YA – We Can Work It Out


Eulberg, Elizabeth. We Can Work It Out. New York: Point, 2015. 978-0-545-65461-6. $17.99. 307p. Gr. 7 and up.

We Can Work It Out picks up where The Lonely Hearts Club (2010) left off.  Penny Lane Bloom, founder of the Lonely Hearts Club, has a boyfriend, Ryan Bauer, just months after having her heart broken and starting the club.  Now, as The Lonely Hearts Club continues to grow, not only in members from her own school and town, but across the country (and world), Penny Lane must balance her new-found fame, the club, and time with Ryan.  As Penny struggles to balance both (with Ryan getting the brunt of the brush-offs), she realizes, after a heated exchange with Ryan’s best friend, Todd, that Ryan has changed since they began dating.  To fix it and help Ryan get back in with his friends and return to “the old Ryan” (the Ryan before Penny), Penny sees only one option: break up with Ryan (then she can’t hurt him and he’ll go back to the Ryan he was; right?).  After breaking-up with the greatest-guy-ever (and not heeding the advice from older sister Rita “Don’t screw this up”), Penny is heart-broken and needs a focus.  With the club and their pending dance-a-thon as that focus, Penny throws herself into the planning (and into Principal Braddock’s good (at least for the moment) graces due to the proceeds from the dance-a-thon going to a scholarship for a senior club member and the local rec center), which becomes detrimental to her own health.  With her world spinning out of her control, will Penny Lane be able to learn to balance the club and a boyfriend, or will she give up herself to the good of the club?

Realistic Fiction         Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS

I absolutely loved We Can Work It Out (and The Lonely Hearts Club).  It is refreshing to read a realistic young adult novel that does not focus on “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”.  The innocence and reality of We Can Work It Out speaks to many readers because it focuses on what one can lose in a relationship while also exploring the importance of balance in one’s life, friendship, and relationships.  The fact that the club began as a way for girls to focus on themselves and their friendships, not just how a guy or others define them, allows this novel to move full circle because Ryan gets lost in the shuffle this time and new student, Bruce, explains to Penny Lane how he had his heart-broken by a girl (it goes both ways).  The reality of the friendships (I love Tracy) and the cruelty between Todd, Penny, and Ryan is very recognizable to readers and mirrors high school relationships and friendships well.  We Can Work It Out is a great testament to balance, friendship, romantic relationships, and the importance of family in one’s life; so long as they all play a part and don’t overshadow each other.

The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence


Lee, Stan and Stuart Moore; Andie Tong, Illustrator.  The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence.  New York: Disney Press, 2015.  978-1-42318-085-2. 480 p.  $16.99.  Gr. 5-8.

Steven Lee is a Chinese American teenager whose family has sent him on a tour of Hong Kong to learn about his cultural heritage.  One day, his group visits a museum and the tour leader disappears.  He follows her screams and ends up in a secret room underneath the museum.  He finds the woman, Jasmine, and a misguided war contractor named Maxwell.  Maxwell has released a mysterious power tied to the Chinese zodiac into the world.  This force finds hosts, each one born during a different year of the zodiac, and Steven is suddenly endowed with the powers of the tiger.  Both Jasmine and Maxwell are “dragons”, the leaders of the zodiac, and the dragon force is split uncomfortably between the two.  The bulk of the novel is about the battle between Jasmine and Maxwell to form teams out of the people who have been taken over by the zodiac force (and have the powers of the different animals in the Chinese zodiac).  Of course, Maxwell wants to use the force to increase his personal power and rule the world.

Many parts of the book are predictable, if not unrealistic.  Maxwell’s faction is well-funded and organized. Jasmine’s faction doesn’t have a lot of resources, and the new zodiac recruits are poorly trained.  Somehow, Jasmine’s group seems to prevail in every encounter with Maxwell’s Vanguard Force.  The end of the book involves an epic battle between the two forces that doesn’t end with a clear winner, setting the stage for a sequel.  This book is the first volume in a trilogy, and the second book will be published in late October 2015.

Convergence is notable for many reasons.  First of all, it is co-written by Stan Lee, the King of the comic book super hero.  The writing is fast-paced and exciting, even if it doesn’t get into a lot of character development.  Andie Tong’s classic comic-style illustrations lend excitement to the story line; fans of comic book art will love the action packed drawings.  Each member of the different factions has a unique personality and students will identify with many of them in a variety of ways.  Finally, this book may be an important bridge between graphica and traditional novels.  Fans of graphic novels may finally have a book they can get into!  This book will be very popular with reluctant teen readers.

Paranormal Fiction; Illustrated Novel      Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School

None of the Above


Gregorio, I.W. None of the Above. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2015. 978-0-06-233531-9. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 & up.

Senior Kristin Lattimer seemingly has everything going for her: two best friends, a track scholarship, a heart-melting boyfriend, and the homecoming queen crown.  But a painful first sexual experience prompts her to see an OB/GYN, who drops a devastating bombshell: Kristen is intersex.  The doctor’s assurances that she’s still female despite her XY chromosomes, gonads and lack of uterus are drowned out once Kristin’s entire school finds out she’s a “hermaphrodite,” a cruel, outdated term used by bullies that the author points out is considered derogatory.  Although the plot can be somewhat predictable, this is a noteworthy resource about a unique condition and the meaning of gender.  Kristin’s journey is an empowering story to which any high school student who doesn’t quite fit in can relate.  Scenes describing sexual situations and underage drinking make this a pick more fitting for older high school students.  Gregorio enters barely charted waters with this title, but it would pair well with other books about gender and acceptance, such as Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect, about a transgender teen.

Realistic Fiction     Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School

Written in the Stars


Saeed, Aisha. Written in the Stars. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015. 978-0-399-17170-3. 284 p. $17.99. Gr. 8-11.

Naila yearns to join her friends in typical American teenage activities, but her conservative Pakistani parents won’t allow her to even talk to boys, let alone date them.  They have no idea she has been in a secret relationship with Saif for a year — until they show up at prom and drag her off the dance floor.  Furious and ashamed, they whisk her off to Pakistan, determined to rearrange her moral priorities before she is scheduled to begin college.  In Pakistan, the author immerses Naila and the reader in the details of a rich culture: the women’s beautifully embroidered salwar kamizes, the fragrant chai, the boisterous kin.  But Naila’s bliss is tinged with apprehension, which turns to terror and then desperation when she finds out her parents plan to marry her off to an unknown young man.  While the dialogue may seem flat in some scenes, the sparse prose allows the reader to experience the culture shock Naila feels.  U.S.-born Naila’s incredulous perspective provides American teens an authentic glimpse into a scenario that may be unbelievable to them but is unfortunately horrifyingly familiar to many South Asian girls.

Realistic Fiction      Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School

Understanding World History series from Reference Point Press


Allman, Toney. The Enlightenment (Understanding World History series). San Diego: Reference Point Press, 2015. 978-1-60152-740-0 81p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Understanding World History: The Enlightenment gives a concise overview of the 18th century in Europe and the Americas. Beginning with the conditions that led to the Enlightenment and concluding with how modern society is impacted by this time period, this book provides a wealth of information in short easy to understand chapters.  Each chapter has paintings, engravings and poetry from the time period in an effort to break up pages with too much text for young readers.  Every book in the Understanding World History series has sources notes, important people from the time period, and information for further research as well as an index and information on the author.



Jenson-Elliott, Cindy. Ancient Chinese Dynasty (Understanding World History series). San Diego: Reference Point Press, 2015. 978-1-60152-738-7 80p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Complete with a timeline of important events from the Ancient Chinese Dynasties, this book has it all!  Starting in the 1500s, Ancient Chinese Dynasty in the Understanding World History series covers what young readers need to know about this time period in world history.  The first chapter covers what conditions led to the dynasties and moves chronologically through time ending with the legacy that Ancient Chinese Dynasties have on modern society and the future.  As with all of the books in the Understanding World History series this one has sources notes, important people from the time period, and information for further research as well as an index and information on the author.



Marcovitz, Hal. The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Understanding World History series). San Diego: Reference Point Press, 2015. 978-1-60152-686-1 90p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb has five short chapters, one introduction, and a wealth of information!  This, as with the rest of the titles in the series, is a great launching point for middle school researchers wanting quick and concise background information.  The pictures, diagrams, timeline, and text boxes give readers a reprieve from text heavy pages.

This is a great series for novice researchers or middle school students looking for general information on a topic.  The easy to understand facts make great quotes for essays and presentations.  I would recommend this to series to a world history teacher or a language arts teacher looking for non-fiction materials.

900s; History      Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School

Other titles in the series

Ancient Egypt
Ancient Greece
Ancient Rome
The Arab Spring Uprisings
The Black Death
The Decade of the 2000s
The Digital Age
Elizabethan England
The Great Recession
The History of Rock and Roll
The History of Slavery

The Holocaust

The Industrial Revolution
The Late Middle Ages
The Renaissance

The Rise of Islam
The Rise of the Nazis
Victorian England

When Reason Breaks


Rodriguez, Cindy L.  When Reason Breaks.  New York: Bloomsbury, 2015.  978-1-61963-412-1. 294 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9 and up.

Elizabeth Davis and Emily Delgado are two high school girls who have a lot in common.  Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, and both girls share the same initials as Emily Dickinson (whose poetry they are studying in English class).  More importantly, both girls struggle with family and social issues.  Elizabeth is angry at her father and has a broken relationship with her mother.  Emily, on the other hand, has drifted apart from her best friends and feels pressured to conform to her father’s expectations, as he is a high profile political figure in the community.  Before the end of the school year, one of these girls will attempt to commit suicide.  Told from alternating perspectives, the story accurately portrays the different ways people experience depression.  In addition, the story manages to incorporate Latino culture, gay relationships, popular culture references and some of Dickinson’s poetry.

Realistic Fiction        Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

I could see this book being used in an English classroom to supplement a unit on Emily Dickinson.  The story contains numerous parallels to Emily Dickinson’s life, all of which are explained in the author’s note at the end.  Some of Dickinson’s poetry is also incorporated throughout the story, and the class discussions in the book give the reader some great insight into the meaning behind these passages.  Because the book deals with some dark issues like suicide and depression, I would recommend this title to older (high school) readers.​