YA – A Far Wilder Magic

Saft, Allison. A Far Wilder Magic. Wednesday Books, 2022. 978-1250623652. $18.99. 384 p. Grades 9-12.

Margaret Welty spends most of her time living alone with her dog, Trouble. Her mother, a famous alchemist, spends most of her time traveling, away from home. Weston Winters is desperate to become an official alchemist, and when he arrives at the Welty house looking for the famous alchemist to become her apprentice, Margaret strikes a deal with him: she will allow him to stay until her mother returns if he agrees to join her in the annual hunt to kill the legendary Hala, a mythical and deadly fox that stalks the town until the hunt begins. Margaret knows she has a great shot, but she needs an alchemist as a part of her team in order to enter the competition. These two strangers soon find that they are drawn to each other and have more in common than they know. As the competition looms closer, so does danger, and together they must learn to trust each other in order to survive.

THOUGHTS: This unique, stand alone fantasy takes place in a made up world influenced by the culture and lifestyle of the 1920s. Although fantastical, the story also tackles more serious and relatable issues like prejudice and racism. Readers will be drawn into Saft’s world and the slow romance that builds between Margaret and Weston and the connection they have as outcasts in their communities.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – Alice Austen Lived Here

Gino, Alex. Alice Austen Lived Here. Scholastic Books, 2022. 978-1-338-73389-1. 162 p. $17.99. Grades 4-12.

Seventh graders Sam and TJ are nonbinary students who come from supportive and loving homes on Staten Island. Sam lives in an apartment complex along with several other supportive friends and members of the LGBTQ community. Sam and TJ’s history teacher assigned them a project to nominate an individual in history that lived on Staten Island and contributed to the community. The winning entry will have a statue commissioned to face New York Harbor.  This is when the pair discovers Alice Austen who was a photographer and an important queer figure that lived and worked on Staten Island.

THOUGHTS: I read this book quickly and really enjoyed the character development. I love that Sam and TJ acted like middle schoolers. Their emotions and reactions felt genuine. I also enjoy reading about Alice Austen who was a new name to me.

Realistic Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Sam is a nonbianary teen with a nonbianry best friend, TJ, and they often hang out with a lesbian couple, babysitting the couple’s new baby, in the same building. When Sam and TJ are challenged by a teacher to propose building a new statue to honor an important figure in Staten Island history, they immediately begin looking for someone that will represent their LGBTQ+ community. They find the perfect person in Alice Austen, a photographer who lived and worked in Staten Island in the late 19th and early 20th century. Sam and TJ also befriend an older woman who lives in their building, a former teacher, who helps them contextualize what they learn about Alice Austen during the course of their project. This story ultimately illustrates the value of studying the past, especially important issues and events in the LGBTQ+ community, while also moving forward in the present. 

THOUGHTS: Issues of queer identity and nonbinary identity are central to the book, but Sam and TJ also struggle with typical adolescent issues and friendships to which almost anyone will be able to relate. These thoughtful teens use the power of their voices and the support of their community to bring about positive change and highlight important people from the past who deserve recognition, especially since those historical figures lived in a time when the freedom to choose how you lived and who you loved was much more limited.

Realistic Fiction        Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

YA – Be Dazzled

La Sala, Ryan. Be Dazzled. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-492-68269-1. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.

If ever there was a meet-cute, Raffy and Luca are it. They meet in the gem aisle of Craft Club, the local craft megastore, both boys zeroing in on Sea Foam Dream #6 gems. Dark-haired, dark-eyed Raffy is a supremely talented cosplay crafter/video streamer, with a devoted internet following; Luca, a smokin’ hot Italian American soccer player. Raffy can’t believe Luca was (he was, wasn’t he?) flirting with him. Raffy introduces Luca into the nerdom of cosplay and conventions. Luca introduces Raffy to fun. Raffy, 17 year old, is so focused on impressing the judges at the various Cons he attends, hoping to gain sponsorship for his crafting, and scholarships to art school, that he has lost the joy of crafting. Teaching Luca brings back the fun. But when Raffy’s maniacal intensity collides with Luca’s laissez faire approach, the inevitable breakup occurs. Yet now Raffy’s success at Controverse depends on working with the boy who broke his heart. Adding to the storyline is Luca’s inability to tell his family he is bisexual, as well as coming out as a closet nerd, and Raffy’s intense, “ARTIST” mother, who scorns sequins, satin and sewing. When all the worlds collide, will Raffy and Luca be able to survive, the second time around? This dazzling nerd romance is heart-meltingly cute. The behind-the-scenes look at cosplay crafting is fascinating, and Raffy is an expert guide to the design and creation of costumes. Both boys have loyal friends to support them, and while family issues are resolved quickly and neatly, it makes for a satisfying conclusion to a fun read.

THOUGHTS: There is nothing not to love about this bedazzling nerd romance with a happy ending.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem./MG – The Magical Reality of Nadia

Youssef, Bassam. The Magical Reality of Nadia. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-67481-1. 176 p. $14.99. Grades 3-6.

The Magical Reality of Nadia is a realistic fiction that follows Nadia, a 6th grade student who loves facts, and loves sharing them with her friends and classmates. Some fun facts about her: her family moved from Egypt when she was 6 years old, she collects bobbleheads, and she has a hippo amulet she wears that is actually from Ancient Egypt. One day there is a new student that comes to Nadia’s school who teases her about her heritage which causes some issues with her friends and throws Nadia for a loop. The other thing that throws her for a loop? The amulet around Nadia’s neck starts glowing! She finds that her amulet was holding a secret, which is hilarious and helpful at the same time!

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing transition novel, for a student who isn’t ready for longer chapter books. There are black and white illustrations found throughout the novel, which break up the book. This is a great book to have in any upper elementary/middle school collection.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Collins, Suzanne. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Scholastic Press, 2020.  978-1-338-63517-1. $24.99. 528 p. Grades 9-12.

The much-anticipated prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy begins 64 years before Katniss Everdeen enters the arena to fight for her life. The Hunger Games are only ten years old and are not yet the spectacle they go on to become. Coriolanus Snow, future president of Panem, along with his cousin and grandmother, have sold almost all of their possessions after the war drains their finances. The Snow name is synonymous with wealth, and they struggle to maintain a wealthy facade. The Snow family motto demands it: snow lands on top. Head gamemaker Dr. Gaul pairs each tribute with a Capitol Academy mentor. Coriolanus is paired with District 12’s Lucy Gray Baird, who immediately becomes a fan favorite due to her songbird voice. Coriolanus falls for her and, upon seeing the horrific conditions where the tributes are kept before the games, arranges for her to have food and medical care, a precursor to tribute treatment in the later books. But he still has strong loyalty to the Capitol. This is much different from his peer, Sejanus. He views The Hunger Games as unjust, and at times, Coriolanus sees his point. As his love for Lucy Gray deepens, he is conflicted. He believes in her but also in the Capitol. Most of all, he believes he needs to make something of himself in order to keep proving that snow always indeed lands on top.

Thoughts: Readers will want to simultaneously empathize and loathe Coriolanus. He wants to make the right decisions, but there are already glimpses of what he will become in later books. Fans of The Hunger Games will love discovering the origins of the trilogy’s most important symbols, such as the mockingjay and Victors’ Village. For those who have never read The Hunger Games, it serves as a good start. Similar to its predecessors’, the book does have a fair amount of blood and violence and is better suited for high school readers who are sure to enjoy this action-packed origin story.

Dystopian Fiction     Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD