Acevedo, Elizabeth. The Poet X. New York: Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2018. 978-0-062-66280-4. 368 p. $17.99. Gr 9-12.
Fifteen year old Xiomara Batista feels invisible and hates that the attention given to her is through cat calls and comments about her curves. Her parents, who immigrated from Puerto Rico, see only her flaws, and her genius twin brother has his own secrets. So Xiomara writes, pouring her heart and soul into her leather notebook. When she is paired with Aman in science class, Xiomara begins to crush – hard – on her lab partner, and a romance blossoms. Although her devoutly Catholic mother has forbidden Xiomara to date, she and Aman sneak around, and Xiomara begins to share her poetry with him, which makes her feel alive. Invited to a slam poetry club, Xiomara discovers The Poet X inside her, and finally feels seen.
THOUGHTS: This is an incredible novel in verse that is worthy of all the awards its won. Xiomara’s voice is raw and real, and readers – especially teen girls – will see echoes of the sexism that plagues women everyday. The narrative is believable and Acevedo’s words a treasure.
Novel in verse Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School
Unseen around her neighborhood except for the beautiful curves that draw unwanted attention, Xiomara Batista is invisible. Her parents, Puerto Rican immigrants, are quick to point out Xiomara’s flaws, especially her strict Catholic mother. It doesn’t help that Xiomara’s twin brother is basically a genius. Writing is the only place that allows Xiomara to express herself openly, but she doesn’t share this side of herself easily. When lab partner Aman shows her attention, she falls quickly and easily abandon’s her mother’s rules – no matter how much pain this may cause Xiomara. For the first time in her life, Xiomara experiences the freedom that her poetry brings her, and she’s ready to discover who she is meant to be.
THOUGHTS: Beyond the verse style, readers will love Xiomara’s spark and the relationships she has with her family and friends. This beautiful novel in verse is a must have for high school collections.
Novel in verse Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Taylor, Laini. Muse of Nightmares. (Strange the Dreamer, #2) Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-0-316-34171-4. 528 p. $19.99. Gr. 9-12.
Taylor’s knack for lyrical storytelling shines once again in this follow up to 2017’s Strange the Dreamer. Sarai and Lazlo are dealing with the aftermath of the events at the end of Strange. Lazlo is a newly discovered God, while Sarai’s ghost lingers on after she fell to her death. Sarai and her siblings face a new threat – Minya and her army of ghosts, intent on destroying those in Weep who harmed her. Taylor dives deep into the backstory of Weep and Minya, showing where her unseated rage and vengeance come from. Mysteries from the first book are explored, and questions are answered, but the focus here is on the love between Lazlo and Sarai. How can Sarai remain when tied so strongly to Minya, and how can immortal and ghost remain together?
THOUGHTS: Readers must have read Strange the Dreamer to understand this story. As with previous works, Taylor writes with a haunting beauty and creates a complex fantasy world. Recommended for fantasy fans.
Fantasy Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School
Adeyemi, Tomi. Children of Blood and Bone. (Legacy of Orïsha, #1) Henry Holt and Company, 2018. 978-1-250-17097-2. 544 p. $18.99. Gr 9-12.
The most anticipated young adult book of the year lives up to the hype! Zélie Adebola’s mother was killed in front of her by the ruthless King Saran after he vowed to cleanse magic from the land of Orïsha. Zélie’s mother was a Reaper, and like Zélie and the other maji, had snow white hair. Left alive, Zélie grows up secretly training for combat, hellbent on vengeance against King Saran. The king convinces his people that magic is to be feared, and even his own son, Inan, believes magic is a power to be eradicated. But Saran’s daughter, Amani, grows weary of her father’s practices, and escapes the cruel kingdom for a better life. Meeting up with a reluctant Zélie and her brother Tzain, the three are given the task of securing a relic that will restore magic to Orïsha. But hunted by Inan, they are in constant danger and must use their wits, strength, and even magic to survive.
THOUGHTS: This is a West-African inspired fantasy that unlike most YA fantasy, features all black characters. Adeyemi does not shy away from racially charged violence and injustices that rivals the present day. Zélie is a flawed but likeable narrator, and Adeyemi’s story is strong, with incredible world building, a fast paced narrative, and incredibly complex characters. A must for any library! A sequel will be published in June 2019, and a movie is already in the works.
Fantasy Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School
Carter, Te. I Stop Somewhere. Feiwel & Friends, 2018. 978-1-250-12464-7. $17.99 Gr. 10-12.
In an effort to start over in a new place, Ellie Frias wants nothing more than to blend in, or better yet, fade into the background. She achieves her goal, to the point that no one except her father notices when she goes missing. In fact, she had attracted the attention of wealthy and predatory Caleb Brewer, who toys with her emotions, then in an act of planned brutality with his brother, rapes and kills her. Ellie hovers in-between, watching the boys repeat their assault on other young women, feeling she must be there both so that the girls are not alone, and until she (her body) is found. In a once up-and-coming town now dying for industry and full of empty houses being bought, re-sold, or demolished by the Brewers’ father, the atmosphere is empty of much hope. The pace lags at times as Ellie remembers, serves as a witness to brutality, and offers sage insights much too wise for her age but not her horrific experience. A few (of the many) young women come forward to press charges, each rightfully fearing the backlash. The boys are finally charged with assault of several young women, as well as the murder of Ellie, but only the murder charge holds, after the girls’ reputations and motivations are relentlessly blamed.
THOUGHTS: A bleak, brutal, and thought-provoking look at rape culture (“we don’t call it murder culture”) for mature readers.
Realistic Fiction Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Choi, Mary H. K. Emergency Contact. Simon and Shuster. 978-1-534-40896-8. $17.99 394 p. Gr. 9 and up.
Penny is more than ready to start college in Austin and leave high school and her small town behind. She’s never quite fit in at home, and when she meets her new roomate, Penny is forced to socialize for the first time in ages. Jude is outgoing, friendly, and drags Penny along every time she goes out. On a trip to the local coffee shop, Penny meets Jude’s “Uncle Sam,” who works as a barista and baker. After a strange encounter a few days later when Penny helps Sam through a panic attack, he gets her number to use for his emergency contact. A thoroughly modern digitally-focused relationship begins as Penny and Sam reveal themselves to each other through texts and emails and develop a clear connection. Penny is not the warmest character; she is prickly and self-obsessed. Penny is depressed about her lack of friends, is overly critical of her young and attractive mother, and she seems to be wallowing in trivial matters when Sam is the one with serious family relationship and financial problems. With Sam’s chaotic life and Jude’s attitude against her friends dating her family members, Penny and Sam keep their online relationship a secret. This book is an honest and raw look at the budding friendship between two awkward loners who fit perfectly online but have a hard time translating that to real life.
THOUGHTS: A realistic romance with believably flawed characters and clever dialogue.
Realistic Fiction Nancy Summers, Abington SD
Capetta, Amy Rose. The Brilliant Death. Viking, 2018. 978-0-451-47844-3. 330 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.
Teodora di Sangria, the daughter of a powerful lord of Vinalia, is a strega who has the magical ability to turn men into objects. Although this has been a very useful way to do away with her family’s enemies, she must keep her powers secret, as streghe have been mysteriously disappearing from Vinalia for years. Everything changes, however, when the Capo (the ruler of Vinalia) poisons Teo’s father and the heads of the other four most powerful families in the kingdom, and demands that each family sends a son to the capital. Determined to transform herself into her brother and take his place as their family’s representative, Teo enlists the help of Cielo, another strega with transformative powers. Will Teo be able to hone in her magical abilities to complete this transformation and fool everyone in the capital? Will she be able to find the antidote and save her father – and all of the other streghe – before it’s too late? A captivating read, this story will hook readers with its action-packed plot full of magic, murder, and politics.
THOUGHTS: This book has a great deal of potential for sparking timely discussions about gender roles and gender perception. Teo struggles with the idea that despite her powers and intelligence, being a girl prevents her from being a respectable representative for her family. When she starts to develop feelings for Cielo, their constant transformations from male to female make for an interesting dynamic between the two. Give this book to fans of Julie Kagawa’s Talon series or Sara Larson’s Dark Breaks the Dawn. Readers will eagerly await the sequel in this duology.
Fantasy Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD
McCullough, Joy. Blood Water Paint. Dutton Books, 2018. 978-0-735-23211-2. 289 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.
Living in Rome during the Renaissance, Artemisia Gentileschi is a talented painter. Because she is a woman, however, her father signs all of her paintings. In the interest of making more money off of her work, her father hires a tutor to work with Artemisia. When her tutor rapes her, most people choose to look the other way, as a woman’s word doesn’t mean much in 17th-century Rome. Encouraged by the stories of brave women in the Bible, which her deceased mother used to tell her, Artemisia decides to stand up for herself and speak her truth anyway. Find out whether or not justice is served in this inspiring title.
THOUGHTS: This book would make for an excellent study in gender roles and/or women’s rights. It would also make a great supplement to any curriculum on Renaissance art, order and justice in ancient Rome, or religious studies. Give this to fans of Stephanie Hemphill’s Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials if they are looking for a read-alike.
Historical Fiction Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD
Mafi, Tahereh. A Very Large Expanse of Sea. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-0-062-86656-1. $18.99. 320 p. Gr. 9 and up.
It’s 2002, one year after 9/11, and Shirin is at yet another new school. With only two and a half years until she can go to college and make her own life, she’s faced with starting over – again. On the first day her English teacher butchers her name, and even though she has no accent he insists she must be mistaken – this is Honors English, not ESL. Tired of dealing with awful people and ignorant stares, Shirin has learned to withdraw. It doesn’t help that Shirin’s older brother Navid easily makes friends. When she is paired with Ocean in Bio, Shirin’s tough exterior begins to soften. Faced with countless reasons of why she doesn’t let her guard down, Shirin slowly begins to make friends and fall for Ocean. Not everyone understands her defenses, though, especially Ocean.
THOUGHTS: This subtle romance takes teen readers (many of whom weren’t even yet born) back to 2002 and shows them what it means to be Muslim American in the post 9/11 era. Mafi writes a strong Muslim American teen who readers will adore and root for.
Realistic Fiction Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Johnson, Maureen. The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2). Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-33808-2. $17.99. 384 p. Gr. 9 and up.
Stevie is back at Ellingham Academy after her nemisis, Edward King, convinced her parents it was safe to return. Now, indebted to Senator King, Stevie is to be there for David, his son, as he deals with the death of Hays and the disappearance of Ellie. She’s also promised Larry, the security guard, no more tunneling or detecting, but that’s what brought Stevie to Ellingham in the first place, the disappearance and murder of Iris and Alice Ellingham, and tough habits are hard to break. Now, Stevie also has the task of research assistant to Dr. Fenton, author and Ellingham researcher. As she fact-checks Dr. Fenton’s materials, Stevie is drawn back into the tunnels, where she finds more than she can handle. With the work for Dr. Fenton and her own sleuthing, Stevie soon discovers the truth behind the Ellingham kidnapping, but is it too late?
THOUGHTS: Amazingly fabulous! Maureen Johnson is a genius. This is the perfect follow-up to Truly Devious. A must-have for all libraries and must-read for all mystery lovers.
Mystery Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD
Unwillingly removed from Ellingham Academy by her parents, Stevie finds herself in luck when Edward King (her friend’s not so secret father) assures them Stevie will be safe. All he asks in return for helping Stevie is that she “look out for” his son David, who has been adrift since Hays’ death and Ellie’s disappearance. Stevie quickly reunites with her friends and makes promises she can’t easily keep. Still determined to solve the Ellingham case, her real reason for being at Ellingham, and learn what happened to her friends, Stevie works as a research assistant to local professor Dr. Fenton. With new questions, evidence, and heightened security all over campus, mystery proves to be too enticing.
THOUGHTS: Once again Johnson will dazzle readers with the mystery of her puzzled narratives. Fans will anxiously await the final installment of the Truly Devious series, as this one ends on a cliffhanger as well.
Mystery Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
McManus, Karen M. Two Can Keep a Secret. Delacourte Press, 2019. 978-1-524-71472-7. 336 p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.
With their mother Sadie away for the next four months, twins Ellery and Ezra are on the way to their grandmother’s house in Echo Ridge. Echo Ridge is a place Sadie mostly avoided since turning eighteen and where the twins never have spent any time. If the bad omens since their arrival mean anything, it seems like the past is coming back to haunt Echo Ridge. A huge true-crime fan, Ellery has always been curious about her aunt’s disappearance and the unsolved murder of an Echo Ridge homecoming queen five years ago. When mysterious threats start appearing around town, Ellery races against time (and her grandmother’s fears), determined to get some answers.
THOUGHTS: This small town is full of secrets, and no one will predict the ending. Readers will not be disappointed in McManus’s second novel. This one is a must-have for high school mystery fans, and it will fly off of the shelves!
Mystery Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
When their mother enters rehab, Ellery and Ezra must leave their life in California to live with their grandmother, who they have barely seen in their 17 years. Known for the amusement park Murderland, now Fright Farm, Echo Ridge, Vermont, has a history of murder and disappearance, one of whom was Ellery’s and Ezra’s aunt, Sarah. Now, after the death of popular teacher, Mr. Bowman, Echo Ridge is on high alert. When messages appear threatening the homecoming court, which includes Ellery, fear of the past resurfaces. With the disappearance of homecoming queen, Brooke, Ellery is determined to figure out how Aunt Sarah disappeared, who killed Lacey Kilduf, and what happened to Brooke, while also uncovering the mystery surrounding her own family. Meanwhile, Malcolm Kelly, is trying to figure out why his brother Declan, the man believed to have killed Lacey Kilduf, has returned to Echo Ridge. Trying to protect Declan and himself, and survive his step-family, Malcolm joins Ellery in her pursuit of the truth. As they piece together the past and current disappearances and murders, they soon realize that there’s more to Echo Ridge than meets the eye.
THOUGHTS: Two Can Keep a Secret is a wonderful mystery that keeps readers guessing to the very end. Seamlessly intertwining storylines leave the reader on edge throughout. The mix of mystery and realistic family situations allows the reader to connect with Ellery and Malcolm and invest fully in the novel. McManus is a masterful mystery writer. Highly recommended.
Mystery Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area
After their mom was sent to rehab, again, twins Ellery and Ezra are shipped off to live with their grandmother that they never met. The small town in Vermont that Ellery and Ezra now call home has had its fair share of misfortune. When their mom, Sadie, lived there a generation earlier, she was crowned homecoming queen on the same night that her own twin sister went missing. Further tragedy struck five years prior when the homecoming queen was found murdered, and the case was never closed. As Ellery, a true crime enthusiast, digs into what may have happened to the homecoming queen five years ago, threats are made toward this year’s homecoming court. There is a healthy dose of relationships, even some queer, teenage sarcasm, and twists to make this a worthy read for teens.
THOUGHTS: I didn’t fall for McManus’ sophomore novel as hard as I fell for her first, One of Us Is Lying, simply because this story had more storyline to remember and to wrestle with. For fans of teen centered dramatic thrillers, this is a must read. For everyone else, you can certainly get wrapped into the storyline within a few pages.
Realistic Fiction; Mystery Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD
Johnson, Abigail. Even If I Fall. Inkyard Press, 2019. 978-1-335-54155-0. 346 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.
One year ago Brooke’s life was shattered when her older brother confessed to killing his best friend. Outcast by their entire town, Brooke and her family are left to navigate their lives but do so more like passing ships than the close-knit family they used to be. Brooke’s mother puts on a happy face when visiting Jason on the weekly family day but walks around in a daze otherwise. Brooke’s father copes by spending extra hours in his woodshop, and her little sister has all but stopped talking. Previously dreaming of becoming a professional ice skater, the only place Brooke finds any peace is on the ice at the rink where she works, though her boss and co-workers don’t give her any breaks. Brooke isn’t sure how to keep going when she sees the only other person who might understand her pain. One year ago Heath lost his older brother when Brooke’s brother killed him. Torn by love for their brothers, Heath and Brooke begin a cautious friendship. Conflicting emotions run high, though, and they may be too lost to help each other.
THOUGHTS: Full of strong emotions, this is a great read for fans of realistic fiction with a little bit of mystery and romance. Readers will race through this novel in hopes of getting answers to the many questions it poses. Perhaps, most importantly is the question of what exactly happened the night Calvin died? A must purchase for high school libraries.
Realistic Fiction Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Mills, Emma. Famous in a Small Town. Henry Holt & Company, 2019. 978-1-250-17963-0. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.
Sophie loves everything about her small town and is a proud member of the Marching Pride of Acadia which has been invited to march in the Rose Bowl Parade. Amidst a summer of fundraising for the trip, spending time with her best friends, volunteering at the library, and babysitting the neighbor kids, Sophie meets August. Even though August doesn’t know who Megan Pleasant is (Acadia’s claim to fame when she made it big after being on America’s Next Country Star), Sophie works to convince August of Acadia’s appeal. Still, her friends aren’t sure August deserves to be added to their WWYSE (where would you spend eternity) text thread. Alternating between the last summer before senior year and a text thread with her sister (who doesn’t come home from college for the summer), Sophie’s story unfolds.
THOUGHTS: Much more than the slow burning romance this book seems, friendship and mystery take center stage among the banter of friends. A must purchase for high school fans of realistic, character-driven romances.
Realistic Fiction Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD