Ruby, Laura. Bone Gap. New York: Balzer & Bray, 2015. 978-0-06-231760-5. 345 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.
Bone Gap, Illinois, is a mysterious and magical place where small-town intrigue coexists with an undying menace. Finn O’Sullivan (a.k.a. Sidetrack) lives with his paramedic older brother, Sean. One night a beautiful but battered young woman named Roza appears in their barn. She quickly slips into their lives (and Sean’s heart). When she is kidnapped at the Spring Fair, Finn – the only witness – is frustratingly unable to give a detailed description of the abductor. As Sean mourns the loss of Roza, Finn connects with Priscilla “Petey” Willis, the beekeeper’s daughter. Even as they fall in love, Petey doesn’t trust that Finn can accept her unusual face, and she digs for a reason why he’s such a “Spaceman.” Chapters alternate between Bone Gap and Roza’s captivity; add romantic nighttime horseback rides and a trip to the underworld and you have a sense of just how deep Bone Gap’s metaphors, myths, and magical realism go.
Realistic Fiction (Magical Realism) Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School
This novel begs to be discussed! It would be a wonderful choice for a student book club or Psychology class. Be sure to explore some of the connected myths, especially Persephone and Demeter.
Swaby, Rachel. Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World. New York: Broadway Books, 2015. 978-0-06-222410-1. 273 p. $16.00. Gr. 9 and up.
The story behind Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science — And the World by Rachel Swaby almost sounds like fiction. In 2013, an obituary for award-winning rocket scientist Yvonne Brill opened with this now-infamous line: “She made a mean beef stroganoff.” While that may be true, is it really the most fitting way to memorialize a woman who was honored with the 2011 National Medal of Technology and Innovation? Now, thanks to Swaby’s wonderful new book, we will all know a little more about the many women (52, to be exact) who have impacted the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Swaby has included women whose stories combine the “twin pillars” of achievement and narrative – there’s a great story embedded within each profile. She also opted to cover only scientists whose life’s work has been completed (in other words, these women are no longer with us). There’s a 3-5 page profile of each woman, contextualizing her work in her field with world events of the time; for example, many Jewish scientists fled Germany during the 1930s to pursue research positions elsewhere. Some of the names are familiar, such as Rachel Carson, Sally Ride, Florence Nightingale, and Hedy Lamarr. Though the names of others may be lesser known, the scientific ripples of their discoveries are fascinating to read about.
509.2; Science, Biography Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School
I immediately had Headstrong pegged as a worthwhile read, but Swaby’s spirited writing style was a pleasant surprise. I found myself reaching for this book again and again instead of picking up one of the many novels on my to-be-read list!
Nielsen, Susin. We Are All Made of Molecules. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2015. 978-0-553-49686-4. 248 p. $16.99. Gr. 7 and up.
Stewart and Ashley are complete opposites: Stewart is a nerdy 13-year-old boy who struggles to fit in socially, while Ashley is a beautiful 14-year-old girl who is at the top of the social ladder. When Stewart’s father and Ashley’s mother decide to move in together, both Stewart and Ashley are forced to make some adjustments. Ashley ignores Stewart’s attempts to befriend her, and Stewart struggles to fit in at his new school until he tells Jared, a boy who is bullying him in gym class, that he is Ashley’s stepbrother. When Stewart begins relaying messages to Ashley from Jared, her crush, she finally starts to tolerate Stewart. As their relationship grows, Stewart tries to convince Ashley both that Jared is a jerk and that she should mend relations with her estranged father. Narrated by both Ashley and Stewart in alternating chapters, this humorous book takes a lighthearted look at such serious topics as bullying, sexual orientation, dysfunctional family relationships, teenage drinking, and teenage sex.
Realistic Fiction Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School
Because of Stewart’s struggle to fit in despite his endearing personality, I could see this book being a hit with fans of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder or Sharon Draper’s Out of my Mind. It might, however, be more suitable for mature readers, as there are scenes in which Jared tries to get Ashley to have sex with him as well as scenes involving teenage drinking. Because Stewart is a victim of bullies and Ashley’s father is a homosexual, this book could spark insightful conversations on these topics and would therefore be an excellent addition to both bullying and LGBT collections.
Meyer, Carolyn. Diary of a Waitress: The Not-So-Glamorous Life of a Harvey Girl. Honesdale: Calkins Creek, 2015. 978-1-62091-652-0. 348 p. $17.95. Gr. 5-10.
The year is 1926, and Katherine “Kitty” Evans has just graduated from high school. She is planning to go to college to become a journalist. This dream is squashed, however, when her father tells her they do not have enough money to send her to college. Instead, Kitty obtains a job as a Harvey Girl, moving away from Leavenworth, Kansas, to waitress in Harvey Eating Houses along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. She forms close friendships with some of the other Harvey girls and chronicles all of their lives in her diary. She also continues to pursue a career in journalism, completing some writing assignments for local newspapers. Because Kitty’s diary entries are so detailed, the book is packed with historical information, including references to Prohibition, flappers, the KKK, pilot Charles Lindbergh, actor Rudolph Valentino, journalist William Allen White, and more. Black and white photographs from the time period are also dispersed throughout the book, and a selected bibliography provides readers with resources for further review. This is a great read for those interested in learning more about this little-known part of American railroad history.
Historical Fiction Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School
As a former social studies teacher, I found this book fascinating. I had never heard of Harvey Eating Houses and found myself doing some research about these restaurants as I was reading the book. The historical details in the book all seem to be accurate. I will say, however, that this book might not be so fascinating for readers who are not interested in history. The extensive details might seem boring, and the plot doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. It follows Kitty and her friends as they pursue their dreams and find love, but there doesn’t seem to be any major conflict or turning point in the book. I would probably only recommend this book to readers who are very interested in U.S. history.
Joy, David. Where All Light Tends to Go. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015. 978-0-399-17277-9. 260 p. $26.95. Gr. 11 and up.
Mature young adult readers who enjoyed the 2011 movie, Winter’s Bones, and/or Laura McHugh’s recent novel, The Weight of Blood (Spiegel & Grau, 2014), will snap up David Joy’s outstanding debut, Where All Light Tends to Go. In rural North Carolina, high school dropout Jacob McNeeley struggles with whether he can escape the long shadow of his meth-dealing father. “He was a horrible man and no one knew that more than me,” Jacob reflects, “but he was my father nonetheless.” Though he longs to escape the lawless McNeeley legacy, he’s pulled into a series of life-altering criminal acts. Reconnecting with Maggie, his college-bound childhood sweetheart, fuels Jacob’s desire to escape, but he may already be too deeply enmeshed in his father’s empire to break free. Joy depicts this violent, profane, unforgiving world in such a way that the reader won’t be able to look away. Themes of coming-of-age, first love, and the roots tying Jacob to his hometown make this an excellent crossover selection.
Realistic Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School
I think this novel is a strong contender for a 2016 Alex Award! Please note, though, that because of the language and violence I would only consider booktalking this title with juniors and seniors.
It’s hard to believe that the 2015 PSLA Conference has already come and gone. We had a blast attending sessions, seeing old friends and meeting new ones, visiting with vendors, sharing the Top 40 books of 2014 with all of you, and hearing from PYRCA winners Aaron Reynolds and Katherine Applegate, along with the awesome kids who presented the awards. Thank you all very much for attending the Best of the Best in Children’s Literature session, the author session with Katherine Applegate and Aaron Reynolds, and the YA Top 40 session. We hope you had as much fun at the sessions as we did. We look forward to another great year of reviews to help with collection development and participation in the PA Young Reader’s Choice program. Check back regularly for updates on the 25th anniversary of PYRCA and new reviews of amazing fiction and nonfiction for students grades K-12. Remember, you can always contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or concerns.
Thank you all for your continued support and involvement with the PSLA Media Selection and Review committee. We love what we do: reading books and making sure student throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have the best resources available to them.
Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your school year.
Erin Parkinson & Melissa Daugherty, co-chairs, PSLA Media Selection and Review
Lindsey Long & Kathie Jackson, coordinators, Best of the Best in Children’s Literature
Steph Gibson & Alice Cyphers, coordinators, PYRCA
P.S. – Check back soon for the start of the 2015 reviews.