YA – The Code for Love and Heartbreak

Cantor, Jillian. The Code for Love and Heartbreak. Inkyard Press, 2020. 978-335-09059-1. $18.99. 297 p. Grades 9 and up.

Emma Woodhouse thinks in numbers. For example, when her sister Izzy leaves for college all she can think about is the 2,764 miles that will be between them now while she’s at UCLA with her boyfriend, John. As she packs to leave, Izzy implores Emma to be more social in her senior year, maybe even get a boyfriend. Emma scoffs at this ridiculous idea, though, and decides just to focus on winning the New Jersey state coding competition with John’s younger brother and her friend George. With her coding skills, George’s graphic design and animation skills, and their senior leadership as co-captains, they think they have a real shot. Stanford would definitely take her seriously with that state championship on her resume. But even Ms. Taylor, her guidance counselor and coding club advisor suggests that Emma find more “social” activities to put on her resume because grades and coding club accolades won’t make her stand out at Stanford where thousands of brainy computer nerds apply. George wants to create a recycling app for the competition, but Emma decides she can accomplish both of her resume goals – win the state championship and do something more social – if they develop a unique dating app, one that mathematically pairs users with their perfect match right at their own school. It’s perfect – Emma can play matchmaker for all the school dances without actually going on dates herself in order to check off that “social” box on her resume, win the state coding competition, and ride off into the sunset at Stanford. “Numbers don’t play games,” as Emma explains, so what could go wrong, right?

THOUGHTS: Based on Jane Austen’s classic Emma, this book definitely fills a specific need in YA collections. Reluctant readers who are more into math and science will find this lighthearted romance enjoyable. Also recommended for students looking for a PG-rated romance with no cursing or sex, aside from an instance of some boys who try to use the dating app for the wrong reasons.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA NF – Girl Code; The 57 Bus

Gonzales, Andrea, and Sophie Houser. Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting it Done. Harper, 2017. 978-0-06-247250-2. 264 p. $17.99. Gr. 7-12.

Teenagers Andrea “Andy” Gonzales and Sophie Houser met at a summer camp called Girls Who Code, where they teamed up to create a video game called Tampon Run.  Much to their surprise, the video game became wildly popular, solidifying their celebrity status in the tech world.  This book, told in alternating perspectives between Andy and Sophie, gives readers an inside look into their lives, beginning before the invention of Tampon Run and continuing with the impact the game had on their lives after it went viral.  By the end of the book, the girls are heading off to college and sharing their hopes and aspirations for the future.  Also included in the back of the book is a coding appendix that provides readers with coding basics.  A solid addition for any school looking to add to their STEM collection.  THOUGHTS: I felt this title was geared more towards girls than boys.  Not only were there many details included about the menstrual taboo, but there were many references to the lack of female coders in the tech field.  These messages are empowering for young girls who wish to make the topic of menstruation less taboo or who wish to work in the STEM field, but may not speak as strongly to boys.  Pair this title with Reshma Saujani’s New York Times bestseller, Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World.

005.1; Computer Programming       Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Slater, Dashka. The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017. 978-0-374-30323-5. 305 pp. $17.00. Gr. 8 and up.

In November of 2013, teenagers Sasha and Richard didn’t have much in common. Sasha attended a small private high school, had a small circle of supportive friends, and identified as genderqueer (preferring they/them pronouns). Richard attended large, public Oakland High School and had already spent a year in juvenile detention. Their lives overlapped for a few short minutes each day on Oakland’s 57 bus. One afternoon, while Sasha was napping in the back of the bus, Richard flicked a lighter near Sasha’s skirt. It erupted in flames and left the teenager with second and third degree burns requiring surgery and months of rehabilitation. Sixteen-year old Richard, who admitted to being homophobic in a police interview, faced a potential life sentence if he was tried as an adult with a hate crime enhancement. Author Dashka Slater takes a remarkably even-handed look at the two young people, the crime, their respective support systems, and role of the justice system in what happened next. In particular, she examines whether a teenager can ever truly act as an adult, and whether adult prisons are an appropriate place for juvenile offenders to serve their sentences.  THOUGHTS: While not a typical true crime story, The 57 Bus is an extremely compelling portrayal of a hate crime and its aftermath. The author deftly illustrates how gender is not always binary, and neither is right/wrong, guilty/not-guilty, just/unjust.

364.15; True Crime     Amy Pickett, Ridley School District

 

Sasha, an asexual white teen from a middle-class background who attended a small private school in Oakland, California, was napping on the 57 bus one afternoon when Richard, an African American teen from a poorer neighborhood who attended a large public school, made the rash decision to light Sasha’s skirt on fire. The skirt went up in flames, and Sasha was hospitalized with severe burns while Richard was arrested and charged as an adult for committing a hate crime. Using interviews, documents, letters, videos, diaries, social media posts, and public records, the author pieces together the entire story in a very impartial manner.  Beginning with the incident itself and then backtracking to provide information on Sasha’s and Richard’s backgrounds, the second half of the book is dedicated to the outcomes and aftermath of the incident. This excellent title raises many timely questions about gender, race, class, hate crimes, and the justice system, and it, therefore, deserves a place in every junior and senior high school. THOUGHTS: Potential uses for this book in an educational setting are boundless.  It could be paired with other outstanding titles like Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give or Nic Stone’s Dear Martin to explore the issues of race and justice.  Social studies teachers may choose to have students read this book and then write a response declaring whether or not they felt justice was ultimately served and why.  Alternately, a mock trial could be set up requiring students to use evidence from the book to defend either Sasha or Richard. The insightful discussions this book could spark about hate, impulsiveness, and forgiveness are sure to stick with students long after they have finished reading it.

364.15; Hate Crimes      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area School District

MS – Girls Who Code; The Silver Mask

Saujani, Reshma.  Girls Who Code. Viking, 2017. 9780425287538. $17.99. 168 p. Gr. 5-8.

Written by the founder of the Girls Who Code foundation and website, an organization created to bridge the gender gap in technology, Reshma  Saujani encourages girls to take up code writing as a key for their own personal needs and entertainment but most especially as a path for their future careers.  Conversational in tone  and interspersed with original artwork, this informational guide explains in clear and simple language the vocabulary and elements  of coding, provides a brief history of computer developments, presents a Q and A with girls who participate in Girls Who Code activities and profiles the work and achievements of real women working in today’s tech fields. Includes glossary and index. Thoughts: Though aimed at a middle-grade audience, it is recommended for elementary, middle and high schools, a perfect title to encourage girls of all ages to explore tech as a hobby or an academic pursuit.  More resources available at GirlsWhoCode.com for librarians or teachers who may be interested in starting a girls’ coding club at their schools.

005.1 Computer Science           Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Black, Holly and Cassandra Clare. The Silver Mask (Magisterium Bk. 4). Scholastic Press, 2017.  978-0-545-52236-6 232p. $17.99.  Gr. 5 and up.

Another solid book in the fast-moving Magisterium series, this books starts after Call has spent six months in prison, framed for a crime he did not commit. Even in prison, there are choices that Call has to make. Call is constantly asking himself, “Am I evil?” “If I do this, is it good or bad?”  There is a quick, suspenseful prison break that moves the story forward.  The action never stops, except for a few moments of possible romance.  THOUGHTS:   This series is great for middle-grade readers of fantasy.  It may satisfy Percy Jackson fans as well as Harry Potter fans.  Readers will come away pondering the demarcation between good and evil and wondering if there is a grey area.  

Fantasy     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

Upper Elem/MS Fiction – Effie Starr Zook…; Bubble; When My Sister Started Kissing; Click’d

Freeman, Martha. Effie Starr Zook Has One More Question. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2017. 978-1-4814-7264-7. $16.99. 218 pp. Gr. 3-6.

Effie is a curious child who is not afraid to inquire and investigate. While staying at her aunt and uncle’s farm in rural Pennsylvania one summer, she doesn’t mean to dig into her family’s history, but before long that is just what she ends up doing. Along the way, questions arise about their wealthy inheritance, a longstanding feud with another family, and how to handle the angry goat in the yard. But problems with her parents’ expedition around the world and feeling unsure of her own place in the world leave Effie ready to ask some deeper questions and face the consequences of the answers.  THOUGHTS: Martha has explored a great variety of styles and genres over her career, and this work is among her best. I recently held a short interview with her and Amy (aka A.S.) King about connections between this book and Marvin Gardens and Me. Please feel free to read and share, and maybe build some new bridges of understanding!

Realistic Fiction      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

 

Foster, Stewart. Bubble. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481487429. $16.99. 346 pp. Gr. 4-8.

What if your life was held within the confines of one room? It’s not because you are held hostage, but because of potential germs that your body can’t fight off. It’s not because you aren’t loved, because your sister, best friend, nurses and millions on tv all care for you, even though your parents are dead. Life in that one room becomes a whole lot more interesting when the idea of breaking out of the bubble seems possible, but there are huge risks and consequences. Come into Joe’s world through his narrative fiction and learn that what defines him is much bigger than four walls. This British novel will create empathy and curiosity in young readers as they meet Joe and those who surround him.  THOUGHTS: Looking for a novel to compete with Wonder for empathy and character and heartache? Look no further! I found the story to be fascinating, funny, and well-written, even though we are left out of some of the scientific details of his condition.  

Realistic Fiction     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

 

Frost, Helen.  When My Sister Started Kissing.  Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017.  978-0374303037. 208 pp. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Claire and Abi are headed to the lake with their father to stay at their family’s cabin for the summer. Claire wants everything to be the same as it always has been, but she knows her world is about to change. Her new stepmother is coming with them, and a baby will be joining the family before the summer is over.  What’s worse, Abi seems more excited about boys than about swimming or canoeing.  Frost writes in verse, mostly from Claire’s point of view, but some of the poems feature Abi’s voice, and a few are written from the unusual perspective of the lake.  The styles of the poems are appropriate for each narrator. Claire’s are rhymed quatrains, reflecting her desire for tradition; the lake’s poems are written in a concrete style that mirrors its shape, while the lines in Abi’s poems continually stretch further forward, reflecting Abi’s eagerness to grow up.  Some of the poems also include hidden messages that students may enjoy finding.  THOUGHTS:  Both Claire and Abi are believable, likeable heroines. Their relationships with each other and with their father and new stepmother are sensitively portrayed. This is a beautiful and beautifully written story about the gap between childhood and adolescence, perfect for tween readers who are either not quite ready to make the leap, or have just recently crossed over it.

Realistic Fiction           Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Stone, Tamara Ireland. Click’d. Disney Hyperion, 2017. 978-1-4847-84976. $19.99. 304p. Gr. 4-7.

Allie Navarro is a 12-yr old coding genius. Instead of spending the summer playing travel soccer with her best friends she went to CodeGirls summer camp at Fuller University. It was there that she developed an app called Click’d that was so well-received that she was entered into the G4G competition. If she wins the contest her game will be given financial backing to become a reality, and she has one week to make sure her coding is solid. Click’d is an app that matches you up with the top ten people who have common interests. Through the use of a leaderboard and scavenger hunt you get introduced to people you might not already know, but who you might “click” with. She decides to share her app with her closest friends to show them how she spent the summer, and her friends love it. Allie decides to open it up to her school just so she has real world data for the judges at this week’s competition. The app goes viral and her coding holds up except for one tiny thing, and it might not be so tiny. Allie has to race against the clock to try and find the problem, and the only person that can help her is her longtime nemesis. THOUGHTS: This book was a fun, fast read and I think I will be successful book-talking it to my 7th graders. Some of the story is predictable, like Allie’s app matching her up with her longtime rival, but that doesn’t detract from the story. The story takes place over the course of a week with some flashbacks to Allie’s summer at the coding camp. The timely subject matter of social media apps and the damage they can do and the wholesomeness of the characters make it a good book for the middle aged set.

Realistic Fiction      Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Alli’s had an amazing summer at CodeGirls camp, and though she’s excited to get back to her friends, she’s also sad to be away from her new friends that get her coding excitement. While at camp, she built her own app, CLICK’D, to help people meet each other and make new friends. She knows her app will be successful in this year’s youth coding contest, where she hopes to edge her competition and classmate Nathan. Allie’s school friends are so excited to try CLICK’D they convince her to release it before the contest.  At first CLICK’D is great, and it’s working exactly as Allie hoped, then the app seems to glitch. Allie has to decide if it’s worth the risk of keeping the app live while trying to fix the glitch or shut it down and risk losing her new found popularity.  THOUGHTS: Click’d takes a look inside the mind of a girl who is trying to navigate friendship while figuring out what really matters to her. Readers will be subtly cautioned about content on their phones and what they post for all to see. This was a lighthearted and fun read that shows girls it’s okay to like coding and be competitive.

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District