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

YA Realistic Fiction – Mr. 60%; Saints & Misfits; We Come Apart; Grit

Barrett Smith, Clete. Mr. 60%. Crown Books, 2017. 978-0-5535-3466-5. 192 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Meet Matt, aka “Mr. 60%”, a nickname earned thanks to just-passing grades and Matt’s habit of doing the bare minimum both academically and socially to graduate high school. The only time he engages in conversation is when he’s completing a “transaction” with a classmate. Instead, he spends his time looking for more creative places to stash his “merchandise” at school so when his nemesis, the vice principal, and the on-campus cop conduct random drug searches, they turn up nada.  Everyone thinks Matt is destined to be a high school dropout, yet what they don’t know is that Matt feels like he has no other choice; he’s only selling drugs to pay for medicine to help ease his uncle’s pain in the wake of a fatal cancer diagnosis. With his mother in jail, his dad never having been in the picture, and living in trailer #6 at the local trailer park with his dying uncle, Matt has limited options and no one to turn to.  When the school board develops a new policy requiring seniors to participate in at least one student activity club in order to graduate, Matt is forced to see he’s not as alone as he thought.  There just might be a friend he can lean on when times get unbearable.  THOUGHTS:  Mr. 60% reminds adult readers, educators especially, that our children are more than what we see on the surface, and reminds teen readers that they’re not alone, that a classmate passing them in the hallway might have it worse than they do.  Despite its somber tone and overwhelming sense of helplessness readers may feel for Matt; there is still a note of hope throughout the story: the fellow classmate whose offer of friendship helps her just as much as it helps Matt and his uncle, the guidance counselor willing to try over and over again to offer Matt options to help him graduate even though he doesn’t seem to appreciate it, the police officer who keeps trying to warn Matt of his impending future should he not change his drug-dealing ways, among others. My only complaint is the abrupt ending; the conclusion needed at least one more chapter to feel complete. Teens and adults alike will appreciate the realistic characters and the how real Matt’s life is portrayed, and the short length is perfect for reluctant readers. 

Realistic Fiction            Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley SD

 

Ali, S.K. Saints and Misfits.  Salaam Reads, 2017. 978-1-4814-9924-8. 328 p.  $18.99  Gr. 7-12.

Janna sees people as fitting into three different categories:  saints, misfits, and monsters.  She herself is a misfit:  a Muslim girl who chooses to wear the Hajib, struggling to fit in to a variety of different places and with different people, including two families, since her parents are divorced (and have very different views on religion). Janna has a crush on Jeremy, who isn’t Muslim; he’s a misfit, too, if only because he’s willing to consider dating her.  Then there are saints: people so perfect and good, like her brother’s girlfriend, they make Janna feel like she’s lacking.  Finally, there’s the monsters.  Janna tries not to think about the monster in her life; a monster who pretends to be a saint.  He’s the brother of one of Janna’s friends, and she’s afraid to tell anyone the truth, that he tried to sexually assault her once, and she’s afraid he might do it again.  THOUGHTS:  The sensitive subject matter is handled frankly and yet not too graphically, so that this book is accessible to middle as well as high school readers.  This well written book is an important addition to school library collections both because it features a Muslim heroine, and because it empower girls who have been assaulted.

Realistic Fiction               Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Crossan, Sarah and Conaghan, Brian. We Come Apart. Bloomsbury, 2017. 978-1-68119-275-8. $17.99. 320p. Gr. 9+.

Sarah Crossan teamed up with Brian Conaghan to write in verse from two points of view. Both Jess and Nicu lead desperate lives. Jess lives in a dysfunctional home with a despicable stepfather who beats Jess’ mom and forces her to be an accomplice. Jess lives in fear of her stepfather, but it doesn’t stop her from acting out by stealing things. On her third arrest, she is forced to do community service which is where she meets Nicu, who is also performing community service. Nicu and his family have recently emigrated from Romania to England into the time of Brexit and open racism. We see through his broken-English what it is like for a teenager of color to endure racism from not just his classmates, but his teachers and society in general. Nicu also has the weight of an arranged marriage in his near future to contend with. The story begins with a hesitant friendship between Jess and Nicu and slowly transforms into love. Jess fights the relationship from the beginning, hiding it from her friends, and not step to Nicu’s defense when people attack him because of his Romanian heritage. This book reminded me of Crossan’s, The Weight of Water and the publisher likens it to Una LaMarche’s Like No Other.  THOUGHTS: I read this book quickly due to its being written in verse, but also because I wanted to find out what would happen between Jess and Nicu. It’s rated 9th grade and above due to the domestic violence and a brutal racist attack on the street, although I would consider letting 8th graders read this book. I enjoyed reading about Nicu’s perspective of moving to a country in the throes of Brexit and overt racism all the while living with old-fashioned parents that insist on an arranged marriage. I enjoyed the ending, but I can already hear my students complaining that it lacked the happy ending they seem to enjoy.

Realistic Fiction, Verse            Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

French, Gillian.  Grit.  HarperTeen, 2017.  978-0-06-264255-4. 294 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Seventeen-year-old Darcy Prentiss has a wild reputation that precedes her. Most of her classmates believe she is promiscuous, and she is often found drinking and taking dares at parties. The police think she knows more than she is letting on about the disappearance last summer of her former best friend, Rhiannon, and it soon comes to light that she is also hiding another secret for her cousin, Nell. As the story unfolds, mysteries that seemed totally unrelated are woven together, and the truth behind Darcy’s actions is unveiled. Teen readers will easily be able to relate to and empathize with Darcy, making this a great choice for high school libraries.  THOUGHTS: My only criticism of this title is the fact that I had a hard time figuring out what the main story line was. Did I want to know what happened to Rhiannon last summer, or did I want to discover Nell’s secret? Was I more interested in the love connection between Darcy and a boy named Jesse than I was in either of these mysteries? However, regardless of the complex plot (which all ended up weaving together in the end), Darcy proved to be an extremely relatable and likable character.  I felt for her, and I admired her courage; therefore, I needed to keep reading to find out what happened to her and everyone else. A beautifully written title, perhaps more suited towards older adolescents due to its evocative language and sexual references.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Upper Elem/MS Fiction – Beyond the Bright Sea; Crooked Sixpence; Amina’s Voice; Thick as Thieves

Wolk, Lauren. Beyond the Bright Sea.Dutton: 2017. 978-1-101-99485-6. 304pp. $16.99. Gr 4-7.

Twelve-year-old Crow is an islander through and through. She knows how to harvest mussels and lobsters, how to navigate a skiff through choppy water, and how to coax garden vegetables from rocky, sandy soil. But Crow is also full of questions, and none of them have simple answers. Why was she abandoned as a newborn and sent to sea alone in a small boat? Where did she come from, and why did she wash up on the shores of Massachusetts’ Cuttyhunk Island? Who were her parents, and where are they today? When curiosity gets the best of her and Crow investigates a fire burning on a nearby deserted island, she sets into motion a chain of events that takes her on an incredible, and at times dangerous, journey as she begins uncovering answers to her heart’s deepest questions. At her side are her adoptive father, Osh, and their kind-hearted neighbor, Miss Maggie, both of whom offer wisdom and advice as Crow pieces together her personal history.   THOUGHTS:  This title will satisfy fans of Wolk’s Newbery Honor-winning Wolf Hollow. It is also beautifully written, and it’s elegantly crafted sentences, perfectly sprinkled foreshadowing, and well-placed clues make it a good choice for a read-aloud.

Historical Fiction    Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

 

Twelve-year-old Crow is happy living on an isolated island off the coast of Massachusetts with her wise and loving foster father, Osh, who has taught her everything she needs to know: how to fish, how to set a lobster trap, how to garden, how to cook, how to row.  But, she still yearns to learn the story of her own life. Crow knows she washed up on the island on a skiff as a newborn babe, but no one knows for sure where she came from.  Like Osh, and unlike their close friend and neighbor, Miss Maggie, she isn’t white. People think she might have come from the deserted nearby island of Penikese which used to harbor a leper colony. As a result, most of the other islanders, fearing Crow may be contagious, won’t get close to her. Crow struggles to reconcile their hurtful behavior with the many good qualities she sees in them. Despite Osh’s misgivings, Crow is determined to visit Penikese and learn the truth about her past. Crow’s search for her heritage leads her little family straight into danger, and she, Osh, and Maggie all must wrestle with the problem of whether some questions are better left unanswered.  Hidden treasure, coded messages, and a terrifying villain all play a role in the story, and the stakes grow higher and higher as the pages are turned. THOUGHTS: Wolk’s writing is unbelievably gorgeous; the book is worth reading simply for the pleasure of enjoying her finely crafted sentences. The story starts out slowly, but soon the pace picks up. By the middle it becomes a page-turner, and the ending is truly heart-pounding. A must-buy for middle school libraries, and a more-than-worthy follow-up to Wolk’s Newbery-honor book Wolf Hollow.  

Historical Fiction     Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Bell, Jennifer. The Crooked Sixpence. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-553-49844-8. 309pp. $14.59. Gr 4-7.

After their grandmother takes a tumble and ends up in the emergency room, eleven-year-old Ivy and her fourteen-year-old brother Seb’s world is turned upside down. They are whisked into a secret underground city called Lundinor that is hidden beneath the streets of London. Lundinor is filled with enchanted “uncommon” objects that have special powers. Colanders filter the air, bike bells chime navigational directions, and carrying a candle makes a person invisible. Lundinor is filled with traders, both living and dead,  who barter with each other, trying to acquire the most useful objects. When Ivy and Seb are arrested and their parents are abducted, they learn some important family history involving their grandmother’s unexplained disappearance from Lundinor more than forty years earlier. They also learn about the most valuable uncommon object of them all, something called The Great Uncommon Good. Ivy and Seb are in a race against the clock, trying to locate this mysterious, powerful object before time runs out and their parents are lost forever. Readers will immediately be drawn into this adventure-filled fantasy, and they will root for Ivy and Seb as they try to clear their family name and hunt for one of the most powerful uncommon objects of them all. This is the first in a planned trilogy, and readers will be excited to hear how this fast-paced adventure continues in the story’s next installment.   THOUGHTS: This title will be popular with both girls and boys who enjoy fast-paced action fantasy that is a little on the scary side.

Fantasy      Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Khan, Hena. Amina’s Voice. Salaam Reads, 2017. 978-1-48149-206-5  197pp. $16.99  Gr. 3-7.

Twelve-year-old Pakistanti-American Amina Khokar has a beautiful voice, but stage fright keeps her from sharing her gift. When her uncle insists she take part in a Quran recitation competition, Amina is petrified. Meanwhile, Amina’s best friend, Korean-American Soojin, tells Amina she is thinking of “Americanizing” her name to “Susan,” which leads Amina feeling threatened and unsure of her own cultural identity. Soojin’s new friendship with a girl Amina dislikes doesn’t help matters between them, especially when Amina makes a serious, though unintentional, mistake that further threatens their bond. However, when the local Islamic center is vandalized, Amina finds support where she least expects it, and discovers wells of courage within her she hadn’t known existed.  THOUGHTS:  Amina is a charming, empathetic heroine dealing with growing pains that will be familiar to many middle schoolers–all told through the lens of a Pakistani-American/Islamic experience.  A delightful, not-to-be-missed read from a much-needed viewpoint.

Realistic Fiction           Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Turner, Megan Whalen. Thick as Thieves. Greenwillow Books, 2017. 978-0-06-256824-3. $17.99. 337 p. Gr. 6 and up.

Turner returns to Attolia and the world of the thief Eugenides with this stand-alone novel. Kamet is an ambitious slave in the court of Mede. He has position and power and enjoys both. The beatings by his master are an unfortunate price to be paid, and when a shadowy stranger offers him the opportunity to escape, Kamet indignantly turns him down. However when Kamet learns his master is dead, poisoned, he knows suspicion will fall on him and he flees. He accepts passage with the stranger , the Attolian, planning on parting company at the first opportunity. However, Kamet has never experienced life outside the palace and is poorly equipped to survive on the run.  He realizes he must depend on the Attolian to stay alive.  At the end of their journey, Kamet not only learns why the King of Attolia, Eugenides, desires his presence, but also discovers that the Attolian has become a friend.   THOUGHTS:  The joy of this book is the journey, both for Kamet and the reader. Turner’s world-building is exquisite (and the thoughtful map on the endpapers is delightfully useful) and writing lovely. The reader knows no more than Kamet as to why the King of Attolia wishes to steal Kamet away from Mede, and what awaits him when he arrives in Attolia.

Fantasy    Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD