YA – The Castle School (for Troubled Girls)

Content warning: This book contains depictions of mental illness, including but not limited to addiction, anorexia, self-harm, and trichotillomania.

Moira (Moor-a, not Moy-ra) has been skipping school, meals, and leaving her apartment for hours at a time. Her parents stage an intervention where they share that they’re sending Moira to The Castle School, a school for girls going through a “rough patch” not a reform school. Though two bodyguard types look ready to spring into action should Moira bolt, she willingly packs her things and gets on a plane heading to a remote part of Maine. There she meets eleven other girls who like her are experiencing their own struggles, each unique and told in her own voice in a sporadic chapter throughout the novel. When asked why she’s at The Castle School, Moira reports it’s because she got a tattoo. She does not share that she lost her best friend. With a very regimented schedule which includes lights out and individual therapy sessions, Moira struggles to adjust at first. She has some time on her own, though, as her roommate Eleanor is staying in the infirmary. While reading by a secret flashlight, Moira hears music in the distance and notices that the padlock on her window’s security bars is broken. The next night Moira and Eleanor head out to investigate and discover a castle that seems a lot like theirs, only happier, warmer, and with twelve boys. The Castle Schools may not be what Moira thought. Moira notices that she feels more like herself than she has in a long time when she’s at the other Castle School (Castle South); it seems to have the same effect on Eleanor. What type of experiment is Dr. Prince conducting with two schools run so differently, and why – other than the fact that she’s a girl – is Moira at Castle North? Why does Dr. Prince’s son Randy live at Castle North instead of with the boys in Castle South? As Moira gets to know the girls and attends sessions with Dr. Prince, she struggles through her grief and begins to come to terms with why she’s at The Castle School.

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Moira as she adjusts to her new life at The Castle School and works through her grief. As an adult reader, I felt like Moira’s semester ended a bit too tidy (though she does work through a lot). I’m interested to talk to a student reader about their thoughts of authenticity. Purchase for high school collections where character driven, mental health titles are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem/MG/YA – Affecting Lives: Drugs & Addiction (Series NF)

Affecting Lives: Drugs & Addiction. Child’s World, 2021. 32 p. $21.00 Grades 5-8.

Artanne, K.A. Methamphetamines Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844957.
Ayarbe, Heidi. Tranquilizers and Depressants Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844896.
Bjornlund, Lydia. Steroids Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844964.
Ford, Jeanne. E-Cigarettes Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-84487-2.
—. Prescription Opioids Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844902.
Havemeyer, Janie. Marijuana Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844858.
London, Martha. Adderall Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844889.
MacCarald, Clara. Heroin Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844919.
Martin, Holly B. Cocaine Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844926.
Rea, Amy C. Alcohol Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844865.
—. Inhalants Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844940.
Storm, Ashley. Hallucinogens Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844933.

This Hi-Lo series is intended for grades 3-6, and would work for middle and high school collections. Each book opens with a two-page Fast Facts about the drugs, defining them, stating how they are used, and the physical and mental effects. Four chapters each begin with a personal story of a person who used the drug, or a family member. These will draw in readers who will be introduced to or can relate to the scenarios and emotions involved. Posed stock photos help to show appropriate situations, such as worried family members or helpful medical staff. Each personal story shares the beginning of the drug use to the complications and follows through to help received through social workers, counselors, and rehabilitation. These positive outcomes communicate hope even in difficult situations. Each book closes with questions to think about, glossary, extra resources, and an index. Online resources via a ChildsWorld.com/links lead to kidshealth.org and drugabuse.gov, suitable for older children and teens. Titles seen for this review: Tranquilizers and Depressants and Prescription Opioids.

THOUGHTS: Well-done resources suitable for helping younger students to understand the dangers of addictions and options for recovery.        

610s Drug Abuse          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Grades 3-5.

Drug use, especially prescription drug use, opioids, and e-cigarettes, is prevalent in society. This set of twelve books brings awareness of the effects different addictive substances can have on a person. This reviewer had the opportunity to read Adderall: Affecting Lives. Each of the four chapters is written as a personal story and through each story, the reader learns about how adderall can affect lives in both positive and negative ways and how to get help in case of addiction. This book features bold words that are defined in the back, headings, fast facts, and back matter that includes resources for further exploration on the topic. The chapters are written in language that is easy to understand yet appropriate for a young audience.

THOUGHTS: The titles in this collection would be a good purchase for an upper elementary library or a middle grade library that includes grades five and six. 

615.5 Drug, Alcohol, and Substance Abuse           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG/YA – Drugs and their Dangers (Series NF)

Erickson, Marty. Drugs and their Dangers. BrightPoint Press, 2020. $30.95 ea. $154.75 set of 5. 80 p. Grades 6-12.

E-cigarettes and their Dangers. 978-1-682-82705-5.
Heroin and Its Dangers. 1-682-82707-0.
Marijuana and Its Dangers. 978-1-682-82709-3.
Methamphetamine and Its Dangers. 978-1-682-82711-6.
Opioids and Their Dangers. 978-1-682-82713-0.

In four chapters each book in this series explores a type of drug, how the drug affects the body and society, and the treatment for drug abuse. A “Fact Sheet” introduces the reader to the topic while an introduction dives into a teenager’s personal account of being addicted to the drug, an explanation of how people can become addicted, or how the drug became popular in the United States. Each book also includes a Glossary, Source Notes, and pages with additional sources for students to research the topic further.

THOUGHTS: This series is a good addition to a middle school or high school collection. The simple sentence structure and generous amount of white space between lines of text makes each book easy for older students who may struggle with reading but are interested in the topic.

362.29 Addiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – Again Again

Lockhart, e. Again Again. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-385-74479-9. 286 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up.

After moving and family upheaval, Adelaide Buchwald is trying to find herself. It’s the summer between her junior and senior years, and she has taken a job as a dog walker (and watcher). As she deals with the dogs, her family dysfunction, lack of motivation and focus, a serious breakup, and a new crush, Adelaide reconciles herself with the “what is” but wishes for the “what could be.” When she meets Nick (or re-meets him), she begins to fantasize about how things should be or could be while trying to ignore what is. When Adelaide finally realizes that she must face who she is and what actually is, instead of “who she could be” or “what could be,” she begins the process of forgiveness: forgiveness of herself; forgiveness of her parents; forgiveness of her brother, and forgiveness of what will not be.

THOUGHTS: Again Again is a fun magical realism, romance. Adelaide plays through every situation in the hope of the best outcome (or possibly the worst outcomes). This trait may be very familiar to readers, especially teens, which adds to the connection to Adelaide; she is an easily understandable character. The text font changes as situations change from reality to Adelaide’s imagination. This is harder to follow when listening to the audio book, which is excellent, but easy to see when looking at the print novel. This is a sure-to-please lighthearted romance for all ages.

Romance          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD
Magical Realism

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 – Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard

Brown, Echo. Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-30985-3. $17.99. 291 p. Grades 9 and up.

The reader meets the main character of Echo Brown’s Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard at age six in a dangerous situation and follows her until she embarks to college. On the way, Echo is becoming a wizard –not the Hermione Granger kind–but the kind made from determination and desire. Each chapter in this memoir-like novel includes a quality Echo, the Black girl of the title, assumes to realize her true self. Bad things happen as Echo treads that path to her goal: household rife with alcoholism and addiction; molestation; rape; incarceration of her brother; injury to her best friend. But author Brown realizes Echo’s existence is complex. Her mother craves the “white rocks;” but she, too, is a wizard with nurturing powers. Her brothers hang on the corner and drink too much; but they also have dreams and are their sister’s strongest champions. Echo has good friends, mostly Black, but also Jin, a Korean-American gay classmate, and Elena, an Iranian-American gay friend. (Their sexual orientation is irrelevant to the plot.) Her Cleveland neighborhood is supportive and proud of her accomplishments. She has an encouraging teacher, Mrs. Delaney, who takes Echo under her wing to help her attain her college goals. The first time she goes to Mrs. Delaney’s large, suburban home, Echo is shocked to discover her white teacher’s husband is Black. Seventeen and insecure, she senses his restrained and even dismissive opinion of her. The author has an ineffable talent for infusing these important themes of racism, white supremacy, implicit and explicit biases, micro-aggressions, Black versus Black aggression, self image among Black women, and misogyny among Black men seamlessly because she tells them as part of Echo’s story. At times, the author takes a non-linear approach to deliver Echo’s tale, especially when the lessons of wizardry are at work. This technique fits with the book. It is a study in opposites: real but fantastic; lovely but harsh; despairing but hopeful. It is a story of inequity and the innate ability to fight that inequity and succeed, hence the power of wizardry. In truth, the wizards are strong women, overcoming flaws and shortcomings. All of them show Echo how capable and resilient she is.

THOUGHTS: Echo Brown’s writing style is moving. Ms. Brown also differentiates between the main character’s standard English narrative and Ebonics of her family and Cleveland, Ohio, neighbors. Because of some language (the n word), sexual scenes, and the sophistication of the writing, this book may be better suited to older teens and young adults. An outstanding book.

Magic Realism          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia