult” titles out there. It is a gentle, if slightly predictable, historical romance that will appeal to fans of the TV show Boardwalk Empire. I am excited to booktalk it with students in grades 10 and up!

Rhyme Schemer…Realism in Verse

rhyme schemer

Holt, K.A.  Rhyme Schemer.  San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2014.  978-1-4521-2700-2.  176p.  $15.99.  Gr. 5-8.

Kevin is the youngest of five children (behind Petey, Philip, Paul, and Patrick) and his parents are successful doctors.  Kevin lives a life of benign neglect, for the most part ignored by his busy parents and older siblings.   His next youngest brother, Petey, constantly bullies him.  Kevin, in turn, considers himself to be “The King of the Seventh Grade”.  He attacks anyone he believes to be weaker or inferior to him.  His new victim of choice is the “class runt” Robin.  Kevin does everything he can to make Robin’s life miserable.

Kevin has a hidden side and a dangerous secret, though; he writes his deepest thoughts (in verse) in a notebook.  He has also begun to tear pages out of library books to make found poems that poke fun at the school’s teachers and administrators. Kevin posts these poems around school and begins referring to himself as the Poetry Bandit.  One day, during an argument, Petey throws Kevin’s notebook out the window of his car on the way to school.  In a twist of fate, Robin is the one to find the notebook.  He becomes Kevin’s bully, threatening to show everyone how “wimpy” Kevin really is, and Kevin eventually beats him up. Kevin is suspended and must shelve books in the school library for two weeks after school as part of his punishment.  He finds an ally in the school librarian, who discovers that Kevin has been tearing pages out of library books to make his “poems”.  She recognizes his talent and works to find him an acceptable outlet for expressing himself.

The book ends with Kevin and Robin being forced to resolve their differences, with Petey beginning to appreciate Kevin as a person, and with Kevin starting to find a sense of worth through his writing. The verse in this book is powerful; it conveys Kevin’s complexity and his need for acceptance.  The found poems throughout the book are clever and capture the range of teenage emotion.  There are some issues with the book that stop it from being truly innovative; it is almost a foregone conclusion that Kevin will be a bully because his parents ignore him and Petey torments him.  The book, like a television sitcom, ties the action up into a neat package in its allotted number of pages.  Any teenager can tell you life isn’t that simple!  However, those who need a big- hearted book with an anti-bullying message (and the message that teachers can be powerful advocates) may find what they need in Rhyme Schemer.

Realistic Fiction; Verse          Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School


Kevin plans on being “King of the seventh grade”.  Always at the bottom, he is the “accident” his parents made after his four much older brothers.  Often a target of his brothers’ frustrations, Kevin begins to target kids at school, detailing much of what he plans to do in his notebook.  It is filled with poems and free form poetry about his classmates.  Realizing he has a gift with this poetry, Kevin begins to anonymously rip pages from library books, circling words and letters to make cryptic poems, and then posts them around school.  His brother, Pete, takes him to school daily but hardly ever speaks to him.  After an argument, Pete grabs Kevin’s notebook and throws it out the window.  Kevin never recovers the notebook, but one of the kids he relentlessly bullied, Robin, does.  Because of his bullying behaviors, Kevin is suspended.  After he returns to school, Kevin has to volunteer his time in detention to helping the librarian, Mrs. Little.  The book takes the characters and fits them into the cyclical pattern of bullying.  Holt also uses examples of how a bully can evolve from a bully to a victim and how teachers can ignore the behaviors when inconvenient. The plot takes Kevin out of his comfort zone, creating unlikely relationships and building bridges with those who had once been the butt of his jokes. Parental issues compiled with social and sibling issues make Kevin’s life miserable, creating his outlet of expression.  Readers will begin to actually like Kevin and cheer him on.  

Novel in Verse                 Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School

Fool Me Twice…If Only (Bk. 1)


Hubbard, Mandy.  Fool Me Twice (If Only Book 1).  New York: Bloomsbury, 2014.  978-1-61963-229-5. 235 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 8 and up.

Last summer, Mackenzie fell hard for Landon while working with him at Serenity Ranch and Spa, but she was left heartbroken when Landon dumped her after summer was over.  Now, they have both returned to the ranch to work another summer.  Mackenzie is dreading working with the boy who broke her heart until Landon falls off a horse and gets amnesia.  Suddenly, Landon thinks that it is last summer and that he is Mackenzie’s boyfriend.  Encouraged by her best friend, Bailey, Mackenzie decides to get revenge on Landon by playing along, making him fall in love with her, and then dumping him.  However, Mackenzie’s plans get messed up when she starts falling for Landon all over again.

Realistic Fiction        Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

This is a quick and easy read for anyone looking for a light-hearted love story.  The characters are likeable enough, although the plot is somewhat predictable.  The romance in the book is fairly innocent; therefore, the book could be considered appropriate even for upper middle school students.  I would recommend this book to girls more so than boys.

The Sound of Letting Go


Kehoe, Stasia Ward. The Sound of Letting Go. New York: Viking, 2014. 338 p. $16.99. Gr. 8+.

Daisy is a dutiful daughter, a trumpet prodigy, and responsible sister. All around good girl, Daisy does what she is asked, even when she would rather be elsewhere.  When she finds out her parents arguments are centered around whether or not to send her younger autistic brother, Steven, into a group home with caregivers who can manage his violent outbursts, Daisy gives up being a good girl and begins to descend into bad girl behavior missing jazz band practices, skipping school, drinking, and making out with boys. Her parents, who are preoccupied, rarely seem to notice Daisy’s misbehavior. To make Daisy’s life worse, she  secretly lusts after her childhood friend, Dave.  When Cal O’Callum, an Irish exchange student, shows up at jazz band practice, Daisy finds herself intrigued.  Told in verse, The Sound of Letting Go is an example of the voice of those children who are truly dealing with a sibling with disabilities and the abandonment that their siblings often feel.

Realistic Fiction, Verse    Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School

Daisy is a character who resonates with students today.  She has spent her life learning the rules surrounding her brother’s specific idiosyncrasies becoming another parent to her brother. This novel brings Daisy’s guilt over wanting to be acknowledged as a part of her own family to the surface. Students who have always strived to meet their parents’ expectations will hear their own voice in this novel. Because of its verse, this novel is easy read and infused with romance. Educators and anyone working with children will have a new perspective on siblings of kids with autism after reading this novel. Excellent example of a narrative told in verse.



One Death, Nine Stories…a new take on the story collection


Aronson, Marc, and Charles R. Smith. One Death, Nine Stories. Somerville: Candlewick Press, 2014.  978-0-7636-5285-2. 143 p. $16.99.  Grades 9+.

One Death Nine Stories is just that.  Nine different stories narrated by nine different characters written by nine different authors all telling about one death, the death of Kevin Nicholas, a 19-year-old charismatic cross country super star.  Each character finds himself or herself connected to Kevin in one way or another.  From the funeral worker to Kev’s ex-girlfriend to a stranger in Texas, all are left to deal with Kevin’s sudden death.  With each narrator, readers gain an understanding of who Kevin was and the demons that haunted him.  This is a great companion for readers who loved 13 Reasons Why and/or  If I Stay.  This can also be used as a supplement to a literature course or used by guidance departments.

Short Story Collection         Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School

Winterkill…New YA Fiction

Boorman, Kate A. Winterkill. Harvey N. Abrams. 978-1-419712-35-7. 336 p. $17.95. Gr 6-12.
Sixteen year old Emmeline lives in a remote and enclosed Puritan-like village far into the Canadian Woods. The village is guided by purity and rules.  Growing up, Em and her family were “stained” because she had a disfigured foot and her grandmother had been executed for acting against the rules. She knows not to go across the town border, for a dark creature lurks in the woods that destroyed half the town years before, but Emmeline dreams of the beyond– and in her dreams the woods call to her. Intrigued and fascinated beyond her control, Emmaline crosses the border and discovers town secrets that could remove her stain, but also turn her seemingly idyllic town upside-down. Boorman’s writing is beautiful and haunting; the plot unravels slowly and methodically, and the ending seems to promise a sequel. Give this to readers of fantasy and magic who might enjoy a historical backdrop.
Fantasy    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School
I received this ARC from the PSLA committee and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It seems that the dystopian genre is still quite popular, and that’s how this book is being identified, but I found it to be more alternate history and fantasy. While some of it does seem like the movie The Village, I don’t think teens will be able to compare it to anything, so I love that it’s much more original than other titles out there. I am an avid supporter of strong protagonists, and main character Emmeline is just that. There is a love story triangle thrown in so I can see teens being interested in that as well as the captivating story.