YA – Turtle Under Ice

Del Rosario, Juleah. Turtle Under Ice. Simon Pulse, 2020. 259 p. $18.99 978-15344-4295-5 Grades 9-12.

Teenage sisters Rowena and Ariana have drifted apart since the unexpected death of their mother several years ago. Rowena has thrown herself into soccer, becoming a respected top athlete on her team. Fearing change, Ariana has retreated into…nothing, and risks failing school. The sisters’ closeness has become a barrier as they both fear moving on, and as they both communicate less, and less honestly. Their father has remarried a woman they also love, and the family is incredibly hopeful about the arrival of their new half-sister. However, Maribel suffers a miscarriage, and the loss is too cruel for the sisters. “Our sister’s heart stopped beating/like our mother’s, unexpectedly/on a day that was otherwise/normal” (53).  Ariana vanishes, which leaves Rowena feeling angry and abandoned. This novel in verse is narrated by both sisters as they try to come to terms with this new grief, in addition to the unending grief of losing their mother. Slowly, both sisters discover that their grief has led them to close themselves off to others. Rowena tracks down Ariana at an art exhibit, where Ariana shows a painting “Turtle Under Ice” in memory of their mother. The relief comes very slowly as both girls see hope in Ariana’s art.

THOUGHTS: Del Rosario has a way with creating beautiful images with her words: “Our family…/is a frayed string of lights/that someone needs to fix/with electrical tape./It’s the electricity/that can’t get to us/because Mom’s bulb/has burned out,/so now the whole string is dark./But without the lights turned on/does anyone even notice/that we are broken?” (43-44). Ultimately, the insightful thoughts aren’t enough to save this novel from the monotonous weight of the crushing grief and depression, and the cover does little to draw in all but the most curious of readers. Recommended where novels in verse or multiple narrators are in heavy demand.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Novel in Verse

YA – Rules for Being a Girl

Bushnell, Candace, and Katie Cotugno. Rules for Being a Girl. Balzer & Bray. 2020. 304 p. $19.99 978-0-062-80337-5. Grades 10-12.

For Marin and best friend Chloe, life is going well. They co-edit the school paper together, they’re top students, and they have family support to head for the colleges of their dreams.  Their English teacher, Mr. Beckett, “Bex,” is seriously intelligent and cool, and treats students as equals with funny stories and insightful classes. Bex goes too far and comes on to Marin (he kisses her), leaving Marin shocked into silence. Had she encouraged him?  Why didn’t she anticipate that? What should she do now? She tries to act as though nothing happened, and Bex attempts a “re-set” of their relationship, saying it was an accident, and blaming her. When Marin finally tells Chloe, Chloe believes Marin is either lying or at fault.  Next, when Marin tells her principal, she is told she must have misunderstood and a full investigation will have to be done, since it’s her word against Mr. Beckett. Quickly, everyone’s talking, joking, or blaming Marin, her English grades dive, and the worst knife of all is that Marin fails to gain acceptance to her dream university due to the incident (and alumnus Mr. Beckett’s tip-off to university staff). Her world has exploded, and Marin is struggling against demeaning comments and, suddenly, it seems, all of the ridiculous assumptions people make about girls and women. Finally, Chloe reveals that Mr. Beckett had pulled her into a relationship in the fall, and Marin’s truth devastated her. Together, they publish an open letter to staff and students in the school newspaper, asking for any others to come forward. They do, the girls are finally believed, and Mr. Beckett is dismissed without investigation.

THOUGHTS: The characterization of Marin seems contradictory–she is both incredibly intelligent and mature, unbothered by peer reactions, yet initially unaware of–or unbothered by–even the simplest of girl stereotypes. As long as the stereotypes didn’t ‘hurt’ her, she was living a golden life. Bushnell and Cotugno present only a semi-realistic version of a school setting (the school’s actions on the allegations are poorly researched), and she gives a far-too-tidy, happy ending–including enlightened boyfriend–for Marin.  This book would be stronger if Mr. Beckett had not been a teacher, but a family friend or a boss, and if Marin’s cultural and social awareness matched her intelligence.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Scavenge the Stars

Sim, Tara. Scavenge the Stars. Disney Hyperion,  2020. 978-1-368-05141-5. $12.99. 377 p. Grades 9-12.

“To inherit the sky, you must first scavenge the stars.” In this retelling of the classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, Amaya has been living on a ship called The Brackish for years. She became indentured after she was sold by her family to work off a debt. It’s a rough life, and like the other “water bugs” that share her fate, she’s counting down the days until she’s free. Their cruel captor and captain renames each indentured child, and on his ship, she’s known only as Silverfish. After rescuing a man from drowning, she hopes she will be rewarded with riches. Instead, he makes her an offer she can’t refuse. Meanwhile, Cayo Mercado is trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his father after getting into debt from gambling. He starts working at the family owned shipping company, but when his sister comes down with ash fever, his choices are limited, and he winds up back in the life he tried to leave behind. Unknowingly, Amaya and Cayo’s lives become intertwined, and both characters must untangle a web of secrets and lies to reveal the surprising truths about the people they thought they knew and trusted.

THOUGHTS: This book was fantastic! I was hooked from the very beginning to the last page. It’s full of twists and turns, secrets and betrayals, and characters fueled by revenge and justice. As in The Count of Monte Cristo, the classic novel this book is loosely based upon, revenge is never as simple as it seems, and no one can really be trusted.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – We Are the Wildcats

Vivian, Siobhan. We Are the Wildcats. Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2020. 978-1-534-43990-0. 352 p. Grades 8 and up. 

The Wildcats are strong, they’re fierce, they’re close, they’re five-time state field hockey champions. Except last year, last year they came in second. Mistakes creeped in and rocked the girls to their very core. Who are they if they aren’t winners? Every year girls must re-try out for the team, even if they’ve made it before. Tryouts are grueling, and Coach is intense, picking only the best of the best. Those who make it are skilled enough to call themselves Wildcats. Traditionally, the night after tryouts, those who make the team participate in a secret midnight ceremony hosted by the captain to receive their varsity jerseys. But this year won’t quite go as planned; this year Coach decides he knows best and the girls end up chasing something they never thought they would. Happening over a 24-hour period, the Wildcats learn what it means to be a team, one that has to stick up for themselves no matter what.

THOUGHTS: We Are the Wildcats is an empowering story about trust, camaraderie, and sportsmanship (or should I say sportswomanship). There are too few truly empowering sports novels for young women, and just like Michigan vs. The Boys this book has forever won a place on my shelf.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – Of Curses and Kisses

Menon, Sandya. Of Curses and Kisses. Simon Pulse, 2020. 978-1-534-41754-0. 361 p. $18.99. Grades 6-12. 

Princess Jaya Rao, heiress to India’s last royal family, has always put duty first. Young Indian women should conform, they should not cause a scene or do anything like fraternizing with boys or using foul language that would hurt the family’s image. When her younger sister Isha is pictured in tabloids drinking and kissing a mechanic, the family’s name is in jeopardy. Jaya and Isha leave for Aspen to an elite boarding school called St. Rosetta’s to try and let the whole thing blow over. The thing is, St. Rosetta’s is currently the school of Grey Emerson, or Lord Northcliff, of the family with which the Raos have been feuding for generations. Jaya knows that Grey leaked the photos to ruin their family, and now she knows just the way to get back at him: make him fall in love and break his heart.

THOUGHTS: An artful Beauty and the Beast retelling done only the way Sandhya Menon can. Get a glimpse into the life of the aristocracy, traditions and all, and learn how to let yourself be happy.

Fantasy (Realistic, Fairytale)          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – We Are Blood and Thunder

Lupo, Kesia. We Are Blood and Thunder. Bloomsbury, 2020. 978-1-547-60305-3. 428 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

In a world of magic, the Marked take care of the dead. Ancestors are important in Duke’s Forest, laid to rest, preserved in the crypts that stretch below every house for all eternity. All the while a storm rages topside, a storm that has ravaged and plagued the city for the last six years with no end in sight. The Marked, those with a disability or a physical mark like a birthmark are only fit to work in the crypts, out of sight, preparing the dead for their slumber and keeping out the critters. Lena is a cryptiling, and death is all she has known, the stillness of death, until the dead begin to move. Magecraft is not tolerated in Duke’s Forest, and practicing mages are put to death because one of them has to be the cause of the storm. When the hand of the wrong dead person moves, Lena escapes the quarantined city to find a world where people are taught to use their magic, to control it, and so must she. After all, “She who spins the cloud weaves the storm.”

THOUGHTS: Reminiscent of Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, We Are Blood and Thunder and its clockwork elements is must-add to any fantasy shelf.

Fantasy (Magic)          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir

Feder, Tyler. Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir. Dial Books. 2020. 978-0-525-55302-1. 201 p. $18.99. Grades 7+.

During the summer after her freshman year at college, Tyler Feder’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. By spring break of her sophomore year, Rhonda had died. Tyler understandably felt rudderless, “like I was on an iceberg out to sea.” Her mom was gone … now what? Chapters tenderly portray the diagnosis, the death, “making arrangements,” sitting shiva, and navigating a new normal. Dancing at the Pity Party is every bit as heartbreaking as it sounds, but it is also a little bit celebratory (as the title suggests). Readers will come to know and care for Tyler’s mom, because her loving personality is so vividly present on every page, even in her absence.

THOUGHTS: This is a must-read for teens who have experienced a loss, who want to support a grieving friend, or who are struggling and just want to know that someone out there gets it. Readers of Lucy Knisley’s introspective graphic memoirs will love this one, too.

Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Havenfall

Holland, Sara. Havenfall. Bloomsbury,  2020. 978-1-547-60379-4. $18.99. 305 p. Grades 7-12.

“To everyone who’s ever felt like they don’t have a place.” Maddie is an ordinary teenager who lives extraordinary summers at Havenfall, a Colorado inn that connects different realms: Earth (Haven), Bryn, Fiordenkill, and formerly, Solaria. The inn is run by her Uncle Marcus, and someday, Maddie hopes to take over as the innkeeper. Still traumatized by the unsolved death of her brother, which was blamed on her mother, Maddie is looking forward to her summer escape in Havenfall. However, after briefly reuniting with her uncle and beloved Fiordian soldier, Brekken, things start to go horribly wrong. Maddie awakens on her first morning to chaos: Marcus has been hurt, Brekken has disappeared, and someone has been murdered by a Solarian creature, although the door to that realm is supposed to be sealed. Suddenly, Maddie finds herself in the position she’s always wanted, but without the guidance of her uncle or best friend. On her own, Maddie must untangle the secrets and betrayals lurking around every corner and decide who she can really trust: a mysterious newcomer, or the powerful delegates of the realms she’s known for years?

THOUGHTS:  This was a refreshing, new fantasy read for me! Although it’s mainly described as a contemporary fantasy, it’s also a mystery which helps to draw the reader into the story. By the end of the novel, there are still many questions that have not been answered, which left me feeling like I needed to know more. Holland also gives her readers a glimpse into three fantastical worlds, and I’m hoping she expands upon these realms in her follow up novels to Havenfall. There is still so much of this magical story left to tell.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Who I Was With Her

Tyndall, Nita. Who I Was With Her. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-97838-7. $17.99. 385 p. Grades 9 and up.

Corrine Parker arrives at school one morning to overhear her cross country teammates talking about how their rival school’s team captain, Maggie – who happens to be Corrine’s girlfriend – died the previous night in a car accident. This is tragic enough on its own. But Corrine is not out, and she and Maggie were dating in secret. This means Corrine can’t even genuinely express her grief when she hears the news or talk to anyone about it. Living in a conservative area of North Carolina, Corrine never felt ready to come out to anyone, so she feels she can’t talk to her divorced parents – especially her alcoholic mother – or her best friend Julia. The only person she can talk to is Dylan, Maggie’s older brother and the only other person who knew the two were dating. And even Dylan is not an optimal confidant – he and Corrine had a rocky relationship while she was dating his sister. What Dylan does do for Maggie is introduce her to someone else to talk to: Elissa, Maggie’s ex-girlfriend who she dated prior to Corrine. It’s complicated even to talk to Elissa, though. Why hadn’t Maggie ever mentioned her? Why did Dylan have a good relationship with Elissa and not her? And why does she find herself starting to feel an attraction to Elissa?

THOUGHTS: This is not a typical coming out story given the circumstances. The complexities of Corrine and Maggie’s secret relationship and Corrine’s struggles to deal in the aftermath of Maggie’s death are told in an alternating timeline format back and forth from their year-long relationship prior to the accident to the present months following her death. It’s also a very unique grief story as Corrine struggles with it primarily on her own, so it understandably gets messy at times. The novel also touches on addiction, college admissions pressures, and asexuality through subplots and supporting characters. Overall, recommended addition to collections where the demand for LGBTQIA+ literature, particularly bisexual protagonists, is high.

Realistic Fiction                              Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – Love & Olives

Welch, Jenna Evans. Love & Olives. Simon Pulse, 2020. 978-1-534-44883-4. $18.99. 352 p. Grades 7-12. 

On the outside it appears that Liv has everything figured out, but inside she’s struggling with a few things. For one, her long time high school boyfriend Dax just graduated, and he wants Liv to follow him to Stanford. She hasn’t found the right way to tell him that her heart is set on RISD, and anyway she might not even get in (and still has one more year). When a beat-up postcard for Liv arrives days before Dax’s senior trip – which Liv is supposed to go on – Liv feels her perfect outside begin to crumble. Dax doesn’t know this side of Liv. At her mom’s insistence, Liv is headed to Santorini, Greece to spend some time with her father, whom Liv hasn’t seen since she was 8. Since she hasn’t heard from him in years, Liv has many conflicted emotions about seeing her father again. Why after all this time does he think they can have a relationship. But Liv’s father’s love of Atlantis was a connection the two of them shared during her childhood, and an exciting special project helps them begin to reconnect after all those years. His persistent assistant Theo is a great buffer between the awkward moments, and Theo helps Liv experience Santorini. His good looks are a great distraction too, and as they work together and become friends Liv begins to question some of the choices she’s made in her own life. The clock on her visit is ticking, though, and Liv isn’t sure she can count on her father. Is their relationship beyond repair, and can Liv move on beyond her childhood broken heart?

THOUGHTS: Set among a gorgeous backdrop with detailed descriptions of Santorini, readers will fall in love with Greece. Liv/Olive/Kalamata/Indiana Olive has a lot to learn about herself, and readers will be rooting for her from the beginning. With a strong cast of characters and a little bit of mystery and romance, this book will be a hit among middle and high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD