Elem. – The Worrysaurus

Bright, Rachel, and Chris Chatterson. The Worrysaurus. Orchard Books, 2020. 978-1-338-63408-2. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K – 2.

A beautiful day leads a small dinosaur to begin planning a wonderful picnic, because “Worrysaurus liked it when he knew what lay ahead.” But then the thoughts of worry and doubt creep in as he over-thinks his plans and begins to fret about hunger, thirst, storms, and other fears. Nothing has actually gone wrong, but the darkness is closing in, and the butterflies in his stomach are overtaking Worrysaurus. But then he remembers some coping skills from his mommy, including chasing away the butterflies, holding onto some happy things, and calming his busy mind. The illustrations from Chris Chatterson perfectly capture the anxiety of the dinosaur, and the gentle rhyming cadence to Rachel Bright’s words will help those who need to hear it. Letting those butterflies be free and enjoying the moment might just be the message that young readers need right now!

THOUGHTS: While not a perfect recipe for troubled young minds, this story certainly works as a discussion piece to aid families or classrooms to identify and cope with fears in their world. My advanced reader copy did not contain other resources or coping tools, but perhaps teachers or parents will have those readily available when sharing. A worthwhile purchase for emotional support collections.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Elem. – The Very Last Leaf

Wade, Stef. The Very Last Leaf. Capstone Editions, 2020. 978-1-684-46104-2. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Lance the cottonwood leaf is used to being at the top of his class. From the time school began in the spring, he was the first to blossom, the best at learning wind resistance, and he excelled at photosynthesizing. But when autumn arrives, he’s hesitant about the final test: the one that will take him off his branch and onto the ground. Lance is afraid to fall. Lance wishes he could be like his friend Doug Fir who doesn’t have to fall and can instead stay on his branch all winter long. As the time to fall draws closer, Lance makes up excuses. But soon, he’s the last leaf on his tree. His mind races with everything that could happen to him when he falls. He might land in a gutter. Or, he could get stuck to a windshield. His teacher reassures him he’ll be okay, and he feels a little better after talking to someone. And, as he looks down from his tree, he starts to notice all the other things that can happen to leaves on the ground. He sees children playing in them and collecting them for craft projects. After seeing that his friends are safe and happy, Lance decides to make the fall. With his teacher and friends cheering him on, he finally lets go.

THOUGHTS: This gentle text highlights social-emotional themes such as anxiety, perfectionism, and facing your fears in a lighthearted way. This is a perfect choice for fall morning meetings and should also be shared with guidance counselors. A final page includes nonfiction facts about deciduous leaves.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Pony Girls (Set 2) Series Fiction

Mullarkey, Lisa. Pony Girls (Set 2). Abdo Publishing, 2020. 978-1-532-13646-7. $20.95 ea. $83.80 set of 4. Grades 2-5.

Charlie. 978-1-532-13646-7.
Gracie. 978-1-532 13647-4.
Paisley. 978-1-532-13648-1.
Zoey. 978-1-532-13649-8.

Charlie loves being a camper at Storm Cliff Stables, but some things just make her belly swishy swashy. She wants to be able to go on a full trail ride and jump the vaults, but she just can’t seem to do it without her belly causing troubles and her heart going thump, thump, thump. Thankfully her friends, Aunt Jane, her mom, and Dr. Bell have helped her with different strategies to keep her nerves away. She will become a full Warrior and be able to achieve her goals, if she keeps visualizing them and doing her very best!

THOUGHTS: The ability in this book to discuss anxiety issues and panic attacks is absolutely phenomenal. The coping strategies listed in here are great strategies that readers can use to help keep nerves at bay and help reduce anxiety. A great choice for a young reader who is interested in horses or animals and may be dealing with their own fears and anxieties.

Realistic Fiction         Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – You Should See Me in a Crown

Johnson, Leah. You Should See Me in a Crown. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-50326-5. $17.99. 324 p. Grades 9 and up.

This is not your average prom court story. From Liz Lighty’s motivation to run for queen to her underdog status and even the hype surrounding this rural Indiana town’s epic prom season traditions, this prom plot is anything but trite. When Liz finds out she did not get the scholarship she needs to afford Pennington College, the school of her dreams, she does the only thing she can think of that could quickly replace that money, and it’s the last thing she ever imagined herself doing. Prom in Campbell County, Indiana is an institution, and the king and queen win $10,000 scholarships – exactly the amount of money she needs to make Pennington happen. Now, Liz – who has purposely stayed under the radar her entire high school career – throws herself into the month-long campaign for a spot on the prom court by doing volunteer work and getting as much positive attention as she can on the school’s gossipy social media app: Campbell Confidential. Being an outsider – an unpopular band kid who is one of only a few Black girls at her school – is just one of many hurdles she’ll have to overcome if she wants that crown and scholarship. Aside from her few close friends, no one at school knows that Liz is queer. When a new girl unexpectedly shows up at the first prom campaign meeting, Liz finds herself immediately crushing on this skateboard-riding underdog. Dating Mack – who is also now her competition –  is exactly the type of publicity Liz does NOT want if she’s going to win that scholarship in this very conservative town, forcing her to choose which to listen to: her head or her heart.

THOUGHTS: Leah Johson’s debut novel is laugh-out-loud funny and gosh darn adorable. Novels that tackle serious issues faced by BIPOC/LGBTQ characters are extremely important, but it’s also important to see these characters experience joy in their everyday lives. That’s not to say this book lacks serious moments because it does have them. (Liz’s brother’s health and close-minded faculty/students, for example, make for some weighty scenes). It is a feel-good story overall though with a romance full of “aww”-worthy moments, an amazing supporting cast of friends and family (Liz’s grandparents and her friend Stone are particularly fun), and it is definitely a great addition to any teen collection.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Liz Lighty dreams of leaving the small town of Campbell, Indiana behind to attend her mother’s alma mater Pennington College and become a doctor. Liz has worked hard to secure financial aid and is devastated to learn that she isn’t getting it. An excellent student and musician, Liz refuses to give up on her dream and put her grandparents into financial troubles. Liz is determined to find another way to Pennington when she is reminded of the annual prom court competition (and $10,000 scholarship for the king and queen). Terrified of the added attention (Liz has anxiety), Liz decides prom court is her best opportunity. Liz isn’t openly out which has never been a problem for her close friends, but Campbell has strict rules for potential prom court members that are steeped in tradition. Adding all of the expected volunteer events to her busy schedule isn’t easy, but spending time with new girl – and fellow prom court competition – Mack is worth it. With the help of her friends, Liz is slowly climbing the Campbell Confidential (social media app) prom court rankings and might actually stand a chance. But falling for Mack might jeopardize everything Liz has worked hard to achieve. Liz knows she’ll find her place at Pennington if she can earn this scholarship, but is getting to Pennington worth not being true to herself?

THOUGHTS: This debut tackles tough topics in a way that will appeal widely to high school readers. Liz has been through a lot in her life, and readers will root for her from the beginning. Highly recommended, this one is a must have for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Upper Elem/MS FIC – Emma Moves In; Matylda; Watchdog; One Good Thing…

Hutton, Clare. Emma Moves In (American Girl: Like Sisters #1). Scholastic, 2017. 978-1-338-11499-7. $6.99. 188 p. Gr. 3-5.

Emma, an only child, adores the time she spends with her twin cousins, Natalia and Zoe. When her parents decide to leave their Seattle home and move across the country into her mother’s family homestead, Emily’s secret dream comes true: she will be living in the same town as her cousins. However, the transition is more difficult than Emily could have imagined. When school starts, she realizes her cousins have different personalities, different groups of friends, and finds herself awkwardly pulled between the sisters. Additionally, Emily’s father is still in Seattle, and the extended separation is adding to the stress Emily and her mom are experiencing. Was this move a huge mistake? THOUGHTS:  An exploration of the anxieties involved with moving and starting a new school. The secondary plotline concerning the escalating anger between Emily’s parents is also well portrayed. Emily exhibits good problem-solving skills in dealing with her cousins and hostile classmates but makes age-appropriate mistakes in dealing with the fear her parents are divorcing.   

Realistic Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

 

McGhee, Holly M. Matylda, Bright and Tender. Candlewick, 2017. 978-0-7636-895-1-3. $16.99. 210 p. Gr. 3-6.

Sussy and Guy have been friends since kindergarten. The pair bonded over Mr. Potato Head and never looked back. The two know they just belong together, bringing out the best in each other. Towards the end of fourth grade, the pair decide they need a pet, something of their own for which to be responsible. Guy adores leopard geckos, so they purchase Matylda and go to work figuring out how to make her happy. But in a moment of pure Guy, tragedy strikes as the pair are riding their bikes to the pet store. Now Sussy channels her grief on to Matylda, becoming increasingly desperate and reckless in her need to hold on to Guy through the gecko.   THOUGHTS:  Sussy and Guy are memorable characters, and Sussy’s grief is tangible. Readers will root for her to find her way back into the world.  

Realistic Fiction       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

 

McIntosh, Will.  Watchdog. Delacort, 2017.  978-1-5247-1384-3. $16.99. 192 p. Gr. 4-7.

Orphans Vick and Tara eke out a living by scavenging electronics parts to sell. The 13-year-old twins have been on their own since their mom died after being replaced at her job by a hairstyling robot. Although Tara is autistic, she is also a mechanical genius and tinkers with making a watchdog bot named Daisy. Unfortunately, the clever mechanical dog attracts the attention of Ms. Alba, who quickly puts the Vick and Tara to work in her bot-building sweatshop. After they manage to pull off an escape, Vick and Tara are on the run, with a price on their heads. However, a shadowy groups of teens who run a chop shop, stealing domestic robots to take apart and make watchdogs, come to the twins’ aid in their fight against the evil Ms. Alba. THOUGHTS:  A slightly dystopian setting with lots of action, sure to please those not ready to plunge into The Maze Runner or Hunger Games.  

Science Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

 

Freeman, Ruth. One Good Thing About America. Holiday House, 2017. 978-0-8234-3695-8. $16.95. 152 p. Gr. 3-7.

Nine-year-old Anais, her mother and brother Jean-Claud have recently arrived in the United States from Congo, escaping the violent, corrupt mining officials from whom her father and older brother are on the run. The book is a series of letters Anais writes her grandmother back in Congo. In each letter Anais attempts to find one good thing about America. Some days are easier than others to be positive, as the young girl battles a new language, new culture, new school and friends. Her missives reflect frustration when students at school laugh at her language mistakes, and a heart-wrenching moment when a friend’s parents exhibit blatant prejudice. The book is an insight into the struggles of the many immigrant students in our schools, highlighting the difficulties Anais’s mother experiences trying to find employment and housing, while maintaining stability for Anais and Jean-Claud. THOUGHTS:  A sweet book that thoughtfully illustrates a timely topic. Pair this book with Alan Gratz’s Refugee. While the afterward provides guidance to Anais’s broken English, a French-English pronunciation guide would have been extremely helpful. (She complains that her teacher can’t pronounce her name, but we are never given any guidance as to how her name would be pronounced.)

Realistic Fiction       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

YA FIC – A Long Way Down; When Its Real; Turtles All the Way Down

Reynolds, Jason. A Long Way Down. Atheneum, 2017. 978-1-4814-3825-1. 306 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

The day before yesterday, Will’s older brother Shawn was shot and killed. Will experiences intense grief: “the new empty space, / where you know / a tooth supposed to be / but ain’t no more.” But, Will lives by the neighborhood code: don’t cry, don’t snitch, get revenge. So he retrieves his brother’s gun from its hiding place and heads for the elevator, prepared to seek justice for Shawn’s death. Most of the novel takes place over the roughly one-minute, eight-story elevator ride that follows. At each floor, the elevator stops and someone from Will’s past steps on. First is Buck, wearing his own RIP Buck t-shirt. Next is a girl, Will’s friend Dani who was shot and killed when she was just eight. As the elevator descends, and the Will’s deceased friends and family members join him, he begins to question the necessity and wisdom of vengeance. The book closes on a chilling note, leaving readers to ponder some big, unanswered questions.  THOUGHTS: In this poetic, thought-provoking, and intriguingly structured novel-in-verse, Jason Reynolds depicts the ripple effects of violent crime on the young man left behind.

Realistic Fiction       Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

Reynolds, Jason. Long Way Down. Antheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2017. 978-1-481-43825-4. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

The rules in Will’s neighborhood are simple: 1. Crying, don’t. 2. Snitching, don’t. and 3. Revenge, do. But Will’s decision to avenge his brother’s murder is anything but simple. As Will travels down the elevator with Shawn’s gun (Shawn had a gun?!) tucked into his waistband, he is prepared to murder his brother’s killer. New passengers slow his ride at each floor. Readers will quickly understand each of these passengers is dead, he or she is connected to Will, and they each have something to tell him before he steps off on the ground floor.  THOUGHTS: Having recently listened to All American Boys and a Jason Reynolds interview about his writing, I knew I had to read Long Way Down. Readers of all types will be drawn into Will’s story and devour this fast-paced novel in verse. Though tough topics and violence are depicted, this is a book for many readers, especially those who are reluctant.

Realistic Fiction     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Watt, Erin. When It’s Real. New York: Harlequin, 2017. Print. 978-0373212521. 416 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

This novel starts out like a Disney channel movie, which is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your view of Disney made-for-TV movies, and, like most Disney movies, the novel ends up being a sweet romance that will capture the attention of any teen girl or boy who enjoys teen dramas. Oakley Ford has been breaking teenage hearts since he landed on the music scene as a young adolescent. But, in his older teen years, he has hit a rut and needs something in his life to get him motivated to write and perform. His publicists decide that he needs a “wholesome” girlfriend to change his image in the media. Enter Vaughn Bennett, whose sister works at the media firm and who catches the eye of Vaughn’s team. They tell her they will pay her to be Oakley’s girlfriend, and since she and her sister are raising their younger brothers after the death of their parents, she decides it’s something she must do for her family. The usual ensues- Oakley annoys and intrigues Vaughn, Vaughn annoys yet arouses something in Oakley that makes him want to write music again. The characters are interesting if a bit predictable, and the plot suffers from the same misfortune, but teens will eat up the romance between Oakley and Vaughn. There is drinking, drug use, and sexual references, which does cause the novel to venture out of the realm of the chaste Disney film. THOUGHTS: This is another romance to add to your collection for those who love Sarah Dessen but are looking for a more exciting location and a variety of characters not generally found in Dessen’s novels. Recommended for high school libraries.

Romance     Lindsey Meyers, Shadyside Academy

 

Green, John. Turtles All The Way Down. New York; Dutton Books, 2017. Print. 978-0525555360. 304 p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Anything with John Green’s name on it will cause excitement among young adults everywhere, whether they read his books or watch his humorous, yet instructional, videos. Turtles All The Way Down does not veer far from his standard fare of engrossing teen dramas, but it does offer a unique and honest glimpse into the life of one dealing with severe anxiety and OCD, and how her struggle affects those around her. Aza Holmes is our tragic hero, trying to manage her OCD and anxiety while living a “normal” life. She spends time with her mom (her dad passed away when she was younger), hangs out with her friend Daisy, and does well in school. She also, however, constantly changes a bandage on her hand, fears catching bacteria, especial C.Diff, and tumbles constantly into “thought spirals.” When billionaire Russell Picket goes missing, Daisy convinces Aza to help her investigate the disappearance, mostly to acquire the $100,000 reward. Aza knows his son from a summer camp when they were younger, and a chance meeting rekindles their friendship and begins to lead to something more. But, can Aza maintain a relationship while managing her OCD?  John Green does an excellent job of portraying Aza. Her inner dialogues perfectly exemplify one with OCD, and the constant state of helplessness one finds oneself in when dealing with intrusive thoughts and irrational actions. THOUGHTS: John Green has once again given us an intriguing story of a unique (or is it?) teen experience. Highly recommended for young adults and adults who deal with teens struggling with mental health issues.

Realistic Fiction       Lindsey Meyers, Shadyside Academy

 

Green John. Turtles All the Way Down. Dutton Books, 2017. 978-0-525-55536-0. 286 p. $19.99. Gr 9-12.

John Green’s long-awaited new novel is here, and it’s his best one yet. Sixteen-year-old Aza and her best friend Daisy take notice when local billionaire Russell Pickett disappears. The reward for information in his case is a hundred thousand dollars, and Daisy is sure their sleuthing will lead to clues and ultimately to the reward. After all, Aza spent summers at “sad camp” with Russell’s son, Davis, after his mom and her dad died, so reconnecting with the Pickett family isn’t hard. As Aza and Davis reconnect and begin to fall for each other, Aza’s always present anxieties and compulsions begin to spiral, and readers are shown what it’s like to live every day consumed by claustrophobic, obsessive thoughts. Aza’s voice is raw and heartfelt, and Green also throws in a hefty dose of nerdery and humor that will win over teen and adult readers alike. THOUGHTS: Green’s latest is an unflinching, honest look at mental illness that is at times challenging to read, but will linger with readers long after finishing.  If you buy one book this year, it should be this.

Realistic Fiction      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

YA Realistic FIC – When I Am Through with You; Thing with Feathers; St. Death; Sunshine is Forever

Kuehn, Stephanie. When I Am Through with You. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-101-99473-3. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Unreliable from the start, Ben tells the story of what happened on the mountain in his own way, on his own terms, and apparently from his prison cell. So begins Ben’s story and how he got to be on the mountain to begin with.  Suffering from migraines and depression and being the only caregiver for his unwell mother, Ben feels trapped by his life in Teyber. He reconnects with former teacher Mr. Howe to help with the school’s orienteering (exploring) club.  Rose, Tomas, Avery, Duncan, Clay, and Archie join Ben on the first hike into the wilderness. Tense from the start, this group seems to be on a doomed trip. It’s not until the end that readers see just how doomed these adventure seekers are. THOUGHTS: Drinking, drug use, descriptions of casual sex, and violence make this a book for more mature teens.

Realistic Fiction, Adventure       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Hoyle, McCall. The Thing with Feathers. Blink, 2017. 978-0-310-75851-8. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Emilie is perfectly fine staying in the safety of her home with her mom and best friend (her seizure dog). She disagrees with her mom and her therapist: attending public school is not a good idea. She doesn’t want to be known as “that girl that has seizures.” When Emilie starts school, she makes a decision not to tell anyone about her epilepsy. As she gets closer to her friends and a boy she’s paired with her decision not to reveal her medical condition becomes more and more critical. But it’s been months since Emilie seized, so she’ll be okay, right?  THOUGHTS: Readers will fly through this light-hearted and realistic sweet novel about what it means to be different and what lengths we will go to hide our differences. With a compelling storyline – Will she or won’t she tell? Will she or won’t she seize? – readers will fall in love with Emilie as she experiences public school, friendship, and first love.

Realistic Fiction     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Sedgwick, Marcus.  Saint Death.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017 (1st American ed.).  978-1-62672-549-2. 227 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Arturo lives in a shack on the outskirts of Juarez, a Mexican city that butts up against the American border. One day, his childhood friend, Faustino, shows up begging for Arturo’s help. It seems that Faustino has joined a gang and has stolen $1,000 from his boss to send his girlfriend and her baby to America. He must replace this money by the next day or he will be killed. Arturo, a skillful card player, agrees to try to win the money back, but soon finds himself in even more debt. Now, Arturo’s life is also on the line. He scrambles to replace the money both he and Faustino owe before they are both killed by gangsters. Fast-paced and devastatingly honest, this title by Printz award winner Sedgwick is an excellent addition to high school libraries. THOUGHTS: Focusing on taboo topics like religion, illegal immigration, human and drug trafficking, and the exploitation of foreign workers by large corporations, this title is sure to spark a great deal of discussion and debate. Because violence is addressed in such an uncomfortable and unflinching manner, this title might be better suited for older, more mature readers. Pair this title with Linda Barrett Osborne’s This Land is Our Land for a unit on immigration or with Patricia McCormick’s Sold for a unit on human trafficking.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

 

Cowan, Kyle T.  Sunshine is Forever. Inkshares, 2017. 978-1-942645-62-7. $11.99. 282 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Hunter S. Thompson spends his days smoking pot with his only friend until a tragic “incident” changes everything. Desperate for acceptance and connection and wracked with guilt, he blames anyone else for the events in his past.  When he makes a couple of suicide attempts, he is sent to Camp Sunshine for depressed teens.  After being in therapy for months and on several medications, Hunter is not optimistic about the Camp Sunshine Program.  A few of the counselors and guards on staff are cruel and clueless,  though one or two seem genuinely interested and concerned for the kids.  But Hunter finds a real friend in his bunkmate Quint and a potential girlfriend in the charismatic but manipulative Corin. These connections and the questions of his therapist are helping Hunter make progress with his mental state, but when Corin convinces Hunter and a few others to join her in an escape plan, all of their chances for recovery are threatened.  THOUGHTS:  Sunshine is Forever is a raw and darkly humorous tale that tackles adolescent depression, suicide and mental health treatment in a believable way. A fast-paced read – a good choice for reluctant readers and for those who appreciate darker realistic fiction titles.   The mature themes and make it more appropriate for older teens.
Realistic Fiction            Nancy Summers, Abington School District

Middle Grades Realistic Fiction – Towers Falling

Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Towers Falling.  New York: Little Brown and Company, 2016.  978-0-316-26222-4. 228 p.  $15.99. Gr. 4-7.

Ten year old Déja Barnes is starting 5th grade in a new school, and she is coming from some difficult circumstances. Her family is living in a homeless shelter; her father is suffering from severe anxiety and a chronic cough; her mom works hard at two jobs but is unable to make ends meet, and Déja needs to step up to take care of her younger siblings.  Déja starts the year with some trepidation and a bit of a chip on her shoulder, but she is quickly befriended by two new classmates Sabeen, a Muslim girl, and Ben, a Mexican American boy recently moved to NYC from Arizona. When their teacher begins a new study unit on the 9/11 tragedy, the three classmates learn much about themselves and their community and how the fallout from the historic event affected the lives of so many. The novel does not delve too far into the details of the terrorist attack, but it explores the tragedy in more human terms. The teacher and the author focus on the ideals and values that bring Americans and people together, not what breaks us apart. The novel also addresses some difficult issues such as homelessness, poverty, prejudice, fractured families, and survivor guilt with sensitivity.  THOUGHTS: Rhodes’ novel is a thoughtful introduction to the historical events that still resonates over many aspects of American life.   This title would make a good choice for a class reading selection to introduce the topic of 9/11 without going into the full horror of the event.  Teachers Guide with curriculum connections for history and social studies available on the author’s website at: http://jewellparkerrhodes.com/children/teaching-guide-towers-falling/.

Realistic Fiction               Nancy Summers, Abington Senior High School

YA Realistic Fiction – Kill the Boy Band; Klickitat; Gutless; Holding up the Universe

boyband

Moldavsky, Goldy. Kill the Boy Band. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-86747-4. 312p. $17.99. Gr. 10-12.

Moldavsky takes a dark (yet humorous) look at the cult-like world of teen girls obsessed with boy bands in her debut novel. Four teen girls (Erin, Isabel, Apple and the novel’s unnamed narrator) are bound by their love of The Ruperts, a British boy band. Determined to meet the boys when they come to New York for a Thanksgiving concert, the girls get a room at the same swanky hotel where the band is staying. When Apple encounters her favorite member of the band, Rupert P., in the hotel hallway, she tackles him, knocks him out, and brings him back to the girls’ room. Now in possession of their very own Rupert, the four must decide what to do with him. A night filled with adventure, romance, band drama, fights, social media wars, fan riots and yes, even murder, occurs. THOUGHTS: In this dark, satirical look at the world of fame, everyone is revealed to have flaws, from the obsessed fans to the the boy banders, who turn out to be not so perfect after all. Fans of today’s popular groups will find many of the scenarios and observations present in the novel relatable and spot-on. Purchasers should be aware that language used in the book make this a purchase best suited for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

 

klickitat

Rock, Peter. Klickitat. New York: Amulet, 2016. 978-1-4197-1894-6. 229p. $17.95. Gr. 9-12.

Vivian’s rock has always been her older sister, Audra. She helps Vivian deal with episodes of anxiety and stress and gives Vivian the attention she does not always receive from their somewhat distant  parents. So when Audra runs away, Vivian feels lost. She holds on to the promise that Audra made that she will return for her, and they will be together once more. She looks for clues to Audra’s presence and when writing begins to appear in a blank notebook, Vivian feels a connection to her sister. When Audra returns, she is in the company of Henry, a young man she has been living with off the grid. Vivian, now off her anxiety medication, joins them in their makeshift hideout located under a house. Together they practice survival skills in anticipation of leaving the city behind and travelling northward to live off the grid together. But who is Henry, and can he be trusted? When tragedy befalls the group, Vivian returns home alone. THOUGHTS: This was a thought-provoking novel. Vivian is an unreliable narrator, and the reader at times is not sure if the events she describes are actually occurring, or are a symptom of her mental illness or her stopping her medication. While Klickitat is a quick read, it is a novel that will stay with the reader a long time as they ponder the questions raised by the story.

Realistic Fiction       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

 

gutless

Deuker, Carl. Gutless. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 978-0544-649613. $17.99. 329 pp. Gr. 7-12.

Brock Ripley is approaching his freshman year and long-term challenges.  He’s a decent enough soccer athlete, but he chokes when he’s faced with pain from opponents.  Meanwhile, his dad’s health has changed; once a physically active man and a very involved father, he’s diagnosed with Steinert’s disease, a form of multiple sclerosis.  As his dad deteriorates, Brock deals with the loss and carries his own deep fears.  Stellar athlete Hunter Gates, who is two years older, has great athletic ability and a father pushing him to a pro career.  At the park one day, Hunter’s dad pulls Brock into catching passes for Hunter.  One day becomes many, and the two find they click perfectly on plays.  Brock joins the football team and struggles to prove himself and lose the shadow of being known as “gutless” on the field.  Unfortunately, Hunter’s not really a friend, and his physical superiority and deep arrogance lead to bullying of Brock and Brock’s friend, new student Richie Fang, whose differences, notably his Chinese heritage, eventually attract Hunter’s cruelty.  Brock considers Richie a friend, but how can he stand up for him if he’s not standing up for himself?  Will he stand up against Hunter, or choke every time?  THOUGHTS: This is a bleak story that feels heavy due to the isolation of characters and sense of dread over every page.  It’s clear that there’s no one but Brock to handle his problems.  Deuker offers just a sliver of hope by book’s end.  Deuker knows how to fill a sports story with field/court action while highlighting timely social issues, much like his Gym Candy (2007) deals with steroid use and Swagger (2013) targets sexual abuse.  The writing is strong and the story flows well, and readers will be drawn to this book.

Realistic Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

 

universe

Niven, Jennifer. Holding Up the Universe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 978-0385755924. 400 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

With her second novel, Jennifer Niven has proven herself to be an astute observer of the teenage experience and the unique struggles faced by individuals in all walks of life. The story is reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, as it alternates between the first person viewpoints of Libby Strout and Jack Masselin, each of whom have their own inner demons to battle. Libby, once so obese that she had to be literally cut out of her house, is returning to high school after losing weight but still carrying more than she would like. Jack has prosopagnosia, meaning that he cannot differentiate faces, even those of his close friends and family, from one moment to the next. He barely makes it through some interactions without giving himself away. Libby quickly becomes the butt of many jokes and pranks, some at the hands of Jack himself. Interestly, however, Libby notices Jack’s problem, and the two begin an unlikely friendship. The characters are well-developed and authentic, and I found myself rooting for both, especially Libby, throughout. Niven gives Libby’s character such confidence, a characteristic that I wish more high school girls possessed. The plot moves quickly, and the reader is left wanting more of the story.  THOUGHTS: This is an excellent novel and should be available in all high school libraries. It will most probably be one of my top picks for the year.

Realistic Fiction         Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

Jennifer Niven is becoming one of my favorite Young Adult writers. She possesses a keen knack for understanding the teenage mind, and her novels are engaging and fun while at the same time exposing teens to new experiences and lives. My hope is that by reading her books students will begin to move past sympathy and develop more empathetic feelings when approaching issues faced by their classmates.

New YA Fiction – A Matter of Heart; The Fill-In Boyfriend; Finding Audrey

heart

Dominy, Amy Fellner. A Matter of Heart. New York: Delacorte, 2015. 978-0-385-74443-0. 306 p. $17.99. Gr. 8-12.

Abby has only ever had one goal – to swim (and win) in the Olympics.  Now 16, her dream seems within reach.  If she can pull off a personal best in the state championships, she might just qualify for the Olympic Trials.  Her life revolves around swimming, her best friend and her boyfriend are both on the team, her part-time job is teaching swimming lessons, and she always seems to be on her way to a meet or a practice.  After experiencing a dizzy spell at a swim meet, Abby goes in for a checkup and is shocked to be  diagnosed with a mild form of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).  Abby is told that in order to live with the condition, she will have to take beta-blockers.  The problem is, the medication will result in slower swim times, but she could have fatal consequences without the medication.  Faced with this choice, Abby is forced to decide if her swimming dream is worth the risk.  Throw into the mix pressure from family (her mom wants her to quit swimming; her dad, a former swimmer, wants her to continue), and the
breakup of her relationship with her boyfriend, and it’s not surprising Abby makes some mistakes along in her journey.  THOUGHTS: A Matter of Heart is not just a sports novel (or a “teen diagnosed with an illness” novel, either).  It is the story of a teen who  must discover who she really is when how she has always defined herself is suddenly torn away.  Fans of contemporary realistic fiction will find this a solid read.

Realistic Fiction    Elizabeth  Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

 

 

fillinboyfriend

West, Kasie. The Fill-In Boyfriend. New York: HarperTeen, 2015. 978-0-06-2233638-5. 344p. $9.99. Gr. 7-12.

Gia’s got a problem; her long distance boyfriend Bradley just dumped her in the parking lot outside the prom.  What’s a girl to do?  To a social status conscious girl like Gia, entering the prom alone isn’t an option.  Especially since she knows that Jules, the new girl who is battling Gia for the top spot in their group of friends, is sure to humiliate her.  So when Gia spots a unknown guy sitting in his car in the parking lot she pleads with him to be her fake date for the evening.  Amazingly, the guy (Hayden) agrees to impersonate her boyfriend, and they pull off the ruse.  What was supposed to be a one time favor soon turns into more as a series of events bring Gia and Hayden back into each other’s orbit, and they begin to develop feelings for one another.  The situation surrounding their relationship, as well as some other outside influences, cause Gia to re-think her preoccupation with social status and popularity.  THOUGHTS: Readers who are able to suspend their disbelief in order to accept how Gia and Hayden meet will find an enjoyable romantic read that also imparts some truths about the preoccupation teens have with social status.  Hand to your romance/chick lit fans.  

Realistic Fiction; Romance     Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

 

 

findingaudrey

Kinsella, Sophie. Finding Audrey. New York: Delacorte Press, 2015. 978-0-553-53631-6. 304p. $18.99. Gr. 7 & up.

The author of the Shopaholic series makes her YA debut with this story about a girl who suffers debilitating anxiety.  An incident involving some girls at school leaves Audrey so traumatized that she constantly wears dark glasses and never leaves the house.  She’s making progress with the help of a therapist, but she still panics when confronted by someone outside her family, such as her brother’s friend Linus.  Linus won’t give up, though, even after Audrey freezes the first time he visits her house.  First he sends her adorable notes; then he gently initiates conversations from across the room.  Audrey eventually works up the courage to ask Linus to be interviewed for her therapist’s “homework” which is a documentary about her family.  As Linus and Audrey grow closer, Audrey gathers the courage to start taking on more stressful assignments, such as trips to Starbucks and the park.  Audrey is an endearing, funny character, and the reader will cheer for her to pull through, however slowly that might be.  THOUGHTS:  You never find out what exactly happened at school to trigger Audrey’s anxiety, but that’s not really important.  Readers find out what sufferers of chronic anxiety experience through this realistic novel.  I recommend this for any high school collection, especially where Kinsella’s other novels are widely read.

Realistic Fiction        Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School