YA – Thicker Than Water; The Sisterhood; White Rose; A Curse so Dark and Lonely; Parkland Speaks; With the Fire on High; Shout; Happy Messy Scary Love; Aurora Rising; Cicada; That Night

Deen, Natasha. Thicker Than Water. Orca, 2009. 978-1-459-82198-9. 128 p. $9.95. Grades 7-12.

Zack is an aspiring criminologist, so the recent disappearance of his friend Ella has him searching for answers. He’s keeping it secret that they had a disagreement that day, and worse, that after they parted, he saw Ella meet with his dad (their school guidance counselor) and get into his dad’s SUV. His dad hasn’t spoken a word, and Zack worries and imagines the worst, trying to piece together the truth while protecting himself and his dad. Zack’s friend Ayo Mohammad repeatedly offers logical perspective, and reminds Zack of his all-too-frequent over-reacting, likely due to crime show binging. Zack is on to something, but it isn’t what he thinks, and he needs a wake-up call in order to set things right. Ayo stands out as a solid friend and necessary voice of reason.

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the Orca Soundings series, this is a realistic story written at 3rd-4th grade level for young adult readers and worth considering for reluctant readers.

Mystery          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Grainger, A.J. The Sisterhood. Simon & Schuster, 2019. 978-1-481-42906-1. 298 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.  

Sixteen-year-old Welsh teenager Lil has withdrawn since the disappearance of her older sister, Mella, four months ago. She devotes most of her time to updating a blog about Mella, questioning her police officer aunt about the case, watching her single mom deteriorate, and having detailed conversations in her head with Mella. While biking one day as a terrible storm approaches, she stumbles upon a young woman who is unconscious and injured in the road. “Alice” is fearful and willing to run if Lil involves authorities, and Lil becomes determined to not let Alice down the way she feels she’s let her sister down. Lil takes Alice home, and she and friend Kiran debate the girl’s odd speech, intense fear, and slow reveal of the Sisterhood, led by the charismatic Moon. Soon it becomes clear that Mella is involved in the dangerous cult, and Lil must walk a fine line between exposing Alice and losing her sister. Lil’s devotion to her clearly difficult sister shows how a strong personality can mold and rule a family; Mella consistently turns the spotlight on herself, erupts in tantrums, and lately, vanishes at will. The secluded atmosphere lends itself to the story, though readers may wish for more details on the cult’s inner workings. Told largely from Lil’s perspective, the novel benefits from occasional slips into Mella’s mind, as well as frequent inside views of Moon and the Sisterhood.

THOUGHTS: This book will find an audience among those who find cults fascinating.

Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Wilson, Kip. White Rose. Versify, 2019. 978-1-328-59443-3. 358 p. $17.99 Grades 5-12.

Sophie Scholl was one of five siblings in a strong, close-knit family who watched as Hitler rose to power in Germany. This novel in verse gives Sophie a strong voice, showing her early teenage years as she and brother Hans were enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth. Their enthusiasm waned, then vanished, as they witnessed increasing restrictions and discrimination. Years passed and as university students in Munich, Sophie and her brother Hans and some like-minded students began the White Rose society, dedicated to spreading anti-Nazi messages. Hans wrote content for the leaflets, and Sophie found duplicating machines and all members found ways to distribute the leaflets. Such treasonous activity as free speech was punishable by death, a fate that she and Hans and friend Christoph Probst met in February 1943 (three other White Rose members were arrested, tried, and killed later the same year). Told primarily from Sophie’s perspective, the novel is strengthened by letters from Hans, boyfriend Fritz’s thoughts, and the clinical coldness of Robert Mohr, Gestapo investigator who tracked down their illegal activity. This book effectively shows Sophie’s steadfast and tenacious desire to make a difference, and her realization that simply remaining silent was akin to endorsement of Nazi beliefs.  

THOUGHTS: This is a suspenseful, powerful novel made richer for the paucity of words per page. Wilson illuminates the steel in Sophie’s mind and soul; her story should be should be widely read and remembered. Recommended for all middle and high school libraries.

Historical Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Kemmerer, Brigid. A Curse So Dark and Lonely. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19508-7. $18.99. 477 p. Gr. 8 and up.

Harper’s mother is dying of cancer, and her brother is in trouble with some loan sharks, but these are conflicts only revealed in the opening chapter of this Beauty and the Beast retelling. Life then gets even more complicated for Harper when she is swept from Washington, DC into a parallel fantasy universe, the kingdom of Emberfall. As in the original fairytale, Prince Rhen, heir to the throne, is cursed by an enchantress, a curse that can only be broken by falling in mutual love. Prince Rhen’s beast form only manifests each autumn though, making it seemingly easier to fall in love with him. However, also in a similar fashion to the original, Harper’s worry for her ailing family prevents her from fully committing to life in Emberfall. Likewise, politics and threats from neighboring kingdoms prevent Prince Rhen from wholly throwing himself into wooing Harper to break the curse, not to mention appearances by the enchantress Lilith who cast the curse, Rhen’s handsome and loyal Guard Commander Grey, and Harper’s cerebral palsy. Despite all the hurdles Harper and Prince Rhen face, the struggling kingdom of Emberfall and its people unite them with a common cause that propels this story, which is told in alternating points of view from Harper to Rhen. Harper’s cerebral palsy is almost never mentioned after the opening chapters, which was intentional on the part of the author to prove a point, though sometimes it simply feels forgotten. Regardless, Harper’s character is definitely strong and likable, and the friendships she forges with the people of Emberfall are a bright spot in the slower mid-plot before the book becomes unputdownable in the final 100 pages.

THOUGHTS: Far more violent than the Disney version and with its own very original plot, this fairytale retelling will be enjoyable for fans of both YA speculative AND contemporary fiction as the characters hail from both worlds.

Fantasy (Fairytale)          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area High School

Lerner, Sarah, editor. Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-84999-1. 192 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.   

This collection of poems, photos, essays, and journal entries by students that survived the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida will leave you feeling ripped apart and connected to each student at the same time. The anthology features a scrapbook like feel with handwritten entries, scraps of paper seemingly taped onto the page, as well as both student artwork and photographs. Although some entries are short with little detail, others vividly account what was experienced that day. There are several themes prevalent throughout their poems, stories, and speeches that will resonate with every reader. They include facing grief from the tragic loss of 17 Eagles, anger with the government for change not occurring fast enough, and betrayal that another school shooting resulted in the loss of life. Readers will also find messages of hope, love, and strength threaded throughout their first hand accounts. This book may be difficult for certain individuals who may struggle with the fear and uncertainty that follows a school shooting.

THOUGHTS: The handwritten pieces and images in the text allow you to feel connected to each student who survived the horrific events at MSD High School. The book allows all readers to reflect on the importance of protecting those you love and inspires us to work toward instituting change in our schools to make them safe places for learning.

371.1, Teachers & Teaching          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Acevedo, Elizabeth. With the Fire on High. HarperTeen, 2019. 978-0-062-66283-5. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Emoni Santiago loves to cook.  She has a natural connection with spices and flavors that evokes emotion, not just a good taste. Raised by her ‘Buela after her mother’s death and father’s return to Puerto Rico, Emoni has learned to use her passion for food in good times and bad. With her senior year looming and her future not far away, Emoni enrolls in Culinary Arts; it seems like an easy-A, but she soon learns that although she is a natural in the kitchen, she has a lot to learn. Meanwhile, Emoni’s structure begins to unroll with the entrance of new student, Malachi Johnson. With a smile that melts, Emoni’s rule of no dating is challenged. But Emoni has more than just herself to consider; she has her daughter, Emma (Baby Girl), too. On top of it all, Culinary Arts includes an immersion trip to Sevilla, Spain, over spring break. There, Emoni is challenged to find her way while remaining true to her own desires.

THOUGHTS: With the Fire on High shares present day struggles for many students through a universal topic: food. Acevedo takes the familiar and weaves an individual story of wants, desires, and the here-and-now. She looks at the struggles faced by many but does not dwell on any of the struggles. Instead, she gives realistic hope to readers through Emoni and an understanding that each choice one makes connects to their overall story, and one choice does not define a person. This novel is a wonderful addition to high school collections.

As a side-note, I did not love With the Fire on High like I did The Poet X.  Although I greatly enjoyed Fire, Poet X evoked emotions from me that I hadn’t felt in a while. I deeply connected with Xiomara, but not so much with Emoni, although I liked her story. I would have liked Acevedo to delve deeper into the social issues she skims in Fire.  I guess I wanted more.

As a second side-note, I love Acevedo’s audio recordings. The fact that she reads her work adds a layer of intimacy with the text and the characters that reading the words doesn’t give. I hope she continues to read her novels in the future.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elizabeth Acevedo has a hard act to follow:  herself. The Poet X, her debut novel, won an almost impossible trifecta of awards (The Printz Award, the National Book Award For Young People, and the Carnegie Medal).  However, her new release, With The Fire on High, does not disappoint. African-Latina-American Emoni is a senior in a Philadelphia charter high school and the mother of a two-year-old girl, Emma (“Babygirl”), whom she is raising with the help of her Abuela. Babygirl’s father, Tyrone, is a better parent then ex-boyfriend, and Emoni is slow to trust when a boy in her culinary arts class, Malachi, seems too good to be true. Becoming a chef is fiery, fierce Emoni’s dream . . . but she’s not sure what dreams are in her reach. Emoni’s struggles with parenting, families, relationships, school, college applications, and trying to decide what’s best for both her and her daughter’s futures are realistically portrayed in this fast-paced novel with short, snappy chapters. Recipes with more of a literary than culinary purpose are included, but they might work for bold-spirited cooks willing to interpret ambiguous and playful directions.

THOUGHTS: Vivid prose, well developed characters (including Emoni’s best friend, Angelica, who is a lesbian), and a narrative that includes but does not center on romance will have teen readers eating up this book. Highly recommended. 

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

This book made me hungry for Emoni to find success in her life. Despite having multiple roadblocks (becoming a mom as a teen, working while going to school, living with her grandmother who is nursing an injury), she finds a way to constantly strive for what’s best for herself and her daughter. She knows what she wants out of life, and that is to be a chef. She is even in a culinary arts class at school with the possibility of a week long apprenticeship in Spain, not that she can afford it. There is a truth to the balance of Emoni’s struggles at school, at home, and at work all while raising a three-year-old and navigating the balance of an amicable relationship with her daughter’s father and his family. 

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the urban fiction cannon that should be on a high school shelves. Emoni’s positive outlook in a less than desirable environment will motivate the less than inspired students. The addition of recipes and creative descriptions of the food she makes will make the readers hungry for more.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Shout: A Poetry Memoir. Viking, 2019. 978-0-670-01210-7. 291 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up

Laurie Halse Anderson’s memoir of growing up in a shattered family and surviving a sexual assault at the age of thirteen is heart-wrenching and beautiful. Her father, a World War II veteran, suffered from memories of death and destruction during the war. Her mother, shattered from miscarriage after miscarriage of sons and abuse from her husband, tried to repair the torn family and be the “proper” pastor’s wife. Laurie and her sister were born out of heartache and desire. A desire for something more; a desire to move beyond the past into the present and future, but the past is hard to escape. As the daughter of a pastor, Laurie learned to accept what she had and developed a creativity that helped her through her days. Sharing her torn family life, she sheds light on situations often left undiscussed. As she moves from her shattered family, to her rape and then into her time in Denmark where she saw a family structure different from her own, Anderson highlights the hope within darkness. In Part II of Shout, she looks at the impact of her writing and her school visits. She addresses the censorship she has dealt with along with the numerous stories of assaults shared with her by students. Shout is a beautifully written memoir-in-verse that proves life and hope can grow from tragedy and hardship.  

THOUGHTS: Anderson once again delivers an emotional story of survival. Much like her novels, Shout forces readers to examine what they know (or think they know), and then face reality head on. She does not sugar coat the abuse and hardships of her family or glaze over her own rape at thirteen. Anderson’s overt style, without being in-your-face and vulgar, is breath-taking and much appreciated. This is a must have for all high school collections.

811 Poetry or 92 Memoir          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Written in free verse, Anderson delivers her own story in a powerful memoir. Shout has clear parallels with her first novel, Speak which make reading Anderson’s story that much more painful. She chose to tell her story beginning with an act of assault that she has had to live with, and the rest of the book is the journey Anderson takes to heal. She is fierce and effective at getting her point across in the current climate of our world.

THOUGHTS: This memoir should be required reading for all high school students and staff. It belongs on the shelf of every high school library to allow those who are victims an opportunity to heal and those who are lucky enough not to have been abused or assaulted a glance into the mind of someone who has and survived.  

Memoir          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Konen, Leah. Happy Messy Scary Love. Abrams, 2019. 978-1-419-73489-2. $18.99. 336 p. Gr. 7 and up.

Olivia Knight dreams of attending film school, but procrastinating on writing her horror screenplay is not helping her attain that dream. She’s failed to get into an NYU summer writing program and now must spend her summer in the Catskill Mountains with her parents while her friends have their dream summers. To pass time through her writer’s block, Olivia watches lots of horror films on Netflix and messages Elm, another horror film addict she meets on a discussion board where she goes by the name “Carrie” – after her favorite film, of course. When Elm suggests they exchange photos, self-conscious Olivia panics, especially when he sends his picture, and he’s cute! Assuming they’ll never meet in person anyway, since she’s from Brooklyn and he lives in North Carolina, Olivia sends back a selfie of her best friend Katie who is the traditional definition of attractive. Awkwardness averted… at least until Olivia shows up to her summer part time job in the Catskills to find Elm is working there as well. Though she wants to tell him the truth, the thought of trying to explain herself is more horrifying than her favorite films. As she admits, “Being close to people, being honest with them, not being afraid to fail – that’s the scariest thing of all.” So as Olivia and Elm’s real-life relationship develops, “Carrie” must also maintain their online relationship, all while trying to finish her screenplay and navigate a summer job for which she feels ill-equipped. Some surprises along the way create a Shakespearean comedy-like plot while exploring relevant and important themes for high schoolers such as body image, self-worth, breaking out of one’s comfort zone, and friendship.

THOUGHTS: A delightful summer read, this book will be fun for hardcore horror fans, but it’s not so full of jargon or allusions that non-fans can’t enjoy it.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Kaufman, Amie, and Jay Kristoff.  Aurora Rising. Alfred Knopf, 2019. 978-1-524-72096-4. 480 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up. 

Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have squarely secured their place as scions of young adult science fiction. Their sophomore series, The Aurora Cycle, like the Illuminae Files, propels readers once again into a wild conspiracy featuring a scrappy crew of space cadets, shadowy overlords, a girl who shouldn’t exist, and an intricate spider web of a plot. The crew’s leader is golden boy Tyler Jones, the highest ranked Alpha at Aurora Academy, who is primed to hand-pick his squad from the best of the best. His plan goes completely awry, however, when he discovers not only a generation ship thought to be lost two centuries earlier, but also a surviving passenger – Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley. Now Ty is saddled with a squad he had no say in – though fortunately for him, his twin sister, Scarlett, and his best friend, Cat, both choose loyalty to Ty over ambition – and a girl two centuries old who is much more than she seems. When Ty’s team is sent on their first humanitarian mission, it goes completely wrong, and sets off a chain of events that leave the squad questioning everything they thought they knew about their world, and running from the highest authorities in the galaxy, authorities who are determined to eliminate Ty’s crew, and capture Auri for their own nefarious purposes. Kaufman and Kristoff’s plot is twisty, complex, and fun as all get out. The story is told from multiple perspectives – not an easy feat, given there are seven unique characters – and crew members narrates their own chapter, in their own voice, with their own personalities shining through. This is a page-turning romp through space that will leave readers clamoring for book two.

THOUGHTS: While all of the characters are well-developed, Zila, the crew’s scientist, provides the most interesting perspective – she struggles mightily in social situations and has an underdeveloped sense of empathy, making it almost impossible for her to gauge and understand human emotions and motivations. Her chapters are often very short, very funny, and very poignant.

Science Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Tan, Shaun. Cicada. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019. 978-1-338-29839-0. Unpaged. $19.99. Gr. 6 and up.

For seventeen years, Cicada has worked in an office where it is mistreated and ignored. Although Cicada works harder than the humans, it cannot use a bathroom in the building (it must go downtown for a bathroom). It cannot afford rent, so it lives at the office. It does not receive any benefits or resources like the humans and is verbally and physically abused by the humans regularly. When Cicada decides to retire, it leaves without fanfare and goes into the unknown; it has no home, no money, and now, no job. At the top of the tall office building, Cicada stands at the edge. Has Cicada’s journey come to an end, or is it just beginning?

Tan’s illustrations are breathtaking. Using oil on canvas and paper, he creates a world of gray for Cicada. The illustrations enhance the abuse and mistreatment faced by Cicada. They evoke emotion from the reader as they intensify the symbolism of Cicada and its dismal life.  

THOUGHTS: Cicada is a timely (2019 is the year of cicada) look into mistreatment and cruelty. By addressing mistreatment, it highlights the spiral of cruelty beyond work into one’s home and personal lives. This YA picture book forces readers to consider social injustices and, through symbolism, dive deeper into the impact of society and how people are treated by governments, economics, and one another. As a minimalist picture book, it is an impactful case study for English and social studies courses into symbolism, human interaction, social justice, law and policy, mental health, discrimination, and more.  Highly recommended for all middle school and high school collections.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Balog, Cyn. That Night. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-67904-2. 320 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up. 

One year ago Hailey’s boyfriend Declan ended his life, and she has lived in a fog ever since. A stay in rehab only blurred her memories of the weeks surrounding Declan’s death. One thing is certain in her mind, though, Hailey knows Declan never would have killed himself. All she wants is to remember. It is Declan’s step-brother Kane, who has been Hailey’s best friend forever, that helps her begin to remember the last year. Kane and Hailey have a complicated relationship, but with the help of a box of Declan’s things, Hailey begins to remember the past as she tries to move on. She can’t understand why Kane’s on again of again girlfriend (and Hailey’s former best friend) won’t even look at her. As she tries to puzzle through her memories, this fast-paced mystery flashes between Hailey’s present grief and the year leading up to Declan’s death. The answers might not be exactly what Hailey was looking for, though.

THOUGHTS: Thriller fans will devour this unpredictable read. Recommended for high schools where mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – The Journey of York; Tyrannosaurus Rex; You Make Me Happy; The Friendship War

Davis, Hasan. The Journey of York:  The Unsung Hero of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Capstone Editions, 2019.  40 p. 978-1-543-51282-3. $17.95. Grades 3-5.

Written in first person, this account of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is told from the viewpoint of York, the African American enslaved man who accompanied the men on the journey. The text is written in a diary format and begins with an explanation of the formation and mission of the Corps of Discovery in the front matter and how William Clark ordered his slave York to join the expedition. There is one diary entry per two page spread with the text on one side and full bleed illustrations on both pages. The author discusses the friendship that York had with one of the men, Charles Floyd, who was the only one who died on the journey. Hasan shows how York was not treated as an equal, but how the Native Americans at times thought York was the leader of the group and called him “Big Medicine.” The text highlights all the main segments of the journey, like the stay at Fort Mandan and Fort Clatsop, but does not go into much detail. Hasan points out that York was permitted to vote with the rest of the party on the location of the final camp in Washington State. However, he points out that Clark did not include York’s name on the report to President Jefferson, thus depriving him of a reward of money and land. In the author’s note, Hasan discusses some theories about York’s fate after the expedition. Also included are a list of resources and a statement that Davis did extensive research on this topic and consulted with a historian. The author points out that he has taken creative license with York’s thoughts and feelings, for which there is no documentation. Harris’s colorful illustrations make the story come alive. The details of the clothing look authentic and depict the leaders of this military operation in uniform.  

THOUGHTS: This narrative of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is a good introduction to this chapter of American History and provides a unique viewpoint. It would be interesting to compare and contrast other texts in which York was not the principal narrator or to Pringle’s American slave, American Hero: York of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This attractive text is part of a Capstone collection of narrative nonfiction picture books.

910  Geography and Travels          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD
917.3 United States
92, 921 Biography
973.4 Washington through Jefferson Administration

Cole, Bradley. Tyrannosaurus Rex. (Dinosaurs 4-D) Pop!, 2019.  24 p. 978-1-532-16183-4. $19.00  Grades K-2.

Brachiosaurus. 978-1-532-16178-0
Stegosaurus. 13: 978-1-532-16181-0
Triceratops. 13: 978-1-532-16182-7
Ringstad, Arnold.  Allosaurus.  978-1-532-16177-3
Coelophysis. 978-1-532-16179-7
Diplodocus. 978-1-532-16180-3
Velociraptor. 978-1-532-16184-1

This text on dinosaurs is designed for young paleontologists. The author uses simple text consisting of two to three sentences per page. On each page, there is an engaging drawing or photograph. The short chapters discuss the behavior and diet of this ferocious predator as well as some information about the T. Rex’s fossilized remains. The term 4D in the series title refers to the fact that the reader can scan the QR code, which leads to a site containing activities and lesson plans.

THOUGHTS: This book will appeal to the dinosaur lover who will enjoy looking at a photograph of a foot long T. Rex tooth. Purchase where dinosaur books are in demand or need updating.

567.912 Dinosaurs          Denise Medwick, retired, West Allegheny SD

Prasadam-Halls, Smriti. You Make Me Happy. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19849-1. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Two unlikely friends, Fox and Porcupine, demonstrate the joys of a true friendship. Lighthearted rhyming prose “You make me happy/you make me sing./ There’s a bounce in my footstep like bunnies in spring.” (Prasadam-Halls, 1) and brightly colored full-page illustrations combine to make a joyful, endearing read about enjoying the company of a loved one. Refreshingly happy, this is an all around feel-good book to share with young children.

THOUGHTS: Light and carefree, this book is sure to be a favorite read aloud.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, PSLA Member

Clements, Andrew. The Friendship War. Random House, 2019. 173 p. 978-0-399-55759-0. Grades 3-5. $19.99.

This is Clements’ latest story of school and friendship. Grace is a sixth grader who unintentionally starts a fad in school after bringing in some buttons from her grandfather’s business. Soon the whole school begins trading buttons, which creates friction between Grace and her best friend Ellie. Things become competitive and disruptive, leading Grace to take drastic steps in an attempt to end the button craze. Clements provides some interesting information about buttons and their materials through the character of Grace’s new friend Ben. The story also touches on the issue of grief after the loss of a grandparent. 

THOUGHTS: Fans of Clements’ other works will enjoy his latest offering. The target audience will be able to relate to the topics of friendship, bullying, and following the latest trend, and this title will surely hold the reader’s interest. Purchase where Andrew Clements books are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD

YA – The Similars; I Love You So Mochi; The Rest of the Story; Girl Gone Viral; The First True Thing; Heroine; Internment; Salt in My Soul; You Asked for Perfect

Hanover, Rebecca. The Similars. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-4926-6510-6. $17.99. 381 p. Gr. 8 and up.

The Similars takes place in a dystopic future, but most of the story setting is familiar enough. There’s a private boarding school in Vermont, teen romance and drama, and testing into a select group of students that ensures acceptance into any Ivy League school. However, Darkwood Academy just enrolled six clones (called The Similars), and the people they were illegally cloned from 16-years ago are all upperclassmen at the school. Students and their wealthy parents’ reactions to these newcomers is mostly opposite Darkwood’s legacy of acceptance and diversity, but soon a club is formed, and demonstrations are held to boycott the Similars’ presence at the school. Emmaline Chance, the protagonist, is in her junior year and, although she welcomes The Similars and believes they have a right to be at Darkwood, she is having a difficult year after the suicide of her best friend, and fellow student, Oliver. It doesn’t help that one of the Similars, Levi, was cloned from Oliver. Not only does she see him all around campus, but they are both inducted into the elite group of students called The Ten where she’s forced to interact with him. When someone tries to kill Emma’s friend, Pru, and Levi becomes a suspect, Emma tries to figure out who was behind the attack. The story includes a lot of sneaking out of dorms past curfew to uncover illegal experiments and breaking into a top-secret island laboratory owned by a madman. The story ends with the set-up for a sequel which will aggravate some readers.

THOUGHTS: This debut novel is a fun read, despite some formulaic characters and over-the-top espionage work done by teens. The interesting twist and the use of teens clones should make it a book that 8th grade and up will enjoy reading. The acceptance/rejection of the Similars mirrors some of what’s currently being said about immigrants.

Dystopian/Mystery          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

Kuhn, Sarah. I Love You So Mochi. Scholastic Press, 2019. 978-1-338-30288-2. $17.99. 308 p. Gr. 8 and up.

Kimi’s future seems bright and sure. While many high school seniors experience anxiety over future plans, Kimi has been accepted into a prestigious art academy, and her path appears clear. In reality, she hasn’t been able to paint in months and has dropped her Fine Arts class, all unbeknownst to her mother, also an artist; she has instead been “goofing off” designing and making her own clothing. In fact, she’s not even sure she wants to attend the Liu Academy anymore. When Kimi’s secrets are revealed and she feels the wrath of her mother’s silent disappointment – the worst equation in “Asian Mom Math” according to Kimi’s friends – she decides to forgo spring break plans at home in southern California and instead spend two weeks in Japan visiting the grandparents she’s never met (and who have not spoken to Kimi’s mother in 20 years) on a journey of self discovery. Though most readers will know the answer to Kimi’s problem within the first few pages (even though she doesn’t), the journey she takes to get there makes this book worth reading. In a story slightly reminiscent of Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, Kimi’s self discovery relies heavily upon learning her family history, particularly the complicated relationships between the women. Of course, a budding romantic relationship with Akira, a cute boy Kimi first meets as he is dancing in a giant mochi costume in front of his uncle’s mochi shop, also drives this plot. “What. Is this extremely handsome piece of mochi trying to flirt with me?” Kimi asks herself in Kuhn’s authentic teenage voice. Young women readers will empathize with Kimi, as she discovers the answer to this and many other questions.

THOUGHTS: Though the plot is predictable, Kuhn’s imagery and integration of Japanese culture give this story more substance than the typical YA contemporary. Readers may find themselves wanting to use “the Google” – as Kimi’s grandfather calls it – to look up Japanese words, food, landmarks, and clothing.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Dessen, Sarah. The Rest of the Story. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 987-0-062-93362-1. $19.99. 440 p. Gr. 9 and up. 

Emma Saylor lost her mother when she was just 10 years old. Due to addiction Waverly was in and out of Emma’s life long before she died. Though she doesn’t remember a lot about her mom, Emma recalls the bedtime stores about life in North Lake, Waverly’s hometown. Since her mother’s death, Emma has lived a privileged life, growing up in Nana Payne’s fancy apartment with her dad who works as a dentist. Just remarried, her dad and new wife Tracy (also a dentist) are planning to honeymoon sailing around Greece. Nana is scheduled for a cruise while her apartment is renovated. Emma is an organized planner – to a fault. Due to a sudden illness in her best friend’s family, Emma’s carefully arranged summer has to change. Emma goes to stay with Mimi Calvander and her mother’s family in North Lake – family she doesn’t remember, family who calls her Saylor, and family who she hasn’t seen since she was four. Emma quickly notices the two different lakeside communities – North Lake where her mother grew up and Lake North where her father vacationed in the summer. Though only 3 miles apart, these two communities couldn’t be more different. Always known as Saylor to her mother’s family, Emma begins to see the world through a new lens. Once she breaks through the icy welcome of some of her cousins (who think she’s just there for a vacation, not to work like them), Saylor learns what it means to be a Calvander. As her time too quickly passes, Saylor tries to learn as much about her mother as she can. When her dad returns from his honeymoon, Emma Saylor has changed, and she has to decide who she wants to be. One thing is certain: She’s not the same Emma Saylor she was when she arrived in North Lake.

THOUGHTS: No one does teen romances like Dessen. This sweet story will captivate readers, transporting them to summers on North Lake as Emma learns more about her family and herself. This one will fly off the shelves. Underage drinking (to excess) and Emma’s mother’s drug use are included. Highly recommended for high school collections, especially those where romance is popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Ahmadi, Arvin. Girl Gone Viral. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-425-28990-7. 384 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up. 

17 year old Opal Tal – now known as Opal Hopper – is a coding genius who is determined to learn what happened to her father, a tech guru who disappeared seven years ago. Howie Mendelsohn, her father’s business partner at the time, may know more than he admits, but he hasn’t ever responded to Opal’s emails. Now a senior at a prestigious boarding school for tech whizzes, Opal and her friends Moyo and Shane are coding their way into a WAVE competition. WAVE is a virtual reality world with incredible detail and lifelike features. Stumbling upon information that causes their channel to go viral brings its fair share of challenges, including Opal’s initial desire to be out of the limelight. As she quickly learns, though, the self you put out there on WAVE isn’t always the self you really are. Opal has to decide what she believes in and if finding out what happened to her father is worth the risk – for herself and for her friends.

THOUGHTS: There is a lot of technical jargon, so this might be a tough read for some. The mystery keeps the pace moving, but there’s a lot more than fun and games going on here, including government/police corruption and social media’s influence on politics. Hand this STEM title to students who are into VR, AR, or video gaming, as the worlds Ahmadi depicts sound incredible. A great addition to high school libraries looking to diversify their STEM offerings with a strong female lead.

Science Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Needell, Claire. The First True Thing. HarperTeen, 2019. 978-0-062-36054-0. $17.99. 256 p. Gr 10 and up. 

After riding on a dangerous path through the woods while drunk, Marcelle crashed her bike under a neighbor’s parked car. Her alcohol use finally catching up with her, Marcelle is forced to attend rehab sessions at the Center after being discharged from the hospital. Being labeled an alcoholic isn’t the easiest, especially considering her friends are into much worse things. With her parents on high alert for missteps, it seems like Marcelle can do no right. Even her peers at the Center don’t fully believe she’s giving her best effort. When Marcelle receives a text from her best friend Hannah asking her to cover, she is desperate to feel connected. Hannah disappears, though, and Marcelle is the last one to hear from her. Torn between loyalty to her friend (and her friend’s dangerous secrets) and guilt over not doing more to intervene before it came to this, Marcelle keeps her story to Hannah’s mom and the police vague. As time goes on, though, everyone’s panic levels increase, and Marcelle has to decide if it’s better to keep a friend’s secret or be honest with everyone including herself.

THOUGHTS: Drug and alcohol abuse are openly discussed, making this most suitable for mature readers. The lack of support for Marcelle both as she recovers and faces the disappearance of her friend is surprising. Readers who want to know what happened to Hannah will stick with the story. Recommended as an additional purchase where realistic mysteries are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

McGinnis, Mindy. Heroine. Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-84719-5. $17.99. 432 p. Gr. 10 and up. 

Trigger Warning: Please proceed with caution, as this book discusses (in great detail) addiction, drug use, overdose, and withdrawal, among other difficult topics.

The Prologue begins with the end: “When I wake up, all of my friends are dead.” Readers are placed front and center and feel the sheer terror of this realization before being told what happened. Mickey Catalan has never felt comfortable in her own skin, unless she’s behind home plate catching for her best friend and star pitcher Carolina. Though Mickey doesn’t quite know who she is, playing catcher defines her. When Mickey is in a terrible car accident with Carolina as her passenger, their chances of playing senior season are threatened, as is Carolina’s Division I pitching scholarship. Mickey is determined to get back on the field; she too wants to earn a scholarship. What starts as pain management for a major injury quickly spirals into an addiction, as Mickey tries to make it back into shape for spring training. When her physician refuses to refill her Oxycontin prescription, saying she’s doing so well she doesn’t need it, Mickey turns to alternative methods. It’s just to get her back on the field, though, and she can stop at any time. She’s not an addict, and Mickey has some great new friends who understand her and will keep her (and her secret) safe. Mickey’s tolerance level quickly increases, and she begins to lose control of all she was fighting for.

THOUGHTS: Heroine is definitely for mature readers and should be presented with a trigger warning. That said, it serves as a great cautionary tale about how easily one can become addicted to opioids, regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. Check your ego and what you think you know about addiction at the door. McGinnis’s novel will take you on a terrifying roller coaster ride with some unforeseen consequences. I listened to the audiobook version and was hooked from the first minute.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Ahmed, Samira. Internment. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-316-52269-4. $17.99. 387 p. Gr. 9 and up. 

In a future United States where the Presidential election has shaken up American beliefs and freedoms, 17 year old Muslim American Layla Amin is frustrated. Her parents always had been respected in their community, but with the President’s new Exclusion Act they feel compliance will keep them safe. Layla, however, breaks government mandated curfew to see her Jewish boyfriend. Though unfriendly neighbor stares bring fears to the forefront of her mind, the risk is worth the reward. Despite her parents attempts to remain safe, Layla’s family is rounded up and taken off to an interment camp, one like those used for Japanese and German Americans during World War II. They only have a few moments to gather comforts of home, not knowing if they will ever return or if their possessions will still be there. Once in the camp, Layla finds herself increasingly frustrated by her parents’ (and many of the adults’) complaisance but is fortunate to find friends who she can laugh with and share her frustrations. Together, Layla and her friends find subtle ways (at first) to rebel against the Director. Building their rebellion also increases the risks they face, and Layla has to decide if standing up for what she believes in – what is right – is worth risking her life and the lives of those she loves.

THOUGHTS: This timely diverse title will appeal to fans of historical fiction. Internment will pair well with World War II novels or memoirs, especially those relating to internment or concentration camps. I personally enjoyed reading it then reading The War Outside by Monica Hesse. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Layla and her family are American, but they also happen to be non-practicing Muslims. After the 2020 census, all Muslims are taken to internment camps for the safety of all citizens. In this all too real and near future novel, Layla and her friends inside the walls of the camp, her boyfriend outside, and one brave guard on the inside plan a revolt to end the camp once and for all. Much of this book skims the surface of many of the political, racial, and religious issues that many Americans are facing with today’s political climate. Some of Layla’s decisions seem rash, even for an angry teen, which makes parts of the story a bit difficult to rationalize. 

THOUGHTS: Although this book moved me and scared me, I wanted more. I think this book belongs on the shelves of high school libraries, if the budget allows because it will open conversations of possibilities of the future state of our country. It will only start the conversation and pique the interest of students who wonder what could happen with the next census and elected officials. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Smith, Mallory. Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life. Spiegel & Grau, 2019. 978-1-984-85542-8. $26.00. 288 p. Gr 9 and up. 

Immensely positive and determined to live her best life, even in the face of cystic fibrosis and rare bacteria B. cenocepacia, Mallory Smith is a girl everyone loved. From the beginning readers know Mallory tragically dies young; however, it is how she lived her life that will inspire readers. Her “live happy” mantra carries her through frustrating hospital stays and discharges and helps her remain focused on really living. In reading Mallory’s most personal thoughts, readers are given a glimpse into the life of someone who struggles with a chronic illness, though not always visible on the outside.

THOUGHTS: Pair this nonfiction text with the fiction Five Feet Apart which will be even more popular with the 2019 movie. Excellent addition for high school nonfiction collections where memoirs and medical stories are popular.

616.372 Diseases          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Silverman, Laura. You Asked for Perfect. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-65827-6. $10.99. 288 p. Gr. 9 and up. 

Seemingly perfect senior Ariel Stone has everything going for him. He’s a great student, musician, and his college application couldn’t be more well-rounded, especially since he’s expected to be valedictorian. When Ariel earns a 5/10 on his first Calculus quiz and there’s no opportunity for redemption, Ariel’s careful facade begins to crumble. Accepting help means he’s not as perfect as everyone, especially himself, thinks. With a Harvard interview to prepare for, and his top spot on the line, though, Ariel doesn’t have much choice. He finds he was wrong about Amir, who is actually nice to be around, and Amir is really great at Calculus. Among a long list of obligations, one more might just be enough to break Ariel.

THOUGHTS: This should be required reading for every high school student. The internal and external pressures on students to be perfect, to achieve the top rank, to go to the best school is unfortunate. I see many students so stressed that they don’t allow themselves room to breathe and relax. Highly recommended for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – The True Story of Alan Bean; Crab Cake; Bear Needs Help; A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Robbins, Dean. The True Story of Alan Bean: The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon. Orchard, 2019. 978-1-338-25953-7. 32 p. $17.99. Gr. K-6.

A young boy fascinated with aviation grows up to be an astronaut. In fact, he becomes the fourth man to walk on the moon. Alan Bean is mesmerized by the beauty of outer space, but back on earth he finds that pictures could not do justice to the splendor he experienced in orbit. Determined to share the magnificence of his journey, Bean took to painting moonscapes that were at once scientifically accurate and artistically surreal. Rather than painting the moon in grayscale, Dean combined wonderfully uncharacteristic colors in his art to convey the feeling of treading into completely uncharted territory. Much like the artwork of Bean, the illustrations of this book combine a rainbow of color to represent the artist’s life and work in a way that is steeped in feeling. Light-years beyond an ordinary biography, this picture book will appeal to everyone (young and old) who ever wanted to be an artist and an astronaut.

THOUGHTS: This book is a perfect example of STEAM interdisciplinary learning applied in real-life.

920 Picture Book Biography           Jackie Fulton, Butler Area SD

Tsurumi, Andrea. Crab Cake: Turning the Tide Together. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019.  978-0-544-95900-2. 32 p. $17.99. Gr K-3.

In a beautiful and serene underwater scene “where sunlight meets sand” (Tsurumi, 1), a bounty of sea creatures play their (realistic) part in the blissful biome. That is, of course, except for crab. While “Sea Turtle holds her breath/Tangs swim in schools” (Tsurumi, 2), Crab is busy baking up a storm. Whimsically out-of-place, Crab continues baking extravagant desserts whilst the rest of the creatures perform characteristically appropriate tasks. That is, until something unthinkable happens, and everyone freezes. Except for Crab who knows exactly what to do to bring everyone back to their senses. Just as before, everyone has a role to play but this time it is for a common goal.

THOUGHTS: Crab Cake is quirky, endearing, and inspiring. Young readers will be enchanted by this call-to-action environmental tale.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Butler Area SD

Brannen, Sarah S. Bear Needs Help. Philomel Books, 2019. 978-0-525-51650-7. 32 p. $16.99. Gr PreK-1.

Polar Bear has a problem. A shoelace problem! Young children will empathize with the lovable young bear’s unlikely plight to find a find to a friend who will help. Beautifully understated watercolor illustrations expertly utilize negative space to emphasize polar bear’s isolation and loneliness when all of the smaller animals scatter in fright instead of lending a hand. A simple yet thoughtful story that cuts to the heart of what it means to need and ask for help.

Thoughts: This book is sure to be loved by preschool aged children and the adults who help them daily. A great starting point for conversations about kindness and compassion for preschool audiences.  

Picture Book           Jackie Fulton, Butler Area SD

Duncan, Alice Faye. Illustrated by Xia Gordon. A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks. Sterling, 2019.  978-1-454-93088-4. Unpaged. $16.95. Gr. K-8.

Duncan tells the story of Brooks’ childhood through free verse that hints at, rather than imitating, Brooks’ own poetic style. Several of Brooks’ original poems are also woven into the story (however, it is unfortunate that they are not distinguished from the text very well–readers could understandably confuse them as the author’s writing). The biography emphasizes Brooks’ Southside Chicago childhood, where her interest in poetry began at a young age. Her talents were encouraged and nurtured first by her loving parents. Duncan employs compelling flower imagery, comparing Brooks to a well cared for, but ultimately “fierce” blossom. Gordon’s pink, brown, and gold palette is striking and effective.

THOUGHTS: This is a picture book that can be used with both older as well as younger students. Younger students can enjoy the rhythmic language and simpler aspects of the story; whereas, older students can dig in deeper, including into the backmatter, and use the book as a springboard to dive deeply into Gwendolyn Brooks’ accessible poetry. An excellent addition to all picture book biography collections.

Picture Book Biography          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – Ruff vs. Fluff; Share Your Smile; Rising Water; The End of the World and Beyond; Eventown

Quinn, Spencer. Ruff vs. Fluff: A Queenie and Arthur Novel. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-09139-7. 293 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Arthur the dog and Queenie the cat live with Mom and the twins (Harmony and Bro) at the Blackberry Hill Inn. Business is slow, so they are delighted when Mr. LeMaire checks in and recruits the twins to guide him partway up the Old Sokoki Trail. The twins return, but Mr. LeMaire doesn’t, and he is soon discovered dead on the mountainside. Happy-go-lucky Arthur and aloof Queenie know what the humans do not: Mr. LeMaire had a gun as well as an old map of the region. The local sheriff quickly makes an arrest, but both the animals and their people know that the case hasn’t really been cracked. A new guest might not be who he claims, and it seems that more than one mystery haunts the Old Sokoki Trail. Also, Arthur accidentally ate the map! Can Arthur and Queenie save the day before anyone else gets hurt?

THOUGHTS: Arthur’s voice will remind readers of Bowser from Spencer Quinn’s delightful Bowser & Birdie series: loyal, a little absent-minded, and always in the mood for a treat. Queenie, more self-possessed, is entirely disdainful of her canine compatriot. It’s all in good fun (except for the murder) with a big finale that gets the whole gang together on the mountaintop. Stay tuned for Paws vs. Claws, coming in September!

Mystery          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Telgemeier, Raina. Share Your Smile: Rainia’s Guide to Telling Your Own Story. Graphix, 2019. 978-1-338-35384-6. 133 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Sometimes the wait for a new Raina Telgemeier book can feel never-ending! Until Guts arrives in September, readers can get a little practice telling their own stories with this interactive journal, which is full of “tips, tricks, and inspirational kick-starters for getting your story down on paper.” In Chapter One, “Share Your Smile,” Rainia shares how she transformed the dental drama she experienced as a tween into her beloved graphic memoir, Smile. She also provides prompts for readers to begin sharing their unique experiences through both pictures and words. Chapter Two, “All in the Family,” focuses on the week long road trip that inspired Sisters, and encourages readers to find inspiration in their own family adventures. “The Drama of School” and “The World Around You” chapters flow from Raina’s fictional comics, Drama and Ghosts, and demonstrate how real life can generate story ideas, settings, and even supernatural elements. A sneak peek at Guts rounds out this fun, colorful guide.

THOUGHTS: With plenty of empty panels for readers to practice drawing, paste in their own photos, and write their own stories, Share Your Smile is a contender for “Library Book Most Likely to Be Written In.” But it will be worth it to see Raina Telgemeier’s many fans find inspiration in these pages. Share Your Smile could also provide some fresh prompts for classroom writing assignments, especially the traditional how-I-spent-my-summer essay, as well as an English/Art curriculum crossover.

808 Writing and Drawing; Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Aronson, Marc. Rising Water: The Thai Cave Rescue. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019.  978-1-534-44441-3. 148 p.  $17.99  Gr. 5-9.

Marc Aronson tells the gripping story of the rescue of twelve young Thai soccer players and their coach during the summer of 2018, an event that attracted media attention from around the world. Aronson begins by providing information about each one of the boys, including information about the “stateless” status of many of them. The book generally follows a chronological timeline, as Thai authorities gradually started inviting various experts from other countries in to work with them to find and rescue the boys. The true story is so full of twists, dashed hopes, highs, lows, and then a final, almost unbelievable ending, that even Aronson’s restrained, matter-of-fact writing style can’t stop the book from being a page-turner. A highlight of the book actually comes in the backmatter, when Aronson explains his struggle to tell the story through a lens that is global, and not just American, in nature.

THOUGHTS: Many kids enjoy reading rescue and survival stories, and this one has all the elements of real-life drama with a happy outcome. However, this story also brings a number of global issues to the forefront, including the plight of people who, for whatever reason, find themselves undocumented or stateless. Recommended for middle schools and high schools.

796.52  Caving          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley

Aronson is renowned for his non-fiction and this book does not disappoint. Present readers will recall the dangerous and brave experiences of both the Wild Boars Soccer Team and their rescuers in a cave complex in Thailand in 2018. A cast of characters reveals the large scale of the event from the coaches, players, military, government officials, and expert helpers from other countries. The book reads like a detailed log of the events with pictures and words creating a sense of urgency to orchestrate the rescue. As time passes, students will not recall the events unfolding before their eyes, but the book will transport them to the events. Important primary quotations and facts such as being “stateless” or the story behind the name of the cave system are interwoven into the text. Four pages of full color images with captions help to clearly visualize the location and those involved. 

THOUGHTS: The author includes a section on their research. This would be very helpful to share with students embarking upon a research project. There are a lot of caves that students may have visited. A creative option is to make a display for students and faculty to share a picture or a favorite memory from visiting a cave.

796.52 World History, Survival Stories          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD

Avi. The End of the World and Beyond. Algonquin Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-6162-0565-2. $16.95. 304 p. Gr. 4-7.

12-year old Oliver Cromwell was convicted of stealing and must board a prisoner ship bound for the colonies, specifically, Maryland, to serve out his 7-year indentured servant sentence. His father is left behind in England and his beloved sister, Charity, is placed on a different prison ship also headed to America. (Oliver’s mother died at his birth.) Oliver soon gets purchased by a dreadful man named Fitzhugh to replace a slave that he recently murdered for trying to escape. Oliver suffers much abuse at Fitzhugh’s hands, and it seems like the only positive thing is that Fitzhugh also owns a slave, Bara, who eventually becomes friends with Oliver. Bara and Oliver spend their days tending Fitzhugh’s tobacco farm and trying to plan an escape through the swamp to find the maroons, who are groups of slaves and indentured servants rumored to have escaped and formed small colonies. Bara and Oliver know they will be killed if they are caught, but Oliver’s need to find his sister and both of their desire to leave the inhumane treatment by Fitzhugh gives them the courage to want to try. Even though they have a plan in place, they are forced to run when another of Oliver’s “follies” puts them in danger. They make their way to the great swamp and will need to use their wits to avoid the large cats, cottonmouth snakes, quicksand, and, most especially Fitzhugh and his band of men, who have followed them into the swamp.

THOUGHTS: Although this book is written for students 8 through 12 years old, some of the descriptions of brutality on the ship and actions by the evil master, Fitzhugh, are disturbing. Oliver’s somewhat sophisticated thoughts may also be lost on all but the most precocious young readers. This is the second book in the Oliver Cromwell story, but you do not have to have read the first book to enjoy and understand The End of the World and Beyond.

Historical Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

Haydu, Corey Ann. Eventown. Katherine Teagen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-68980-1.  336 p.  $16.99  Gr. 5-8.

A tragic event has left Elodee, her twin sister, Naomi, and their parents, shattered. Although they do not talk about the past, they are unable to move on from it. Then, Elodee’s mother gets a job in the too-good-to-be-true village of Eventown, where the sun always shines and no one is ever sad. Naomi and their parents immediately settle in, but Elodee can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right . . . even though everything’s perfect. She starts to ask questions, but soon finds that curiosity isn’t welcome in Eventown. When she visits the Eventown library and discovers it’s nothing like any library she’s been to before, Elodee is horrified. Elodee grows more and more frustrated at both Naomi and herself as she wonders why she can’t just be happy like everyone else in this seeming paradise. When strange things start to happen, like the first rainstorm ever, everyone blames Elodee, and the residents of Eventown have to make some heartfelt choices.  

THOUGHTS: This is a complex, deep, but age-appropriate story that offers an interesting take not only on the themes of grieving and the importance of sharing feelings, but also on a number of interesting philosophical questions. However, the story can also be read for the enjoyment of its well-paced narrative and well-developed characters. Highly recommended for middle schools.

Fantasy-Magical Realism          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley