Ruby, Lois. Gallows Hill. Carolrhoda Lab, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, 2023. 978-1-728-43102-4. 208 p. $19.99. Grades 7-12.
Gallows Hill is a fictionalized story of the Salem Witch Trials as told from the alternating perspectives of Patience and Thomas, two teens living during the 1692 height of hysteria. Patience aims to live up to her name, but when her own sister, Abigail, becomes “afflicted” and begins to accuse a local elderly widow, Prudence Blevins, of being a witch, Patience doesn’t know who to believe. Patience knows many women and men are being arrested in Salem—even a five-year-old child, Dorothy, is among the accused of witchcraft. Unlike Patience, who has lived in Salem her whole life, Thomas and his sister Grace are newcomers to Salem Village. Grace and Thomas are only trying to make a life for themselves after their strenuous trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Being of Quaker faith makes Thomas and Grace outcasts among their new Puritan neighbors. After Thomas is also arrested, he must fight against the odds to survive being swept up in the madness and sent to Gallows Hill.
THOUGHTS: This story is a compelling and well-researched fictional account of what it may have been like to grow up during the time of the infamous Salem witch trials. Ruby includes historically accurate diction (using phrases like Goody and Goodman), and she balances it with clear dialogue and short chapters to make this book accessible for middle school readers. While other middle grade and YA witch-trial related fiction often ventures into supernatural or fantasy genres, Gallows Hill stays true and realistic to the time. Strong sensory details placed throughout the story will bring the abysmal prison cells and Salem village itself to life for readers. Ruby also offers historical explanations, theories, and book discussion questions in the book’s endpapers. Recommended as an addition to middle school historical fiction collections.
Vinuesa, Victoria. See You On Venus. Delacorte Press, 2023. 978-0-593-70513-1. 341 p. $12.99. Grades 8-12.
Mia has grown up in group homes and foster homes with very little known about her birth mom. She knows that her mother is from Spain and her name is Maria. Mia has grown up with a heart defect, and now faces the possibility of a short life unless she undergoes a risky surgery. Mia wants to meet her birth mom before this happens, but time is running out. She has been saving and planning this trip with her friend, Noah. Her biggest wish is to meet her mom and find out why her mother gave her up. Kyle has everything going for him until a fatal accident occurs that kills his best friend – Noah. Kyle begins to spiral to a dark place, and then enters Mia. The two of them embark on this overseas trip to find Mia’s birth mother. Will this trip provide answers to help them move forward with their lives? Noah’s death has brought them together; will this tragedy help mend their broken hearts?
THOUGHTS: This was a quick read with a powerful message of hope and love and friendship. It has also been made into a movie, so students will be familiar with this story and may come looking for the book version.
McBride, Amber. Gone Wolf. Fiewel and Friends, 2023. 978-1-250-85049-2. 348 p. $17.99. Grades 6-10.
Inmate Eleven has never seen the sun. She is a Blue living in post-pandemic 2111. She is held alongside her wolf-dog, Ira, in a small room within the tall walls of Elite, the capital of Bible Boot—a future, isolationist portion of the United States post-Second Civil War. Inmate Eleven is given tests and bloodwork with frequency. She has been told through a series of Bible Boot-issued flashcards that Blues are racially inferior, hate is illegal, and Clones are irrefutably kind. Larkin, a white Clone, begins to meet with Inmate Eleven, and Inmate Eleven feels empowered to choose a new name for herself: Imogen. Unfortunately, Larkin’s father also happens to be the powerful, racist leader of Elite. Soon, Larkin and Imogen realize they must escape the walls of Elite where slavery has been fully re-instituted, and both Black and Blue people are enduring torturous treatment. But…who is Imogen, really, and what year is it…truly? Imogen is living two disjointed realities, and she’s fighting to go wolf in both.
THOUGHTS: Many aspects of this book are heartbreaking. The way McBride weaves this story together is poignant and unique. Without giving too many spoilers, this is a book that brings to light concepts of generational and racial trauma in the United States. The book’s underlying commentary regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, racial violence, and political polarization will also be highly relatable to middle school students. Big twists and turns, compounded by sad events, caused myself as reader to question where the story was going at first, but not in a negative way. Then, pieces clicked masterfully into place. Because the story is told from a first person limited perspective, McBride uses ends of each chapter to offer clarifying bits of information that will help all readers access the underlying themes and nuance of the story. The powerful messaging of Black resilience and a new lens of trauma will stick with readers for a long time. As an adult reader, I found myself thinking of Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison’s stories. An essential addition to middle school and even high school fiction collections.
Warner, Andrea. Rise Up and Sing: Power, Protest, and Activism in Music. Greystone Kids, 2023. 978-1-77164-898-1. 299 p. $19.95. Grades 6-12.
This book is a collection of musicians as role models through highlighting the power of music to help change the world. Some of the artists featured are: Bob Dylan, Billie Elish, Beyonce, Lil Nas X, Lady Gaga, Bob Marley, and more. The book covers the social and environmental issues that each artist has brought to the attention of their fans. Climate change, the environment, decolonization, indigenous rights, civil rights, racial justice, disability rights, feminism, gender equality, nonbinary folks, anti-war movement, and human rights are all discussed through the artists’ lyrics and dedication to bring these issues to the forefront of their listeners.
THOUGHTS: An impressive collection of artists and their quest to bring awareness and justice to the world we live in are shared in this title.
De La Cruz, Melissa. Snow & Poison. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-0-593-32668-8. $19.99. 288 p. Grades 9-12.
The year is 1861. Lady Sophie of Bavaria has a lot of change coming her way. Her father, Duke Maximillan, is preparing for his wedding, and on the same night, Sophie will become a member of high society. After the wedding, Sophie does her best to befriend her new stepmother, Claudia, although mysterious things seem to happen when she’s around. When Sophie meets Prince Phillip of Spain at a ball, the two have an immediate connection. Unfortunately, Phillip’s father will only allow him to marry a princess, and Sophie is heartbroken when he must return to Spain. She tries to find comfort in Claudia, but rumors about her past and magic use persist to swirl around the castle. As Sophie attempts to discover the truth about Claudia, she also finds herself at the center of a war between kingdoms and does what she can to protect her family, her home, and her heart.
THOUGHTS: Snow & Poison is a twist to the familiar story of Snow White & the Seven Dwarves. In this version, most of the aspects of magic and fantasy have been removed, and this retelling is loosely based on some of the stories that inspired the original Snow White fairy tale. I haven’t read as many Snow White adaptations, and this one would be enjoyed by any reader that loves fairy tales, romances, and mysteries.
Zhao, Amelie Wen. Song of Silver, Flame Like Night. Delacorte Press, 2023. 978-0593487501. $19.99. 480p. Grades 9-12.
Lan is a performing song girl in Haak’gong, and although her life appears to be the same as the other girls she lives and performs with, she has a secret. Lan spends her days trying to understand the message behind the strange mark left on her arm by her mother before she died. In her quest for answers, she meets Zen. Zen is a practitioner and only uses his magic in secret. When their worlds collide one fateful night, Zen agrees to take Lan to his practitioner masters after she uses her powers in a moment of panic. As Lan begins to understand her powers and the fate of her mother and her people, Lan realizes that everyone has secrets. She’s swept up in a war to overthrow the Elantian regime who want to outlaw her magic. Drawing upon ancient Chinese myths and legends, Zhao has crafted a story of love, loss, betrayal, and power. Will Lan and Zen use the powers they possess to save their world, or will they destroy it?
THOUGHTS: This book really kept me on my toes! I felt that a lot of the characters made surprising decisions that somewhat “broke the mold” of what I would expect of a YA character. There is a ton of gray area when it comes to the magic the characters possess and the decisions they make when it comes to obtaining power to protect the ones they love. Readers will enjoy the action, mystery, and adventure this fantasy novel provides as well as the inclusion of ancient Chinese mythology.
Bracken, Alexandra. Silver in the Bone. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-0-593-48165-3. $19.99. 496 p. Grades 9-12.
In a world full of magic, Tasmin Lark has none. After being abandoned by their guardian Nash, she and her brother, Cabell, must learn to survive on their own. Years later, as members of the Hollowers, they spend their time breaking curses and entering ancient crypts in search of treasure. When Tamsin takes a job from a sorcerer, the race to find an ancient ring begins. According to the rumors, Nash was the last to have it, and Tamsin hopes to find it to break a curse on Cabell. Others are after the ring as well, including her rival, Emrys. Suddenly, Tamsin finds herself in Camelot, navigating the myths and legends of old while discovering the dark and dangerous secrets of the realm and learning to open her heart to others.
THOUGHTS: I love the fantasy world created by Bracken for her newest series. It’s a mix of urban and ancient fantasy, and she is able to blend the two worlds seamlessly. This one hooked me from the start, and I think the uniqueness of the story will draw in other fantasy readers as well. The slow burn romance between Tamsin and Emrys was also a highlight of this novel, and I’d recommend this one to any reader who loves fantasy or the stories from the Arthurian legends.
Clare, Cassandra. Chain of Thorns. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2023. 978-1-481-43193-4. $24.99. 800 p. Grades 9-12.
Chain of Thorns, the final book in The Last Hours series, concludes the story of James Herondale and Cordelia Carstairs who found themselves engaged to one another to avoid ruining Cordelia’s reputation. After witnessing an intimate moment between James and Grace Blackthorn, Cordelia escapes to Paris with Matthew Fairchild. Although James runs after them, he instead accompanies his father and Magnus Bane to find his sister, Lucy. Meanwhile, The Merry Thieves and the rest of the Shadowhunters are making plans to fight back against Belial and Tatiana Blackthorn, who has escaped imprisonment. Once they are all reunited, these friends uncover dark secrets and find the courage to speak their truths while they attempt to protect their fellow Shadowhunters from harm and save the entire city of London.
THOUGHTS: Cassandra Clare is a unique, fantasy author. She has never “left” the world of Shadowhunters that she first created with The Mortal Instruments, but instead continues the story both before and after the events of the original series. In my opinion, each series gets better and better and should be included in every young adult library collection. If you can get a student hooked on one series, they’ll want to read them all! I was not disappointed with the conclusion of this series, and Clare has plans for one more series in the Shadowhunter world, and she does a fantastic job of including diverse characters into her novels.
Wilkinson, Lili. A Hunger of Thorns. Delacorte Press, 2023. 978-0-593-56266-6. $19.99. 432 p. Grades 9-12.
When Maude and Oddette were young girls, they were best friends. Maude, a daughter of witches, processed magic in the form of storytelling. They would have grand and wild adventures through the stories Maude would tell. Now, they’re grown up. Maude has lost her magic, and Odette, no longer her friend, is missing. Odette has always longed to possess magic as her friend did, and Maude knows she went into the forbidden Sticklehurst to hunt for it. Armed only with her stories and flashes of her past inside of the abandoned power plant, Maude journeys into Sticklehurst to rescue her former friend and become the hero of one of her own stories. Will she be able to defeat the monsters once and for all?
THOUGHTS: A Hunger of Thorns is an urban wonderland full of magic, stories, cursed princes, monsters, and wild girls trying to find their place in the world. I’d recommend this one to readers looking for a more sinister and darker fantasy. Although this can be read as a stand alone novel, a sequel planned for the same world, but with different characters and storylines, will be published next year.
Ross Quest is about to pull off the biggest heist of her life in order to save her kidnapped mother in this action-packed YA thriller. Ross and her mother have planned many robberies together—as one of the most notorious thief-families in North America, they have a reputation to uphold. When a robbery goes awry, Ross reluctantly must enter into the mysterious and dangerous Thieves’ Gambit, a high-stakes game made up of the best young criminal minds from around the world. If Ross wins, she’ll have one wish granted: in her case, it’s the wish to rescue her mother by paying her mother’s billion dollar ransom. All goes according to plan until feelings for one of the contestants, the handsome British Devroe, threatens to throw Ross off of her game. Filled with twists and turns right until the end, this one will keep your students reading the whole way to the last page.
THOUGHTS: A high-stakes heist must-read title. For teens who love lots of action, twists, turns, and a fast-paced plot, this is the ideal story. Thieves’ Gambit reads like a heist movie on paper as it takes readers on a wild adventure around the world. Ross is a likable and realistic character trying to fulfill quests before time runs out. There is enough romantic tension between Ross and Devroe that will keep romance readers loving this book, too. Ideal for fans of series like The Inheritance Games. Strong diversity and character development.