YA FIC – Beartown; The Closest I’ve Come; Perfect Mexican Daughter; Dark Breaks the Dawn

Backman, Fredrick. Beartown. Atria Books, 2017. 978-1501160769. 432 p. $26.99. Gr. 10 and up.

I am not an avid sports fan, but Fredrick Backman’s latest novel is about so much more than just a little hockey town in Sweden and the goal of having their club win the junior championship. Though not marketed necessarily to teens, it would be an engrossing read for young men and women alike as it touches on many different issues that they face as young adults. The main plot centers on the relationships between the players, the coaches, the general manager and his family, various sponsors and other community members. The town’s devotion to the local hockey club borders on the fanatical, and some begin to question their allegiance once a violent act takes place and becomes known to the town. Thus, there are multiple characters, but each is so unique that the reader does not have trouble navigating through their various lives.  Backman is a masterful storyteller.  The novel surprises the reader constantly, especially after starting out a bit predictable. The themes are strung together and fall perfectly throughout the plot, as the characters and their actions keep you engrossed until the end. THOUGHTS: I highly recommend this title to mature teens who will take time to contemplate the various actions of the characters. There is drinking, sex, and some violence, so make certain that you are sharing it with the appropriate audience.

Sports      Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy

 

Aceves, Fred.  The Closest I’ve Come. Harper Teen, 2017.  978-0-06-248853-4. 310 p. $15.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Marcus Rivera is growing up in a dysfunctional home in Tampa with his distant mother and her abusive boyfriend.  The family is barely getting by, and Marcos is not getting most of his basic needs met at home.  Though he has his crew of friends who have his back at school and in the rough neighborhood where they live, he still feels lonely and disconnected.  When Marcos is selected to join a support group for troubled kids with potential, he meets some new friends who open up new perspectives to him. The Closet I’ve Come is a thoughtful and moving story about resilience, friendship and the search for belonging.  It touches on the some dark topics including abuse, poverty and the appeal of drugs that trouble the rough neighborhood of Maesta.  Marcus’ ruminations about these realities are enlightening , but also humorous at times and readers will be rooting for Marcos to realize his potential.  THOUGHTS: A positive novel about overcoming difficult circumstances that would appeal to fans of Walter Dean Myers,  Jason Reynolds and Matt DeLa Pena.

Realistic Fiction         Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Sanchez, Erika L. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 978-1-52-470048-5. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Julia is outspoken, impulsive, and confrontational. More than anything, she wants to move out of her parents house, go to college in New York City, and become a famous writer. Her parents, who immigrated from Mexico, do not understand why Julia isn’t more like her older sister Olga. Olga attends a local community college, lives at home, and comes home every night to help her mother and father around the house. Julia can’t help who she is, and can’t do anything to show her parents that she will never be a perfect daughter like Olga. When Olga is hit and killed by a bus, the thin string holding the family together is completely broken. Julia’s mother spends days in bed, her father refuses to speak, and Julia is left picking up the pieces of her broken family. But Julia is deeply affected by her sister’s death too, and sadness spirals into deep depression. When Julia can’t sleep, she sneaks into Olga’s room and discovers a few items that reveal Olga might have been hiding a secret before her death, and Julia focuses her limited energy on discovering who her sister was – and why she was hiding it from her family. THOUGHTS: This book expertly explores many tough issues like abuse, immigration, suicide, and gang violence in an authentic teen voice. Julia’s story, while difficult, is one that belongs on your YA shelves.

Contemporary     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Larson, Sara B.. Dark Breaks the Dawn. Scholastic, 2017. 978-1-3380-6869-6. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Sara B. Larson’s Dark Breaks the Dawn is a fast-paced, dark YA romance based on the story of Swan Lake. In order to save Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom from King Bain, the nefarious and ruthless ruler of Dorjhalon, the Dark Kingdom, newly crowned Queen Evelayn must do what her parents could not – end the war between the kingdoms. In both kingdoms, children come into their full magical abilities at age eighteen – those in Eadrolan can harness the power of light, and are at full strength at the summer solstice; those in Darjhalon can harness the dark, and are at their full strength during the winter solstice. Evelayn is not only new to her powers, but also new to ruling a kingdom. With the help of her advisors, and her too-good-to-be-true love interest, Lord Tanvir, she concocts a plan to trap King Bain and kill him. Meanwhile, over in Dorjhalon, Bain’s son, Lorcan, raised in the shadows of his father’s wrath and cruelty, seems to have plans of his own. THOUGHTS: There is very little character development here (the good guys are really good, the bad guys are really bad), and there are some gaping plot holes (for example, if Bain is truly 300 years old, why wait until now to make war against Eadrolan?), but readers probably won’t care, because this action-packed, slim novel will suck them in, and the ending will leave them begging for the next installment. Hand this to fans of Sarah J. Mass and Leigh Bardugo.

Fantasy      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Homegoing – Adult Crossover

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Gyasi, Yaa. Homegoing. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 978-1-101-94713-5. 305 p. $26.95. Gr. 10 and up.

Homegoing is Yaa Gyasi’s exceptionally accomplished debut novel, published for adults but a perfect crossover choice. It follows the parallel storylines of Effia and Esi, two half-sisters in 1700s Gold Coast, Africa (now Ghana), and their descendants. Effia, the beauty, marries James Collins, the British governor of the Cape Coast Castle, a union that strengthens her Fante nation’s partnership with the British slavers. Esi, born to the same mother as Effia but into the Asante nation, is captured from her village and sold into slavery in America. Each chapter picks up a generation later, alternating between the two family lines: Effia’s in Africa, and Esi’s in America. The blunt cruelty of the slave trade, the violence of the slave experience, the uneasy existence of freed and escaped slaves, and the rippling consequences for African collaborators are all braided into this remarkable story. THOUGHTS: Gyasi has crafted a narrative that’s both intimate and sprawling, set against a backdrop of two continents, three centuries, and many generations. It’s a real literary gem and an absolute wonder to read.

Historical Fiction   Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

The very real Cape Coast Castle is at the heart of Homegoing. It may be helpful to share pictures of the building and a map of Ghana during booktalks to orient the novel’s potential readers. A recent Daily Show interview with Yaa Gyasi may also spark their interest. Finally, this novel would be a perfect companion read to two recent books: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.

Adult Crossover (HS) – Only Love…; Wrecked; You Will Know Me

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Tarkington, Ed. Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2016. 978-1-61620-382-5. 307 pp. $26.95. Gr. 10 and up.

As a young boy growing up in late 1970s small-town Virginia, Rocky Askew idolizes his rebellious older half-brother, Paul. Rocky is also infatuated with Paul’s beautiful but secretly troubled girlfriend, Leigh. Following a rift with their father (“the Old Man”), Paul kidnaps Rocky from elementary school with a subtly threatening but unclear motive. After delivering a cigarette-sick Rocky home, Paul runs away with Leigh and literally disappears. Leigh returns home months later but doesn’t seem sure of where Paul is, or if he’s even alive. Meanwhile, Rocky is seduced by an older neighbor named Patricia, and the far-reaching ripples of Black Monday lead to the Old Man’s downfall. Debut author Ed Tarkington then throws a catastrophic wedding, a high school production of Equus, and a ritualized double murder into the mix of this virtuosic literary achievement. Narrated with a reflective tone by an adult Rocky looking back, it has echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird, true crime, the music of Neil Young, and recent crossover standout My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh. At its core, Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a book about love: love between brothers, fathers and sons, first loves, and people and places. It’s also about how love can be manipulated to make people do inexplicable, terrible things. THOUGHTS: Reading Only Love Can Break Your Heart is just like hearing a forgotten favorite song from adolescence: every word is perfectly right and every note rings true.

Historical Fiction; Adult Crossover      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley HS

Because of this adult novel’s sexual content (namely Rocky’s relationship with Patricia), I recommend reading it before deciding whether to add it to your library’s collection for teens. Even if you opt not to recommend it to students, all of the literary allusions and nostalgia make it a wonderful choice for a teacher book club. Alex Award winners are really tough to predict, but Only Love Can Break Your Heart‘s fraught coming-of-age storyline could make it a contender!

 

wrecked

Padian, Maria. Wrecked. New York : Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. 9781616206246. 357 pp. $17.95. Gr.10 and up.

In her powerful and thought provoking novel, Wrecked,  Maria Padian examines the complexities of an on-campus sexual assault. The events of the night in question are revealed in flashbacks interspersed throughout the novel. But, the focus of the story is on Haley and Richard, the roommates of the victim and the perpetrator who become embroiled in the school’s investigation into the incident. Their budding romance is tested as they are immediately thrown on opposite sides of the story. Though neither Haley nor Richard are close friends with Jenny and Jordan, they become uneasy participants in the unfolding inquiry and drama. The truth of what occurred is hard to determine; each character in the book perceives the truth through the lens of their own personal views and experiences. The novel sheds light on the pervasive self-absorption of many of the characters which reveals their lack of empathy for their fellow student. And, the situation is further complicated by the campus culture of binge drinking and easy hookups. The specter of social media harassment adds fuel to the drama.  This novel is recommended for older teen readers due to the mature themes, but it does present an important topic for discussion for students of both sexes.  THOUGHTS: A compelling look at a very serious topic and a timely read, especially in light of recent news coverage of campus sexual assault cases.  The author manages to convey a powerful message about consent that all young people must understand.

Realistic Fiction      Nancy Summers, Abington Senior HS

 

youwillknowme

Abbott, Megan. You Will Know Me. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2016. 978-0-316-23107-7. 345 pp. $26.00. Gr. 10 and up.

To fill the Olympic-sized hole in your life, look no further than You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott. It’s an adult crossover thriller set in the world of competitive gymnastics. Fifteen-year old Devon Knox has set her sights on Senior Elite status and, potentially, the Olympics. Her parents, Katie and Eric, are ultra-involved in both Devon’s training regimen and the gym where she trains: the boosters, the equipment, the coaching staff, and the gossip. Just weeks before Senior Elite qualifiers, Ryan (the boyfriend of beloved but volatile assistant coach Hailey) is found dead in an apparent hit-and-run. It’s both a tragedy and a huge disruption to Devon’s training plan. As her parents wrestle with how to proceed, police involvement suggests that maybe Ryan’s death wasn’t so accidental. Told from the point-of-view of full-time gymnastics mom, Katie, and set in the tense days following the accident, You Will Know Me has all the elements of a page-turner: a dazzling but largely opaque sport, a very cute but very dead guy, and the secrets of a teenager nicknamed “Ice Eyes.” THOUGHTS: With the amazing success of Simone Biles and the entire U.S. Gymnastics team, now is the perfect time to get this crossover thriller into the hands (and onto the devices) of teen readers!

Realistic Fiction; Mystery/Suspense; Adult Crossover     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley HS

YA Realistic Fiction, Suspense, and an Adult Crossovers – Juniors; The Girl on the Train; The Fixer; The Last Good Day of the Year

juniors

Hemmings, Kaui Hart. Juniors. New York: G.P Putnam’s Sons, 2015. 978-0-399-17360-8. 314 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Although the teenage girls in this novel make progress in terms of self-realization and coming of age, it is difficult to sympathize with their angst when they are privileged rich kids, for the most part white, attending a school for Hawaii’s wealthiest families, and living in paradise-like settings with every comfort imaginable. The narrator, Lea, an actress’s daughter, is adjusting to her new school and environment while living in the guest house of one of Oahu’s wealthiest families. Not unfamiliar with the island, having lived there before spending time in California, Lea reconnects with her best friend and surfing partner, Danny. The two pair off, uncomfortably, with the teenage siblings who live in the big house. Whitney, who is Lea’s classmate, becomes her friend, although her genuineness is questionable for most of the novel. Whitney and Danny seem to be attracted to each other, causing Lea to question her relationship with him. Meanwhile, Whitney’s gorgeous, golf-playing brother, Will, hooks up with Lea. But Will has a long term girlfriend, another rich, gorgeous character, who Will’s family assumes will become his wife. Is he just using Lea? It is so obvious, it’s painful. THOUGHTS: Reading this novel feels like watching “The Real Housewives of …….” with teenage characters in place of adults. I believe my students would wonder why these characters struggle when they have more than most in terms of comfort beyond based necessities and live in resort-like luxury. As with Real Housewives, just because teenagers might enjoy reading this book, does not necessarily indicate its value.  It includes sex and alcohol use.

Realistic Fiction    Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy

 

GirlonTrain

Hawkins, Paula.  The Girl on the Train.  New York: Riverhead Books, 2015.  978-1-59463-366-9. 323 p.  $26.95.  Gr. 11 and up.

During her daily commute into London, Rachel Watson watches as the train passes by a particular row of houses, one of which is occupied by her ex-husband and his new family.  Another house is occupied by a seemingly happy couple that Rachel often sees together.  One day, however, Rachel sees the woman kissing a man who is not her husband.  Shortly thereafter, Rachel learns that the woman, whose name is Megan, went missing the same night Rachel paid her ex-husband and his family a drunken visit.  Unfortunately, she was so drunk that she can’t remember what happened during the night in question.  As she tries to recall her memories from that night and solve the mystery of Megan’s disappearance, she becomes entangled in the investigation and in the lives of everyone involved.  The story is told from alternating viewpoints, each chapter narrated by Rachel, Megan, or Anna (the ex-husband’s new mistress).  The constant change in perspective, as well as the constant plot twists and turns, cause the reader to question the innocence of multiple characters until the shocking end.  THOUGHTS: This gripping thriller is one of those books you won’t be able to put down until you’ve finished.  I would recommend giving this only to mature audiences, as it has its share of swearing and includes many adult themes, such as alcoholism, infertility, parenthood, and divorce.  There are also sexual scenes, although none of them are in explicit detail.  Some of my students have read this title in anticipation of the movie that is set to come out later this year, so this would be a good title to recommend to those who enjoy reading the book before seeing the movie.

Realistic Fiction       Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

 

fixer

Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Fixer. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-1-61963-594-4. 372 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 & up.

Tess is used to covering things up.  Living with her grandfather, who is progressing further into dementia, has taught her that.  But when her long-absent sister Ivy shows up at their ranch, it’s apparent she can’t hide his condition any longer.  Ivy brings Tess to D.C., a world apart from Montana.  She’s enrolled in the prestigious Hardwicke Academy along with sons and daughters of the D.C. elite.  Tess quickly realizes that her sister is powerful — she’s what’s known as a “fixer,” someone who can make her clients’ scandals disappear and dig up dirt on political rivals.  The students at Hardwicke turn to Tess for similar services, but it isn’t until a friend comes to her with serious allegations about her father that she taps into her sister’s skill set.  The plot accelerates rapidly from here, and each bombshell tops the last.  Readers will stick with this page-turner until the end — and maybe wish there’s a sequel on the horizon.  THOUGHTS:  While some readers might scoff at the plausibility of the rapidly increasing high stakes and mysterious deaths, others won’t be able to put the book down.  The fast-paced suspense will appeal to binge-watchers of political dramas Scandal and House of Cards.  Give this one to students who enjoyed Ally Carter’s books.

Realistic Fiction/Suspense     Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School

 

lastgoodday

Warman, Jessica. The Last Good Day of the Year. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-0-8027-3662-8. 278 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 & up.

Ten years ago, Sam’s younger sister Turtle was abducted from right beside her just after midnight on New Year’s in their sleepy Pennsylvania town.  Sam’s family moved to Virginia soon after and promptly fell apart: her older sister fled to another state; her mother retreated into heavy self-medication before having a “replacement” child with her dad.  But circumstances force the family back to Shelocta and their old, rundown house.  Sam and her estranged childhood best friend, Remy, begin to wonder whether the man convicted of killing Turtle really did it.  As their investigation draws them closer together, Sam struggles with guilt over her unreliable memories, leading the reader toward what promises to be a dramatic ending.  

THOUGHTS:  This book isn’t as heavy on the twists and turns as some teens might like, but it is a compelling look into the lives of family members who have suffered a great tragedy.  Students who have lost siblings may find solace in Sam’s narration.  The mystery’s conclusion is somewhat puzzling and leaves unanswered questions, but teens who enjoy the ride more than the destination could overlook the weak conclusion.  Recommend to students who enjoy light mysteries and heavy emotions.

Realistic Fiction; Suspense    Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School

In the Unlikely Event

judyblume

Blume, Judy. In the Unlikely Event. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 978-1-101-87504-9. $27.95. 402p. Gr. 10 and up.

Although written for an adult audience, In the Unlikely Event is a historical fiction novel with appeal to high school readers.  Miri Ammerman, the 15-year old protagonist, leads the cast of characters in this character study as they maneuver life before, during, and after the winter of 1951 and 1952 when three plane crashed in the city of Elizabeth, NJ.  Through the changing character vignettes, and use of the Elizabeth Daily Post news reports, the town of Elizabeth comes to life beyond the tragedies.  Similar in style to J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, the use of the third person limited narration rotating through the various citizens of Elizabeth enhances the reader’s understanding of how tragedy can bring about love, adventure, new life, and unforeseen loss.  THOUGHTS: Although lacking in plot (it is character driven), this is a great addition to high school historical fiction collections.

Historical Fiction                      Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

I listened to In the Unlikely Event.  Kathleen McInerny is a fabulous narrator.  She sucks you in first with her voice, and then the amazing story-telling of Judy Blume takes over, and you’re hooked.  I usually do not like character driven novels, but I really enjoyed this one.  I liked the short sections for each character within each chapter and the way the Elizabeth Daily Post articles are used to wrap up.  Although, I would have preferred less characters with separate sections since some only came in once or twice in their own section (even though they appear throughout the story in various situations and conversations about and with other characters).  Several sections and situations of the novel angered me.  I truly hate the principal at Hamilton Junior High and his attitude towards Miri and her writing (and family), and I found Natalie to be ridiculous and exhausting (although Steve’s actions and reactions were just as bizarre because of the timing).  Finally, I felt that the story itself was fine and did not need the “Las Vegas” section in the end or the end in general of the 35th commemoration.  I liked the “now” portions much better than the “after” sections.  Overall, this is a quality novel, and Judy Blume can still write some great scenes 🙂

The Truth According to Us…Adult Crossover Historical Fiction

truth

Barrows, Annie. The Truth According to Us. New York: The Dial Press, 2015. 978-0-38534-294-0. 512 p. $28.00. Gr.9+.

Though marketed mainly for adults, this new novel by Annie Barrows will appeal to teens who enjoy character-driven and historical dramas. Set in the fictional small town of Macedonia, WV, in the summer of 1938, the novel focuses on one family, the Romeyns, whose simple lives are uprooted when Layla Beck comes to board with them. Layla has been cut off by her Senator father, and her uncle gets her a job through the WPA to write the history of Macedonia. Living in the family home are Jottie, the eldest sister and matriarch of the family, her gallivanting brother Felix, his two daughters, Willa and Bird, from a divorce, and twins Mae and Minerva (who are both married but choose to spend a majority of their time living in the family home). The family’s father used to run the local mill, American Everlasting, but the reader slowly learns why the family is no longer associated with the mill. The novel is told through twelve-year old Willa’s first person narration, letters from Layla to her family, and third person from the point of view of Layla and Jottie, who also recounts frequent memories from her youth. Jottie was in love with Felix’s best friend Vause Hamilton, whose tragic death at a young age haunts the family and guides the plot through the long hot summer of 1938. As Layla uncovers the town’s history, Willa discovers more about her secretive father (and aims to protect him from a budding relationship with Layla). Jottie wrestles with loyalty to her brother and happiness for herself. The passages from Willa are enjoyable and reminiscent of Scout’s voice in To Kill a Mockingbird. Jottie’s memories are heartbreaking and powerful. At its heart, this is a family drama that takes readers back to a simpler time while encouraging them to think on their own familial relationships and how simple actions and events change the course of our lives forever. I highly recommend this to teens who enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird. This is a definite must for all high school collections.

Historical Fiction (Great Depression)    Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

I truly enjoyed this novel. Not only because I could relate to living in a small town in West Virginia, but also because Barrows is such a gifted storyteller and her characters are so interesting. None of them are perfect, and it is their faults that make them interesting and unique to the reader. This would make an excellent choice for a book club to read, as the actions and opinions of the characters could be constantly debated and argued for or against. I look forward to reading future titles by this author.

Girl Underwater – New YA Thriller

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Kells, Claire. Girl Underwater. New York: Dutton, 2015. 978-0-525-95493-4. 291 p. $26.95. Gr. 10 and up.

College sophomore and competitive swimmer Avery Delacorte is en route to Boston for Thanksgiving when her flight crashes into a remote lake in the Rocky Mountains. Against all odds, Avery, her teammate Colin Shea, and three young boys survive the impact and make it to shore. Scenes of their high-stakes alpine survival are intercut with Avery’s recovery in the hospital, her efforts to return to campus and rejoin the team, and her unwillingness to face Colin and the boys again. Tension mounts with every page as the reader wonders, why is Avery so sure she let them all down out there? If she is meant to be with her college boyfriend, Lee, then why does her mind keep wandering back to Colin? And can she swim again without memories of the ordeal overwhelming her? This debut novel by Philadelphia native Claire Kells could easily have been published as YA. With athletics, adventure, suspense, and spine-tingling romance, it’s one of the best crossover books of 2015 (so far)!
 
Realistic Fiction      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

The audiobook production is read by the wonderful Julia Whelan, who also lent her voice to The Impossible Knife of Memory and I’ll Give You the Sun, among many other titles. Playing a sample of this stellar audiobook would be a great way to interest students in the novel and audiobooks alike!

Those Who Wish Me Dead

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Koryta, Michael. Those Who Wish Me Dead. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2014. 978-0316122559. 392 p. $26.00. Gr. 10 and up.

While cliff jumping at the quarry one day, 13-year old Jace witnesses a brutal murder. Now he is the next target of the killers, the merciless Blackwell Brothers. To buy the police some time to find the Blackwells before they find Jace, the boy is given a new identity and hidden in a Montana wilderness skills program for troubled teenagers. Even Ethan Serbin, the survival specialist in charge of the wilderness program, doesn’t know which of the seven boys in his group is the one in hiding. But when the Blackwell Brothers attack Ethan’s wife and set fire to his house, Jace knows in his gut that those who wish him dead are coming for him next. From the very first sentence, this novel will have you on the edge of your seat. With a riveting plot, believable characters, and a setting so real that you can almost feel the heat from the campfire and hear the snap of twigs as the bad guys sneak up behind you, this is a pageturner in every sense of the word!

Realistic Fiction (Suspense)            Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

This is an excellent crossover novel; it’s written for adults, but teenaged Jace and the wilderness survival angle lend it tremendous appeal for young adult readers. It would be interesting to pair it with Becca Fitzpatrick’s recent winter-survival thriller Black Ice (Simon & Schuster, 2014) or have a book discussion including a viewing of Discovery’s popular survival series, Dude, You’re Screwed.