Newbery Award winning author, Erin Entrada Kelly, delivers the first in a new series with character Marisol Rainey. Marisol is a Filipino American living in Louisiana with her family. She and her best friend Jade are enjoying the start to the summer vacation by playing lots of games, using their imagination to create their own fun, and climbing the tree in Marisol’s backyard. Except, Marisol is petrified to climb the tree. Not being brave enough to climb the tree in her backyard is just one of Marisol’s many fears. There are plentiful illustrations throughout the book, drawn by Kelly herself.
THOUGHTS: This engaging book has everything a popular series needs to be a hit with readers. Marisol’s anxieties make her very relatable and the humor laced through Kelly’s writing will entertain even the most reluctant readers.
Woodson, Jacqueline. Before the Ever After. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020. 978-0-399-54543-6. 176 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.
Known for her powerful verse, Jacqueline Woodson takes on a topic that many fiction pieces haven’t touched: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Admittedly, as a recent discovery in neuroscience, the condition may not be prevalent in large numbers of readers, but the awareness is beginning to spread. Middle readers who pick up this book, especially young athletes, will likely recognize some of ZJ’s dad’s symptoms throughout his story as having to do with his professional football career. Although awareness of CTE is important, the story ZJ tells in this book can be applied to any adolescent dealing with change and identity. It begs the question: What is the value of family traditions and memories?
THOUGHTS: Buy this book immediately, and hand it out to all seventh grade football players. In all seriousness, this short verse-novel can be the hook a lot of reluctant readers need into using literature to help explain trauma in their own lives.
Realistic/Verse Novel Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD
Medina, Meg. Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away. Candlewick, 2020. 978-1-536-20704-0. 32 p. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.
A short, sweet tale of a friendship changing because of a move. Evelyn and Daniela are best friends who have twin apartments across the street from each other. Both welcome in each other’s home as a bonus child, and the girls play up until it’s time for the moving truck to pull away. The Spanish that is sprinkled in the story, along with beautiful illustrations of an urban neighborhood make the sing-song story about difficult change digestible for even the youngest of readers.
THOUGHTS: An #ownvoices book that encourages adolescents to celebrate change, even if it’s not easy, is always a great addition to elementary libraries. The Spanish language exposure and vibrant illustrations of city life are an added bonus for urban and rural libraries alike.
McDunn, Gillian. The Queen Bee and Me. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-681-19751-7. 279 p.$16.99. Grades 5-7.
Meg has always been joined at the hip of best friend Beatrix, except for the times when Beatrix freezes her out. Afraid of angering Beatrix and losing the benefits of being her friend, Meg decides to follow along while Beatrix plots to bully new student Hazel and her mom out of town. When Meg and Hazel get partnered up for a bee project in a science elective, Meg struggles between following her passion for science and doing whatever it takes to keep Beatrix from getting angry. It turns out Meg and Hazel have a lot in common, and they have fun together. Can Meg stand up to Beatrix even if it means risking years of friendship and the comfort of having a best friend? By the end of the story, Meg faces many of her fears, including a fear of bees, oral reports, and standing up to Beatrix which makes a sweet, but predictable, ending.
THOUGHTS: As an adult reader, I had trouble finishing the book due to the predictable storyline. I anticipate young readers enjoying and relating to this story once they have the book in their hands and time to read.
Realistic Fiction Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD
Florence, Debbi Michiko. Keep It Together, Keiko Carter. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-60752-9. 293 p. $15.67. Grades 3-6.
Keiko Carter likes her friendships like she likes her chocolate—high quality, sweet, and smooth. Unfortunately, as Keiko and her two best friends start seventh grade, their friendship is anything but. Audrey joins the Fall Ball committee and declares that they need to find boyfriends, so they can all go to the dance together. The problem is, the boy Audrey has set her sights on is the boy Jenna has been texting all summer. Plus, Jenna is not sure she wants to continue letting Audrey always get her way, and now they aren’t talking to each other. Keiko finds herself caught in the middle between her feuding friends, and she has no idea how to keep the peace. Tensions at home add to her problems, not to mention her feelings for a boy that Audrey will never approve of and a new boy who gets between Keiko and Audrey. Should Keiko compromise her needs to bring her friends back together, or will Keiko find that standing up for herself is the sweetest treat of all?
THOUGHTS: Middle school girls will recognize Keiko’s friendship struggles, but there are lessons about relationships and knowing yourself that are appropriate for boys as well. This is a good story about finding your voice.
Realistic FictionMelissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD
Woodfolk, Ashley. When You Were Everything. Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-1-524-71591-5. $17.99. 385 p. Grades 9 and up.
Cleo hasn’t spoken to her best friend, Layla, in 27 days. Everywhere she goes in her hometown of New York City, the ghost of their friendship lurks. Tired of torturing herself, Cleo comes up with a plan to erase all memories and associations of Layla by creating new memories surrounding her triggers like the park where they first met and the diner they frequented. A good plan in theory, all of Cleo’s meticulous plotting is rendered moot when she is not only forced to see Layla at school but also – even worse – assigned to tutor her in English. Cleo tries desperately to figure out Life-After-Layla, but being forced to see her makes it difficult. It seems like her memory erasure plan might work when she decides to go back to Dolly’s Diner alone and runs into Dom – a cute boy she met at a party a few months ago with Layla – and Sydney – another girl in her class. However, Cleo explains, “My faith in friendship has been shaken, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get it back.” This novel is written in an alternating timeline from the present to the months leading up to Cleo and Layla’s break-up, revealing that Cleo is not completely innocent in the unraveling of their friendship.
THOUGHTS: Cleo narrates, “Girls wage endless wars with their voices, tearing you apart without touching you at all.” So many YA novels feature these epic female friendships, but for many girls this is not reality. In our culture where the expression “BFF/Best-Friends Forever” is thrown around like an expected fact of life, this book is an extremely important read for all girls. Female friendship break-ups can be just as heartbreaking – if not worse – than a romantic break-up, especially as teenagers when talk of the friendship lasting “forever” occurs much more frequently than in a high school romantic relationship. Woodfolk’s narrator is not perfect, but she is real, and her narration is raw and emotional. There are tons of songs and poems to help with the catharsis of emotions after a romantic break-up; Ashley Woodfolk has written a rare one for the friendship break-up with this novel.