MG – Village of Scoundrels

Preus, Margi. Village of Scoundrels. Amulet Books, 2020. 978-1-419-70897-8. 295 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

To the people of Nazi ocupied France, every step must be calculated and every risk weighed carefully. In this powerful novel, Preus explores how the young people of France band together in order to smuggle refugees across the border into neutral Switzerland. Henni, a Jewish girl in hiding, helps to protect children by hiding them in the woods during Nazi raids on their hiding spot. Celeste bravely travels across the country to procure items necessary to continue bringing people to safety. Although these girls are brilliant in their work, they also need someone who can provide legal documents and safe travel. Jean Paul is an expert at forgery, and Philippe is knowledgeable with the terrain and how to arrange passage. This group of children will assist the extrication of hundreds of people and stand up for what is right no matter the risk and danger associated with their tasks.

THOUGHTS: This novel is based on a true story and is thoughtfully written. The pages are filled with accurate details and French and German words. The author provides a Cast of Characters (almost like a Playbill) and a pronunciation guide at the start of the book. This proves useful because there are a variety of characters to keep up with, which at times is overwhelming as they jump from person to person within a chapter. A great read for those who enjoy reading historical fiction and the World War II time period.

Historical Fiction        Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA FIC – Before I Let Go; Rules of Rain; Moxie; The Librarian of Auschwitz

Nijkamp, Marieke. Before I Let Go. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018. 978-1-492-64228-2. 368 p. $17.15. Gr. 10 and up.

Returning to Lost Creek, Alaska, for her best friend’s funeral after moving away several months ago, Corey is devastated. She never found the words to tell Kyra that there was a great big world outside of Lost, and now she’ll never have the opportunity. Guilt-ridden over never responding to Kyra’s letters, Corey doesn’t know what to expect in Lost. Lost isn’t what she remembers, and neither are the people that live there. The town that she once loved and that loved her seems like it’s hiding something. Determined to uncover the truth about Kyra’s death, Corey sets out on her own. Desperate to find answers before her return to Winnipeg and terrified for her safety, Corey races against the clock before her flight departs. Told in present tense, letters sent and unsent, and flashback narratives written in play format, Corey’s and Kyra’s stories unfold as Lost fights to keep its secrets.  THOUGHTS: The remote Alaskan wilderness amps up the creepy factor in this mystery. Through the emphasis on Kyra’s storytelling, readers will be compelled to learn what actually happened to her, but they may not feel fully invested in the novel, as the characters lack depth. Though identity and mental health issues are addressed, they are not at the center of the story. Before I Let Go is a good read for mystery fans and those interested in exploring the ways mental illness affects one’s life and experiences.

Mystery; Realistic Fiction    Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Scheier, Leah. Rules of Rain. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1-492-65426-1. 384 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up.

The connection between twins can be unique. Add into the mix one twin has autism, and the dynamics are even more complicated. Rain’s entire life has revolved around her brother and helping him navigate the world. She has been Ethan’s voice and rock for so long that she knows no different.  Now teenagers, Rain and Ethan are beginning to grow into themselves and somewhat apart from each other. She is interested in cooking and blogging about obscure recipes, while he is fascinated by the inner workings of the human body. Rain and Ethan experience many firsts and learn a lot about each other and themselves. While Ethan seems to be thriving in his independence, it is Rain who begins to unravel. THOUGHTS: This is more than a coming of age story, and there are a lot of issues involved. At the heart of the novel twins are learning as much from each other as the world around them. Their twin/sibling relationship, autism, family dynamics/relationships, parent/child roles, divorce, bullying, underage drinking, as well as teen relationships (friendship and romantic). While other issues are present, to say more would spoil the surprise. Teens with complicated home lives and/or challenging sibling dynamics will like this character-driven novel. Some mature content makes this book more suited for high school readers.  

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Mathieu, Jennifer.  Moxie.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017.  978-1-62672-635-2. 330 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Unlike her mother, who was a rebellious teenager, Vivian Carter has always kept to herself and followed the rules.  However, after witnessing incident after incident of sexism in her conservative Texas high school, none of which are corrected by the administration, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl zines of the nineties, Vivian creates and distributes an anonymous zine around her school, calling for all girls to take action in protest.  The movement gradually grows, with more and more girls participating in each new protest and some girls even taking their own actions to improve the misogynistic environment.  Inspiring and empowering, readers will keep turning pages in order to find out what the Moxie girls are going to do next–and whether or not they will be successful in changing their school’s culture. THOUGHTS: Because of its strong emphasis on feminism, I would recommend this book to teenage girls and/or those who enjoy reading fiction with strong female protagonists.  The novel would also be an excellent supplement for a social studies unit on women’s history, women’s rights, and/or social activism.  It would be sure to spark discussion and may even inspire students to conduct further research on the Riot Grrrl movement of the nineties.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Iturbe, Antonio. The Librarian of Auschwitz. Translated by Lilit Thwaites. Henry Holt and Company, 2017. 978-1627796187. 432 p. $19.99. Gr. 9-12.

Spanish author Antonia Iturbe tells a fictionalized story of the little-known “Librarian of Auschwitz,” a young girl whose task it was to protect the few books in the possession of Jews in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Dita Kraus arrives at Auschwitz after living in the Terezin Ghetto, and is “lucky” enough to be sent to the family camp instead of directly to the gas chambers. In this part of the camp, there is a school run by Freddy Hirsch, who sees in Dita a strong young woman willing to protect their beloved texts. The story moves back and forth between Dita’s life in the ghetto, the lives of other prisoners and Jews, and the backstory of the enigmatic Hirsch. The novel starts out slow and on occasion the language seems a bit stunted (which might be a result of reading it as a translation). However, the story and characters do shine through, and the reader becomes engrossed in this story of both the cultural and physical survival of a people. THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for high schools, especially to complement memoirs and other readings about the Holocaust.

Historical Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy

MS Fiction – The Gauntlet; Making Bombs for Hitler; Stef Soto, Taco Queen; You May Already be a Winner

Raizi, Karuna. The Gauntlet. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-4814-8696-5. $16.99.  Gr. 5-8.

Twelve year old Farah Mirza recently moved from Queens to the Upper East Side in New York City. Though she never had any problems in her last school, the kids here don’t understand her hijaab or her younger brother Ahmad’s issues. At her birthday party, Farah is excited to see her two closest friends from Queens, Essie and Alex. They decide to open a mysterious gift from Farah’s aunt and are elated to see it’s a board game called The Gauntlet. What they don’t know is that Farah’s aunt did not mean to gift this game – and that the game is alive! Soon they are sucked into the world of The Gauntlet, and must work against a game that doesn’t play fair. When Farah sees that Ahmad is in the game, too, she is determined to find him and free herself and her friends. THOUGHTS:  It’s refreshing to see a strong Muslim lead character in a middle grade novel! Farah is a clever and fierce protagonist whose faith in her friends and family never waivers. While the book is an adventure, Riazi also adds in some subtle social commentary that reflects the world outside the book.

Fantasy    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuck. Making Bombs for Hitler. Scholastic, 2017. 9781338170757. 232 pp.  $6.99. Gr. 6-8.

In this absorbing novel, Skrypuch makes the reader aware of a lesser known aspect of World War II – that of the enslavement of Ukrainian and other Eastern Europeans by Nazi Germany.  Lida is a 10 year old Ukrainian girl who has known tragedy in her short life.  First, her mother is killed by German soldiers, and then Lida and her younger sister Larissa are captured by the Nazis.  Separated from her sister, Lida is sent on a train to an abysmal work camp in Germany.  The author does not shy away for describing the horrors of the train ride and life in the camp.  While not discussed in detail, the author leaves no doubt about the fate of the younger children in the camp, who are taken to the “hospital” for medical experimentation   At first, she works with the laundress and has a relatively clean and safe job.  This changes as the Allies continue to push forward into Germany. Lida is taken to factory to fit together bombs, a place where one wrong move or a tiny piece of metal will cause the factory to explode. Facing meager rations and lice-ridden condition, Lida and her friends know what they need to do in order to survive.   THOUGHTS: This text provides another perspective of the war and is a valuable addition to World War II juvenile literature.

Historical Fiction            Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

 

Torres, Jennifer. Stef Soto, Taco Queen. Little, Brown, 2017. 978-0-316-30686-7 166 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Mexican-American Stef Soto is the daughter of immigrants, and while she loves her parents and is proud of their success, she wishes they would leave her alone sometimes. She’s horrified when her father comes to pick her up at school in his taco food truck, especially when she overhears popular girl Julia refer to her as the “Taco Queen.”  Stef decides to show her parents how responsible she is so they give her more freedom, a plan that doesn’t work out the way she hopes it will. Meanwhile, she gets involved in a school fundraiser, finds herself paired up with Julia, and winds up alienating her two best friends.  Spanish words are skillfully woven throughout the book, either defined or easily understood in context. THOUGHTS:  This debut novel is a light-hearted, fun read, and Stef is a likeable, relatable heroine.  Highly recommended for elementary and middle school libraries.

Realistic Fiction        Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Stef Soto is embarrassed. She just wants to be an average seventh grader. But it’s hard to be anonymous when your dad picks you up after school every day driving the family’s taco food truck, Tia Perla. Her immigrant parents are working hard to make a good life for the Soto family, and they’re a little too protective of their only child (at least that’s how Stef feels). When Stef wins concert tickets, she tries to convince her parents to let her attend, but she knows it will ultimately prove unsuccessful. A talented artist, Stef is also working with her classmates to try and raise funds for art supplies for their school. When proposed changes to city regulations threaten the future of her family’s food truck business, Stef must reevaluate her feelings for Tia Perla. Maybe the food truck is worth standing up and fighting for, after all. THOUGHTS: This family-centric story is a solid addition to upper elementary/middle school shelves. Readers will find themselves rooting for the Stef and her friends as well as the Soto family. Spanish words and phrases are integrated within the storyline; non-Spanish speakers will have no trouble understanding their meaning.
Realistic Fiction    Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

 

Ellis, Ann Dee. You May Already Be a Winner. Dial Books, 2017. 978-1-101-99385-9. 352 p. $19.99. Gr. 5-8.

Twelve year old Olivia has the responsibility of someone much older. With her mom working overtime to make ends meet and her dad “away” in Bryce Canyon, Liv tries to keep her little sister, Berkeley, entertained. Since Berk can’t go to daycare anymore, Liv stays home from school and looks after her, making sure they take time to practice various subjects in their workbooks.  Life in Sunny Pines Trailer Park isn’t always sunny and happy. Olivia’s former best friend has moved on, and Olivia begins to wonder about feelings she might have for a boy. Trying to distract Berk from their misfortune further, Olivia comes up with a circus spectacular, so they have something to plan and look forward to. As her mother’s resolve begins to crack, Liv has to take on even more responsibility. Determined to change their luck, Olivia follows a very strict routine of entering online contests, that is until their computer dies and the librarian asks questions about why the girls aren’t in school.  THOUGHTS: This is a heartbreaking look at family dynamics and being honest with oneself and each other. With Olivia’s wild imagination, there are parts of her story that are fabricated, and those may confuse young readers, but it is a beautiful story of sisterhood, hope, and not giving up on those you love.

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District