YA FIC – Girl Made of Stars, Before I Let Go, Winner Take All, The Last to Let Go, This is Not a Love Letter

Blake, Ashley Herring. Girl Made of Stars. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-328-77823-9. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Though they each have their own lives, twins Mara and Owen have always been close. Never having any reason to doubt each other, their happy family is shattered when Hannah, Owen’s girlfriend and one of Mara’s best friends, accuses Owen of rape. Being close with both, Mara is torn. While she wants nothing more than to believe her twin, Mara has a nagging feeling that Hannah would never lie about something like this. While their parents support and defend “golden boy” Owen (clearly Hannah must be exaggerating), Mara grapples with her unique position.

Meanwhile, Mara has been dealing with her own breakup with Charlie – her best friend turned girlfriend – and feels lost without her two voices of reason. She can’t even find solace in the feminist magazine she founded at school, since she’s “too close” to the issue of consent they’re now discussing. Mara has buried demons of her own that she must face in order to move forward.

THOUGHTS: Girl Made of Stars packs a powerful punch and will grab readers from the onset, forcing them to think about a variety of issues including consent. Charlie’s status as genderqueer, not yet out to her parents, is also discussed in regards to her relationship with Mara. Readers of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith will appreciate how Ashley Herring Blake emphasizes the lasting impact of sexual assault. This is an essential addition for high school/young adult collections where realistic, intense, character driven books are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Nijkamp, Marieke. Before I Let Go. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018. 978-1-492-64228-2. 368 p. $17.15. Gr. 10 and up.

Returning to Lost Creek, Alaska for her best friend’s funeral after moving away several months ago, Corey is devastated. She never found the words to tell Kyra that there was a great big world outside of Lost, and now she’ll never have the opportunity. Guilt-ridden over never responding to Kyra’s letters, Corey doesn’t know what to expect in Lost.

Lost isn’t what she remembers, and neither are the people that live there. The town that she once loved and that loved her seems like it’s hiding something. Determined to uncover the truth about Kyra’s death, Corey sets out on her own. Desperate to find answers before her return to Winnipeg and terrified for her safety, Corey races against the clock before her flight departs. Told in present tense, letters sent and unsent, and flashback narratives written in play format, Corey’s and Kyra’s stories unfold as Lost fights to keep its secrets.

THOUGHTS: The remote Alaskan wilderness amps up the creepy factor in this mystery. Through the emphasis on Kyra’s storytelling, readers will be compelled to learn what actually happened to her, but they may not feel fully invested in the novel, as the characters lack depth. Though identity and mental health issues are addressed, they are not at the center of the story. Before I Let Go is a good read for mystery fans and those interested in exploring the ways mental illness affects one’s life and experiences.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Devore, Laurie. Winner Take All. Imprint, 2018. 978-1-250-08288-6. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Nell is determined to be the best. Being a scholarship student, she’s always felt like she has something to prove. She is at the top of her school, the top of her volleyball game, and she’s going to be one of few “top girls” in her long standing, male dominated prep school.

Jackson Hart epitomizes everything Nell hates. He’s wealthy, has the teachers wrapped around his finger, and gets everything he wants, especially a rise out of annoying Nell. No matter how much he bothers her, Jackson Hart will not stand in Nell’s way.

Bitter rivalry brings them together, and Nell and Jackson’s relationship is toxic in everyone else’s eyes. Can two opposites make it work, or will winning be everything?

THOUGHTS: Taking on societal stereotypes about male vs. female treatment, Devore gives readers two very unlikable characters. At times, though, readers will feel sorry for both Nell and Jackson. They will be compelled to read through the mess that becomes their lives and desperate to see if their situation resolves without catastrophic disaster. Mature relationships, underage drinking, and drug use make this suitable for older readers.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Smith, Amber. The Last to Let Go. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018. 978-1-481-48073-4. 384 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Brooke does not live the idyllic life she portrays on the outside. At home, her family has been plagued by an abusive husband/father. Brooke’s older brother Aaron couldn’t take it and moved out. While Brooke does her best to shield her younger sister Callie, she’s also planning her own way out by transferring schools. Brooke doesn’t count on her mom being on trial for killing Brooke’s father. Of course it was self defense, right?

Brooke’s plan to transfer schools gives her the opportunity to take more advanced placement classes, thus getting a jump start on college. On the outside Brooke seems to have figured things out, but on the inside her shell is cracking, and Brooke isn’t holding things together as well as she used to. As Brooke struggles to keep her siblings and life together, her demanding course schedule is catching up with her, and Brooke can only keep her secrets for so long.

THOUGHTS: Right from the beginning, readers know that Brooke’s dad is dead, and her mom is responsible. Readers will root for Brooke as she bravely navigates this year without her parents, experiences her first love, and struggles to hold everything together. A must read for those who like intense, character-driven novels.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Purcell, Kim. This Is Not a Love Letter. Disney-Hyperion, 2018. 978-1-484-79834-8. 368 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

All Jesse wanted was a one week break to figure out where her life is going. Chris is pressuring her to follow him and his ticket out with a baseball full-scholarship, but Jesse knows Chris is too good for her. After all, it’s why they’ve been fighting so much recently.

After Chris goes missing while out for a run, Jesse desperately tries to prove something is amiss. Being one of the only black kids in their prejudice-filled small town, Jesse fears someone was out to get Chris. When she makes these claims publicly, Jesse becomes a target herself. The police seem to think Chris ran away or worse, but Jesse knows Chris, and knows that’s not possible.

While the search seems to give few clues, Jesse faces many of her own demons and her guilt over how she treated Chris. His love for her was always obvious through the weekly notes he wrote and his small gestures, but maybe Chris doesn’t know how much Jesse loves him. Determined to tell him, Jesse writes Chris letters, updating him on what he’s been missing, and begging for her love to be enough to bring him home safely.

THOUGHTS: This love story/mystery dragged a bit in the middle, but readers who stick with it will be rewarded with the truth about Chris and Jesse’s love story. Things aren’t always as they seem, and Jesse didn’t know everything she thought she did about Chris. Family dynamics, personal/relationship insecurities, and mature teen relationships are all issues approached in this novel.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA Graphic Novel/Poetry – Speak: The Graphic Novel, Gone Rogue, For Every One

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak: The Graphic Novel. Illustrated by Emily Carroll. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. 978-0-374-30028-9. 374 p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Melinda enters high school having called the cops at an end of summer party. On the first day, she has “the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, the wrong attitude, and…[no one] to sit with” (4). Through the course of the graphic novel, readers experience Melinda’s first year of high school following a sexual assault which goes unreported. As Melinda withdraws further into herself, readers can see and feel the impact of her assault and the loneliness she experiences by keeping it a secret.

THOUGHTS: Years of readers will rejoice with this graphic novel version of Anderson’s modern classic Speak. If possible Carroll’s illustrations heighten Melinda’s lonely and bleak narrative. While art is a major comfort to Melinda in the novel, artwork is at the center of this adaptation. No scenes are graphically depicted; however, Melinda’s situation is unchanged.

Graphic Novel     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Meyer, Marissa. Wires and Nerve Vol. 2: Gone Rogue. Feiwel & Friends, 2018. 978-1-250-07828-5. 324 p. $21.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t yet read The Lunar Chronicles, stop now and go read!

Once again told from Cinder’s right hand android, Wires and Nerve Volume 2 is narrated by Iko as she tracks down Alpha Lysander Steele, leader of a rogue group of Levana’s wolf-soldiers. Steele seeks revenge on Cinder for withholding the mutation anecdote from the remaining wolf-soldiers.

With preparations for a world peace celebration and Queen Selene’s visit to Earth on the horizon, Iko has a lot of work to do. Before she can kick back and relax, Iko has to make sure all of her friends are safe. Iko has had enough of Kinney’s constant jabs about her “android-ness,” causing her to explore her own origins. Regardless, Iko is ready to celebrate, and she knows how to have a good time!

THOUGHTS: Featuring all of your favorite characters, readers who love Meyers’ Lunar Chornicles world will be sad to see it over but satisfied with the open-ending of Volume 2.

Graphic Novel     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Reynolds, Jason. For Every One. Antheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2017. 978-1-481-48624-8. 112 p. $14.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Much in the manner of Jimmy V’s 1993 ESPY speech and Randy Pausch’s 2007 Last Lecture (minus the terminal diagnosis), Reynolds tells every one never to give up on his or her dreams, no matter how big or small. Written before his dreams were realized, Reynolds’ story is that much more motivating. He is the living example of never giving up on one’s dreams, though he didn’t achieve them when he thought he would.

This inspiring poem is the perfect graduation or just because gift – for every one.

THOUGHTS: Teachers using Reynolds’ books in their classrooms can pair this poem to give students some background on his life, or it would make a beautiful addition to teaching poetry. Kids will connect with his words. No matter what part of life readers are in, they will find hope and encouragement. The title could not be more fitting, as this book truly is for every one.

811 Poetry          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA FIC – Layover; The Girl You Thought I Was; The Summer of Broken Things

Andelson, Amy, and Emily Meyer. Layover. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-254-76487-6. p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Two years ago at thirteen, Flynn’s mom was in an accident. After losing her mom, Flynn leaves her Northern California home, moving across the country to New York, to live with her dad, stepmom, stepbrother, and half sister. Though Flynn has adjusted and it’s not as fresh, the pain of losing her mom is still with Flynn.

Amos has just returned to New York after trying to avoid an uncomfortable and confusing situation. He fled New York going to boarding school in Massachusetts. While some parts of his life remain the same, his friendship with Flynn is quite different, and Amos wonders if running away was the answer he had wanted.

Poppy is happy to have her siblings back under one roof, so they can do the things they always used to do – together.

While en route to meeting their parents on a winter vacation in Bora Bora, these siblings decide to take a stand and stick together. What happens on their layover in Los Angeles is a whirlwind few days of being together yet sometimes feeling torn apart.

THOUGHTS: What a cute story! Readers will delight in the sibling relationships with narrators Flynn, Amos, and Poppy. The various storylines propel readers forward, as they will want to learn the outcome and see how each sibling resolves his or her situation. Underage drinking and discussion of mature relationships as well as a lack of parental supervision throughout the novel make this a suitable high school read.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Phillips, Rebecca. The Girl You Thought I Was. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-0-062-57094-9. 368 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Though her parents recently divorced and her older sister is now off at college, to everyone else Morgan Kemper appears to live an ideal life. She and her dad have adjusted well to their new apartment and are getting by together.

Things aren’t always as they seem; however, and when Morgan is picked up for shoplifting at the mall, her carefully constructed life begins to crack. Able to hide her crime from all of her friends, Morgan is spared the embarrassment of a trial by volunteering and taking an online shoplifting class.

While volunteering, she meets Eli, the boss Rita’s nephew. Rita knows why she’s really there, but Morgan can’t bring herself to tell Eli. As she falls for Eli and volunteers throughout the summer, Morgan struggles with her urge to shoplift. She still has not processed her mother’s infidelity and used shoplifting to feel some control in her life. In order to move forward and heal, Morgan needs to accept herself and her life for what it is.  

THOUGHTS: Pressures placed on teens and the aftermath of divorce as well as sibling, parent/child, and teen romantic relationships are all addressed in an authentic way. At times predictable, readers still will root for Morgan to get her life together. This is an excellent addition where realistic, character driven books (with a little romance) are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. The Summer of Broken Things. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-481-41764-8. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Avery Armisted has everything any 14 year old girl could possibly want, and she doesn’t have to work hard to get it. When she doesn’t get her way and is forced to spend the summer before high school in Spain while her dad is there on business, she is anything but thrilled. Instead of seeing the trip as an opportunity or adventure, she fights to attend soccer camp with her best friends. Even her mom doesn’t seem to be on her side this time, though. To soften the blow, Avery’s parents compromise and allow her to bring a friend along. Their choice is Kayla Butts, a childhood friend of Avery’s who is a far cry from someone Avery considers a friend these days.

While Avery sulks in Spain, Kayla seems to thrive, despite her simple, normal upbringing. While reinventing herself without the “Butt Girl” stigma of her small-town school, Kayla begins to see that maybe Avery doesn’t really lead such a charmed life. When the girls discover a shocking secret that links their past, they have to work together to move forward and understand who they really are.

THOUGHTS: Avery is not the most likeable character. In fact, she’s a spoiled brat. That doesn’t mean she deserved to uncover a family secret the way she did. At an impressionable time in her teenage life, Avery’s world crumbles, and she’s an ocean away from home. Readers will go from despising Avery to rooting for her in this coming of age novel of deciding who you are in the face of adversity. This is a clean read that is suitable for any middle or high school student looking for a book about friendship, family, and self-discovery.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD