No Such Person…new mystery for grades 7-10


Cooney, Caroline B.  No Such Person.  New York: Delacorte Press, 2015.  978-0-385-74291-7. 246 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 7-10.

Although Lander and Miranda Allerdon are sisters, they are as different as night and day.  Lander is an overachiever who is headed to medical school in the fall, while Miranda is always trying new hobbies but never mastering any.  When Lander falls in love with a handsome stranger, Miranda worries that her sister’s new love interest might be dangerous.  It is not long before Lander goes out on a date and is arrested and charged with murder.  Although all signs point to Lander’s guilt, Miranda is determined to expose the real murderer and prove her sister’s innocence.  A murder mystery full of suspense, the action picks up in the very first chapter of the book and does not stop until the mystery is solved.  THOUGHTS: An excellent choice for mystery fans and/or reluctant readers, this quick and easy read also deals realistically with sibling rivalry in a way that will be relatable to junior high and high school students living in an older sibling’s shadow.

Mystery            Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School​

Infinite in Between…new from Carolyn Mackler


Mackler, Carolyn.  Infinite in Between.  New York: HarperTeen, 2015.  978-0-06-173107-5. 462 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Five students who meet at freshmen orientation decide to write letters to their future selves, which they will open in four years when they graduate from high school.  Gregor is a band geek who longs for love and is faced with tragedy.  Mia is shy and focused on academics, while Whitney is pretty, popular and outgoing.  Jake used to be part of the popular crowd but has kept his distance since admitting he was gay.  Zoe, the daughter of a movie star, tries to fly under the radar as her famous mother publicly deals with alcoholism.  As time passes, each of these five students deals with his/her own issues as their lives intersect in unpredictable ways.  THOUGHTS: There is something in this book for everyone, as the characters are faced with common issues and scenarios that teenagers see regularly, such as underage drinking, the loss of a parent, divorce, teenage pregnancy, standardized testing and college applications, LGBT issues, and more.

Realistic Fiction         Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School​

Watch the Sky…Middle Grades Realistic Fiction


Hubbard, Kirsten. Watch the Sky. Los Angeles: Disney-Hyperion, 2015. 978-148470833-0. 262p. $18.99. Gr. 5-8.

Jory is a sixth grader who is surrounded by secrecy imposed on his family by his paranoid stepfather, Caleb, who believes he sees signs of impending doom and the end of the world. Convinced he can save his family from disaster, Caleb has the family assist in building an underground bunker. But, their preparations must remain secret, causing Jory to exclude himself from normal friendships and interactions with peers, teachers and neighbors. His isolation is compounded by the fact that the family has living with them a young girl who was found on their farm and about whose existence no one outside the family can know, a girl who speaks to no one but Jory. Jory’s mother, a seemingly weak woman so grateful for Caleb’s support of her family and a true convert to his world view, is of no help to Jory as he goes from being committed to keeping the family’s secrets and distrusting all “officials,” including teachers, to questioning his stepfather’s motivations. Along the way he encounters friendships for the first time, learns to trust his instincts and successfully sways his mother away from Caleb’s paranoid influence. THOUGHTS: A coming of age novel when a young person is faced with standing up to his parents’ unrealistic and fanatical beliefs, Watch the Sky, is appropriate for middle school as well as high school students and begs the question, “what if I was in this kind of situation?”

Realistic Fiction    Annette Sirio, Pittsburgh Obama Academy of International Studies

YA Realistic Fiction…Hold Tight Don’t Let Go; Last Leaves Falling; Kissing in America


Wagner, Laura Rose. Hold Tight Don’t Let Go. New York: Abrams, 2015. 978-1-4197-1204-3. 263p. $17.95. Gr. 9 and up.

Although Magdalie and Nadine are cousins, they are often mistaken for sisters. They are close in age, look alike and are best friends, hardly ever separated, living together with Manman, Nadine’s mother and Magdalie’s aunt, when the January 2010 earthquake demolishes much of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, killing Manman and leaving the girls homeless. Traumatized, the girls are taken in by their uncle, Tonton Élie, and live in a squalid, not-so-temporary tent city where they wait in line for food, do each other’s nails to forestall boredom, and avoid using the shared, disgusting latrines. Magdalie’s life is again shaken when Nadine’s father, who lives in Miami, is able to arrange for Nadine to move to the U.S. to live with him. He cannot, however, help Magdalie. She continues to live with her uncle and in an attempt to earn money by selling clean bottled water to people on the streets of the city, Magdalie narrowly avoids being raped. Her daily life is a struggle, and she becomes so desperate she actually considers prostituting herself as so many women are forced to do. When her uncle, Tonton Élie, takes her to her mother’s remote village, Magdalie finally feels as if she belongs and is loved by her extended family. While her visit is only temporary, Magdalie discovers her inner strength, and when she returns to the capital she does so with renewed energy and a vision for her future. Wagner’s first person narrative transports the reader to Haiti and to Magdalie’s world with great clarity and empathy. Magdalie’s voice is often shockingly disturbing, and while the cover illustration conveys brightness and color, the world Magdalie navigates is quite the opposite – often dark and confusing, and we are moved, finally, by the resilience of a character who refuses to be beaten by the odds against her.

Realistic Fiction      Annette Sirio, Pittsburgh Obama Academy of International Studies

I did not expect the graphic descriptions of post-earthquake life in Haiti, and for this I blame the misleading cover illustration which appears to depict brightness and unity rather than the ongoing misery and alienation Magdalie faces throughout the story. Of course, this does not negate the value of the realistic story.



Benwell, Sarah. The Last Leaves Falling. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. 978-1-4814-3065-4. 359p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

This is the story of a 17-year-old boy facing the unlikely and heartbreakingly premature debilitation caused by ALS. Told in Sora’s voice and inner dialogue, the reader is brought into the boy’s physical and emotional world, experiencing first hand his frustration, fear, heartbreak, confusion, and even guilt for the pain and anxiety his illness causes his mother. It is painful to read as a teenager asks, “what is death like?” in an immediacy about his own situation that most healthy teenagers do not face. As Sora’s body fails him and he becomes wheelchair bound, homebound, and increasingly dependent on his mother to help him with daily tasks, he turns to Internet chat rooms in search of friendship, and after some reservations and awkwardness, Sora becomes close friends with Mai and Kaito who not only accept Sora’s disabilities but, in the end, assist him in fulfilling his final wish – to die with dignity on his own terms. Sora’s relationship with his grandfather and the inclusion of ancient Samurai poetry add poignant dimensions to Sora’s struggles, and the overall effect is a story of bravery that resonates after the final chapter.

Realistic Fiction   Annette Sirio, Pittsburgh Obama Academy of International Studies

This novel is packed with potential conversation starters for teenagers, teachers and families, about much more than a person’s right to die with dignity; it engenders conversation and discussion about relationships, about how one with an illness chooses to live, and about courage and reflection, too.



Rabb, Margo. Kissing in America. New York: Harper, 2015. 978-0-06-232237-1. 391p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

With a title that will catch every teenager’s attention, Kissing in America follows the story of Eva, her pursuit of what she believes might be her first true love, her relationships with her mother and best friend, and her ongoing acceptance and recovery after her father’s death. Although the novel has a lot of teenage angst, it is balanced with a good deal of humor, cleverly witty dialogue and funny situations. Eva’s voice is so true to life the reader cannot help but root for her, feeling as if we know her. Eva and her mother have a strained relationship, due in part to her mother’s emotional shutdown after her husband’s death and due in part to Eva’s obsession with romance novels – the kind with bare-chested muscular heart throbs attending to buxom women in distress on the book cover – an affront to her mother’s feminism as a women’s studies professor. When Eva is asked to assist vastly popular, swim-team captain, Will, with his college essay, she tells herself, “Focus. Focus. Do not think of man-dew.” Although they are an unlikely pair, Eva and Will eventually become a couple but are separated when Will is forced to move to California. Clever Eva and her best friend Annie devise a way to travel cross-country to see Will, and it is during these travels that they meet extended family and explore the meaning of friendship. Eva’s painful experience of growing up when Will ends their relationship is offset by her mother’s realization that she’s been sleepwalking through Eva’s life for years. Entirely relatable, quirky and definitely a good read.

Realistic Fiction Annette Sirio, Pittsburgh Obama Academy of International Studies

As I wrote on my blog for students, “hate the title, loved the story.” Eva’s voice is wonderfully accurate, and she is a very appealing character for whom the reader cheers. This book is destined to be very popular with teen readers who like realistic fiction that is simultaneously serious and lighthearted.

Undertow…a new Sci-Fi series for YA Readers


Buckley, Michael. Undertow. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 978-0-544-34825-7. 384 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Lyric Walker was just fourteen when the Alpha emerged from the Atlantic Ocean and set up a makeshift camp on the beach near her Coney Island home. Not only was she an eyewitness to their arrival, she also learned that her own mother was an “original” Alpha scout sent ahead to learn about the humans. Three years later, six Alpha teens are slated to integrate Lyric’s high school, and she is assigned to help their crown prince assimilate. Hanging out with the fiercely proud heir to an underwater warrior culture is every bit as dangerous as it sounds. Lyric’s romantic feelings for Fathom don’t simplify things; neither do the aggressively anti-Alpha protestors who surround her school every day. Lyric and her family are soon in a race against time to escape Coney Island before their identity is revealed, mob rule takes over, or worse. THOUGHTS: Undertow will capture your attention from the moment you see the cover art and hold it all the way through the final page. This is YA sci-fi adventure at its finest, with more to come in Raging Sea, due out in February!
Science Fiction    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School
Undertow has broad appeal for both boys and girls. After I showed the novel’s arresting book trailer ( my students were lining up to read it! With all the echoes of immigration, the Cold War, and Civil Rights issues throughout the book, there are countless opportunities for a rich book discussion. A generous excerpt, educator guide, and more are available at the Undertow Trilogy web site (

Big Top Burning…1944 Circus Disaster


Woolett, Laura. Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and the Greatest Show on Earth. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2015. 167 p. $18.95 Grades 5-8.

“Some say they saw the flickering of a small flame on the side wall of the tent just above the men’s bathroom. At first no one moved; surely the circus staff had it under control. But by the time circus workers reached the fire, their meager buckets of water had little effect. As the crowd watched, the flame grew, spidering up the tent wall. Then someone yelled, “Fire!” and the panic began….” (1)

So begins Woolett’s riveting tale of the July 1944 fire in Hartford, Connecticut, that claimed 167 lives under the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus tent. The circus was a big event, widely anticipated and widely attended by adults and children. The huge tent was “450 feet long and 200 feet wide—one-third longer than an entire football field.” The included black and white photographs help to show the enormity of the tent and the devastation left by the fire. In fact, over 6,000 people attended the circus that hot afternoon. Woolett focuses her early story on the fire itself and memories of survivors. She then turns to medical efforts and family identification, turning to the disappearance of young Eleanor Cook, then 8 years old, attending with her mother and two brothers. Though her older brother jumped from the bleachers to safety, her mother was badly injured, and her younger brother died the next day from his injuries. In the panic under the tent, Eleanor’s hand slipped from her mother’s. Identifying Eleanor’s body proved to be a quest of many years’ work—and it is still unknown if “Little Miss 1565” was Eleanor, or if her body was hastily mistaken by grieving relatives of another girl. And what of the cause of the fire? Officials labeled it accidental until six years later when young circus worker Robert Segee claimed to have set it, only to recant his claim months later. The fire’s cause, too, remains unknown, though the “accidental” label was officially changed to “undetermined.” Woolett does an exceptional job of bringing the fire and the time period to life, showing the care given to victims and families by the people of Hartford. She does not delve into the grief undoubtedly felt by the families of so many victims—but neither does she exploit them here. This is a high-interest and non-gory read that will pull in reluctant readers, for the story of the fire and the forensic science attempts to solve it. At 131 pages of story, it is easy to recommend to upper elementary and middle school readers.
Author’s Note, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography, Image Notes, and Index comprise pages 133-167.

This book, with its eye-catching cover and small size, could well prove a first pick for booktalks and readers of nonfiction. It could be used as an example of literary nonfiction, and Woolett helps by briefly describing her research process, with full documentation. I found this easy to read and hard to put down. Many will be surprised if not dissatisfied to know that the two major questions—involving the cause of the fire and the identity of Eleanor Cook—still remain unanswered.

974.6 American Disaster    Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



It is hard to imagine America’s home front during World War II.  With very little money and ways to socialize, Americans looked forward to events such as the Ringling Brothers Circus coming to town. Clearly present day circuses are far different than those of the 1940s.  Hiring of locals to be present under the seats of the patrons was a necessity.  Smoking was not banned inside the tents, and if a cigarette butt was dropped or discarded under the seats, it may ignite the hay.  These boys were hired to extinguish the fires before they became overwhelming.  Even more, local government agencies were asked to come out and make sure the circus was up to code.  In the instance of the famous Hartford, Connecticut fire, there was a delay in getting to the venue. Therefore, the inspector was unable to inspect everything, signing off only after being promised 50 tickets to the show. Coupled with the inadequate inspection, the circus was still using tents that were treated with gasoline and turpentine, a highly flammable combination.  The story wraps all these factors together with a story of a little girl who is going to the circus with her mother and ends up burned to death. A CSI-type mystery, the story is engrossing and often unbelievable, knowing what we do now about science.

974.6; American History               Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central MS

She Takes a Stand


Ross, Michael Elsohn. She Takes a Stand: 16 Fearless Activists Who Have Changed the World (Women of Action series). Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2015. 192 p. $19.95 Grades 7-12.
One of fourteen titles to date in the Women of Action series by Chicago Review Press, this title presents short biographies of sixteen women who are changing or have changed laws or understandings about women. It opens with teenager Megan Grassell’s story of determination to provide young girls with realistic bras, not padded or sexy adult bras that she saw when she shopped with her younger sister. The book is then divided into three sections, “Claiming Rights and Respect,” “Rising Up Against Greed,” and “Rejecting Violence.” It covers well-known activists Margaret Sanger, Alice Paul, “Mother” Jones, Jane Addams, Ida Wells and Malala Yousafzai, in addition to less-recognized but strong women. These include Leymah Gbowee, standing up for peace and rights in war-torn Liberia; Sampat Pal Devi, an Indian woman who founded the Gulabi Gang (“Pink Gang”) to defend women’s rights to make their own choices, and Judy Baca, American artist who inspired Los Angeles murals depicting California’s Mexican-American heritage. Each story shows the passion and strength of women in different countries and times. Ross also touches on the controversial elements of the women’s fights as well (such as the dislike of Sanger’s birth control advocacy). Each story begins with a quote from the person and includes black and white photos and sidebars explaining relevant issues to enhance the text. At times the biographies feel stunted, but overall this is a collection to inspire, and many will pursue “the whole story” beyond Ross’ book as well. The book would benefit from short one-line or paragraph descriptions of each woman’s accomplishments, birth/death dates and countries, either in the Table of Contents or to begin each chapter. These are readable and approachable overviews. Excellent Resources, Notes, Bibliography, and Index (pp. 163-192).

This is an enlightening look at the status of women’s rights worldwide and historically. Young Americans will benefit from understanding the amazing rights granted to U.S. citizens, and the fight for equality in every realm of American society and worldwide societies. Chapters could be used to enhance understanding of historical activism, or spark interest in cultures and freedoms today.

920 Biography               Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

The Boys in the Boat…young reader’s edition


Brown, Daniel James.   The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics.  New York: Viking, 2015.  978-1-101-47592-3.  240 p.  $17.99.  Grade 5+.

The Great Depression was a difficult time for millions of people, including young Joe Rantz, who was forced out of his home because his family couldn’t care for him.  Although Joe went back to his family, he was later sent away by his new stepmother who didn’t want any reminders of her husband’s previous family.  In order to survive, Joe worked hard and learned to be self-reliant.  He was bright and realized that college would enable him to achieve the financial independence he needed.  He was accepted by the University of Washington in Seattle and tried out for the rowing team in order to stay at the university.  Many of Joe’s teammates on the rowing team were in a similar position; they didn’t come from wealthy families and were used to hard physical labor.  The boys on the boat were strong, but they were also insecure and didn’t know how to work together as a team.  As they began to connect and rely on each other, they started to win against more skilled teams from California and the East Coast.  Finally, they found the perfect synchrony that only exists in the best rowing teams, and they were on the path to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

797.12; Memoir; Rowing          Susan Fox, Washington JSHS

Although this book is supposed to be about the entire University of Washington rowing team that went to the Berlin Olympics, it is arguably Joe Rantz’s story.  His life circumstances were almost unimaginably tragic, but he constantly picked himself up and worked to improve his situation.  This aspect of the story alone makes The Boys in the Boat a worthy read for students.  Although I  didn’t find the coach’s speeches and the race descriptions to be that interesting, the human aspects of the story are engaging.  The book’s treatment of Nazi Germany during the 1936 Olympics is somewhat controversial; the author portrays Germany as the rowers saw it, a friendly and scenic European country.  They seemed to have little awareness of Hitler’s treatment of the Jews and the coming storm.  On a final note, this book is very strong in the amount of supporting documentation it offers; there are many photographs, a timeline, a diagram/ description of the “art of rowing”, and a notes/ index section that will be included in the final version of the book.  The Boys in the Boat will be a wonderful addition to any middle grade library.


Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda


Albertalli, Becky. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2015. 978-0-06-234867-8. 303 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 & up.

Simon Spier hasn’t exactly been hiding the fact that he’s gay, but he’s not ready to announce it yet either.  So, when a classmate spies him e-mailing a mystery boy he’s falling for, Simon is blackmailed into setting him up with a female friend.  Simon will do almost anything to protect “Blue,” his e-mail pal, who is more hesitant to come out.  (Why do only gay people have to come out?  “Straight people really should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better,” Blue writes while debating how to broach the subject with his parents.)  Simon longs to meet Blue in person, and their strings of flirty, funny e-mails will have readers rooting for that outcome too.  Simon is an endearing character with a slew of loving friends and family which makes his emotional journey easier than it may be for others.  The strong supporting cast is similar to that in Jenny Han’s To All the Boys books which pull the reader into a supportive circle, as idealistic as it might be.  This book is a solid addition to LGBT collections, but the sincere romance between Simon and Blue also makes it an easy pick for most readers.

Realistic Fiction, LGBT, Romance     Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School

Scarlett Undercover…a new mystery


Latham, Jennifer.  Scarlett Undercover.  New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2015.  978-0-316-28393-9. 310 p.  $18.00.  Gr. 7-10.

Sixteen-year-old Scarlett graduated high school two years early and opened her own detective agency in the city of Las Almas.  When a young girl named Gemma comes to Scarlett claiming that her brother may have had something to do with his friend’s suicide and asking her to look into it, Scarlett feels compelled to take the case.  As Scarlett begins to investigate the case, she is thrown into a world of ancient myths, conspiracies, and cults.  The case becomes personal when two girls begin trailing Scarlett, an ancient relic is stolen from the apartment she shares with her sister, and she begins to unearth secrets about her father’s murder.  The plot moves along quickly, as Scarlett must figure out who to trust and solve the case before anyone else she cares about gets hurt.

Mystery (Folklore)                    Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

Scarlett is a smart, sassy, and likeable narrator that readers will find themselves rooting for throughout the story.  The action, folklore, and ancient mysteries that are woven into the story will appeal to fans of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.  Because Scarlett is Muslim American, Muslim traditions are also woven into the story.  These, along with folklore about King Solomon, might also make this title appealing to history lovers.