YA – The Sky Blues

Couch, Robbie. The Sky Blues. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-534-47785-8. $19.99. 325 p. Grades 9 and up.

Senior year for Sky Baker hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing. He’s the only gay student out at his small-town northern Michigan high school. The looks and comments from homophobic classmates cause him to feel he can’t be himself – he has to walk “straight” and carry his books “straight.” His mom and brother don’t accept him for who he is either, so he is forced to move in with his best friend Bree and her family over the holidays. Then there’s the scar on his chest he calls “Mars” (because that’s what it looks like), a scar from a burn he got in a car accident when he was small, a car accident that killed his father. Not feeling comfortable taking his shirt off in front of anyone else is difficult when you live with someone else’s family in a house on the beach. Despite these struggles, Sky has Bree, yearbook, and his crush on Ali. Though he’s not sure if Ali is gay, Sky plans to make the most of his senior year by promposing to Ali in an extravagant way in 30 days at their senior beach bum party, and he and Bree are documenting their ideas on his dry erase wall in his bedroom. All his plans are dashed though when a hacker exposes Sky’s promposal plans in a homophobic and racist email message that goes out to the entire school community from the yearbook account. Priorities shift from promposal to revenge as Sky, Ali, and their friends hunt the hacker. But what about prom? Will Sky still pull off an epic promposal? Or has his entire senior year become about something more?

THOUGHTS: An excellent addition to any YA LGBTQ collection, this debut novel has it all – humor, friendship, family, and serious topics such as bullying and homophobia. Despite the “small-town” setting, there is diverse representation among Sky’s friend group. And Sky and Bree’s yearbook teacher Ms. Winter is a pleasantly surprising important supporting character that readers young and old will love.

Realistic Fiction         Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Sky Baker is openly gay in his small, conservative northern Michigan hometown, but he still works hard to not be openly gay. He attempts to keep things toned down, even consciously trying to walk straighter (pun intended). His devoutly Christian mother kicked him out of the house Christmas Eve, and now he’s living with the family of his best friend, Bree. The future for most of his friends is bleak; the majority of them do not have the money to pay for expensive colleges and, like Sky, are pinning their hopes on the local community college. So Sky decides to end his high school years with a bang: the biggest, gayest promposal ever seen. Sky isn’t even sure his crush, Ali, is gay. But for Sky, it’s go big or go home. When his plans get leaked on an all-school email account, he is mortified beyond belief. But to his surprise he finds friends, support, and romance where he never expected. This uplifting book emphasizes the value of good friends – “good friendships are worth fighting for.”  Most of the characters are white, but Sky’s best friend Marshall is one of the few Black students in the school and Ali is Iraqi-American. While Sky deals with prejudice because he is gay, it turns out he is less aware of the prejudices Marshall experiences. Another character is transgender. The setting and characters are extremely realistic and relatable, and readers will be delighted with the conclusion of the book.

THOUGHTS: A vibrant addition to any secondary realistic fiction collection. Many students will identify with Sky’s economically depressed hometown, where a few have much, but most face a challenging future.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Felix Ever After

Calendar, Kacen. Felix Ever After. Balzer + Bray, 2020. 978-0-062-82025-9. $18.99. 354 p. Grades 9 and up.

In the summer before his senior year of high school, it seems like everyone around Felix Love is falling in love… except him. Ironic, isn’t it?  Even though he desperately wants it, Felix has a complicated relationship with love. Felix’s mom left when he was a kid and hasn’t spoken to him since. When he was 12, he realized he is a guy, not female, the gender assigned to him at birth. Though his dad has helped him with his transition, he still does not call Felix by his name, simply referring to him as “kid.” Now, Felix continues to question his identity, a feeling he describes as a “niggling” that just isn’t quite right. While at a summer program at his New York City art school, someone displays stolen photos of Felix before his transition along with his deadname in the school gallery, something he has kept secret from his classmates and did not plan to reveal. In the aftermath of the gallery, an internet troll sends transphobic messages to his Instagram account. With all that is happening in his life, how can Felix Love fall in love when he doesn’t feel he deserves it? The quest to find the person who bullied Felix becomes more than just that; as Felix and his best friend Ezra seek out revenge, Felix forges unexpected friendships, finds himself in the middle of a love triangle, and learns more about himself. This raw, emotional YA contemporary explores a plethora of race and LGBTQ issues and teaches readers that age-old lesson that in order to fall in love, you first need to learn to love yourself.

THOUGHTS: Kacen Callender has written a primer on transgender youth and the issues they face in their second YA novel. Seeing the world through Felix’s eyes provides awareness and empathy. I would recommend this novel to any student of any background, whether they are looking for a protagonist they can relate to or they want to be a better ally. Sensitive readers may appreciate a warning that there is a lot of inappropriate language in the novel, but that shouldn’t detract from this powerful and important novel full of loveable, imperfect teen characters. Highly recommended for all collections.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Backlash – YA Realistic Fiction


Littman, Sarah Darer. Backlash. New York: Scholastic, 2015. 978-1-545-65126-4. 321 p. $17.99. Gr. 7-10.

Littman tackles the topic of cyberbullying via the perspectives of four teenagers, Lara, her sister Sydney, Bree, and her brother Liam.  The story opens in the present.  Things are finally looking up for high school sophomore Lara.  She’s become more confident and involved in school activities since battling depression in the years prior.  She’s even landed a boyfriend online.  She hasn’t met Christian, but she knows he is going to ask her to homecoming.  She is shocked when Christian publically posts horrible things about her online.  Lara soon spirals downward and sees suicide as the only option.  Found in time, she is rushed to the hospital.  The story then flashes back to two months prior.  Seamlessly moving between the perspective of the four teens, the reader learns what lies at the root of the cyberbullying situation (Bree’s jealousy of Lara), and also learns how younger siblings Sydney and Liam are affected by what occurs.  The consequences of cyberbullying (for both the bullied and bullier) are also addressed when the truth is revealed; Bree created “Christian” to cyberbully Lara.  THOUGHTS: This novel will spark conversation and cause readers to reflect on the actions of the various characters within the story.  Be aware (per the summary above) that the novel does contain an attempted suicide as well as scenes with a severely depressed Lara.  

Realistic Fiction       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

Can’t Look Away

Cooner, Donna.  Can’t Look Away.  New York: Point, 2014.  978-0-545-42765-4.  264p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9 and up.
Sixteen-year-old Torrey Grey is famous on the Internet for her YouTube videos about fashion and beauty.  She has thousands of followers; however, her whole world comes crashing down when her younger sister is hit and killed by a drunk driver.  Her online followers begin to bash her after a video is leaked portraying Torrey shouting at her sister minutes before the accident.  As Torrey’s family struggles to deal with the grief, her father moves them from Colorado to Texas, and Torrey has the opportunity to start over at a new school.   While she desperately wants to fit in with the popular crowd, she finds herself drawn to Luis, an outcast, whose father owns a funeral parlor.  She also begins to develop a bond with her dorky cousin, Raylene.  Ultimately, Torrey must choose between the popularity and fame of her former life and a new normal, and she must also decide how she is going to handle her grief both online and in real life.
Realistic Fiction   Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School
Besides the accurate portrayal of high school social dynamics, there are many other aspects of this book that will appeal to readers and make it a good addition to any school library.  First, as Torrey is coming to terms with the loss of her sister, there are many references to Day of the Dead, making the book an excellent multicultural addition that would support any Spanish curriculum.  In addition, any of today’s tech-savvy teens will be able to relate to the collision of the virtual world and the real world, as well as the presence of cyberbullying in the book.  Lastly, the strength of the characters in the aftermath of tragedy will tug at the heartstrings and will appeal to fans of Gayle Forman and John Green.


Words Wound…new in nonfiction


Patchin, Justin W. and Sameer Hinduja. Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, 2014. 978-157542-4514 189 p. $15.99. Gr. 8+.

An approachable and readable look at cyberbullying written by two experts (criminal justice professors and directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center), this book is divided into three parts: Part One on cyberbullying facts and response tactics; Part Two on online safety tactics; and Part Three on building a “culture of kindness.”  This book urges an end to cyberbullying but doesn’t stop there; it provides pages full of ideas to combat the bullying mindset, whether the reader is a bully or has been bullied.  The small size is both non-threatening and deceiving for the amount of influential information included.  The excellent, thorough suggestions go beyond the usual vague direction to “set a strong password,” for example; instead, several examples of password setups are given, with how-to advice for disabling geotagging, how to avoid Siri as password bypass, and more.  Each chapter ends with a “Status Update,” a series of questions readers can ask themselves regarding their own actions.  The book is peppered with real-life experiences of bullies or bullied teenagers.  The authors include an index, online list of resources, and 41-page online teaching guide.  The overall effect is that of an experienced friend providing so much positive information that you can’t not take action.  Geared toward teenagers, it does not talk down to them, and in fact would be useful for adults as well.  Highly recommended for all collections, this book is an excellent choice for classes or casual reading.

302.34; Cyberbullying Prevention        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School