YA – Friends Like These

Alvarez, Jennifer Lynn. Friends Like These. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-30967-4. 384 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Tegan Sheffield is known for her Fourth of July beach bonfire and end of the summer party. Those in Tegan’s orbit are at her beck and call, while those not so close clearly are on the outside. People love her and love to hate her. Jessica Sanchez has been dating Jake Healy, Tegan’s ex, for months. While Jake promises there’s nothing between him and Tegan, Jess doesn’t want to attend the end of the summer party. The last place she wants to be is at Tegan’s. They had a friendship falling out in fifth grade, and everything has been uncomfortable since then. Parties aren’t really Jess’s scene anyway, but she knows Jake loves them. The last party before senior year is going to be epic. But things go horribly wrong. An explicit video from the party goes viral, two girls are missing, and some relationships never will be the same. The police are being pretty tight-lipped about their evidence, interviewing everyone who was at the party, while the FBI works to clean the video before it reaches the deep web. With Tegan’s family connections, this case is a top priority. Then a body is discovered in the water below a popular cliff overlook not too far from Tegan’s house. As the police search and investigation intensify, secrets are revealed. Not not everyone is as innocent as they may seem, and loyalties shift. Is everything an innocent tragedy, or will a killer strike again?

THOUGHTS: Told in alternating chapters from earlier in the summer, the party, and the aftermath, multiple narrators will keep readers’ interest as they try to piece this thriller together. Highly recommended for high school libraries.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Thriller

YA – All the Right Reasons

Mangle, Bethany. All the Right Reasons. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2022. 978-1-534-49903-4. 288 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Cara was angry. So very angry. She was just so frustrated with her father. The fact that he left Cara and her mother. The fact that he quickly married a young bimbo. The fact that he constantly pushes her mother’s buttons during therapy, and he constantly lies. So one night, after hacking her father’s face out of photographs, she records an online journal entry to release her emotions. The next morning, she learns her rant was accidentally posted, and has gone viral. And caught the eye of a producer of a new reality television show pairing up single parents and their children. Before Cara, a high school senior, can live down her viral humiliation, her personal trainer mom has snagged a coveted slot on the show, and the two of them are whisked off to Key West. Cara sees the TV show as an answer to her and her mom’s financial problems, never imagining that the stress of living life under the eye of the camera could cause even more strife. Luckily, she has sweet contestant Connor to turn to. But what if he ends up as her half-brother? Just, ewww! This adorable rom-com has it all: heroines to love, villains to hate, drama, fights, friends, and kisses. Plus a helping or two of love. The inside look at reality television is fascinating, and readers will sympathize with Cara’s bewilderment with the pseudo-reality of the experience, never sure who is revealing their true emotions. There are a few twists and turns in the plot, but a happy ending is guaranteed. A wide range of ethnicities are represented: Cara’s mom is Korean; her father white. The contestants on the show include Black and Hispanic families. Connor is white. Minor flaws in the story involve Connor’s disability, which is mentioned once and dropped, and the younger members of the show’s strange inability to use pen and paper once their cell phones are confiscated, but neither of these points detract from the overall joie de vivre of the book. 

THOUGHTS: This is a perfect romance for tweens and teens. Cara is devoted to her mom, and readers will understand her honest, justified anger with her father. 

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Never Saw You Coming

Hahn, Erin. Never Saw You Coming. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-76124-8. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

Upon learning that she’s been lied to her entire life, eighteen-year-old Meg flees her hometown to find herself in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While Meg tries to process her feelings and question her beliefs, she meets Micah who has his own reasons to question his faith as well. Meg, a former church youth group leader and church camp counselor, struggles to accept the strict Christian way her mom raised her when it comes out that her mom’s own teen years were not so pure. Even with the church’s conservative views on modesty, purity, abstinence education, and homosexuality, Meg still strongly values her faith and belief in God. And she has to reconcile her feelings. Micah, who idolized his father before he was caught in a sexual misconduct and embezzling scandal, has shunned his beliefs and struggles to find forgiveness for his father’s mistakes. Life in the church community his dad demolished hasn’t been easy for Micah. Both feeling wronged by the families they trusted, Meg and Micah become fast friends then more than friends, and their relationship gives them the space to process their hurt feelings, questioned beliefs, and church teachings. Told in alternating narratives, teen readers will love this sweet romance that addresses the core of one’s beliefs and values.

THOUGHTS: This story is a personal one for Hahn, and she well represents the struggles that teens of faith may face. With honesty and care for the topics, Hahn addresses the church’s hypocrisy in a way that will help teens consider their own feelings. Highly recommended for high school collections.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, 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

YA – A Pho Love Story

Le, Loan. A Pho Love Story. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44193-4. 416 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Competing Vietnamese-American family-owned pho restaurants set the stage for this romantic comedy. Despite the two of them going to school together and being from similar family backgrounds (and occupations), Bao Nguyen and Linh Mai do not get along. It’s really their families who do not get along, but Bao and Linh normally steer clear of each other. Bao isn’t meeting his family’s expectations. Across the street Linh Mai works in her family’s pho restaurant but dreams of pursing an art career. When Bao helps Linh out of a tough spot, she can’t help but wonder why their families feel the way they do. Curiosity piqued, Bao and Linh begin to interact but away from their families. Can Bao and Linh meet their families’ strict expectations and find a way to be together?

THOUGHTS: Teens looking for a sweet rom-com with a little depth will adore these characters. A Pho Love Story pairs perfectly with other food romances like A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen and The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – If the Shoe Fits

Murphy, Julie. If the Shoe Fits. Disney-Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-368-05337-2. 304 p. $15.99. Grades 9-12.

In this charming and modern re-telling of Cinderella, Julie Murphy hits the mark again with a body positive novel that makes everyone feel included (shout out to correct nonbinary pronoun usage!). Filled to the brim with one-liners will make teens and adults alike laugh out loud (or a least grunt in appreciation), readers of all types will almost immediately feel like they are friends with Cindy, the orphaned-recent-fashion-school-grad-turned-reality-TV-star and a mutual hatred for the mean girl, Addison. In classic reality TV fashion, there are tons of side-eye glances and catty situations that mostly make the suitor, Henry, shine even brighter. The lens of fashion as art gives the book a broader reader audience as Crow mindfully says, “life feeds art and art feeds into life.”

THOUGHTS: An atypical family dynamic, with a widowed stepmom, step sisters and half-sibling triplets seems complicated, but seamlessly comes together, pun intended. If the Shoe Fits has a lot more depth than a typical love story, from fashion references to art and questions about fate, this novel can be added to the shelves of high school and public libraries with fans of Dumplin‘, reality TV, or fashion.

Romance          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Senior High School
Realistic Fiction

YA – Blackout

Clayton, Dhonielle, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon. Blackout.  Harper Collins, 2021. 978-0-063-08809-2. 256 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12

Blackout, a young adult novel for teens, is comprised of six interlinked stories that celebrate Black love and friendship during a citywide power outage. The citywide blackout causes the characters to go into a tailspin. Their friendships and relationships are tested and changed- and in some cases, begin anew. These six short stories are beautifully interconnected, and readers will fall in love with every character in the novel. The reader meets Jacorey (a gay athlete who has yet to come out), Tammi and Kareem (exes who run into each other at a job interview), Nella (who gets a boost of self-confidence from her Grandfather and a new acquaintance), Lana and Tristian (who are lost in the public library), Kayla (who already is in a relationship but may want something different), and Seymour and Grace (who share a ride through the city). All six stories celebrate young love and friendship and are written with authenticity and heart.  

THOUGHTS: What an anthology! Not only is the novel’s premise beautiful, but the characters are so well developed that their voices are shining through on every page. With the collaboration of six of the most influential women in current YA literature, the novel celebrates coming of age in one of the most vibrant cities in the world: New York City! Blackout is also available as an audiobook, which is just fantastic! The only downfall is that the anthology ended. It leaves the reader craving more stories from each of these characters. 

Short Stories          Marie Mengel, Reading SD
Realistic Fiction

A collection of short stories written by acclaimed authors are woven together as each story is set during a blackout during the summer in New York City. Some stories are not completed in one section, but bounce back and forth which could be challenging for some readers to comprehend. Although the flow of some stories isn’t constant, it helps connect all the stories and characters as experiencing something universal: love and a summer night in NYC when the lights are bizarrely out. All stories celebrate love in many diverse ways. The stories almost took on the feel of novellas, as some stories stretched a bit longer with characters that were easy to relate to or to cheer on from the sidelines. The details about New York City are highlighted artfully throughout each story that isn’t often seen in YA fiction. The book ends with bonus content from all six authors that provides further context into their work. 

THOUGHTS: If you already have YA short story collections like Let it Snow on your shelves (or always off your shelves), this is a great addition for high school libraries looking for fiction that tells stories of Black love and LGBTQ+ love without a focus of oppression. 

Short Stories          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD
Realistic Fiction

YA – The Cost of Knowing

Morris, Brittney. The Cost of Knowing. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44545-1. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Despite trying his best to hold things together, sixteen year old Alex Rufus is struggling. Since the death of their parents, he and his little brother Isaiah have grown apart, barely interacting with each other in their Aunt Mackie’s house. Alex has his girlfriend Talia but constantly worries that he’ll do something wrong to ruin their relationship. At work Alex would prefer to remain in the back washing dishes while wearing rubber gloves than be out front scooping ice cream and interacting with customers. At the same time, Alex and Isaiah’s neighbor Mrs. Zaccari makes initially subtle and increasingly frustrating comments about neighborhood crime and what the Shiv concert coming to the area will mean for their safety. Alex is one touch from losing his carefully constructed exterior. Since the death of his parents, Alex gets a glimpse of the future when he touches anything. Usually something simple and easily dismissed, things become complicated when Alex visualizes an unreadable expression on Talia’s face – the sign of a breakup – and unbearable when he has a vision of his brother’s death. Burdened with the knowledge that he he can’t stop the inevitable, but determined to fix his relationship with Isaiah, Alex races to reconnect with his brother and learns that the two may not be as different as he thought.

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Alex from the beginning as he works against “his curse.” Many readers will be able to suspend reality enough to believe this mostly realistic fantasy. Recommended for high school collections where compelling, character driven titles are in demand.

Fantasy (Paranormal)          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Magical Realism
Realistic Fiction

YA – A Taste for Love

Yen, Jennifer. A Taste for Love. Razorbill, 2021. 978-0-593-11752-1. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Liza is a free-spirited, Taiwanese-American teen who likes to rebel against her mother’s wishes. With a “perfect” older sister off following her dreams and a meddling mother always on Liza’s case, she doesn’t have to try too hard to go against her mother’s wishes. And dating unsuitable boys has been number one on Liza’s list. Mrs. Yang, co-owner of the Yin and Yang restaurant and bakery with her chef husband, has a plan to get Liza on the right path. Using Liza’s love of and skill for baking, Mrs. Yang convinces her to serve as a guest judge in the bakery’s annual junior competition (think Great British Baking Show). It doesn’t take long for Liza to recognize that she’s been set up by her mother. Not only is each contestant male, each also is Asian American. What follows is a fun battle between mother and daughter, as Liza also fights her feelings for one contestant specifically. Mothers might know best, but Liza is her own person, and she won’t give up easily.

THOUGHTS: As a fan of The Great British Baking Show, I adored this sweet romance. Filled with delicious descriptions, readers will be rooting for Liza from the beginning. Pairs well with other YA “food titles” such as A Pho Love Story, The Way You Make Me Feel, and so many others (just google it!). Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries looking to add representation to their romance sections.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG/YA – Simone Breaks All the Rules

Rigaud, Debbie. Simone Breaks All the Rules. Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-68172-1. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Simone Thibodeaux is tired of her overprotective Haitian parents, and when they arrange her prom date with a son of a suitable Haitian family, it is the last straw. She decides the end of her senior year at St. Clare Academy, a largely white, all-girls school, is the perfect time to start experiencing life. She enlists two classmates with similar parental issues, Indian-American Amite and Kira, the white daughter of a notorious lawyer. The trio dub themselves HomeGirls, and create a Senior Playlist of challenges and accomplishments, including going to a house party, cutting class, and changing up their style. And then there is prom. Simone works feverishly to keep her parents thinking she is going to prom with Ben, the polite Haitian boy, while lining up her own date with Gavin, a hot guy from the affiliated boys school. But why is it so hard to be herself around Gavin, and so comfortable to be with Ben? Readers will fall for Simone from the first pages. Her voice is fresh, humorous, and authentic. Anyone with parents will relate and sympathize with Simone and her girlfriends. However, along the way to ditching her parents, Simone comes to appreciate her Haitian heritage and culture, and realize how much she does love her mom, as trying as she may be. The book celebrates the value of good friends (and how not to lose them) and the families who love us. Haitian culture and Haitian Creole language are sprinkled throughout the book, deftly adding to the depiction of the New York area Haitian-American community.

THOUGHTS:  This delightful rom-com is perfect for middle school as well as high school, with nothing more dangerous than a few chaste kisses, and clubbing occurs as a teen venue serving “mocktails.”

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD