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
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
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
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