New Fiction Upper Elementary – Warren the 13th; Some Kind of Courage

Warren the 13th

Del Rio, Tania. Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2015. 9781584748035. 216p. $16.95. Gr. 3–6.

Even though he is only 12 years old, Warren the 13th is the sole heir to his family’s once magnificent hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel has fallen on hard times since Warren’s father died five years ago and since Warren’s Uncle Rupert brought his bride, Aunt Annaconda, to stay. Annaconda is bent on locating the hotel’s legendary hidden treasure, the All-Seeing Eye. When a mysterious bandaged guest checks in to the hotel, Annaconda is convinced the guest will locate the Eye before she does and a breakneck treasure hunt ensues. Warren is swept up in the action, hoping to locate his rightful inheritance before any other guest does. Along the way, he has to outsmart witches and monsters and puzzle out the answers to riddles, secret codes, and mazes. Although the storytelling is strong, this book’s standout feature is its illustrations. Every page includes at least one red and black ink engraving illustration, and many pages also feature distinctive typefaces that emphasize certain story elements. The bright red cover will draw readers in, and they won’t be disappointed by this creepy story.  THOUGHTS:  Readers will love this fast-paced book and its unique two-column page layout. They will eagerly join Warren on his hunt for the All-Seeing Eye, and they will wait with anticipation for the sequel, due out fall 2016. This title will be popular with readers who enjoy Brian Selznick’s heavily-illustrated tales and with anyone seeking an original adventure.

Fantasy     Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County



Gemeinhart, Dan. Some Kind of Courage. New York: Scholastic Books, 2016. 978-0-545-66577-3. 234 p. $16.99. Gr. 3-6.

The best cowboy tales are really quest stories, often motivated by loss or love or family. Some Kind of Courage takes place during the westward expansion in Washington state, and leads readers to quickly feel the danger and heartbreak that comes with frontier living. Joseph, a boy who lost everything, is determined to recover the one thing that remains – his horse, Sarah. So he heads out alone, though he quickly teams up with a Chinese boy who is also lonely and seeking something. The story moves quickly through many dangers and encounters, keeping the reader on edge and wishing for the best, even when that would be impossible. Dan Gemeinhart’s sophomore novel has found success and resonance in the quest, just like The Honest Truth did last year.  THOUGHTS: Horse lovers and wild west fans will eat this up, but it would make a great introduction for others less familiar with the genre. As a read aloud and class discussion, this book can touch on topics of race, discrimination, cruelty, family, and of course, courage!

Historical Fiction (Western)       Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District




New Picture Books – The Skunk; North Woods Girl

The Skunk

Barnett, Mac. The Skunk. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2015. 9781596439665. 32pp. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

What do you do when a skunk appears on your doorstep and follows you all over the city? That is the problem a tuxedo-wearing man faces in this quirky story by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell. The narrator attempts to shake the skunk, but the animal follows him down streets, around corners, and to cafes. It tails him even after he hails a cab, visits the opera, and takes a spin on the Ferris wheel. After escaping into the sewers, the narrator finally emerges and begins a skunk-free life in a new part of the city. Eventually, though, he begins to wonder about his striped pursuer. In a reversal of roles, he retraces his steps until he locates the animal, vowing to keep an eye on him so he doesn’t get followed again.  THOUGHTS:  McDonnell’s mostly black and white palette visually connects the man and the skunk, and readers will enjoy watching how the skunk’s movements and gestures mimic the narrator’s.  Both children and adults will enjoy this paranoid pursuit up street and down alley all over the city.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County



north woods girl

Bissonette, Aimee. North Woods Girl. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2015. 9780873519663. 32p. $16.95. Gr. K-3.

Each changing season brings something new to celebrate and someplace different to explore in this gentle intergenerational story about a city girl and her beloved grandmother who lives in the woods. The unnamed narrator loves visiting her grandmother in the north woods. In the springtime, they hike to the pond and peer through binoculars at the migrating ducks. In the summer, they rest in the evergreens’ cool shade, and in the fall, they watch squirrels gather seeds and nuts. Winter is their favorite season, and they take moonlit walks through the cold snow, listening for hooting owls. Vibrant scratchboard and watercolor illustrations perfectly capture the love shared between grandmother and granddaughter. This title celebrates nature’s quiet moments, suggesting that the simplest pleasures are sometimes best enjoyed with someone you care about the most.  THOUGHTS:  This title will tie in nicely with units about the changing seasons since the girl and her grandmother have different traditions and activities for each time of year. It will also be a good fit for Grandparents Day celebrations since it depicts a free-spirited, active, outdoorsy grandparent.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County




New additions to favorite picture book series – Little Elliott, Big Family; Red; Dragon Moves in Again


Curato, Mike. Little Elliot, Big Family. New York: Henry Holt, 2015. 978-0-8050-9826-6. 32 p. $17.99. Gr. K-2.

Little Elliot’s friend Mouse leaves to attend his family reunion with his huge family of relatives. Elliot decides to go for a walk while Mouse is away, on which he observes families of all shapes and sizes doing all kinds of things. Through Curato’s softly illustrated 2-page spreads, readers feel Elliot’s longing for a family. Just as sadness descends on him, Mouse reappears and has Elliot join in the family reunion. A framed photo at the end includes Elliot in Mouse’s extended family, subtly reminding readers that not all families are the same.  THOUGHTS: Read it for the adorable polka dot elephant readers fell in love with first in Little Elliot Big City, or read it for the deeper message of friendship and family – and how friends are often family too.

Picture Book      Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School



Hall, Michael. Red: A Crayon’s Story. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2015. 978-0062252074. 40 p. $17.99. Gr. K-2.

Red is actually a blue crayon, but his bright red label says otherwise. He desperately tries to “be” red, attempting to draw red things, but, naturally, they just don’t look “right.” His parents and others try to help him be more red, even having him combine with other colors (but unlike red and yellow, he can’t make orange). By the end, with the help of a friend asking him to draw an ocean, he discovers his true self is indeed blue!  THOUGHTS: A unique spin on being unique, with its clever double meaning on how society assigns “labels”, younger readers will love the story at face value, while older students will appreciate the message of being true to yourself! Pair this with Frankencrayon, the newest by Michael Hall (imagine a Horrible Harry “stub people” type) and The Day the Crayons (Quit and/or Came Home). It could make for some great discussion among the K-2 set!

Picture Book     Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School



Moore, Jodi. When A Dragon Moves In Again. New York: Flashlight Press, 2015. 978-1-936261-35-2. unpaged. $17.95. Gr K-2.

The “imaginary” dragon who wreaked havoc on a beach with a confused boy in Jodi Moore’s first book is back in the next great discussable book. Now the family is home, and a change is coming as a baby is on the way. The boy and dragon navigate a sea of emotions before and after the birth, often with energetic and chaotic results. The eruption finally happens when the dragon seems to side with the baby, and the boy demands that he get sent back. Moore captures a difficult stage for a child with honesty and curiosity; meanwhile, the playful illustrations by Howard McWilliam show more than words often can, including the dragon that may just exist in the house after all.  THOUGHTS: Jodi is a Central PA writer and does a fantastic job creating and sharing her work. Her energy is easy for the children to notice, and there is plenty of discussion questions and activities that can go with her books.

Picture book; Family      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

YA Fantasy – The Walls Around Us; Nimona


Suma, Nova Ren. The Walls Around Us. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2015. 978-1-61620-372-6. 323 p. $16.99.  Gr. 9-12.

The “Bloody Ballerina” Orianna Speerling is fifteen when she is convicted of murdering two rival dancers. A month after her sentence begins, all forty-two girls interned at the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center are dead as a result of an unexplainable mass killing. Ori’s story is gradually revealed through the eyes of Violet, Ori’s best friend, a fellow dancer who knows more about Ori’s crime than she is willing to admit since she does not want to risk her future career as a professional dancer. The second narrator is Amber, an inmate at Aurora Hills, who is serving a long sentence all while keeping secret the fact that she has visions of girls she’s never met. Suma interlaces the three narratives brilliantly.  THOUGHTS: The Walls Around Us is well-written, and Suma expertly tells the story of Ori through the eyes of Amber and Violet. Creepy, ghostly, and macabre with a twist ending, The Walls Around Us will stay with readers after they have finished.

Paranormal Fantasy      Graig Henshaw, Littlestown Senior HS/Maple Avenue MS




Stevenson, Noelle. Nimona. New York, NY: HarperTeen, 2015. 9780062278234. 266 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 Up.

Ballister Blackheart (a former ex-knight and current supervillain) is focused on the destruction of the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics, but he also has a score to settle with former acquaintance, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Blackheart is putting his plans in motion when in steps Nimona (a shapeshifter) who claims to be his new sidekick. Nimona has little concern for human life and following the rules of villainy leaves Blackheart with the task of keeping her under control. The two soon discover that good and evil are not as separate as they thought. Stevenson creates a tremendous world blending medieval times with modern times and science fiction. Nimona is a flawed and interesting protagonist, and the interactions between the characters are interesting. THOUGHTS: Nimona is an excellent example of a graphic novel getting things right. There is fantastic world building along with dynamic characters. Sometimes bad is good and good is bad in Nimona, which adds to its appeal.

Fantasy; Graphic Novel    Graig Henshaw, Littlestown Senior HS/Maple Avenue MS

YA Realistic Fiction (and a Thriller) – Either the Beginning…; Up From The Sea; Lies I Told


Farish, Terry. Either the Beginning or the End of the World. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Lab, 2015. 978-1-4677-7483-3. 191p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Sophie Grear, 16 years old, is her father’s daughter. She has, until now, shared all her secrets with her fisherman father, and they act as a well-oiled machine, living together since Sophie was a young child. Her relationship with her mother is almost non-existent, so when Sophie’s mother and grandmother come to live with her because her father is away for months fishing, the tension is palpable. Immigrants from Cambodia and survivors of the atrocities inflicted by the Khmer Rouge, mother and grandmother carry scars as well as traditions and superstitions that Sophie at first must endure. Relationships are further complicated by the fact that Sophie is involved in her first real relationship, with Luke, a former medic and veteran of the war in Afghanistan who suffers from PTSD. The beauty of this coming-of-age novel lies in Sophie’s recognition that both her Cambodian mother and grandmother and her boyfriend Luke suffer from similar psychological and emotional damage caused by experiences of war and suffering, and she evolves from being a typical self-centered teenager to being an empathetic young adult. THOUGHTS: Trauma comes in many forms, and certainly our students can relate to families struggling with mental and emotional challenges. This novel offers hope and optimism for seemingly impossible relationships.

Realistic Fiction      Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy




Lowitz, Lena.  Up From the Sea.  New York: Crown Books, 2016.  978-0-553-53474-0.  272 p. $17.99.  Grades 7 and up.

Up From the Sea is a novel-in-verse based on the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Honshu, Japan.  Kai is a 17 year-old who lives with his mother and grandparents in a small seaside community (his father abandoned the family years before the quake).  The quake hits while Kai is at school and even though he, and most of the school community get out safely, Kai’s family is lost in the earthquake/tsunami.  Later, the survivors take refuge at the school and wait.  They wait for family members to be found, they wait to be found, and they wait for life to get back to “normal”.  Kai is eventually nominated to go to America with other teenage earthquake victims.  The children of 3/11 will be meeting with people who survived 9/11 to talk, grieve, and learn to move on.  Kai goes on the trip.  He attempts to make contact with his estranged father (unsuccessfully) and he learns that the best way to move on from the disaster is to go back home and be part of the recovery.  Later, in Japan, Kai finds that passing his love of soccer on to younger students is the best way for him to aid the recovery.  When his father, newly out of rehab, comes to take Kai with him to America, Kai knows he has found his purpose and his home; he will not leave his beloved Japan.  THOUGHTS: Lowitz’s book, one of many recent novels-in-verse, lacks the grace and poetry of some books in this genre.  It does, though, capture what being a teenage boy must feel like.  This book is a good introduction to novels-in-verse for young men and should be included in junior and senior high book collections.

Up From the Sea is a powerful depiction of the 2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami.  Kai is a relatable young man; in many cases he is fearful, angry, and childlike.  In other situations, we see hints of the adult Kai will become.  Although novels-in-verse are very popular with students, this is one book that I would like to have seen presented in traditional prose.  Kai goes through a great deal in this story.  He is the only member of his family to survive the horrible disaster.  He lives the complicated life of a biracial teenager in Japan.  He gives hope to a younger generation of Japanese children by forming a youth soccer league.  Finally, he learns to forgive the father who abandoned him when he was a young boy.  I would like to have seen these events addressed in a deeper way.  This book was not poorly done, by any means, but it could have been much more.

Realistic Fiction; Novel in Verse                         Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. HS




Zink, Michelle. Lies I Told. New York, NY: HarperTeen, 2015.  978-0-06-232712-3. 341 p. $16.99. Gr. 9-12.

Grace was a child of the foster care system until being adopted by the Fontaines, a couple of thieves who use Grace and her brother, Parker, to accomplish their cons. They con the wealthy out of anything from money to art and jewelry. Grace is an expert at making friends, following the rules of the con, and completing any heist; however, when they move to Playa Hermosa, California, and Grace forges stronger friendships than she had in any previous location, she begins to break certain rules of the con. Her feelings for Logan, who is the son of the mark, complicate matters more. Grace is conflicted between her feelings for her new friends and the rules of the heist, which helps to build the suspense. With a twist ending, readers will be left wanting more.  THOUGHTS: Lies I Told is an excellent addition to any thriller/suspense collection. The blending of friendship, family, romance, and con make it appealing.

Realistic Fiction; Thriller     Graig Henshaw, Littlestown Senior HS/Maple Avenue MS

YA Historical Fiction – X; The Hired Girl


Shabazz, Ilyasah and Kekla Magoon. X. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2015. 978-0-7636-6967-6. 348 p. $16.99. Gr . 8 and up.

Much has been written about this fictional account of Malcolm X’s early life, co-written by his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and recently recognized as a 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book. One reason for this book’s appeal is the powerful way in which it is written, from young Malcolm Little’s perspective as a twenty-something year old looking back at his childhood, his parents’ influence, and his journeys, literally and figuratively, ferrying between Lansing, Boston and Harlem. The texture of life in the segregated 1930s and 1940s is tangible and disturbingly so. Malcolm’s early life, in which he resorts to working as a messenger for a numbers runner, drinking, taking drugs, and avoiding arrest, is not celebrated; it does, however, provide essential context for the events that occurred in Malcom’s adult life, and while his parents preached his ability to become anything he desired, these tumultuous early years did in fact form the foundation for his influence later on. THOUGHTS: Winner of the 2016 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teens and a 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, this is a highly recommended and a must-have title for middle and high school libraries.

Historical Fiction     Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy




Schlitz, Laura Amy. The Hired Girl. Berryville, VA: Candlewick Press, 2015. 978-0-7636-7818-0. 388 p. $17.99. Gr 7-12.

In 1911, fourteen-year old Joan works tirelessly to appease her father and three brothers on their small family farm. Since her mother passed away, Joan has taken on all the household chores, and it seems the work will never end. Her cruel father doesn’t allow Joan any small luxuries; she’s not allowed to read, go to school, or even have visitors, and Joan wonders if her life will ever be anything but hard work and labor. Devastated after her father burns her secret stash of books, Joan runs away with nothing but a suitcase and the money her mother left her secretly sewn into her childhood doll. Joan heads to Baltimore, and a chance encounter leads her to live with and work for the Rosenbach family. Going by Janet, and insisting that she’s 18-years old, Joan finds herself cooking and cleaning, but also earning a wage of six dollars a week. Raised in the Catholic faith, Joan finds that working for a strict Jewish family to be both tiring and enlightening, especially as she works hard to hide her age and an affection for one of the Rosebach sons. Written as a diary, readers will find Joan a compassionate and relatable character, even if she seems a bit immature.  THOUGHTS: A worthwhile historical story, but younger readers might be deterred by the hefty size of this 388 page book.

Historical Fiction              Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

YA Fantasy, Paranormal, and Sci-Fi: Darkthaw; The Accident Season; Illuminae; Forget Tomorrow


Boorman, Kate A. Darkthaw. New York: Amulet Books, 2015. 978-1-4197-1663-8. 325 p. $17.95. Gr. 7 and up.

In this sequel to Winterkill, Emmeline and a small band of sympathizers leave the compound where they have had little free will in pursuit of freedom in a place she has seen in her dreams and from which her companion, Matista, has come. The two young women are connected by the foreshadowing dreams that involve each other, and now that the promising thaw has come in terms of both the environment and the fall of the Council that governed the settlement, Emmeline sets out. Her journey is fraught with challenges as she navigates the terrain, confused loyalties, the questions of forgiveness and redemption, illness, hostile tribes, and her relationship with Kane, whom she loves and who has told her he will go with her anywhere until his responsibilities are also tested. THOUGHTS: Emmeline is a strong female character upon whom secondary and male characters depend for modeling behavior, dedication and decision-making. Fans of Winterkill and similar fantasy adventure stories led by dominant female characters will enjoy this sequel. Includes mild sex scenes (kissing with “heat”) and graphic violence.

Fantasy     Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy




Fowley-Doyle, Moira.  The Accident Season.  New York: Kathy Dawson Books, 2015.  978-0-525-42948-7. 291 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Every October, Cara and her family suddenly become extremely accident-prone.  Having
no explanation for all of the cuts, bruises, and tragedies during this time, they refer to this month as the accident season and simply prepare for it as best as they can.  This year, however, Cara notices that a strange girl named Elsie appears in every single one of her photos and begins to wonder if there is a connection between this mysterious girl and the accident season.  As she searches for Elsie, family secrets are uncovered, relationships develop, and Cara’s entire world comes crashing down as everything she thought she knew about the accident season is turned upside down.   THOUGHTS: An interesting mix of mystery, suspense, romance, paranormal fiction, and realistic family dynamics make this an intriguing read.  Although the story starts out slow, the plot picks up about halfway through, and plot twists and turns will keep readers hooked from this point on.  Some sensitive subjects, such as teenage drinking and sexual assault, make this book more appropriate for high school audiences.

Paranormal Fiction        Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School




Kaufman, Amie, and Jay Kristoff. Illuminae: The Illuminae Files_01. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 978-0-553-49911-7. 599 pp. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

When an illegal mining operation on the planet of Kerenza is attacked by BeiTech Corporation, escapees flee to nearby spaceships Alexander, Hypatia, and Copernicus. Among these refugees are recent exes Kady and Ezra, who wind up on different ships but manage to re-connect via pirated communication channels. Ezra is quickly conscripted into the military as a fighter pilot, while Kady is tapped for her computer hacking skills. When the battleship Alexander inexplicably bombs a member of its own fleet, killing thousands of people, it seems the ship’s artificial intelligence (AIDAN) has gone rogue. Kady just might have the skills to stop AIDAN, but at a great personal cost. Oh, and BeiTech’s attack included a highly contagious new virus called Phobos that turns its victims into paranoid space zombies. The novel is packaged as an intelligence report in the form of transcripts, data files, and images, compiled by the mysterious Illuminae group. It will be fun to booktalk with fans of zombies, science fiction, graphic novels, and IM-style narratives. THOUGHTS: Don’t be put off by Illuminae‘s hefty 599 pages; the novel reads at near-warp speed and its many deft plot maneuvers will have readers scanning the galaxy for the sequel, Geminae, coming in 2016!

Illuminae would be a great choice for fans of the movies The Martian and Interstellar. Thanks to the fun, unique format it has appeal for reluctant readers and avid readers alike.

Science Fiction    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School




Dunn, Pintip.  Forget Tomorrow.  Entangled Teen, 2015.  978-1-63375-238-2.  336 p. $16.99.  Grades 6 and up.

Callie Stone, like every other young person turning seventeen in Eden City, looks forward to her birthday with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.  Each seventeen-year-old receives a vision sent back from the future to their younger self.  This vision is viewed by society as the definitive course that each person’s life will take.  People have visions of themselves as experts in certain fields, as parents of large families, or even as criminals committing terrible offenses.  Callie hopes to receive a vision of herself as an expert chef,  but in her horrifying dream, she has killed her sister, Jessa.  Callie willingly goes to “limbo”, the prison for future offenders, because she must stop herself from doing something so terrible to her beloved sister.  Her childhood sweetheart, Logan, who has ignored her for the past five years, unexpectedly appears to free her from prison.  Logan is involved in the Underground, a resistance group that helps those seeking to escape their pre-ordained futures. Is the future already written?  Can Callie change her fate?  Logan has now given her the chance to find out.  THOUGHTS: Forget Tomorrow is an exciting novel that creates a richly detailed dystopian society.  Like many of the better offerings in the genre, it asks larger questions about the human condition.  This book tackles the issue of free will and a person’s ability to circumvent fate.  Forget Tomorrow is romantic and somewhat violent, but teen and pre-teen fans of dystopian literature will love it.

This novel hasn’t received a lot of buzz, possibly because it is from a  smaller independent publisher, but it is one of the best dystopian novels to come along in a while.  Callie, Logan, and the other characters are interesting and relatable.  The action is exciting and a number of plot twists will keep the reader guessing.  There is a cliffhanger ending that points to future adventures for Callie, Logan, and Jessa.  Forget Tomorrow is a book that readers won’t forget any time soon.

Dystopian         Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. High School

YA Realistic Fiction, Suspense, and an Adult Crossovers – Juniors; The Girl on the Train; The Fixer; The Last Good Day of the Year


Hemmings, Kaui Hart. Juniors. New York: G.P Putnam’s Sons, 2015. 978-0-399-17360-8. 314 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Although the teenage girls in this novel make progress in terms of self-realization and coming of age, it is difficult to sympathize with their angst when they are privileged rich kids, for the most part white, attending a school for Hawaii’s wealthiest families, and living in paradise-like settings with every comfort imaginable. The narrator, Lea, an actress’s daughter, is adjusting to her new school and environment while living in the guest house of one of Oahu’s wealthiest families. Not unfamiliar with the island, having lived there before spending time in California, Lea reconnects with her best friend and surfing partner, Danny. The two pair off, uncomfortably, with the teenage siblings who live in the big house. Whitney, who is Lea’s classmate, becomes her friend, although her genuineness is questionable for most of the novel. Whitney and Danny seem to be attracted to each other, causing Lea to question her relationship with him. Meanwhile, Whitney’s gorgeous, golf-playing brother, Will, hooks up with Lea. But Will has a long term girlfriend, another rich, gorgeous character, who Will’s family assumes will become his wife. Is he just using Lea? It is so obvious, it’s painful. THOUGHTS: Reading this novel feels like watching “The Real Housewives of …….” with teenage characters in place of adults. I believe my students would wonder why these characters struggle when they have more than most in terms of comfort beyond based necessities and live in resort-like luxury. As with Real Housewives, just because teenagers might enjoy reading this book, does not necessarily indicate its value.  It includes sex and alcohol use.

Realistic Fiction    Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy



Hawkins, Paula.  The Girl on the Train.  New York: Riverhead Books, 2015.  978-1-59463-366-9. 323 p.  $26.95.  Gr. 11 and up.

During her daily commute into London, Rachel Watson watches as the train passes by a particular row of houses, one of which is occupied by her ex-husband and his new family.  Another house is occupied by a seemingly happy couple that Rachel often sees together.  One day, however, Rachel sees the woman kissing a man who is not her husband.  Shortly thereafter, Rachel learns that the woman, whose name is Megan, went missing the same night Rachel paid her ex-husband and his family a drunken visit.  Unfortunately, she was so drunk that she can’t remember what happened during the night in question.  As she tries to recall her memories from that night and solve the mystery of Megan’s disappearance, she becomes entangled in the investigation and in the lives of everyone involved.  The story is told from alternating viewpoints, each chapter narrated by Rachel, Megan, or Anna (the ex-husband’s new mistress).  The constant change in perspective, as well as the constant plot twists and turns, cause the reader to question the innocence of multiple characters until the shocking end.  THOUGHTS: This gripping thriller is one of those books you won’t be able to put down until you’ve finished.  I would recommend giving this only to mature audiences, as it has its share of swearing and includes many adult themes, such as alcoholism, infertility, parenthood, and divorce.  There are also sexual scenes, although none of them are in explicit detail.  Some of my students have read this title in anticipation of the movie that is set to come out later this year, so this would be a good title to recommend to those who enjoy reading the book before seeing the movie.

Realistic Fiction       Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School



Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Fixer. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-1-61963-594-4. 372 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 & up.

Tess is used to covering things up.  Living with her grandfather, who is progressing further into dementia, has taught her that.  But when her long-absent sister Ivy shows up at their ranch, it’s apparent she can’t hide his condition any longer.  Ivy brings Tess to D.C., a world apart from Montana.  She’s enrolled in the prestigious Hardwicke Academy along with sons and daughters of the D.C. elite.  Tess quickly realizes that her sister is powerful — she’s what’s known as a “fixer,” someone who can make her clients’ scandals disappear and dig up dirt on political rivals.  The students at Hardwicke turn to Tess for similar services, but it isn’t until a friend comes to her with serious allegations about her father that she taps into her sister’s skill set.  The plot accelerates rapidly from here, and each bombshell tops the last.  Readers will stick with this page-turner until the end — and maybe wish there’s a sequel on the horizon.  THOUGHTS:  While some readers might scoff at the plausibility of the rapidly increasing high stakes and mysterious deaths, others won’t be able to put the book down.  The fast-paced suspense will appeal to binge-watchers of political dramas Scandal and House of Cards.  Give this one to students who enjoyed Ally Carter’s books.

Realistic Fiction/Suspense     Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School



Warman, Jessica. The Last Good Day of the Year. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-0-8027-3662-8. 278 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 & up.

Ten years ago, Sam’s younger sister Turtle was abducted from right beside her just after midnight on New Year’s in their sleepy Pennsylvania town.  Sam’s family moved to Virginia soon after and promptly fell apart: her older sister fled to another state; her mother retreated into heavy self-medication before having a “replacement” child with her dad.  But circumstances force the family back to Shelocta and their old, rundown house.  Sam and her estranged childhood best friend, Remy, begin to wonder whether the man convicted of killing Turtle really did it.  As their investigation draws them closer together, Sam struggles with guilt over her unreliable memories, leading the reader toward what promises to be a dramatic ending.  

THOUGHTS:  This book isn’t as heavy on the twists and turns as some teens might like, but it is a compelling look into the lives of family members who have suffered a great tragedy.  Students who have lost siblings may find solace in Sam’s narration.  The mystery’s conclusion is somewhat puzzling and leaves unanswered questions, but teens who enjoy the ride more than the destination could overlook the weak conclusion.  Recommend to students who enjoy light mysteries and heavy emotions.

Realistic Fiction; Suspense    Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School