YA – Heartstopper #1

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper # 1. Graphix, 2020. 978-1-338-61743-6. 288 p. $14.99. Grades 8-12.

Fans of romance and coming of age stories, go no further. Oseman’s volume one of the Heartstopper series will do just that: stop your heart. This light take on a young man coming out to his school before he was really ready, dives into male friendships and more within a school setting. The story is set in England and revolves around a rugby team so there is slang that might be lost on some readers. This is a great story of male friendship that broadens into something more. Although school isn’t always a safe place, Oseman reminds us that there are people to be safe with. It’s important to note that this is a story revolving around gay high school students and that includes the abuse, both physical and verbal that still occurs, especially for individuals who are trying to figure themselves out. Oseman leaves the reader hanging and ready for volume two.

THOUGHTS: This is a great addition to high school libraries who are looking to make their graphic novel collection more realistic. In addition, this is a great mirror into the thoughts and feelings adolescents may have while discovering their sexual preferences and navigating the rough seas of high school.

Graphic Novel          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

MG – When You Know What I Know

Solter, Sonja. When You Know What I Know. Little, Brown & Company, 2020. 212 p. $16.99. 978-0316-53544-1 Grades 5-8.

Ten-year-old Tori is struggling with the aftermath of sexual abuse by her once-favorite uncle. She feels shame, anger, loss, sadness, and fear. She tells her mom, who is reluctant to believe her, and her grandmother takes her uncle’s side. Since her single mom relied on Tori’s grandmother and uncle for any childcare for Tori and her eight-year-old sister Taylor, the family strain increases. Their responses make Tori feel worse: “Maybe I shouldn’t have told,” and her secret is building a wedge between her and her friends as well. This novel told in verse reveals her confusion and pain without being specific about the incident. Eventually, another girl accuses her uncle of abuse, and Tori finds a freeing yet sickening feeling of vindication, along with support from her mother and grandmother.  By novel’s end, she discovers she is able to forget the incident for a few hours. The memories still return, “But still./A day like today…/It’s possible./I know that now.”

THOUGHTS: Solter’s novel provides acknowledgement of sexual abuse of young people and the difficulty of not being believed when speaking up; this honesty will provide hope for survivors as well. The content, in no way explicit, is appropriate for upper elementary and middle school readers. The Author’s Note states, “My hope for this book is that readers will be encouraged to tell their own truths, and–if someone doesn’t believe them at first–to keep on telling until they get the help they need. Healing takes time…[and] is not only possible, it IS where all of our stories are going” (208).

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

MG – How to Be a Girl in the World

Carter, Caela. How to Be a Girl in the World. Harper Collins Childrens, 2020. 294 p. $16.99 978-0-062-67270-4 Grades 5-8.

Lydia has spent the entire summer in pants, long sleeves, and turtlenecks, despite the heat, despite her single mom’s concerned comments, and despite friends’ odd looks. Lydia knows she’s not normal, and she doesn’t want to talk about it. Lydia, her biracial cousin Emma, and Lydia’s mom are proudly moving from an apartment to a dilapidated house of their own. Living in the house will require a huge amount of work (it’s chock full of dusty furniture left behind), but Lydia sees in it a chance to be safe. She would love to escape the nicknames, looks and comments of the boys at her private school. She shivers at men’s glances on the subway, or sitting too close. She feels extremely uncomfortable with her mom’s boyfriend Jeremy, whose hugs are just a little too long or too tight, and who assumes a greater friendliness with Lydia and Emma than Lydia would like. But no one else seems to notice any problem, so Lydia knows it’s her. She’s not normal, and if she can’t fix it, at least she can hide herself. Then maybe she’ll feel protected. In the new house, she finds a room full of herbs in jars and a book of spells. It’s exactly what she needs and even allows her to re-forge a connection with the best friend she’s ignored for the summer. They both try the spells, but the boys’ behavior and Jeremy’s behavior only becomes more troublesome, and an outburst from Lydia results in her being suspended from school. Lydia finally confides in her mother about the boys’ treatment of her, and her mother swiftly comes to her aid. When Lydia next explains Jeremy’s actions, her mother is devastated but resolute that Jeremy will never set foot in their house again. To Lydia, the revelatory message that she alone makes “the rules” concerning her body is freeing, and the new understanding and openness with those around her helps her to learn to own those rules.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful, “ordinary” story that every middle school girl would benefit from reading. It’s for every girl who’s ever been told, “it’s no big deal,” “you’re such a baby,” “that’s part of being a girl,” etc. And it’s for every boy who’s ever been told, “she likes it,” “you’re just being a boy,” or “looking doesn’t hurt.”  Pair with Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – A Breath Too Late

Callen, Rocky. A Breath Too Late. Henry Holt and Co., 2020. 978-1-250-23879-5. 272 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Trigger Warning: This title deals with abuse, depression, domestic violence, and suicide. The day after she dies by suicide, Ellie wakes up from the worst dream. As she goes about her morning, things feel off, but Ellie escapes her sad house and makes her way to school. She slips into first period where the class is told that a classmate died yesterday. It isn’t until Ms. Hooper says the name that Ellie realizes no one can hear her scream. Because Ellie’s recent memories are distorted, she tries to uncover what exactly happened. Her regret is evident, but the permanency of her decision is firm. Ellie witnesses the grief of others as she tries to come to terms with and understand her death. Through this experience, Ellie realizes that though she felt like there was no escape in sight and nothing left to hope for, not all was as it seemed. Despite not feeling it, Ellie was loved.

THOUGHTS: This book is devastating and very compelling. Readers will want to know if Ellie figures out what happened and if she finds peace through her regrets. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA FIC – The Special Ones; Children of Blood & Bone; List of Cages

Bailey, Em.  The Special Ones.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.  978-0-544-91229-8. 297 p. $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

For the past few years, Esther has been living in an old farmhouse with Harry, Lucille, and Felicity.  They have all been brainwashed to believe that they are the “Special Ones” who “he” (their captor) has saved from the atrocities of the modern world.  They have no electricity and running water, and they are forced to follow very strict behavioral guidelines. Because he is always watching them, failure to follow these guidelines often results in punishment or, even worse, renewal. When a “Special One” is renewed, they leave the house and are replaced by someone else who has been kidnapped and must be brainwashed. Although Esther has begun to question the entire process – especially what really happens to those who are renewed – she must continue to play her part if she wants to survive.  This gripping page-turner full of surprising twists will have readers rooting for Esther and the others until the very end. THOUGHTS: This would be an interesting book to analyze in a psychology class.  Students could discuss the mentality of the kidnapper (and what made him that way), and/or they could discuss the difficulty the victims have assimilating back into society after the ordeal.  Real-life examples, such as the Elizabeth Smart case, could be compared. Fans of kidnapping stories like Emma Donoghue’s Room or Lucy Christopher’s Stolen would enjoy this title, as would fans of psychological thrillers like Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train or Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

Psychological Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area School District

 

Adeyemi, Tomi. Children of Blood and Bone. Henry Holt, 2018. 978-1-250-17097-2 532p. $18.99.  Gr. 9 and up.

Ademi witnessed her mother’s brutal murder by soldiers on the night magic disappeared throughout Orisha.  When Ademi and the princess meet in a marketplace, a strange partnership and a long string of events lead to great change.  Magic is being reawakened. Romances, betrayals, and plot twists lead to an enjoyable storyline. THOUGHTS: This fresh new fantasy world has some interesting parallels with our very real world.  Readers with dark skin will see themselves in this book as people who can take power into themselves and perhaps make some change. I really enjoyed reading this, but had to set it aside for a while when the violence got to be too much for me.  I will keep reading the series, in spite of all of the bloodshed.

Fantasy      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Roe, Robin. A List of Cages. Hyperion, 2017. 978-1-148476380-3. 310 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Adam and Julian’s paths keep crossing. First, Adam was assigned as a reading buddy to mentor Julian when the boys were in 5th and 2nd grade. Then, after Julian’s parents were killed in an accident, Adam’s single mom fostered Julian for about a year. Now, Adam is a popular high school senior assigned to escort quiet, withdrawn Julian to his twice-weekly school counseling appointments. The two quickly reconnect, and Adam’s tight circle of friends expands (sometimes grudgingly) to allow room for the younger boy. But Julian is hiding a terrible secret: his guardian, an uncle by marriage, has been physically abusing him for years. When Uncle Russell finds out that his nephew has newfound friends, he withdraws Julian from school and the abuse escalates over some extremely difficult-to-read chapters. Throughout the book’s final fifty pages, it’s almost impossible not to read ahead just to find out what happens to each character. THOUGHTS: This is a well-paced, affecting, terribly sad, and somehow still uplifting story of what too many young people face when they go home at the end of each school day. It’s also an homage to friendship, courage, and kindness that still manages to be a gripping page-turner. At the novel’s heart is the lesson that “Hate ricochets, but kindness does too.”

Realistic Fiction    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

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

 

New YA Memoir – Becoming Maria

becomingmaria

Manzano, Sonia.  Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx.  New York: Scholastic Press, 2015.  978-0-545-62184-7.  $18.00. 262p. Gr. 9 and up.

Most of us grew up watching Sesame Street and know all of its familiar loveable characters like members of our own families, but we may not have thought about how they got to that famed street.  Becoming Maria shares Sonia Manzano’s journey from the South Bronx to Sesame Street sharing her earliest memories spanning from discovering her love of the theater as a young child to getting accepted at Carnegie Mellon University for acting.  The emotional abuse that she endured from her alcoholic father, and the physical and sexual abuse from strangers will tug on readers’ heartstrings.  Her family’s desire to create a better life for themselves was a struggle and often didn’t go as planned.  They moved a lot from shabby apartment to shabby apartment often taking in family members as they immigrated from Puerto Rico.  Becoming Maria is a true depiction of the American Dream and will give hope to all students with the desire to reach for the stars.  Thoughts: This is a great memoir of a familiar tv star.  It could be used in the tv classroom, theater arts program, or even in a history or language arts classroom.  The writing hooks readers in with short chapters that lead the reader through the seventies and eighties.  

Memoir     Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School

YA Realistic Fiction…Every Last Promise; The Start of You and Me; Charlie, Presumed Dead

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Halbrook, Kristin. Every Last Promise. New York: HarperTeen, 2015. 978-0-06212128-8. 272p. $9.99. Gr. 9-12.

“Killer Kayla”–it’s the whisper Kayla hears in the school hallway and on the streets of her small hometown of Winbrooke, MO. Home after a summer of exile in Kansas City, Kayla is dealing with the aftermath of a spring car wreck in which she was at the the wheel, leaving her best friend’s twin brother injured and another classmate killed. But while everyone blames Kayla, they don’t know the real reason she was in the driver’s seat that night.  Kayla has claimed she can’t remember the details surrounding the accident, but that’s not the truth.  The truth is that Kayla witnessed one of her friends being sexually assaulted at a party shortly before the car crash.  Now Kayla finds herself torn; should she reveal the truth about the crash and the assault? Doing so (and naming the perpetrator, the start football quarterback, who also happens to be her friend’s twin brother who was injured in the car crash) will further ostracize her from the beloved hometown where she had imagined herself living forever.  Can she live with herself if she continues to remain silent?  THOUGHTS:  Halbrook effectively uses alternating chapters (set during the spring prior to the car crash and the autumn following the crash) to build tension and suspense that keeps the reader engaged until the actual events surrounding the car crash are revealed.  The effects of peer/community pressure are also realistically portrayed as Kayla struggles with the pressure put on her by friends, classmates and others to keep silent.

Realistic Fiction   Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

 

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Lord, Emery. The Start of You and Me. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-1-61963-359-9. 373p. $17.99. Gr. 8-12.

For the past year, Paige Hancock’s life has been defined by one event–the drowning death of her first boyfriend, Aaron. Seemingly everywhere she goes, she is the focus of pitying looks from her friends and neighbors. She feels guilty when she has a good time.  As her junior year gets underway, Paige is resolved to move on and make some changes in her life.  On her to-do list are things like joining a club at school and dating again; maybe her former crush Ryan Chase is available.  When Paige joins the high school quiz bowl team, however, it’s Ryan’s cousin Max she finds herself connecting with and falling for.  Paige must break through her fear of loss in order to enter into a relationship and begin living again.  THOUGHTS: This sensitive portrayal of life, love and loss will appeal to readers of Sarah Dessen, Morgan Matson, Deb Caletti and Susane Colasanti.

Realistic Fiction   Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

charliedead

Heltzel, Anne. Charlie, Presumed Dead. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015. Print. 978-0544388499. 272 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

While not the best book I read over the summer, this title is sure to engage students who appreciate a fast-paced read with a mysterious element. Presumably, Charlie Price has died in an explosion while piloting a plane. Upon attending the funeral of her boyfriend in Paris, American, Aubrey Boroughs realizes that not only did Charlie not tell his family about her, but he had a steady girlfriend of three years, Lena Whitney. Lena and Aubrey meet, and Lena shares her suspicions that Charlie is not actually dead. Aubrey is intrigued (why so intrigued, we learn later on), and reluctantly agrees to go with Lena on a trip to various locations to find out more about Charlie’s supposed “death.” They end up flying halfway around the world to India to begin their quest. As they come closer and closer to solving the mystery, they learn about each other as well as their own wants and needs. They both had a complicated relationship with the enigmatic young Charlie, who seems to have enjoyed being a different person around each girl. Against all reason, the girls themselves become close throughout the course of their adventure. Reminiscent of Gayle Forman’s novel Just One Day, this novel takes readers on an adventure to exotic locales but lacks the depth and character development that Forman includes so easily in her stories. Nevertheless, readers will still want to learn what happened to Charlie, and will eagerly await the sequel.

Realistic Fiction, Mystery   Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

Against my better judgement, I did find myself quickly turning the pages in this book. The characters are interesting, and the plot is one that keeps the reader on the edge of her seat the entire time. Similar to other YA novels, this one lacks any sort of adult presence, and an adult reader such as myself had to have a lot of willing suspension of disbelief to believe that any parent would let their 18 year old daughter go on weekend vacations with a boy such as Aubrey did, or allow a daughter to travel around the world as she pleases, as Lena’s parents are wont to do. Yet, this was a fun read, and I will be recommending it to many students who enjoy mysteries!

Realism in History…New YA Fiction

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Shecter, Vicky Alvear. Curses and Smoke. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014. 978-0-545-50993-0. 324 p. $17.99. Grade 7 and up.

Set just one month before the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Curses and Smoke is the story of a young girl, Lucia Titurius, and her childhood friend, Tages.    As Lucia’s father, the owner of a failing gladiator school, is preparing for her upcoming marriage to a much older but very wealthy man, she reconnects with Tag as he returns from Rome to take over his father’s responsibilities as medic.  Lucia and Tag find themselves in an awkward place with her the head of the household and Tag still a lowly slave.   However, the two quickly find love.  As the volcano begins to erupt, so does their romance and determination to be together.  Lucia’s character struggles with the role of women in Italian society and often tries to go beyond just being a woman with no voice.  Although rich with vocabulary with Latin roots, the story feels unrealistic at times.   This was a quick fun read and could be recommended for lower readers or those, like me, interested in Pompeii.

Historical Fiction, Romance    Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School

 

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Connor, Leslie. The Things We Kiss Goodbye. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2014.  978-0-06-089091-91. 356 pages.  $17.99.

At first glance this might seem like a typical teen romance novel, but one quickly realizes that it is so much more.  Author Leslie Connor tackles the tough, but real, subject of abusive relationships and explores how teens often find themselves helplessly stuck in these tricky situations.  Being a Greek American female, Bettina Vasilis was raised with little freedom, so she cautiously enters a relationship with basketball star Brady Cullen treading the waters of dating lightly, knowing any wrong step could cost her the freedom she’s longed for.  When Brady begins to leave Bettina with bruises, she’s afraid that her father will blame her.  After Brady humiliates Bettina in front of his friends, she seeks solace in the parking lot of a nearby industrial park.  This is where she meets the handsome and mysterious “Cowboy.” Bettina’s life changes as she spends more and more time with Cowboy and their unusual friendship grows to be more. Connor explores other forms of abusive relationships through Bettina’s friendships and home life showing that there isn’t just one type of abuse.  However, for as realistic as this novel is, there are only three adults who have active roles in the story and some of Bettina’s friendships seem underdeveloped.

Realism     Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area HS