The Siren; American Ace – New YA Stand-alone


Cass, Kiera.  The Siren.  New York: HarperTeen, 2016.  978-0-06-239199-5.  $19.00. 327p. Grades 9 and up.

We’ve all heard the myths about the beautiful girls singing to sailors, calling them to death.  In The Siren, this well-known myth is revisited in a modern setting.  The Ocean enslaves girls to live with Her for a century.  The Ocean takes on a motherly role in these girls’ lives, and they, in return, sing once a year to feed Her ever-present hunger.  When nineteen year-old Kahlen’s cruise ship suddenly veers off course and the passengers all jump overboard, Kahlen begs for her life.  The Ocean answers by making her a Siren and giving her a 100 year sentence to live as an immortal.  Once Kahlen’s time is up, she will once again become human and will have forgotten the past 100 years.  Kahlen is the perfect Siren, always making sure she obeys the rules and always does as the Ocean asks.  The only problem is that Kahlen hates it.  She has nightmares of the people who drown and feels responsible for their untimely deaths.  In her 80th year as a Siren, Kahlen falls in love complicating everything.  The question that remains is will she finally disobey the Ocean or will she continue to obey in hopes of saving the one she loves?  Thoughts: This is a surprisingly good book.  It’s a fun take on a well-known, often visited, myth.  Cass creates likable, loving sirens who are more victims than evil.  The character of Kahlen is a bit angsty, but overall likeable. Cass notes in her acknowledgements that it is her first book, but only was able to publish it after the success of her other books.  I would recommend this to a student who is into mythology or a fan of Kiera Cass.

Mythology; Fantasy     Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area HS



Nelson, Marilyn.  American Ace.  New York: Dial Books, 2016.  978-0-8037-3305-3.  $18.00. 122p. Grades 7 and up.

Connor Bianchini knows some things in life are certain, and his heritage is one of them; he’s 50% Irish and 50% Italian.  That is until his grandmother, Nonna Lucia,  on his father’s side passes away leaving his dad in a deep depression.  It’s not until Thanksgiving that his father tells the family the source of his sadness.  Nonna Lucia left him with a letter, a class ring, and pilot’s wings.  The letter said that she fell in love with an American, and he was a result of their forbidden love.  Connor and his father set out to gather as much as they can about their new family member with what little clues they have.  The story unfolds in a series of short poems.  Often, the poetry’s focus turns solely to the Tuskegee Airman and not directly about Connor and his father’s research and journey.  The book never tells who Connor’s biological grandfather is but, he does grow and mature as he learns more about his heritage.   Thoughts:  This would be a great addition to a poetry unit in middle school or early high school.  The male voice and historical aspects are appealing to both boys and girls making it a great compliment in the classroom.  

Historical Fiction; Verse     Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area HS

Series Additions – Lion Heart; The Boy Who Knew Everything


Gaughen, A.C. Lion Heart. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-0-8027-3616-1. 346 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

The third and concluding novel in Gaughen’s Scarlet series, Lion Heart follows Scarlet (aka Marian, aka Lady Huntingdon, aka Scar per Robin Hood) from narrowly escaping her execution as ordered by Prince John, through a variety of close calls in which she displays her leadership and fighting skills. Rather than flee the country to ensure not only her own safety but also Robin Hood’s, Scarlet returns to Robin, defies Prince John, and makes the world safe for the peasants over whom she now reigns. The plot is predictable, the characters formulaic, and the romance melodramatic. THOUGHTS: Perhaps I am not the best person to review this novel as I found it tedious, a teenage romance novel with seemingly repetitive sequences. (What exactly does it mean when the author describes several characters at different points in the story as having their “throats working”? Does this imply anger, frustration, sorrow, lust, what? And why use the exact same undefinable description, so much so that the reader anticipates its usage whenever a male character is upset? Just one of the many objections I have with regard to this novel’s composition.) Although this series received positive reviews, I would not recommend it as an essential purchase.

Action/Adventure       Annette Sirio, Pittsburgh Obama Academy of International Studies




Forester, Victoria. The Boy Who Knew Everything. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2015. 404p. 978-0312 626006 $16.99 Grades 5-9.

In this sequel to Forester’s The Girl Who Could Fly, young Piper McCloud (the girl who could fly) is back home with her wonderful parents, this time with a friend: Conrad Harrington, the boy who knew everything. Soon they are joined by others with special abilities, and they hone their gifts to work together to provide “miracles” of sorts, locally and worldwide. Conrad believes he’s seeing a pattern in the mayhem of natural disasters, and he’s curious to find out. Conrad has been deeply hurt by his father’s rages and dismissal of him, and still more by his mother’s blind eye to it all. Conrad’s identity—as the son of the President of the United States—is revealed by the First Lady herself, when she arrives to request Conrad’s help in locating the four-year-old sister he’s never known, but who has disappeared. Despite his mother’s untrustworthiness, Conrad agrees. But, the cohesive gifted group they’ve built is split by design, and Conrad and Piper find themselves in a secret, nearly parallel world, Xanthia, while two of their friends have disappeared. Conrad relentlessly pursues his father, and both Piper and Conrad relentlessly encourage and save each other. Recommended for the description of Xanthia alone, and the strong friendship between Piper and Conrad, sans romance.  THOUGHTS: While it’s Piper holding this novel together, it always comes back to Conrad and his father and the longing of a son for his father’s blessing, and what a son will do in return. The story arc sags when the team (and the novel) splits. Readers do not need to have read The Girl Who Could Fly, though, meeting Piper for the first time would make a reader curious about “her” story in that book. The ending leaves substantial base for still a third book in the series.

Fantasy    Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

YA Series Continuation – See How They Run, Embassy Row Bk. 2


Carter, Ally. See How They Run. New York: Scholastic Press, 2015. 978-0-545-65484-5. $17.99. 323p. Gr. 7 and up.

It’s time for the lady librarian assassins, at least that’s what Grace Blakely thinks after learning of a secret society of Adrian women formed at the inception of Adria and still in existence today.  Women who shoot powerful men (i.e. Ms. Chancellor) to protect secrets; secrets of the past, secrets of the present, and secrets that have been lost to history.  Grace’s mom, Caroline, had been a member of the society prior to her death, a death Grace can’t live down since she caused it.  Now, it’s Grace’s turn to carry on the tradition of Adrian women to protect their land, their country, their men, and their secrets.  In the follow up to All Fall Down, book 1 of Carter’s Embassy Row series, Grace Blakely finds herself two weeks after learning the truth of her mother’s death.  As she deals with the mental exhaustion of her realization, her brother, Jamie, and his friend, John Spencer (Spence), from West Point, arrive.  Grace knows this is not a friendly visit, but welcomes her brother home.  That is until Spence kisses Grace, Alexei witnesses it, fights Spence, and the next morning Spence’s body washes up on the shore of Valencia.  Now it’s up to Grace and her motley crew of friends: Lila and Noah, the Israeli and Brazilian ambassadors twins, Rosie, the German ambassadors daughter, and Megan, daughter of a US embassy worker, to clear Alexei’s name and find Spence’s actual killer.  But, as with everything from her past, Grace quickly learns that things aren’t quite so easy, and perhaps, Spence was never the intended target. THOUGHTS:  Carter’s follow-up lacks in some basic developmental areas, but overall will keep readers interested and wanting more, especially at the end (which is somewhat predictable, but still entertaining).

Realistic Fiction; Mystery       Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

I loved Ally Carter’s Heist Society novels because, although they all connected, they could also all stand-alone.  A reader needn’t read them in order to understand what is happening and keep up with the story (although it doesn’t hurt).  With Embassy Row, I feel like Carter lost something, some of her Heist Society magic.  First, the books have to be read in order, and readers will probably need to re-read each text before the next one because of the cliff-hanger endings (or at least the final chapters).  I understand that “cliff-hangers” are important to series, but they aren’t a requirement, and I think Carter could have done amazing things with this new series, much like she did with Heist Society, if she would have tied things up a bit better.  Ending a novel doesn’t take anything away from it.  Second, Carter’s timeline is too condensed to be believable.  Two weeks ago Grace finds out she was the cause of her mother’s death (no spoilers here – read All Fall Down to find out how).  Now, she’s in the midst of a secret society, her brother is back, his friend from West Point washes up dead on the shores of Valancia, and her best friend and his is wanted for killing a US citizen.  Too much too fast Ally Carter.  If it was six months later or a year, sure, I’d believe it, but not two weeks later.  Thus the “realistic” part of realistic fiction goes away.  Third, Grace herself as the narrator is irritating.  She is selfish and whiny; get over it.  Yes, your mother is dead; that’s awful, but quit making everything about you and what happened to cause her death.  This is part of the reason why the setting of the novel bothers me so much.  Give Grace time to heal before the next novel and next death.  Finally, fill in the holes and don’t make the ending so predictable.  There are way too many holes with the history of Adria and the society.  Take some of the random pages of description and use them to explain what’s going on.  Also, Dominic…just explain something with him and why he’s following Grace.  It’s creepy without an explanation.  Overall, See How They Run is exciting at the end, but not nearly as fullfilling as All Fall Down was through the entire novel.  I liked the idea of the secret society, but apparently I need Dan Brown to write that portion for me to be intrigued.  Hopefully, book three will not disappoint (and tie everything together).
One final note, why is it recently second books in series aren’t nearly as good as books one and three?  

New for Middle School – The Nest; Awkward; Pax; The Thing About Jellyfish


Oppel, Kenneth. The Nest. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. 978-1481432320. 256p. $12.00. Gr. 5-8,

Steven is an anxious worrier with very vivid dreams. His baby brother Theo has been born with congenital defects which adds to his anxiety. When Steven is stung by a pale wasp and discovers that he is allergic, he begins having dreams of blurry creatures, which at first, he believes are angels who have come to heal the baby until it becomes clear that they are the very real wasps in the nest outside the baby’s window and their purpose is not as pure as Steven had first thought. He realizes how crazy it sounds, so decides he must defeat them on his own. This first person psychological thriller keeps the reader guessing who is good, who is bad, and what it really means to be perfect. THOUGHTS: A gripping novel that at times makes your skin crawl.  Definitely not a book for sensitive readers.

Thriller    Robin Bartley, Davis Elementary



Chmakova, Svetlana. Awkward. New York: Yen Press, 2015. 978-0316381321. 224p. $20.00 Gr. 5-8.

This graphic novel depicts the awkward adolescent years. Peppi moves to a new school and on her first day pushes away the first kid who tries to help because she’s afraid of being tagged a nerd. She immediately feels sorry and wants to apologize. Her art club and his science club feud over earning a spot in the upcoming school fair. Will she apologize? Will the groups learn to work together? Themes of kindness, diversity and understanding are woven through the book along with bright, fun illustrations. THOUGHTS: Awkward is a well written graphic novel with familiar themes which will resonate with middle readers.

Graphic Novel      Robin Bartley, Davis Elementary




Pennypacker, Sara;  Jon Klassen, ill.  Pax.  New York: Balzer + Bray, 2016.  978-0-06-237701-2. 276 p. $16.99.  Grades 5-8.

Pax, the fox, has been a part of Peter’s life since he was a young boy.  Shortly after his mother died, Peter found the orphaned kit and the two became inseparable.  When the story begins, Peter’s father is going off to war (the time and place of the war is not specified).  Peter is sent to live with his grandfather and is forced to release Pax back into the wild.  Almost as soon as he arrives at his grandfather’s, Peter knows that leaving Pax was a huge mistake; Pax is completely domesticated and will never survive.  Peter decides to go back home, over three hundred miles, to find Pax.

This story is told in chapters that alternate between Peter’s and Pax’s points of view.  While Peter is hiking over rough terrain, Pax is barely surviving on his own since he has no idea how to hunt or find water.  Peter breaks his foot after a fall and is taken in by a war amputee named Vola, while Pax receives help from a group of foxes who teach him how to live in the wild.  Over the course of their journeys, the boy and his fox change.  Peter develops a newfound maturity, while Pax becomes wild.  Eventually, the two are reunited with each other and with Peter’s father, but nothing is the same as before.  THOUGHTS: Pax is reminiscent of many beloved boy and animal tales of the past, and it is destined to become a classic in its own right.  The spare, but eloquent, fox-speak used throughout the book conveys the horrors of war (maybe even more than human words).  This is a book that is accessible to everyone from middle grade students to adults.  Readers of all ages will cry over and love this story.

This story is beautiful both in content and its artwork.  Jon Klassen’s drawings are placed throughout the book; the simple charcoal drawings set the mood of different scenes throughout the story.  Anti-war messages in literature are common, but the same message from the viewpoint of animals is especially poignant;  the foxes speak of humans being “war-sick” because war causes them to forget their humanity and the value of living things. This story of a boy and his pet has a bittersweet ending, but students will be relieved to see that Pax does live at the end of the story.  That being said, other animals do not survive the coming war and there is a painful scene at the beginning of the book involving a baby rabbit killed in a trap at Peter’s home.  As a result, librarians might consider warning their more sensitive students that bad things do happen in the story.  Despite the tears that will surely fall, this is a breathtaking book that won’t easily be forgotten.

Fantasy (Animal)         Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. High School




Benjamin, Ali.  The Thing About Jellyfish.  Little, Brown, & Company, 2015.  978-0-316-38086-7.  343 p. $17.00.  Gr. 5-8.

Franny Jackson and Suzy “Zu” Swanson had been friends for many years, but as the girls enter middle school, Franny joins a clique of popular girls leaving her bright, but different, friend behind.  Zu spends a great deal of time trying to find the “old” Franny that she used to know.  In the critical summer between sixth and seventh grade, Franny drowns while on a family vacation.  When Zu finds out, she simply can’t accept what the adults tell her, that sometimes these things “just happen.”  Faced with profound grief and emotions she can’t deal with, Zu almost completely stops talking.  One day, on a school field trip, Zu reads about the venomous Irukandji jellyfish.  She immediately decides that Franny must have been stung by this jellyfish because Franny was such a strong swimmer she never would have drowned. She immediately sets out to prove her hypothesis, writing a school research paper and secretly buying a plane ticket to Australia to visit a renowned expert on the Irukandji jellyfish.  Somehow, through the course of her 7th grade year, Zu comes out of her grief, and begins to find people who accept her for the odd and precious individual that she is.  THOUGHTS: The Thing About Jellyfish is a profound depiction of grief and the difficulties of growing up.  It tackles these subjects head on and the result isn’t always pretty or easy to read.  The character of Zu will speak to many students, especially students who have experienced a similar loss (or even just the loss of a friendship).  The significance to the book might be lost on fifth and sixth-graders, but junior high and even high school students will enjoy it.

The reviews for this book were glowing; Booklist, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, VOYA, and the School Library Journal gave it starred reviews.  My personal feelings were less enthusiastic.  Zu is socially awkward, but her behavior is not endearing; in many circumstances she is self-absorbed and thoughtless.  Her divorced parents and older brother are concerned but, apart from making Zu go to a counselor, they seem unwilling to expend the effort to reach Zu through her grief.  Perhaps this is a book that is so realistic it is disturbing.  Adults need to read The Thing About Jellyfish to decide if it is appropriate to give to the young people in their lives.

The format of this book, which is told in different parts matched with the scientific process is both unique and interesting.
Realistic Fiction         Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. High School

New from Mo Willems


Willems, Mo. The Story of Diva and Flea. New York, NY: Hyperion Books, 2015. 978-148472284-8. 66 pages. $14.99. Gr K-3.

Personalities often clash like cats and dogs, yet there is a middle ground where true friendship can find harmony. Such is the story of two French creatures in Mo Willems excellent stand alone beginning chapter book, The Story of Diva and Flea, ably illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi. Diva, a skittish guard dog, resides in an apartment complex in Paris; meanwhile, Flea is a wandering adventurer cat who lives life on the streets. When the two clash by the fence, they come to empathize and see new perspectives on life. The presentation is careful to show courage and challenges from both sides, and the view from the creatures provide entertainment for the reader as well as a good moral. The French setting and phrases add a “joie de vivre” for this touching tale.  THOUGHTS: Die hard fans of the Pigeon or Elephant and Piggie will not recognize much of Mo in this tale, but it stands alone as an interesting story. Also, the language and reading level are better suited as a class read aloud for K & 1st graders, while 2nd & 3rd graders would certainly enjoy the challenge.

Animal Fiction; Early Chapter    Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

New Picture Books – Elephant & Piggie; Float; Waiting; Lenny & Lucy; The Only Child; We Forgot Brock


Willems, Mo. I Really Like Slop! New York: Hyperion, 2015. 978-1-4847-2262-6. 57p. $9.99. Gr. K-2.

Elephant and Piggie are back in a new adventure. This time, Piggie wants Gerald to try her slop. Since pigs REALLY love slop, she wants to share with her best friend. Gerald does not want to, as it seems to look and smell funny to him. Saying no hurts Piggie’s feelings, though, so Gerald agrees to have a taste after all. However, the fish bones she offers for dessert gets a “Don’t push it, bub!” from Gerald!  THOUGHTS: A wonderful new addition to the Elephant and Piggie series! Students will love the use of color and pattern when Gerald tries the slop. As always, a subtle lesson (in this case, about being willing to try new things) is taught with humor.

Picture Book     Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary



Miyares, Daniel. Float. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. 978-1481415248. 48p. $14.00. Gr.K-3.

This wordless picture book tells the adventures of a father and son making a newspaper boat. Dressed in bright yellow rain gear against a monochromatic background, the boy ventures outside to launch it. The illustrations show varying perspectives, including an aerial view, of the boy as he shields his boat from the rain, floats it in puddles, and chases it as it is swept down the street and into a storm drain. When he sulkily returns home with his soggy ruined boat, his father dries him, sits him down with hot chocolate, and helps him make a paper airplane…this time heading out into a now bright sunny yellow day! THOUGHTS: A beautiful, heartwarming visual journey of a small moment in a child’s life, a lovely homage to Ezra Jack Keats’ tales of Peter.

Wordless Picture Book     Robin Bartley, Davis Elementary



Henkes, Kevin. Waiting. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. 978-0062368430. 32p. $10.00. Gr. K-3.

Five toys: an owl waiting for the moon; a pig with an umbrella waiting for the rain; a bear with a kite waiting for the wind, and a puppy on a sled waiting for the snow, sit quietly on the windowsill. The soft pastels of clouds, rainbows, fireworks and rain, along with the repeating patterns of text, tell their story of patience and waiting as they each experience joy, sadness, surprise, friendship, gifts, and visitors. THOUGHTS: The story is profound, not in its moral or meaning, but in its ability to create this microcosm of pure childlike emotion with simple text and expressive illustrations.

Picture Book    Robin Bartley, Davis Elementary



Stead, Philip. Lenny & Lucy. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2015. 978-1596439320. 40p. $14.00. Gr. K-2.

This is the story of Peter and his dog Harold who are moving to a new home. Peter thinks it is a terrible idea, and Harold would do something about it if he weren’t a dog. Neither of them can sleep the first night because of their anxiety over the ominous dark woods and the bridge leading to them outside the new house. The next day, Peter decides to build a guard for the bridge from pillows and blankets and names him Lenny. This makes him worry less about the woods, but instead he worries that Lenny is lonely out there by himself. The next day he and Harold build Lucy to keep Lenny company. Peter and Harold pass the days playing with Lenny and Lucy and their new friend, Millie, from next door and rest better at night knowing that Lenny and Lucy guard the bridge, keeping the dark woods on the other side “where they belong”. THOUGHTS: A quiet tale of resilience and friendship portrayed by a boy who uses his imagination and the comfort of friendship to help cope with his anxiety and fears.

Picture Book     Robin Bartley, Davis Elementary



Guojing. The Only Child. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015.  978-0-553-49704-5. unpaged. $19.99. Gr K-2.

Family is important, but when you are an only child who is often alone or unattended, the isolation can lead to adventure or despair. Guojing was such a child in China, and wordlessly retells her emotional journey in this gently pencilled graphic novel. The child wanders out of her home and onto a bus with the intention of visiting her grandmother, but when she falls asleep on the ride, she is scared and alone in the woods at night. With turns of fantasy and humor and tenderness, the child journeys with a few animals to a cloud world and seeks the companionship that eventually can only come from a reunion with family.  THOUGHTS: The drawings are so soft and sweet that they may be lost on those who plow quickly though wordless books. But, those who take time for close reading and notice and note strategies will find plenty to unpack. The Only Child would also make a great comparison book with Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman for two wordless worlds of wonder!

Wordless Picture Book    Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District



Goodrich, Carter. We Forgot Brock. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. 978-1-4424-8090-2. 42 unnumbered pages. $17.99. Gr K-2.

Imaginary characters are in vogue for kid lit at the moment, and We Forgot Brock fits nicely into the genre. As many stories like this go, Phillip’s best friend can’t be seen by his parents, but they play along with Brock’s life anyway. Brock appears as if drawn by the boy, further separating him from the colorful watercolor “real world”. A journey to the Big Fair together proves to be the catalyst for separation, and the panic is mutual between friends. Fortunately, a new pair of characters come along and care for Brock until the satisfying conclusion. Imaginary or not, characters who are creative in play and resourceful in times of need provide promising traits for young readers to discover.  THOUGHTS: Pair We Forgot Brock with The Adventures of Beekle for two different view of a similar topic. Children will be itching to remember (or create) their own “hard to see friends”!  

Picture Book    Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

New Elementary NF – Beastly Verse; W is for Webster; Water is Water


Yoon, JooHee. Beastly Verse. New York: Enchanted Lion, 2015. 978-1592701667. 48p. $16.00. Gr.K-5.

A collection of 16 animal poems from a wide variety of styles and authors such as Lewis Carroll, D.H. Lawrence, Laura Richards, and Robert Desnos. Selected for their childish appeal, this menagerie of creatures, both real and imagined, are elevated by Yoon’s bold, bright, almost fluorescent 3-color illustrations which overlap to create additional shades, striking patterns and playful layouts. THOUGHTS: This creative display of verse, printmaking, drawing and color is a must for any children’s poetry collection.

Poetry     Robin Bartley, Davis Elementary




Fern, Tracey. W is for Webster. New York: Farrar Straus Books for Young Readers, 2015. 978-0-374-38240-7 32p. $17.99. Gr. K-4.

The famous Noah Webster was known from an early age to be a rather odd and unusual fellow. He was intrigued by words and often spoke in a “big way” using words like “overwhelmed with gloomy apprehensions” to mean afraid. Having grown up during the American Revolution, Webster saw a need for a way to unify the country. What better way than a national language, spelled and spoken the same way? Starting with a short collection, he sold his first book along the eastern states and gave speeches about his dictionary. After nearly twenty years (although he thought it would take only five), Webster created his famous collection of words. The story also gives insight into his schooling, marriage, and life outside of dictionary creation.  THOUGHTS: A well-written, at times humorous, look at how Webster created the famous dictionary. This would be an excellent addition to a collection to use when teaching about dictionary use or for teachers to use in the classroom for instruction on dictionaries. It could also be used in conjunction with colonial studies.

Biography   Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary




Paul, Miranda and Chin, Jason. Water is Water: A Book about the Water Cycle. New York: Harper Collins, 2015. 978-1596439849. 40p. $14.00 Gr. 1-5.

A clever text written in verse which follows a brother and sister through the year highlighting the different phases and forms of the water cycle: precipitation, evaporation, condensation, etc. At the back of the book is a “More About Water” section that contains more detailed information about the water cycle such as its forms, the percentages of water in plants and animals as well as its importance in our world and the need to protect and conserve it. THOUGHTS: Paul’s book is an excellent resource for a unit on the Water Cycle which can provide a more practical view of the importance of water in students’ everyday lives.

Water     Robin Bartley, Davis Elementary

Realistic Fiction Grades 7 and up – Every Last Word; Beyond Clueless


Stone, Tamara Ireland. Every Last Word. New York: Hyperion, 2015. 355 p. 978-1484705278. $17.99 Gr. 7-12.

Samantha McAllister is one of the remaining five “Crazy Eights”—the most popular girls in her school. She’s pretty, popular and just set a county record for the butterfly in swimming. She’s also OCD and desperate to keep her secret from everyone despite her weekly therapist visits and all-too-frequent obsessive thought trains. If word gets out, if the Crazy Eights are imbalanced, everything will change, and she will lose status, friends, and sanity. Amidst this pressure, she meets Caroline, who listens without judging and introduces her to Poet’s Corner, a well-hidden room lost between the stage and custodian closet, and she is hooked. She begins writing and sharing poetry in the twice-weekly meetings, all the while keeping Caroline and Poet’s Corner a secret. She also meets and falls for AJ, a guitar-strumming poet and music lover. Unfortunately, this is the “Andrew” that she and the Crazy Eights bullied so badly in fourth grade that he changed schools. They confront this past, and slowly, they fall in love, and Sam realizes she’s gaining control over her life, apart from the Crazy Eights. Then a surprise twist makes her rethink everything.  THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful novel about coming to terms with change in oneself and others. Sam has some tremendous help from her mom and therapist, but it’s clear that her real growth comes from her own choices. This is a good look at “Pure-O”—showing more thought-driven obsessive OCD versus compulsive behaviors. The social results are positive for Sam, and it’s certainly a hopeful book about the strength needed to fight mental illness and to make peace with oneself.

Realistic Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School




Alsenas, Linas. Beyond Clueless. New York: Amulet Books, 2015. 978-1-4197-1496-2. 249 p. $16.95. Gr. 8 and up.

This is an engaging story to which many teens will relate. Before becoming the new girl in a girls’ Catholic high school, Marty was very comfortable hanging out with her best friend, Jimmy. Now, not only is Marty sent to a different high school, but Jimmy, no surprise, has hooked up with a boyfriend, Derek, and is now hanging out with two of Derek’s gay friends, Kirby and Oliver, leaving Marty feeling like the fifth wheel. When Marty successfully auditions for the school musical, Into the Woods, and gets the role of Little Red Riding Hood, she also gets lots of attention from Felix, who comes from the boys’ school and, as it turns out, appropriately plays the role of the Wolf, not only in the school production but in Marty’s superficial back-stage romance with him as well. Not coincidentally and as the book’s title implies, Marty is oblivious to the interest Oliver shows her, as the themes of mistaken identity and parental and inter-personal relationships play out in parallel fashion in the teenagers’ lives and in the production of Into the Woods. THOUGHTS: This quick, light read, with completely likable characters, is a welcome change for readers who want to enjoy a book about teenage friendships.

Realistic Fiction         Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy

MS Realistic Fiction – Lost in the Sun


Graff, Lisa. Lost in the Sun. New York: Philomel Books, 2015. 978-0-399-16406-4. $16.99. 289p. Gr. 5-8.

Trent would like to forget his fifth grade year altogether, but the tragic accident with a hockey puck that took a classmate’s life continues to haunt him.  As a therapeutic act, he plies his journal with sketches of alternative causes leading to Jared’s death.  Hoping middle school will provide a fresh start, he can’t shake the feeling that everyone in town hates him, except Fallon Little.  Shrouded in mystery, Fallon won’t hesitate to tell anyone the story behind the scar on her face.  She makes up one ludicrous anecdote after another.  Her peers think she’s more than a little odd, and oftentimes she’s the target of bullying.  When Trent defends her against the town bully, and the rage builds in his chest until he pummels the kid, Fallon suddenly withdraws from the friendship claiming her parents won’t let her hang out with Trent.  Problems at school intensify for Trent when he discovers he may not pass sixth grade because he refuses to participate in gym.  Mrs. Emerson provides an alternative to failing in which he must assist in a weekend basketball clinic to help younger players improve their skills.  The director partners him with Annie Richards, the sister of the boy Trent killed in February.  Making amends isn’t easy until Trent takes the advice of his teacher and starts speaking truths.  THOUGHTS: A poignant story of friendship and healing that has readers cheering for Trent.

Realistic Fiction              Christine Massey, JWP Middle School


Even though they broke up…the books keep coming


French, Holly. One Direction: The Story so Far. Broomall, PA: Mason Crest, 2015. 978-1-4222-3249-1. $23.95. 64p. Gr. 5-8.

One television show was able to bring five boys together, each with a dream to make it in the music business, and create one of the biggest music sensations Simon Cowell could have envisioned.  The Story so Far beings with an individual biography of each band member.  Directioners will read about family life, siblings, struggles, sports and interesting trivia that makes each boy unique.  Their story reveals how they auditioned for The X Factor and were given a matter of minutes to decide if they would continue in the competition as a group.  As their success grew, they began writing new music and performing across the country and eventually the world.  The book adds “Fact Files” on each band member that include ambition(s), nickname(s) and best friends(s) that fans will devour.  The last two sections of the book focus on “Quotes and Trivia” and a Quick Quiz with answers revealed at the bottom.  Filled with a variety of colored photos, including full-page layouts, Directioners will feast on the story behind their favorite boy band.  THOUGHTS:  While the writing itself lacks high literary quality, the story chronicles how these young artists, who dedicated themselves to the show and their music, continued to stay true to themselves and their loyal fanbase.

Music (782.42164)                        Christine Massey, JWP Middle School