YA – When You Get the Chance

Lord, Emma. When You Get the Chance. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-78334-9. 308 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Millie Price always has known that she was most comfortable singing and performing on stage. Her dream is to become a major Broadway star, and she has remained dedicated to this dream. The one thing she is not sure of is who her mother is. When she was a baby, her mother dropped her off with her father and disappeared. Millie is now ready to discover just who her mother is and has recruited her best friend Teddy to help with this mission. It is the summer before her senior year, and Millie takes on an internship working for a NYC talent agency. This is the perfect spot for her to launch her Millie Mia mission that will lead her to discovering more than she could imagine.

THOUGHTS: This was such a fun book! Romance, friendship, family, milkshakes, and Broadway musicals! I recommend this book for those readers who are into a less intense realistic read.    

Romance          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

MG/YA – Abuela, Don’t Forget Me

Ogle, Rex. Abuela, Don’t Forget Me. Norton Young Readers, 2022. $18.95 978-1-324-01995-4. Grades 7-12. 

Ogle continues his autobiographical journey begun with Free Lunch and Punching Bag, this time using a novel in verse format to focus on the enormous importance of his grandmother (Abuela) who provided selflessly throughout his life and enabled him to succeed. Ogle shares memories of her involvement in his life, from preschool to college. Readers will remember, or easily recognize, the antagonistic relationship between his abuela and his mother, and how any gift was seen as an insult: “I can pay for my own groceries!” Ogle learned early to love Abuela’s visits for the food, the gifts (of many things, including Ogle’s first bed), but most of all, he loved her visits for the obvious, stated, unconditional support of Ogle. In a world of poverty and abuse, Ogle was accustomed to sneers or physical violence and hopelessness, but Abuela repeatedly gave him the messages that she believed in him, education was the key out of poverty, and don’t give up. Ogle successfully shows Abuela’s life-saving presence in his life, while acknowledging shortcomings, like her desire to overspend her hard-earned money to give to others.  Readers will be amazed by the abuse and poverty Ogle endured by necessity and amazed by Abuela’s constancy and positivity. Ogle pushes for change and endures hard-earned miracles (free college tuition) as well as enraging setbacks (his mother ‘steals’ his own car for herself).

THOUGHTS: This is a book for all middle and high school readers, who will learn strength from Ogle’s journey. Ogle may just inspire readers to thank the “Abuelas” in their lives.

Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Memoir, Autobiography

YA – Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman

Lee, Kristen R. Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman. Crown, 2022. 978-0-593-30915-5. $18.99. 326 p. Grades 9-12.

Savannah Howard is the golden girl of her poor Memphis neighborhood. Through hard work and focus, she earned a full scholarship to Wooddale, a prestigious Ivy League college. As one of the few Black students on campus, she makes friends quickly with upperclass students Natasha (Tasha) Carmichael, a light-skinned, well to do fashionista and aspiring lawyer; and Benjamin (Benji) Harrington, a local wealthy “high yellow” young man. Benji is a childhood friend of fellow student, Lucas Cunningham, a walking epitome of white privilege. One of the first incidents on campus Savannah witnesses is the vandalism of a statue of the only African American past presidents of the college. The non reaction of the university leaders to the blatant act of racism motivates Savannah to put in motion a campaign on social media, the school newspaper, and student forums to bring down the instigator and perpetrator of this racist behavior, Lucas Cunningham. Though she enlists the support of one of her African American professors as well as Tasha and Benji, the daily grind of uncovering the truth, being harassed – and even assaulted – by Lucas and his crew, and being snubbed by other classmates is exhausting. She grapples with Benji’s romantic attentions and his sometimes ambivalent actions toward her nemesis and, perhaps more importantly, with her decision to go to a predominantly white institution. The novel by Kristen R. Lee spans Savannah’s freshman year recounted with her own authentic voice. After she gives an interview on her professor’s podcast relating the injustices prevalent on campus and accusing the Cunninghams of manipulating the college admission process, she moves off campus to a toney neighborhood to board with the elderly widow, Mrs. Flowers, a self made entrepreneur. Lured back by students from a historically Black college to lead a peaceful protest, Savannah comes full circle, confident that she has stood for what is important and acknowledged by the university’s African American woman president. Her goal being reached, Savannah makes a critical decision for her future.

THOUGHTS: This novel takes on white privilege, racism, and microaggressions with which students of color can identify and white students can gain perspective. Author Kristen R. Lee has created a strong, female character who speaks her mind because she sees no alternative. She is ambitious and savvy, yet vulnerable and often scared. Her friends and the people who support her are all African American, but it is a small circle. The white students she forms acquaintances with turn out to be druggies, self-serving, deceitful, or racist (or any combination of those negative qualities). Save for Dr. Santos (the African American professor), the college’s administrators are weak, not enough, or oblivious. At the end of the book, Savannah gets called to Wooddale College president’s Architectural Digest-worthy home. The president is a Black woman; she informs Savannah she will be honored, and all the racist and unjust acts that happened during the year will be properly addressed. Savannah asks why the president didn’t come out earlier and confides her desire to leave Wooddale to attend a historically Black college. The president tells her that she has had to make some concessions to achieve what she has. That answer falls flat with the idealistic Savannah. Reading this book as a white person is uncomfortable–not a bad thing. To quote an old phrase, Lee “tells it like it is,” a truth to be embraced by every reader.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke School District of Philadelphia

YA – The Subtle Knife

Pullman, Philip. The Subtle Knife. Alfred A. Knopf, 2022. 978-0-593-17693-1. 272 p. $21.99. Grades 9-12.

This is the second book in the graphic novel edition of His Dark Materials series. Lyra has escaped into a new world after being betrayed by her mother and abandoned by her father. She is searching for information on Dust. Will is a new character, a boy from our world who is dealing with his mother’s struggle with mental illness and his father’s disappearance while exploring. Lyra and Will meet, and their worlds collide. They both set out together to help each other.

THOUGHTS: The illustrations are incredible. The world of Cittigazze is captured amazingly with these dark, steampunk illustrations. The story flowed quite nicely as well. 

Graphic Novel          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Fantasy

YA – Bad Things Happen Here

Barrow, Rebecca. Bad Things Happen Here. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2022. 978-1-534-49743-6. 352 p. $16.99. Grades 9-12.

Luca Thomas has lived on Parris Island her whole life – an island that seems like the ideal place to grow up. But Luca knows the truth: The island is scattered with unexplained tragedies. Rumors shroud the community that the island is cursed. Three years ago, Luca’s best friend, Polly, was killed. Now a new girl has moved into Polly’s house. Immediately, Luca’s older sister, Whitney, goes missing after a wild party. Is this the curse once again? What is happening on this island?

THOUGHTS: The book has drinking and sexual situations thus being more appropriate for older students. With fast-paced, short chapters, readers will be hooked. The ending was a bit of a mystery; though, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Could hint to a sequel.

Mystery          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

YA – Full Flight

Schumacher, Ashley. Full Flight. Wednesday Books, 2022. 978-1-250-77978-6. $18.99. 309 p. Grades 9-12.

In the provincial town of Enfield, Texas, Weston Ryan seems a rebel with his leather jacket and motorcycle and his bad reputation for cutting down the sapling Memorial Tree on the high school campus. His vulnerability is what shy, curvy, sixteen-year old Anna James sees. Both are members of the school’s marching band, and when they are paired for a duet, sparks fly. Perpetually obedient Anna tells lies to carve out time with Weston as their sweet romance builds. Her tight-knit family–strict but nurturing parents and 12 year old sister, Jenny–keep tabs on her every move and don’t approve of Weston. While Weston, reeling from his parents’ recent divorce, bounces back and forth between his depressed father and his distant mother. As the band competition approaches, Anna and Weston have ironed out the bumps in their duet and displayed their mutual love confidently to friends and classmates. Weston’s joy in life is Anna, and Anna is an expert in plunging Weston’s depths and revealing his goodness. Only the hurdle of Anna’s parents needs to be vaulted. All seems in proper alignment for these star-crossed lovers until tragedy strikes. Told in alternating voices, this well-written love story offers two teens masking insecurities and depression who learn to understand each other and themselves. All characters seem to be white. 

THOUGHTS: Though no evidence is present, this book seems to be reflective of an experience in the author’s life. Perhaps because of this, little diversity appears. It does deal with body image, judgment, and depression. The boyfriend dies in an accident in the end; but Anna lives through it, a stronger person for having been loved. The story may appeal to those longing for a romance; students who come from small towns may identify with having one’s life in view of everyone. A strong Christian element runs through  this book: One example, one of Anna’s and Weston’s successful ruses is going to the Church youth group. Schumacher writes well and the dialogue between Anna and Weston is unique and meaningful, thus raising this novel to a higher level. After a long prelude, Anna and Weston eventually have intercourse, but with no graphic details. I did not like the cover. Though well-written, the story was not compelling to me, but may appeal to a niche audience. 

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke  School District of Philadelphia

YA – A Million Quiet Revolutions

Gow, Robin. A Million Quiet Revolutions. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2022. 978-0-374-38841-6. 319 p. $18.99. Grades 11+.

A Million Quiet Revolutions is a novel in verse told from the perspectives of two young trans men, Aaron and Oliver, as they explore themselves, each other, and their relationship. In the first third of the book, Aaron moves away, and this causes a shift in their relationship as well as in Aaron’s life. The reader is not told explicitly; however, it is implied that the family moved due to a scandal involving Aaron’s older brother and the priest at the local church. Oliver has a fascination with history, and he decides that when Aaron moves away they should write letters to each other like soldiers did during the Revolutionary War. The novel in verse follows the two characters as they write letters and decide to meet up at a Revolutionary War reenactment and what that means for their relationship with each other, as well as their families. 

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful, hard hitting novel in verse that will move anyone who reads it. There are so many beautiful moments between these two characters, and there is so much growth with these them as well. Also, the plot of this book is Kutztown, PA which is fun to see local attractions mentioned throughout the story. This is a must have for any high school.

Realistic Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Great or Nothing

McCullough, Joy, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, Jessica Spotsword. Great or Nothing. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-37259-3. $18.88. 393 p. Grades 7-10.

Louisa May Alcott’s four March sisters have entered the 20th century, circa 1943. Beth has died, and the family struggles to cope with the overwhelming sadness of this loss. Marmee distracts her grief with committees and charitable works; Father, next-door neighbor, Theodore Laurence, and teacher John Brooks go off to fight the war; and the three young women are split apart. Four talented authors take on the personas of the classic characters, and each chapter recounts that character’s experiences against the backdrop of World War II. Beth’s voice in verse reflects her omniscient view of each of her sisters. Meg decides to stay close to home, dedicated to teaching at her former high school, but is so lonely, she concedes to pal around with an insipid but wealthy former classmate which results in revelatory consequences. After rebuffing Laurie’s unexpected marriage proposal, Jo goes off to Hartford, Connecticut, to work in a munitions factory and live in a boarding house with other female workers and pursue her writing. When she meets Charlie–Charlotte–a war journalist, Jo starts to come to terms with her sexual identity. Under the pretense of studying art in Montreal, Amy instead takes on a false identity and ships off with the Red Cross to minister to the morale of soldiers with coffee and doughnuts in London, England. There, she encounters prejudice and discrimination foreign to her upbringing, as well as the promise of true love. This contemporary spin on the classic Little Women is an easy read with touches of romance, LBGTQ+, and slang from the forties. Grab yourself a cuppa, curl up in your favorite chair, and hunker down to meet these Little Women.

THOUGHTS: Though four authors take on each of the March sisters, the writing flows smoothly and the writing is fairly even. Beth’s perspective voiced by Joy McCullough was my least favorite.  Reading the prose, characters were more well developed and satisfying. Though the story begins with the March sisters going their separate ways, it ends with the promise of them reuniting. Suggest this novel to lovers of the classic, but those who have never read Little Women will still understand the closeknit March family and the dynamic among the sisters.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Oh, Axie. The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea. Hodder and Stoughton, 2022. 978-1-529-39199-2. 321 p. $16.99. Grades 9-12.

Every year in Mina’s town a maiden is sacrificed to the Sea God hoping to stop all the devastating floods and wars that the townspeople think is due to the Sea God being angry. Mina’s older brother Joon is in love with Shim Cheong, a beautiful girl from their village, and one year it is decided that she will be sacrificed to the Sea God. Joon decides to follow and interfere which Mina knows means that he will die. In a split moment decision, Mina throws herself into the water, saving her brother and hoping that she can be the Sea God’s “true bride” and stop all the devastation that is plaguing her town. But when Mina gets to the Spirit Realm, she finds that the Sea God is trapped in an enchanted sleep. Will Mina be able to wake him up and save her town? Or will she be trapped in the Spirit Realm forever?

THOUGHTS: This was a wonderful fantasy stand alone! There are several twists and turns which just add to the overall feel of the story making the reader need to keep turning the pages to see what happens. This book is a great addition to any high school collection!!

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Hotel Magnifique

Taylor, Emily J. Hotel Magnifique. Razorbill, 2022. 978-0-593-56080-8. 391 p. $15.99. Grades 9-12.

Jani is barely able to provide for her and her sister Rosa in the town of Durc. Rosa is an incredible singer, and Jani is supposed to take care of her which she is barely able to do. When the Hotel Magnifique comes to town, Jani thinks that this might be their ticket out of Durc and she jumps at it. However, once they get into Hotel Magnifique something is off and not everything is as perfect as it seems. Jani and Bel, the hotel’s interesting doorman, are off to figure out what is going on inside and how to free everyone from the maitre d’hotel, who isn’t what he seems.  Will they succeed or will Jani and Rosa be stuck in the Hotel Magnifique forever.

THOUGHTS: This is a unique fantasy stand alone that has several twists and turns to keep the reader engaged from the beginning until the very end. This book is a great addition to any high school collection and would be great for any fantasy fan.

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter School