YA FIC – The Place Between Breaths, Monday’s Not Coming, Leah on the Offbeat, What the Night Sings, My Oxford Year, Someone I Used to Know

Na, An. The Place Between Breaths. Caitlyn Dlouhy, 2018.  978-1-481-42225-3. 181 p. $17.99. Gr. 8-12.

Grace is a high school senior whose mother left when she was a child, and has not been heard from since. Her father has dedicated his life to finding a cure for schizophrenia, which he blames for her disappearance. Although Grace does not share her father’s unrelenting faith in the possibility of finding and saving her mother, she is proud to have secured an internship with the research facility where her father works. Grace’s aptitude with numbers enables her to notice an irregularity the experienced scientists miss, which leads to the isolation of a gene for schizophrenia. For Grace, though, the thrill of this discovery is muted by the knowledge that a cure may still be many years away. Although she has long given up on her mother, Grace fears that she, too, has schizophrenia. The narrative is woven among multiple points of view, multiple timelines, and multiple realities, reflecting Grace’s uncertain perspective.

THOUGHTS: This is not an easy read. At times, the story is being told by a psychotic narrator–but it is not always clear when. Readers may find themselves disoriented and confused, and may need to go back and reread parts of the story in order to sort out what “really” happened. However, it is gripping, fascinating, and poetic. Readers who enjoy introspective, psychological novels will be entranced. Recommended for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Jackson, Tiffany D. Monday’s Not Coming. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. 978-0-062-42267-5. 435 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Claudia Coleman and Monday Charles are best friends. They do everything together until the summer Monday disappears. Claudia is concerned about Monday, but the adults in her life don’t think anything is wrong. They believe the story that Monday has gone to live with her father, but Claudia knows that would never happen because she knows Monday, and the stories Mrs. Charles and her sister, April, provide don’t add up. As she continues to worry and search for Monday, Claudia realizes that she doesn’t know Monday nearly as well as she thought. Without her, Claudia’s grades slip, truths are brought to life, and she must develop as an individual in order to find out the truth behind Monday.

THOUGHTS: Starred by both Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal, Monday’s Not Coming is an amazing follow-up to Jackson’s 2017 novel, Allegedly. Through Claudia’s narration readers are immersed in her struggle to find her best friend while also finding her own voice.  She is raw and full of emotion while also strong and determined. Claudia shines a light on the impact of friendship and determination to find the truth when everyone else around is willing to accept the story. Monday’s Not Coming is an amazing mystery with twists and turns that keep readers wanting more.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Another great read from outstanding new author, Tiffany Jackson. The dark tale of a young African American girl from the projects in DC, who slips through the cracks and goes missing. Her family is unconcerned and clearly hiding something, teachers and social workers are overwhelmed and it is too easy for them to let it slide. Neighbors are reluctant to get involved in the business of another family .  The only one to notice or care is Monday’s friend, Claudia. The timeline is not linear, the narrative jumps back and forth from elementary school days through trouble in middle school to the present. The mystery unravels through the efforts and the determination of Claudia, who misses the closest friend she ever had. Though I had some difficulty with the multiple timelines, I enjoyed the story as an exploration of the close bonds of friendship despite strong differences, and as  a condemnation of a community and a system that failed a young girl.

Thoughts: Touches on dark subjects such as child abuse, drug use and the harsh realities of kids in poverty. Will appeal to fans of urban fiction and novels that reflect stories kids hear on the news such as All American Boys and The Hate U Give.   

Realistic Fiction           Nancy Summers Abington SD

Albertalli, Becky. Leah on the Offbeat. New York: Balzer & Bray, 2018. 978-0-062-64380-3. 268 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

With her characteristic wit, teen-speak, and three dimensional characters, Becky Albertalli’s latest YA offering, Leah on the Offbeat, is an entertaining and compulsively readable novel. The titular character, Leah, will be familiar to readers of Albertalli’s debut, Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda, as she is Simon’s best friend. Where Simon is charming, self-assured, and effusive, Leah is snarky, constantly doubts herself, and is uncomfortable with emotions. What the reader knows, but most others don’t, is that Leah is bisexual, a secret she has kept closely guarded, even from Simon, who is now openly out. Throughout the book, Leah pines for Abby Suso (cousin of Molly and Cassie Suso from, The Upside of Unrequited), a sort of friend, who is dating her other best friend, Nick. Though Leah seems to be in complete denial about the depths of her feelings, she often comes off as cold to Abby because she refuses to let herself fall for a straight girl. Leah is a study in contradictions: she’s proud of Simon for coming out, but can’t find the courage to come out herself; she is a talented artist, but posts everything anonymously, because she fears rejection; she is a drummer in a band, but hates being in the limelight; she’s comfortable in her body, but is convinced that nobody can really love her because of her weight. While most of the time, these contradictions make her relatable and realistic, it sometimes gets in the way of truly connecting with, and sympathizing, with her. The dialogue, however, is what readers have come to expect from Albertalli – full of clever one-offs, hilarious interplay, and teenage musings; it’s what makes this book so much fun to read. Leah’s relationship with her mother also adds depth, and the fact that they live paycheck to paycheck is in stark contrast to many of her friends, who have never had financial worries. While Leah on the Offbeat lacks the sheer charisma and charm of Albertalli’s first two novels, it is still a solid effort, with a great cast of engaging, diverse, and accessible characters.

THOUGHTS: This is a YA novel through and through, complete with college road trips, high school musicals, promposals, and the requisite senior prom; this a decidedly lighter book than Simon and Upside, though be warned: Leah is a big fan of dropping the f-bomb frequently and with gusto.

Realistic Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

The second title in the Creekwood High series follows Leah Burke, best friend of Simon Speier from Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  The story focuses on a close-knit group of friends who realize that their group is splintering in different, unexpected directions as their senior year heads to a close. Leah, a big girl, confident in herself, comfortable with her bisexualtiy, though not sharing the news yet. The story is great coming of age tale that embraces diversity and celebrates so many different types of individuals. A solid read with several well realized LGBT characters, though ultimately it is not as awesome as the first title.  My main problem is that I found the character of Leah to be a bit mean and selfish; cruel to her mother, unkind to Garrett, the boy who likes on her, and demanding and rude to her girl crush, Abby, who is just starting to figure out her sexuality.

Thoughts Though not as compelling and charming as Simon, it should be a popular choice in most high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD

Stamper, Vesper. What the Night Sings. Alfred A. Knopf, 2018. 978-1524700386. 266 pp. $19.99. Grades 7+.

What the Night Sings is a haunting illustrated novel of the Holocaust that focuses on the years between the end of World War II and the founding of the modern state of Israel. Gerta, the only surviving member of her small family, is sixteen when Bergen-Belsen is liberated in April of 1945. Her musician father perished at Auschwitz, where Gerta’s ability to play his viola saves her life by way of a seat with the Women’s Orchestra (which played music for arriving transports). After Liberation, Gerta — now a free but “displaced person” — struggles to regain her health and identity in a changed world. She befriends Lev, another teen in the camp who seeks a commitment from Gerta, but she chooses to focus on her music and recovering her singing voice. Another displaced person, Michah, tries to sweet-talk her into relocating to Palestine. Ultimately, Gerta must answer one key question for herself: When all is stripped away, who am I? Her journey reveals her deep desire to not just survive, but to fully live and love. Stamper’s emotionally rich ink wash illustrations complement her spare, poetic narrative.

THOUGHTS: What the Night Sings belongs in every library serving teens, and will be an especially important addition to Holocaust literature collections. Don’t skip over the Author’s Note, which includes insight into Stamper’s artistic process, research for the novel, and personal connections to Gerta’s story.

Historical Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Whelan, Julia. My Oxford Year. William Morrow, 2018. 978-0-06-274064-9. 329 pp. $15.99. Grades 10+.

When two dreams come true at once, is it too much of a good thing? Twenty-four year old Ella Durran, freshly minted Rhodes Scholar, has just touched down in London to begin her Oxford year, fulfilling the dream she’s cherished for a decade. Then she receives a phone call offering her a consulting position with a progressive presidential candidate. Ella deftly juggles her studies, her new job, and an unexpected definitely-not-a-relationship with her dashing professor. Jamie Davenport seems like a typical “posh prat” at first, but Ella goes along for the intellectually stimulating and physically satisfying ride. After all, her plane ticket home is already booked and real life awaits at the end of the school year. When Jamie reveals a devastating secret, Ella must reconsider whether the path she’s planned out for herself is the one she really wants. My Oxford Year is an excellent debut novel from well-known audiobook narrator Julia Whelan. Each chapter opens with a snippet of poetry that sets the tone for what follows. It’s an absolutely delightful coming-of-age romance with strong emotional resonance.

THOUGHTS: Unlike many other “new adult” titles that depict the college and early adulthood experience, this one is both lushly romantic and school library-appropriate.

Fiction (Romance / Crossover)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Blount, Patty. Someone I Used to Know. Sourcebooks. 2018. 978-1-492-63281-8. 384 p. $10.99. Grades 9 and up.

Ashley Lawrence’s hopeful beginning of her freshman year comes to a swift halt when she is sexually assaulted by one of the most popular seniors as part of an annual tradition. Each fall the school football team holds an annual scavenger hunt, in which the boys compete for points for completing dares, stunts and sexual conquests. Ashley’s older brother, Derek, is an eager participant, but the game gets out of hand at Homecoming. The subsequent rape trial and the canceling of the football program at the school tears the school community and the Lawrence family apart.   The novel is told through the dual perspectives of Ashley and Derek and seeing both points of view is enlightening. Ashley still struggles to deal with her emotions two years after the assault, but Derek’s character is the one who grows the most as he slowly realizes how much he was a part of the boys will be boys mentality and the toxic culture at the school.    In the wake of the #MeToo movement, this is timely reading for older teens about a serious issue. The author includes a list of resources on sexual violence for victims.

THOUGHTS: Feature with similar titles such as Wrecked by Maria Padian and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and share with Health Education teachers to spark discussion and awareness during Dating Non-Violence Week in February.

Realistic Fiction   Nancy Summers Abington SD


YA FIC – See All the Stars; The Opposite of Innocent; Meet the Sky; And She Was; The Belles; Spinning Silver; Driving by Starlight; Mapping the Bones; Spill Zone: The Broken Vow; The Broken Girls; Fragments of the Lost; My Real Name is Hanna; Jazz Owls

Frick, Kit. See All the Stars. McElderry Books, 2018. 978-1-534-40437-3. 320 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

THEN it’s the summer before junior year, and Ellory has everything going for her – three best friends who are her whole universe, a boy she meets and starts to falls for, and plans for her future.

NOW it’s the star of senior year, and Ellory’s world has imploded because of secrets. Following an extended suspension (reason unknown), she has to start over all alone back at Pine Brook High School. Outcast and feared by most, Ellory walks the halls and suffers through classes while wrecked with guilt over everything she’s lost.

Told in alternating time periods, readers will piece together the destruction of Ellory’s life as she knew it.

THOUGHTS: The mystery of Ellory’s junior year definitely will encourage readers to devour this book. Give See All the Stars to fans of realistic mysteries and fans of multi- or unreliable narrators like We Were Liars! PS – It’s also locally set on the West Shore of South Central, PA!

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Sones, Sonya. The Opposite of Innocent. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-0-062-37031-0. 272 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Lily has grown a lot since Luke left two years ago, and her childhood crush has deepened. Though Luke is older, he is perfection in Lily’s eyes. When Luke moves in with Lily’s family until he gets on his feet, she feels like the stars have aligned. Her friends don’t understand her crush on an older guy and are distracted by more age appropriate love interests.

As Lily spends more time alone with Luke, she knows their love is real. Even if they can’t be seen on a date in public, Lily dreams of one day. At first the secrecy is exciting. Eventually Lily catches up to her friends’ opinions and questions Luke’s intentions, but it may be too late to save herself from heartbreak.

THOUGHTS: A must-read for fans of dark romances, readers are drawn into this intense, page-turning verse novel. Mature relationships and underage drinking make this most suitable to high school readers.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Hoyle, McCall. Meet the Sky. Blink, 2018. 978-0-310-76570-7. 256 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

There’s no doubt that Sophie is a hard worker. She’s a good student, and she does everything she can to ease the pressures at home. Ever since the accident that destroyed her family, Sophie has put her dreams – her life – on hold to take care of her sister and help their mom run the family business, caring for the animals.

When Finn Sanders returns to town, Sophie knows there’s no way she’ll let him get close to her again. Finn doesn’t seem to understand why Sophie is so annoyed with him. Unbeknownst to Sophie, Finn has experienced hardships of his own. In the chaos of of mandatory evacuation, Sophie is separated from her family and becomes trapped on the island with Finn. They must work together in order to survive, but personalities will clash as they struggle to beat the storm.

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Sophie and Finn as they race through the roaring storm, desperately trying to survive. The intensity of the storm mirrors the emotions both characters face as they come to terms with their situation and the past years of their lives. This character driven novel is great choice for any middle or high school library.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Verdi, Jessica. And She Was. Scholastic, 2018. 978-1-338-15053-7. 361 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

When her mom casually dismisses Dara’s shot at achieving her dreams by providing a copy of Dara’s birth certificate, she questions why and takes matters into her own hands. Her mind reveling at the what ifs, Dara doesn’t expect confronting her mom will lead her to discover that her whole life is built on lie, or that the one person who has been there for everything isn’t who she thought. When faced with a copy of her daughter’s birth certificate and two unfamiliar names listed as parents, Dara’s mom Mellie finally reveals she is transgender. Outraged at being kept in the dark, Dara gets what little information she can about her birth mother’s family and sets off on a road trip with neighbor and best friend Sam to learn about from where she comes. As Dara gets closer to meeting her extended family, Mellie shares details of her story – their story – with Dara in a series of emails. Not yet ready to forgive Mellie’s betrayal, Dara goes against her wishes to discover the life she could have lived. As Dara learns more about her family and her mom, she has the opportunity to make her own decision about what path her life will take. Mellie’s reasoning will be obvious to readers before Dara, but for the first time in her life the ball is in Dara’s court.

THOUGHTS: Mellie’s story of transitioning is raw and honest and sheds some light onto an area of YA lit that is growing. Trigger warning: Mellie has her reasons for shielding herself and Dara from the extended family; their conservative viewpoints are quite obvious and sometimes extremely offensive/insensitive. And She Was will be an excellent addition for high schools looking to diversify or expand their LGBTQ+ collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Deracine, Anat. Driving by Starlight. New York: Godwin Books, 2018. 978-1-250-13342-7. 280 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Meet Leena and Mishail, teenage girls living in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia; best friends who have an “us against the world” mentality, and whose relationship is the driving force behind Anat Deracine’s debut, Driving by Starlight. Leena and Mishail feel the burden of being a woman in Riyadh, where so many things are haraam – forbidden – and where a woman can’t do anything without the permission or escort of a male guardian, leaving the two girls to plot small rebellions in order to push back against these unjust laws. Both girls are in precarious positions socially and politically – Leena’s father is in prison for leading an insurgency against the government and its harsh laws against women, leaving her and her mother to fend for themselves; and Mishail’s father is Minister of the Interior, meaning there is no room for rule breaking in her household, as it could jeopardize her father’s place in the government. The two are inseparable, insisting, over and over, that “nothing they do can touch us.”  Their bonds of friendship are put to the test, however, with the addition of a new girl, Daria, to their class – Daria, who is half American, who has lived in New York, who has kissed boys, and who fans the sparks of Mishail’s rebelliousness into flames. And when Leena snags the attention of the boy Mishail’s crushing on – a boy who admires Leena’s father, and is determined to continue his work – it sends them spiraling further and further apart. While some of the Saudi Arabian laws and terms are hastily explained, it doesn’t get in the way of what’s at the heart of this story: the bonds of women, and the power of female unity. Although the culture, laws, and customs may be unfamiliar to Western readers, the love, angst, fear, rage, and helplessness that accompany female friendships will resonate with all readers.

THOUGHTS: This book wonderfully highlights Saudi culture and customs, and readers will come away with a better understanding of what life is truly like for the women who live there. A worthy addition to all middle and high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Clayton, Dhonielle. The Belles. New York: Freeform, 2018. 978-1-484-72849-9. 448 p. $17.99. Gr. 8-12.

Camille Beauregard and her sisters have been raised as Belles, powerful beings who have the ability to manipulate beauty and save their fellow citizens “from a life of unbearable sameness” (12). At her debut, Camille wows the crowd and the royal family with her creativity and poise, but is disappointed when her sister is picked as the Queen’s favorite, securing the coveted role of royal Belle. Camille begins working in a tea shop transforming local patrons, but a mysterious change in circumstances soon brings Camille to the palace. Under the tutelage of the Princess, Camille’s powers are tested – as is her loyalty to the crown. As time passes, Camille begins to see dark undertakings in the castle and questions her role as Belle. But being a Belle is all she knows, and Camille must confront the evasive history of the Belles in order to move forward.

THOUGHTS: Clayton does an excellent job of weaving class, race, and gender politics into her story and allowing readers to reflect on our own beauty obsessed world. This is an enthralling, unique fantasy with rich characters and vivid world-building. Perfect for fans of the Uglies series.

Fantasy          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

The citizens of Orleans revere beauty, but they are all cursed with gray skin, red eyes, and hair like straw. Only the Belles, the blessed descendants of the Goddess of Beauty herself, have the ability to help them achieve the glamorous appearances they crave. Camille is part of the latest generation of Belles, well trained in the art and science of transformation. She is excited to be called to the kingdom with her sisters to learn which one of them will be chosen the favorite: the Belle who will serve the royal family and the courtiers of Orleans. The Belles themselves are all beautiful, but in different ways; they have various skin, hair, and eye colors. But Camille and her sisters soon learn there is a dark underside to the world of Orleans, and the glamorous life they long imagined for themselves is not at all their new reality. Separated from each other and unable to access reliable information, all of the Belles struggle to make sense of the world they find themselves in, a world nothing like the one they have been preparing and planning for. Camille is physically exhausted by the demands made on her, and tormented by the moral dilemmas she faces when the horrid Princess Sophia orders her to do things she finds increasingly unconscionable. The ending is satisfying, but will leave the reader eager for the next installment.

THOUGHTS: This is a fast-paced, fun, and yet thought-provoking read. Orleans is reminiscent of The Capitol in The Hunger Games, with its emphasis on outrageous fashion. There is much to dissect here concerning the value of beauty and the dangers of objectifying the human body, especially women’s bodies. The fact that the book features a gorgeous dark-skinned girl on the cover, and includes descriptions of various skin colors as beautiful, is also an important positive aspect.  Highly recommended for high school libraries and for middle school libraries seeking fiction with appeal to older readers.

Dystopian; Fantasy          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Novik, Naomi. Spinning Silver. New York: Del Rey, 2018. 978-0399180989. 480p. $28.00. Gr.  9 and up.

Naomi Novik takes us on a journey of female empowerment and collaboration, magic and mayhem, in her newest novel, Spinning Silver, loosely based on the fairytale, Rumpelstiltskin. Meet Miryem, Wanda, and Irena – three very different women from very different backgrounds, but whose stories twist and intertwine, as they each battle their own particular demons. Miryem, a Jewish moneylender (two marks against her, as far as her neighbors are concerned), who is exceedingly good at her job; her demon comes in the form of the Staryk king, a beautiful, cold – figuratively and literally – fey creature obsessed with obtaining gold at all costs. When he takes Miryem for his wife against her will, after she succeeds in turning Staryk silver into gold, she must use all of her wit and cunning to not only survive, save her family and the rest of the villagers from a perpetual winter. Wanda lives with her demon of a father, a brutal drunkard who find any excuse to beat and berate Wanda. When she becomes a servant in Miryem’s household, she allows herself to visualize a life for herself and her two brothers beyond her father’s clutches. Irena, invisible daughter of a duke, who has little to recommend herself to members of the opposite sex (at least, according to her father), unexpectedly becomes Tsarina, when Mirnatius, the spoiled and entitled Tsar, insists on marrying her; however, he is quite literally a demon, or at least is possessed by one – a fire demon, determined to devour Irena, who carries Staryk blood in her veins. She, too, must fight for her life, and after a chance meeting, she and Miryem become accomplices, combining the powers of their intellect and sheer lust for life, to concoct a plan to conquer Mirnatius and the Staryk king. This is a breathless, epic tale, showcasing exactly what a woman is capable of when you threaten her, and the people she loves. All three protagonists are exceedingly well-rounded, each with a unique voice and perspective, and each given a chance to shine. Particularly captivating is the shift in Wanda’s relationship with her two brothers – initially cold and distant, and then, after her eldest brother, Sergey, runs afoul of the Staryk and almost dies, blindingly loving – and, in turn, their connection to their deceased mother, who seems to live on in as a white tree in their yard.  Fans of Novik’s Uprooted will not be disappointed with this second fairytale retelling.

THOUGHTS: While this is an adult novel, all of the female protagonists are around eighteen years old, and will resonate strongly with young readers. These are smart, capable women who use all of the resources at their disposal to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles – they’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Fantasy          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Yolen, Jane. Mapping the Bones. New York: Philomel Books, 2018. 978-0-399-25778-0. 417 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Survival and family are at the forefront of Jane Yolen’s Mapping the Bones, a Holocaust story loosely based on Hansel and Gretel. Twins Gittel and Chaim, and their parents, have been relatively lucky so far; they have a fairly spacious apartment all to themselves in Lodz, the Polish ghetto they’re living in, they’ve managed to stay fed, and while there’s always danger lurking in the form of Nazi soldiers, they all know how to keep a low profile. Then the Norenberg’s come to stay with them – a German-Jewish family, who are not used to dealing with any hardship – and all of their lives are changed forever, as the fates of both families are inextricably entwined. The story takes place in three central locations, and the action is divided up accordingly: in the ghetto; on the run in Bialowieza Forest; and at Sobanek, a labor camp for Jewish youth. At the heart of everything are Chaim and Gittel; they are two sides of the same coin, and have a deep-rooted connection that began in the womb. Chaim does not speak – he limits himself to five words at a time, except when he’s writing, or reciting, his poetry; poetry is his life blood, and for him, it is his duty as a witness to the horrors of war to write, and write, and write. Gittel is their spokeswoman – she is infinitely adaptable, personable, and clever, and because she narrates half of the chapters (they’re titled “Gittel Remembers”), we know that at least she survives. Nothing about this story is easy – because we see everything through Chaim’s lyrical lens, life (and death) in the ghetto and at Sobanek is painted in vivid, often brutal, detail; the conclusion of the book is especially gruesome. While Chaim and Gittel are phenomenally fleshed out, the supporting characters are less so, and many of them come off as one-dimensional.  This is particularly true in the case of Sophie and Bruno Norenberg; we never really get to know Sophie, though she seems innocuous enough, but Bruno is the quintessential spoiled brat – greedy, selfish, and weak-minded, it’s easy to dismiss him as a coward and a villain. Except that we need to remember that he’s just a 12 year old boy, thrust into the most horrific situation imaginable, with absolutely no adult guidance. As readers, let’s save our ire for those who truly deserve it. Despite this, Mapping the Bones is an honest, compelling, and, at times, hopeful take on the Holocaust told by a master storyteller.

THOUGHTS: This book is categorized as juvenile fiction, but because of its often graphic portrayal of violence, and Yolen’s mature and complex language, this is better suited for older adolescent readers.

Historical Fiction (Holocaust)          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Westerfeld, Scott. Spill Zone: The Broken Vow. Illustrated by Alex Puvilland.  First Second Books, 2018. 231 p. 978-1-626-72150-0. $22.99. Grades 7-12. (Series: Spill Zone, #2)

Three years ago, Addison’s world changed when another world mysteriously and powerfully entered ours; it killed her parents and left her younger sister Lexa unable to speak. Addison supported herself and Lexa by photographing inside the off-limits Spill Zone that Poughskeepie has become, trying hard to think only of the effort to live, and not to dwell on the nightmarish creatures and images stamped on her mind from her encounters. Book 1 brought Addison her big break: an art collector willing to pay her for not only her photographs but also for retrieving a unique object from the Spill Zone. Addison daringly accomplishes the task, but she has been left changed. No one can explain to her what has happened, until a North Korean agent, Don Jae, recognizes in her the same changes he has encountered in himself and in his country. Their zone is dead, but this zone is alive–and about to make an audacious move. Will Addison and Don Jae make the right decisions to help their world, or simply invite more terror? Meanwhile, Addison and Lexa struggle to come to terms with Lexa’s doll, which has its own power over Lexa since the Spill–but why? Westerfeld (sci-fi creator of Uglies and Leviathan and more) has created a horrifically twisted world where humans and hope still live. Puvilland’s art enhances this striking and fearful tale.

THOUGHTS: For anyone interested in science fiction and graphic art.  With volume 1, this duo is a must-have in either genre.

741.5 Graphic Novel, Dystopian          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

St. James, Simone. The Broken Girls. Berkley, 2018. 326 p. 978-0451-47620-3 $26.00  Grades 9-12.

Idlewild Hall in Vermont.  In 1950, it was where unwanted, troubled, or troublesome girls were sent, where embarrassment and illegitimacy could be hidden.  Visitors were few, teachers were strict (and mostly uncaring), and the rumors of the ghost Mary Hand were prevalent. If you were at Idlewild for very long, Mary Hand would visit you, and you would remember. This is where four classmates, out of necessity, share with each other the turmoil that brought them to Idlewild, and forge a friendship that is stronger than this awful place–or do they?  Then one of them disappears. She’s officially listed as a runaway, but her three friends know something different.

Vermont 2014, Fiona Sheridan writes fluffy freelance pieces for small-time newspapers.  It’s nothing at all like the in-depth reporting her world-renowned father, Malcolm Sheridan, has accomplished.  His name still brings awe to those in the industry. But Malcolm, like Fiona, has changed in the twenty years since his daughter Deb was murdered, her body found near Idlewild Hall. Deb’s boyfriend was convicted of the murder, but doubts still linger in Fiona’s mind. Something still feels wrong. Now, Fiona hears of an investor attempting to restore Idlewild Hall–crumbling buildings and ghostly stories be damned–and she decides to write a story about it. But who is this investor, and why Idlewild, why now? St. James tells her story from multiple perspectives: each of the four girls in 1950, and Fiona in 2014. The result is an insightful and appropriately suspenseful story linking the past to the present.

THOUGHTS: A clever crossover novel that will appeal to YA and adult audiences. St. James successfully mixes modern suspense, gothic horror, and shameful history into a page-turner with believable characters and an ending clever enough to match the journey. Not to be missed by any gothic or suspense fan.

Mystery, Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Miranda, Megan. Fragments of the Lost. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018.  369 p. 978-0399-55672-2 $17.99 Grades 7-12.

Jessa Whitworth feels completely awkward and fully grief-laden in her ex-boyfriend’s room, three months after their breakup, and two months after his death. But Caleb’s family is moving, and his mother insists that Jessa clean it out, saying it’s too painful for her, and that the room is full of Jessa, anyway. Since Jessa feels the blame from most of the community for his death (why did he go to her track meet the night he died? If he hadn’t, maybe he wouldn’t have crashed into the river….), she feels this could be a sort of penance, and maybe she deserves it. But Jessa finds that his room is full of her, and too many items bring back happy or painful memories.  The memories leave her wondering if their relationship was all that she thought it was, or if she misread herself and Caleb completely. Was Caleb hiding something from her? Why (she realizes now) was he one person with her, and another person with everyone else? And is it just grief compelling his mother to ask this of her, or does she have another motive? Jessa finds herself questioning Caleb, his past, and her own instincts. This suspenseful tale is slow in the revealing of secrets that Jessa didn’t know, and what she uncovers will surprise her.

THOUGHTS: A good choice for fans of Natalie Richards (Six Months Later, One Was Lost) who like a bit of romance and a strong female character who grows through adversity. Jessa is a likable, realistic narrator who is able to see her own shortcomings and overcome them.

Realistic Fiction, Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Masih, Tara Lynn. My Real Name is Hanna. Mandel Vilar Forge. 2018. 978-1-942134-51-0. $16.95. 208 p. Gr. 7-12.

Hanna Slivka lived a normal life, exploring her town, going to school, and giggling over her crush Leon. Everything was fun and normal until Hitler’s army crossed into the Soviet-ruled Ukraine and took over. Now, her life is going to change as Hitler and the Gestapo declares that her town, and many others, need to be shtetele, or Jew-free. Hanna and her family will soon face challenges that they did not expect – cold and dirty stares and comments from neighbors they have known for years, limited food and supplies, and running to stay alive. Thankfully Hanna has one good neighbor, Alla, who assists as much as she can, helping with the simplest things, such as creating a pysanky egg. Hanna and her family flee to the underground caves to hide, fighting against Hitler’s army and their own minds and bodies as negativity, despair, and starvation set in. The fight to survive may be more difficult then the fight against the actual army, but Hanna and her family will do anything to live on and tell their story.

THOUGHTS: A true-based story of one of the only surviving Ukrainian families during the Holocaust. Hanna’s tale is heartbreaking and gripping, leaving the reader with a sense of fear that needs to be told again and again not to forget the lost souls of the Holocaust.

Historical Fiction (Holocaust)          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Engle, Margarita. Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots. New York: Atheneum, 2018. 978-1-5344-0943-9. 179p. $17.99. Gr.  7 and up.

In Jazz Owls, Margarita Engle has put a spotlight on a little known slice of history, the Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots, that unfortunately will resonate in today’s increasingly xenophobic political landscape. In the summer of 1943, a group of white, American sailors went roving the streets of Los Angeles assaulting and humiliating Latino men and teenage boys, specifically any man or boy wearing a zoot suit, a style of clothing that was perceived as “other”, and therefore, dangerous; none of the sailors were arrested, but the victims were rounded up and arrested “for their own safety.” This novel in verse focuses on one Mexican-American family, in particular three siblings – Marisela, 16; Lorena, 14; and Ray, 12; they’re eldest brother, Nicolás, is off fighting overseas. Marisela and Ray love to dance, and especially love the Latin music popular in some of the clubs; Lorena, more introspective, is a reluctant accomplice to their nighttime entertainment. A violent altercation a lake sets the tone early on – it is clear, by Engle’s use of two reporter’s perspectives (simply addressed as “Reporter #1” and “Reporter #2”), that anyone perceived to be Mexican will be treated as a threat.  Indeed, the siblings all get arrested after this incident, even though they were merely bystanders, and had nothing at all to do with what happened. Each sibling internalizes this ordeal, as well as the riots, differently – while she’s angry and scared, Marisela just wants to be free to dance and fall in love; Lorena is furious and outraged, especially after the riots, which she points out should be called the “Sailor Riots”, as they’re the perpetrators; and Ray, as one of the subjects of these vicious attacks, feels “peeled,” but ready to fight. There are some wonderful moments in this book, with Lorena in particular, whose character development is the most dramatic, but overall, the writing feels a little haphazard, and will most likely leave younger readers confused about the time period rather than curious. If, instead of the two characters of the reporters (who often come off sounding like cartoon villains twirling their moustaches) Engle had put in snippets from actual primary sources, she would have accomplished the same thing in a more authentic way.

THOUGHTS: While Margarita Engle has done a service to history by giving voice to these horrific race riots, this books needs some context, and would be best as an in-class read paired with articles and/or photos from the time period.

Historical Fiction (1943)           Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Elem: No Biggy, Bark Park, Harriet Gets Carried Away, My Pet Wants a Pet, Monster and Mouse Go Camping, I Got a Chicken for My Birthday

Rubin, Elycia. No Biggy! A Story About Overcoming Everyday Obstacles. Rodale Kids, 2018. 978-1-63565-048-8. Unpaged. $16.00. Gr. PreK-2.  

I bought this book for my preschool-aged daughter and liked it so much that it’s now on my school shelves, too! Like any child, Kiki gets frustrated when things don’t go her way. Her toothpaste falls off her brush, it starts to rain when she’s playing outside, and she has a tough time schmearing her bagel. Kiki’s parents help her understand that frustration is a normal feeling and that when she feels like stomping her feet and crossing her arms, a deep breath and “No biggy!” will help her refocus. She uses her strategy well and even helps her parents with a “No biggy!” when family dog Pozey gets bubbles all over the bathroom. Bright colors and friendly-faced Kiki and Pozey will keep readers attention.

THOUGHTS: A great story for one-on-one sharing with any child who can use a little help managing her frustrating moments.  

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Krisher, Trudy. Bark Park! Beach Lane Books, 2018. 978-1-4814-3075-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. PreK-2.

Enjoy a day in the life of a park-going dog. Excitement abound as dogs of different sizes and breeds visit a dog park with their families to frolic, play together, and maybe get a little dirty. After a fun day, dogs return home for a much-needed drink and nap. This simple story told in short, rhyming verses is light-hearted enjoyment for all dog lovers. Brooke Boynton-Hughes’ illustrations are a perfect match for the text.

THOUGHTS: A loveable read for dog folks of all ages.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Sima, Jessie. Harriet Gets Carried Away. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-4814-6911-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. PreK-2.

Harriet, lover of costumes and full of freckles and imagination, dons a favorite penguin costume to visit the store with her dads for birthday party supplies. When she wanders into the frozen foods aisle she encounters some friendly penguins and follows them out of the store, into the park, and on a hot air balloon back to penguin territory. While she’s having a lovely time, Harriet realizes that she needs to get back to the store and enlists the help of an orca and some bird friends to help her return to the deli counter and meet her dads in time to get home for her party. Jessie Sima’s books are delightful, just like Harriet herself, and young readers and listeners will love travelling along on Harriet’s adventure.

THOUGHTS: Another great read aloud full of diversity and fun from Sima.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Broach, Elise. My Pet Wants a Pet. Henry Holt and Company, 2018. 978-1-250-10927-9. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. PreK-2.

A young boy begs his mother for a pet and loves his new role as puppy caregiver. He and the puppy get along so well, in fact, that the puppy decides it would be nice to have a pet of his own. The puppy’s new kitten is adorable and fun, and of course their relationship prompts the kitten to decide that a pet of her own would be nice…and so goes the comedic loop of the story. When will it end? The young boy realizes his mother, unhappy to be running a small zoo, needs something of her own to love and care for because that will bring her happiness. He, of course, offers himself.

THOUGHTS: A sweet family story for animal lovers.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Underwood, Deborah. Monster and Mouse Go Camping. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 978-0-544-64832-6. 32 p. $17.99. Gr K-3.

When Mouse suggests going on a camping trip, her friend Monster isn’t so sure. Mouse describes all the fun they’ll have walking in the woods, sleeping in tents, and telling spooky stories, but only when Mouse mentions that there will be yummy food to eat does Monster decide to give camping a try. The pair load their wagon with sleeping bags, a tent, and a lamp before setting off on their adventure. Once they reach the woods, Mouse scampers ahead to check out a stream, and Monster eats the lantern for a snack. Later, when Mouse scouts out a promising trail, Monster snacks on the sleeping bags. And finally, when Mouse goes to claim the perfect spot at the top of a hill, Monster eats the tent. Only when they try to pitch camp do they realize all of their supplies are gone. Even though it’s dark, cold, and they’re hungry, the pair take heart when they spot a glow in the distance. They encounter a family gathered around a campfire telling spooky stories. The sight of a huge, furry monster sends them screaming for their car, leaving Mouse and Monster with a perfect campsite, complete with tents, a fire, and marshmallows for roasting. The bright digital illustrations pop against uncluttered backgrounds, and the characters convey a lot of emotion, particularly with their wide round eyes.

THOUGHTS: This outdoor adventure will be a hit with young readers, especially ones who have been on camping trips themselves. It will also be a perfect addition to monster-themed storytimes that feature friendly, not scary, monsters.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Gehl, Laura. I Got a Chicken for My Birthday. Carolrhoda Books, 2018: ISBN 978-1-512-43130-8. 32 p. $17.99. Gr K-3.

When Ana’s birthday present from Abuela Lola arrives, she is initially disappointed to see that the box contains a chicken. What she really wanted was tickets to the amusement park, but she decides to be optimistic about the unexpected gift. It soon becomes obvious, however, that Ana has received an unusual chicken. Her chicken doesn’t have time to eat, doesn’t have time to lay eggs, and presents her with a long shopping list for items such as steel girders, ball bearings, a winch, tiny hammers, and more. It’s clear the chicken has a plan, and after recruiting help from Ana’s dog, cat, hamster, and a few other animals, the chicken designs and builds an entire amusement park! Ana’s initial skepticism is replaced with awe as she exclaims that the chicken is a genius. (And maybe Abuela Lola isn’t so quirky after all!) Pen and ink illustrations boldly accented with textured computer details capture the lively, playful vibe of this story, and readers will have fun pouring over the illustrations, noting small details such as the hamster powering the ferris wheel and the chicken brainstorming its next construction project.

THOUGHTS: Since it showcases brainstorming, designing, and construction, this title could be a fun addition to STEM-themed storytimes, and as an extension activity, teachers could challenge students to design their own amusement park or ride.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Upper Elem./MG: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, Grump, Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein

McAnulty, Stacy. The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. Random House, 2018. 978-1-524-76757-0. 287 p. $16.00. Gr. 4-7.

Lucy Callahan is a 12-year-old math savant with a loving Nana, OCD, and a plan to begin college in the fall–after all, she earned her GED thanks to cyber schooling. Nana has other plans. She enrolls Lucy at East Hamlin Middle School in the 7th grade with the stipulations that Lucy must give it 1 year, make 1 friend, do 1 activity, and read 1 book (Lucy’s love for numbers is noted throughout the book with the constant use of 1 instead of “one”). The new friend part is rather easy when outgoing Windy sits down next to Lucy on the bus. Windy doesn’t mind Lucy’s constant requests to use hand sanitizer and odd sit-stand-sit-stand-sit routine, but Lucy’s OCD tendencies and need for clean quickly earn her a reputation as the “cleaning lady” among the other 7th graders. Lucy just wants to blend in, and goes so far as to strategically hide her math genius (and the fact that she was struck by lightning at age 8, which rewires her brain and results in the math smarts and OCD) in order to seem average. With the help of a few new friends, an encouraging teacher, and a dog named Pi, Lucy learns that her calculations about being average don’t always end up giving the correct answer.

THOUGHTS: My favorite kids read of the summer! A solid choice for classroom read alouds and kid book clubs because there are so many excellent discussion points within this book. Hand it to any reader, especially those who would use an extra look at acceptance of others and ourselves.

Realistic Fiction          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Shurtliff, Liesl. Grump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Alfred A. Knopf, 2018. 978-1-524-71701-8. 292 p. $16.99. Gr. 3-7.

Borlen is a rather unusual dwarf. In a world where depth is everything, Borlen gets dizzier and dizzier the deeper he travels in the dwarf world and he dreams of visiting The Surface, the mostly unknown realm of humans and lots of danger. His worried parents push him into an early mining career in an attempt to keep him underground, and he mines a rare Fate Stone, a reflecting mirror, which he carries into the depths as he becomes a lowly seventh for an established crew where he earns the nickname Grump. When the crew comes dangerously close to The Surface, Grump can’t resist the temptation and finally breaches The Surface. Almost immediately, he meets the Queen who is kind to him and gives him delicious snacks like rubies and diamonds. Grump gets in over his head, however, when the Queen convinces him to clone his Fate Stone and make her a magic mirror and then witnesses the intended execution of Snow White. He must learn to play both sides and help both women, to whom he is magically bound, if he is going to stay alive above The Surface. Liesl Shurtliff’s genius blows my mind. There are so many fairy tale chapter books today but this one is unlike any other that I’ve read. I’m dying to read her other titles!

THOUGHTS: You’ll never view the Snow White fairy tale in the same way. Hand this to any fantasy lover or a reader who wants a great adventure story with a few rough edges.

Fantasy          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Roy, Jennifer, and Ali Fadhil. Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 978-0544785076  165 p.  $16.99  Gr. 5-8.

11-year-old Ali, who lives in Basra, Iraq, is a huge fan of  American television, movies, and video games. The son of a math professor and a dentist, he lives a relatively luxurious lifestyle, but for the second time in his life, war is coming. Ali and his family despise their despotic leader, Saddam Hussein, and believe that his invasion of Kuwait was foolish and egoistic: “You can’t just go and take over someone else’s country” (5). They also know that the coalition of countries led by the U.S. “will crush us like a bug” (5). Ali’s family hunkers down into survival mode, staying in a “safe room” (which is really just a bedroom) during the planned nighttime airstrikes, hoping the U.S. Desert Storm smart bombs are really as smart as advertised. Electricity and access to running water disappear almost immediately, and soon their batteries are depleted, too. During the day, Ali and his friends play soccer and hunt for cool bits of shrapnel. As time wears on, Ali’s family fears for the safe return of his father, now an army medic. When his mother uses one of his beloved comic books for kindling, Ali is inconsolable–until he tastes the meal that Superman cooks for him. The satisfying ending is set 14 years later when a grown-up Ali serves as a translator in Saddam Hussein’s trial.  

THOUGHTS:  The writing is clear, often vivid, age-appropriate, and easily accessible even to reluctant readers.  This based-on-a-true-story, featuring a protagonist who is half Kurdish, provides a perspective rarely available in children’s literature. This book belongs in all middle school libraries seeking to diversify their collections. As Ali says, “The world may only see Saddam Hussein. But we Iraqis are so much more than that” (157).

Historical Fiction (Persian Gulf War)          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

YA NF: Our Stories, Our Voices; I Have the Right To; A Few Red Drops; Unsinkable; Very, Very, Very Dreadful

Reed, Amy, editor. Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real about Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America. Delacorte Press, 2018. 978-1-524-71587-8. 352 p. $10.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Twenty-one writers, including many major young adult authors, tackle what it means to grow up female in America. With pieces on gender, race, religion, and ethnicity, these authors share their stories without fear of discrimination to show a new generation of women how to stand up and be strong. Note: Many authors don’t hold back when discussing their views on the 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump.

THOUGHTS: Speaking up and speaking out, these writers will inspire teen girls to stand up for themselves, regardless of identity. In the introduction, specific articles are listed as potential trigger warnings. Due to the nature of the content, this collection is most appropriate for high school readers.

305.42, Social Role and Status of Women          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Prout, Chessy. I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018. 978-1-534-41443-3. 416 p. $10.99. Gr. 9 and up.

A ripped from the headlines story of surviving sexual assault, Prout begins her story by taking readers through what initially brought her to Saint Paul’s boarding school in New Hampshire as a high school freshman. Chessy shares details about life prior to boarding school and during her first year where she sheds light on unique “traditions” at Saint Paul’s. One tradition, the senior salute, has forever changed Chessy’s life. In explicit detail, Chessy describes her assault, the immediate aftermath, the trial that eventually followed, and the years of pain and recovery she faces as she tries to put voice to this crime. While sharing her story, Chessy also discusses how national events like the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump and the women’s marches that followed impacted her on a very personal level and how they empowered her to speak up for women. Though she cautions that each survivor’s story is unique to him or her, Chessy’s narrative is all too real for many survivors. Young women and teen girls especially need to read this story of suffering, resilience, and ultimately hope. 

THOUGHTS: With national attention of the #MeToo movement, and individuals in power being held accountable for their actions, teens will appreciate the honesty of Chessy’s story. Regardless of background, many teens will relate to some experiences Chessy has as a high school student. Readers looking for a raw, emotional, and authentic read will appreciate Chessy’s voice and ability to stand up for what is right. Graphic details of sexual assault make this suitable for mature readers. Note: I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version of this book (which is read by the author)!

362.88, Victims of Assault          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Hartfield, Claire. A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919. Clarion Books, 2018. 198 p. 978-0544-78513-7 $18.99 Grades 7-12.

In the hot summer of 1919 in Chicago, temperatures were high and residents were urged to cool off at the city’s unofficially segregated beaches.  Five black teenagers rafted safely at the (black) Twenty-Sixth street beach, but when they drifted too close to the (white) Twenty-Ninth street beach, they attracted the ire of the white beach-goers angry at the “invasion.”  When a white man began throwing stones at the boys, he accidentally but fatefully caused 17-year-old Eugene Williams to drown. When the white officers failed to arrest the guilty man, word spread quickly. Rumors and hatred few through the city, and riot took hold, taking the lives of 38 people and injuring 537 (two-thirds were black; one-third were white) in the span of one week.  

Also in that hot summer of 1919, the world was emerging from World War I and Chicago was a northern city still highly racially segregated.  Workers in the growing meat-processing plants were fighting for work, fighting for unionization, and fighting between each other; immigrants from Ireland and Eastern Europe faced persecution, as did the black immigrants from the southern states (who were usually the last to be hired).  Though the number of blacks employed grew from a thousand in 1915 to more than ten thousand in 1918, they “particularly resented that they, who were native to American soil, were passed over…in favor of recently arrived immigrants” (104). Locating housing was also painfully limited, for, as a real estate dealer said, “you people are not admitted to our society” (109).  The efforts of journalists and union workers to improve equality helps to tell the full story. Many details are chilling for their reality today, such as, “Just catching a policeman’s attention might well cause a black person’s heart to skip a beat” (113).

THOUGHTS: This is a thorough and detailed presentation of race relations and a changing nation, with bearing on our present.  The first two and the last three chapters are devoted to the riot, but the bulk of the book focuses on the economic, political and social history of Chicago that allowed the riot to occur–and not solely in Chicago. Hartfield explains that in the U.S. that summer, twenty-five riots with racial causes led to the label “Red Summer” for 1919. Chicago leaders could have blamed the poor and turned away from the unrest, but they chose to examine the riot and seek justice for the victims–and since that day “progress has come in fits and starts” (167). A compelling look at the causes and costs of social change.        

305.8 Race Relations, United States          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Long, Jessica, with Hannah Long. Unsinkable: From Russian Orphan to Paralympic Swimming World Champion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 112 p. 978-1328-70725-3 $16.99 Grades 5-12.

Life-changing moments. Nineteen of them, to be exact. That’s what Jessica Long chose to highlight when asked for her story. And she has quite a story to tell, as a congenital double-amputee, born in Siberia, adopted by an American family from an orphanage, and after ten years as a competitive swimmer, the second-most decorated paralympian in world history (with twenty-three medals, thirteen of them gold). Her moments (shared nearly chronologically) include: the moment I discovered water; the moment I failed, the moment I became a professional athlete, the moment I met my Russian family, and so on. Structuring her story in this way (she gives credit and thanks to her sister Hannah Long) is a refreshing change from stock series biographies. The many colorful photographs and page spreads enhance the feeling of reality, joy, and challenge that Long has encountered. Her story–mostly about swimming–is honest about failure, struggle, and anxiety, but also encouraging about the past not holding her back, her Christian faith to guide her future, and enormous support from her family and friends.  

THOUGHTS: At just 112 photo- and color-filled pages, this will be picked up easily by middle and high schoolers seeking insight into competitive athletics and celebrity.

797 Paralympics–Swimming          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Marrin, Albert. Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.  198 p. 978-1-101-93146-2. $21.99.  Grades 5-12.

Marrin expertly, if slowly, leads readers through the horror- and death-laden story of the 1918 influenza pandemic.  “You can’t ignore the 1918 flu–it’s the great-granddaddy of them all,” a specialist notes (1). You can’t ignore it, but you can be sobered by it; be prepared for a truly depressing look at war’s impact on the spread of disease; the hazardous conditions set in place by World War I–for soldiers, health personnel, and civilians–paved an easy street for the 1918 flu to take the lives of an estimated 50-100 million worldwide, after infecting about 500 million. A 1994 World Health Organization report declared that the 1918 pandemic “killed more people in less time than any other disease before or since” (3). Marrin himself admits this is not “a happy story or a pretty one” but we owe it to those who lived and died to use what knowledge we can glean to prevent pandemics that pathologists state will surely happen. Marrin uses a multitude of primary sources, including statistics, soldiers’ and civilian survivors’ memories, songs, literature, advertisements, maps, and numerous black and white photos. Two factors led to the rapid spread of the three waves of influenza that struck over an 18-month period in 1918-19: the “Great War” in combination with the limited research and understanding of the disease (and medicine) of the time. Research since the 1930s has revealed insight into the virus, and Marrin explains attempts of numerous scientists–some attempts that have actually encouraged the disease. The first five chapters are heavy with real-life horror: trenches filled with water, rats and “trench-foot;” Germans so starved by the food shortages that they fought over the remains of dead horses in the streets; the ubiquitous face masks; bodies piled upon bodies as hospitals, then even the mortuaries, filled beyond capacity. A survivor later recalled that as a child, “we were afraid…to have contact of any kind…I remember I was actually afraid to breathe. People were afraid to talk to each other…because you might have the germs that will kill me” (106-7). The sixth and final chapter turns to look at the resulting research–cause, spread, ending, future. The answers have taken years, and the reality is stark: it will happen again. This final chapter is just as riveting and sobering as the earlier chapters.

THOUGHTS: Well-researched, well-written, and a must-have for middle and high school collections.  

614.5 Disease: Influenza          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


“Like a mass of intertwined plant roots, the roots of the 1918 outbreak lie deep in the natural world, the history of science, and the sweeping arc of human history” (8). In Very, Very, Very Dreadful, his latest work of nonfiction for teens, Albert Marrin untangles these roots to help readers understand both how the influenza pandemic occurred a century ago and how we can better prepare for a future outbreak. The medical profession made huge strides during the 1800s but in 1918, “war and influenza joined forces to ignite history’s worst-ever health disaster” (32). Millions suffered during the comparatively mild first wave in the spring of 1918, especially on the Western front. By August the virus had mutated into a “mass murderer of humans” and the second wave surged across the planet. During the third wave, the influenza virus would flare up, retreat, and then flare up again, and by mid-1920 the pandemic had ended. The book’s closing chapter, “A Detective Story,” explores the emerging menaces that guarantee job security for virologists … and keep them up at night.

THOUGHTS: It is a pleasure to discover nonfiction that is both rigorously researched and eminently readable. Plagues and pandemics are perennially page-turning topics, and Very, Very, Very Dreadful is highly recommended for readers of Gail Jarrow’s excellent medical nonfiction trilogy: Red Madness, Fatal Fever, and Bubonic Panic.

614.5 Influenza Epidemic, Diseases          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD