MG – Just Like That

Schmidt, Gary. Just Like That. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-0-544-08477-3. 387 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Meryl Lee, reeling from the tragic death of her best friend Holling, is struggling to find joy in anything. Her parents enroll her into a New England boarding school to help her find herself again (while also shielding her from the divorce process they are secretly going through). At St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, Meryl Lee feels like she has more in common with the young ladies who are employed there rather than the stuck-up girls who attend as students. Despite being told that it is “unbecoming” to mingle with the staff, Meryl Lee knows in her heart this is wrong. With the support of the headmistress, Dr. Nora MacKnockater, Meryl Lee works on healing her heart and finding her place in the world. At the same time, a boy named Matt Coffin is always on the move. Homeless and parent-less, he moves from place to place carrying his pillowcase full of money, intent on avoiding the scary people who are coming after him. His travels take him to New England and there, his world collides with Meryl Lee’s and Dr. MacKnockater’s. With their help, he confronts his past and starts planting permanent roots in one place.

THOUGHTS: Although these two characters are seemingly different, the struggles they are going through tie them together. The book takes place in 1968 but still feels very modern. The character’s struggles are definitely ones that middle grade readers will relate to (fitting in, divorce) combined with the global struggle of the Vietnam War in the background of the story makes it more complex than it seems on the surface. Gary Schmidt’s witty writing style will make middle grade readers laugh, cry, and think.

Historical Fiction           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Instructions for Dancing

Yoon, Nicola. Instructions for Dancing. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-0-593-43494-9. 285 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Ever since her parents split up, Yvette (“Evie”) hasn’t found romance novels quite as magical anymore. She sees through the happily ever after to the true equation of every love story: “Heartbreak = love + time.” While donating a stack of previously beloved books to a Little Free Library near her L.A. apartment building, Evie finds a book called Instructions for Dancing. Returning home with the book, she sees her younger sister Danica and her boyfriend kissing on the stoop and has a vision of the couple’s love story, including how it began and how it will end. Later that night, Evie realizes that her premonition of Danica’s break-up came true, and it’s the first of many such visions. Pinning her new ability to the secondhand book in her backpack, Evie follows its instructions to return it to a dancing school in La Brea. There, she meets (charming, attractive, talented, and tall) Xavier, or X, whose grandparents own the studio. With a little nudge, in hopes of boosting business, the pair enter the L.A. Danceball competition, Amateur Under 21 category. Genuine feelings develop as Evie and X master elements of ballroom including footwork, artistry, showmanship, and chemistry. But can Evie truly open her heart to love when she knows that it will inevitably end?

THOUGHTS: Nicola Yoon’s latest promises (and skillfully delivers) romance, ballroom dancing, a hint of magic, and one girl’s quest to answer that age-old question: is love worth the risk?

Romance          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Summer of Brave

Parks, Amy Noelle. Summer of Brave. Albert Whitman & Co., 2021. 978-0-807-57660-1. 232 p. $16.99. Grades 4-8.

Lilla likes to make everyone happy, even if it means not speaking her mind. The Summer Wish is a tradition between friends Knox, Vivi, and Lilla – whoever blows off the most seeds of the dandelion gets to make a Summer Wish that the other two must do. When Vivi wins (again), she decides to make her wish for a summer of brave, where everyone is honest and shares their feelings in order to overcome a fear. For Lilla this will be a challenge at home since she spends half her time living on the second floor with her mother, a scientist, and the other half on the first floor with her father, an artist. When the trio apply for summer camp counselors, tensions mount when Vivi doesn’t get chosen and Lilla can’t tell her the truth (which equals not being brave). Add to that the decision on which school to attend in the fall (the private school for science or art? Or the public school for a more well rounded education?), Lilla struggles with finding her voice to tell both her parents and friends her true wish. Will the Summer of Brave truly work?

THOUGHTS: A great coming of age story about being honest with yourself and others while finding out who you are. These middle school students are relatable and each bring a special connection to the story. Lilla struggles with self doubt, and readers at this level will connect with her in more ways than one. A wonderfully written and brave story of finding the courage to speak up for what you believe in.

Realistic Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA – Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story)

Nayeri, Daniel. Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story). Levine Querido, 2020. 346 p. 978-1-646-14000-8. $17.99.  Grades 7-12.

When Khosrou’s (Daniel’s) physician mother converts to Christianity in the 1980’s, she endangers her life because of the Iranian government’s restrictions on religion. His father, a jovial, loquacious dentist covertly obtains the proper paperwork for escape, then drops off his eight-year-old son and twelve-year-old daughter, Dina, at the airport as his wife starts a journey that will take the threesome to Dubai, Italy, and finally, Oklahoma. Daniel Nayeri’s Printz Award-winning book, Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story), telling how his family turned from comfortable, wealthy land owners to battered, poor refugees can be summed up in these few sentences; but the flow of the chapter-less pages weaves a tale likened to the much admired, Scheherazade of 1,001 Nights. The paragraphs describing memories of Daniel’s (no one in America can pronounce Khosrou!) grandparents’ home and his parents’ relationship spin into beloved Persian legends and myths and wind up next to pages relating the harsher daily existence he experiences in Oklahoma. Daniel is at the center of a maelstrom as the cover depicts, a twelve-year-old boy with different tastes in foods and specific hygienic customs, wanting to fit in yet also wanting to hold on to the Persian culture he cherishes. A son with vivid recollections who longs for the warmth of his biological father, but is resigned to live with his stern, abusive Farsi- speaking step-father whom his mother marries and keeps remarrying for companionship and convenience, despite the beatings she suffers. As Daniel narrates his life tale with casual familiarity, the reader learns of the ancient heritage of Iran and its reverence and love of story, his difficulties adjusting to each stage of the refugee journey, and his impressions of Americans and life here. Most of all, the story is a tribute to the perseverance and unconditional love of his mother, Sima. In the refugee hotel of Italy instead of lolling around all day waiting for the call to emigrate, she makes a connection with a Texan woman living in Rome who home schools her own children and arranges for Daniel and Dina to share in the lessons even though Sima has to spend hours erasing the answers from the host children’s cast-off notebooks so that Daniel and Dina can use them. Her determination and dignity to make life good for her son and daughter are evident in that scene. Told not as a memoir, but as a work of fiction—for as the narrator tells us, it is not so simple to sort out fact from fiction when dealing with one’s memories—Daniel delivers the truth of his life as he remembers it with humor and charm and not a bit of self-pity. Shifting from present to far past to recent past, he shares his varied observations, thus preserving his precious legacy of storytelling, made up or real, or a mixture of both.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: Like the coveted cream puffs described in one of Nayeri’s tales, this book is a treat for those who appreciate a different writing style and matchless imagery. There are bits of scatological references—the unhappy affect of a first-time encounter with Sloppy Joes and negotiating a toilet with a bidet—but the targeted audience may appreciate and even empathize with Daniel’s situations. Written with a truly inimitable voice, this work is unlike any book for middle grade or young adult this reader has encountered. Recommend to students who love words or like to write, to those new to a place, or those needing to understand another perspective.

MG – The List of Things that Will Not Change

Staed, Rebecca. The List of Things that Will Not Change. Wendy Lamb Books, 2020. 978-1-101-93810-2. 218 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Bea was eight when her parents divorced and gave her a green notebook with a list of “Things that will not change” written into it.  The first two items on the list are that her mom and dad will always love her and each other. Bea has been adding to that list ever since getting her notebook. The thing is, lots of things in Bea’s life are changing, and being the worrier that she is, it’s not always easy to adjust. Seeing her therapist helps, as does having both parents love and support her. When her dad tells her that he and his boyfriend are getting married, Bea is filled with excitement, for her father and his boyfriend, and for herself as Jesse has a daughter that is her age.  Bea has always wanted a sister, but things aren’t as easy as Bea wishes. As the wedding gets closer, Bea comes to terms with her past secrets and the fact that things don’t always have to be perfect to be perfect for her.

THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection.

Realistic Fiction                   Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

MG – A Thousand Questions

Faruqi, Saadia. A Thousand Questions. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-062-94320-0. 225 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8. 

In this East meets West friendship story, A Thousand Questions shows the disparity in lifestyles between the United States and Pakistan told alternately by the two main characters. Eleven-year-old Mimi Scotts and her mother travel from Houston, Texas, for summer vacation to visit her wealthy grandparents, Begum Sahib and Sahiba Ji, in Karachi for the first time. She is awed by the wealth and luxury of her grandparents’ home compared with her tiny apartment and stretched budget back in the United States. While Mimi’s mother reconnects with her school chums, Mimi forms a friendship with the servant girl, Sakina Ejaz. Too poor to go to school, Sakina assists her diabetic father cooking in the Ji’s kitchen. The two girls become fast friends. With the backdrop of the campaign season for new elections, Sakina shows Mimi the sites of Karachi, and Mimi agrees to tutor to Sakina for her English examination so that she can win a school scholarship. Mimi’s narration includes secret letters she writes to Tom Scotts, the father she has never met. When Mimi discovers her freelance journalist father is living in Karachi, she is determined to meet him and Sakina is a willing accomplice. Author Saadia Faruqi captures the richness of the Asian city from the delicious dishes and its atmosphere to the inequity of the caste system as well as the authenticity of the fully-drawn main characters: Sakina, mature beyond her years, cognizant of her integral role in providing for the welfare of her family; Mimi, an ordinary American girl of modest means, getting to know her grandparents and also her own mother in her childhood home and longing to connect with father.

THOUGHTS: This book reminds the reader of When Heaven Fell  by Carolyn Marsden, a story that compares the life of  a struggling Vietnamese family with the life of an adult Vietnamese-American adoptee who visits her Vietnamese birth mother. There’s a part where Sakini asks Mimi if there are poor people in America and Mimi answers, “No,” at first until she remembers a homeless man and the kids at school who qualify for free lunch. Discussion of social justice issues, equity in education, and divorce can ensue.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

When Mimi and her mother arrive in Karachi, Pakistan for the summer, Mimi immediately misses air conditioning, soccer, and chicken nuggets, all staples of her American upbringing. Mimi is surprised to find that her grandparents live in luxury, employing servants and wearing fancy clothes, while Mimi and her mother can barely afford rent in their tiny Houston apartment. Mimi realizes there is so much she doesn’t know about her mother, her grandparents, and her father who left years ago without explanation. After learning that her father’s job brought him to Karachi, Mimi befriends a servant girl who agrees to help Mimi find him in exchange for English lessons. Sakina, a servant of Mimi’s grandparents, dreams of going to school like Mimi, but her servant status prohibits her from making her dreams a reality. After all, when would she find the time to go to school when she must keep her job to take care of her own family and ailing father? Going to school seems even more impossible when she takes a secret exam and fails the English portion, but when Sakina and Mimi strike up their deal, Sakina starts to hope for her future and a better life for her family. As their friendship blossoms, the inequities of the Pakistani class system are revealed, and the friends determine to make good in both of their worlds despite the challenges.

THOUGHTS: Instead of multiple perspectives from different time periods, this story highlights two contemporary perspectives in a country many readers will be unfamiliar with. Shining light on the class system that still exists today in Pakistan, readers may feel compelled to learn more about the living inequalities and hardships people face who live outside of the United States. This is a good #ownvoices addition to any library seeking to diversity their collection.

Realistic     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – Love & Olives

Welch, Jenna Evans. Love & Olives. Simon Pulse, 2020. 978-1-534-44883-4. $18.99. 352 p. Grades 7-12. 

On the outside it appears that Liv has everything figured out, but inside she’s struggling with a few things. For one, her long time high school boyfriend Dax just graduated, and he wants Liv to follow him to Stanford. She hasn’t found the right way to tell him that her heart is set on RISD, and anyway she might not even get in (and still has one more year). When a beat-up postcard for Liv arrives days before Dax’s senior trip – which Liv is supposed to go on – Liv feels her perfect outside begin to crumble. Dax doesn’t know this side of Liv. At her mom’s insistence, Liv is headed to Santorini, Greece to spend some time with her father, whom Liv hasn’t seen since she was 8. Since she hasn’t heard from him in years, Liv has many conflicted emotions about seeing her father again. Why after all this time does he think they can have a relationship. But Liv’s father’s love of Atlantis was a connection the two of them shared during her childhood, and an exciting special project helps them begin to reconnect after all those years. His persistent assistant Theo is a great buffer between the awkward moments, and Theo helps Liv experience Santorini. His good looks are a great distraction too, and as they work together and become friends Liv begins to question some of the choices she’s made in her own life. The clock on her visit is ticking, though, and Liv isn’t sure she can count on her father. Is their relationship beyond repair, and can Liv move on beyond her childhood broken heart?

THOUGHTS: Set among a gorgeous backdrop with detailed descriptions of Santorini, readers will fall in love with Greece. Liv/Olive/Kalamata/Indiana Olive has a lot to learn about herself, and readers will be rooting for her from the beginning. With a strong cast of characters and a little bit of mystery and romance, this book will be a hit among middle and high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – It Sounded Better in My Head

Kenwood, Nina. It Sounded Better in My Head. Flatiron Books, 2020. 978-1-250-21926-8. 260 p. $18.99. Grade. 8-12.

Natalie had a good grip on her life until her parents jovially announce they’re getting a divorce. They’ve known this for months but waited until the Christmas holidays and high school graduation (which coincide in Australia, where the book was first published). A rarity for literature, Natalie has a great relationship with her parents and is devastated by the news and hurt by their deceit. She turns to her support network, her best friends Lucy and Zach. But since they started dating, Natalie sometimes feels like a third wheel. Having suffered through severe, scarring acne during puberty, Natalie has a shattered self image and has not dated. At a party, she connects with Alex, Zach’s older brother, but quickly convinces herself Alex’s interest was an act of kindness perpetrated by Zach. But an accidental case of musical bedrooms at a beach house over New Year’s brings Natalie and Alex back into close proximity, and as they talk they again feel a positive connection. However, Natalie’s lack of confidence and poor self image quickly threaten to sabotage the burgeoning relationship. This engaging book covers a topic not discussed in YA literature, the trauma of severe teen acne, and the scars it leaves, both physical and psychological. Natalie is a bright teen with caring parents and friends, but the long term effects of her acne are evident in her image, (styling her hair to cover which side of her face looks worse) confidence, and self-worth. American readers will need to translate Australian terms and references but will recognize themselves in the three friends as they shakily navigate through the next phase in their lives.

THOUGHTS: A welcome addition to YA realistic fiction collections. While some characters have sex off-page, Natalie and Alex discuss the issue and decide they are not ready.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Eighteen-year-old Natalie is looking forward to her well-planned future: she and her close friends and new couple, Zach and Lucy, will join her in their respective majors at a local Australian university. Perhaps then, Natalie will be able to shed some of the body shame she has from her years with inflammatory, scarring acne and finally experience a love life.

When Natalie’s seemingly loving parents announce their divorce on graduation night, Natalie relies even more on her friends, though she’s feeling more and more like a third wheel. As the trio await their uni placements, they join Zach’s family at their beach house in Queenscliff to vacation and celebrate New Year’s. What follows is a comedy of errors. Going against his house rules, Zach asks Natalie if she will trade rooms so he and Lucy can sleep together. Older brother, Alex, shows up at the beach house in the middle of the night and crashes in Zach’s room surprising both Natalie and himself. It doesn’t help that Natalie has a secret crush on handsome Alex since he gave her a peck on the cheek during a game of Spin the Bottle at a pre-graduation party. As their nights together multiply, romance blossoms. The revelation of the pair as boyfriend and girlfriend causes a ruckus not just in Alex’s and Zack’s family but also in Zach’s and Natalie’s relationship. Natalie’s first-person narrative reveals her insecurities in navigating the new terrain of sex and a boy/girl relationship. Though no graphic sex scenes occur, It Sounded Better In My Head does percolate the angst and delight of true friendship, first love, and new beginnings. Author Kenwood makes this story light and funny and her characters seem very real.

THOUGHTS: Natalie spends a lot of time obsessing over her bad skin and her lack of a love life. Natalie and Alex spend a lot of time talking and kissing in bed during the room switch and afterward. At this time when there are so many serious issues abound, Natalie’s common concerns about friendship, sex, appearance, university, and her parents may seem a bit trite; however, young readers may share Natalie’s insecurities and longings and enjoy her sense of humor.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Summer and July

Moiser, Paul. Summer and July. Harper, 2020. 978-0-062-84936-6. 320 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

12 year old Julliet is afraid. She is afraid of turbulence on the airplane ride to LA, afraid of the premonitions given by a fortune teller back home, and afraid of telling the truth about why she missed her piano recital. While in Ocean View, where she and her mom are staying for a month, Julliet meets Summer, a free spirited surfer, who teaches her to live beyond her fears. As summer days filled with ice cream and “ignoring alien orders” pass by, Julliet realizes that Summer is hiding a difficult reality in her own life. With Summer’s help she is not only able to confront many of her physical fears, but Julliet is also able to share how her parent’s divorce has contributed to her fears. As feelings grow and summer comes to an end, Julliet helps Summer find joy after a family tragedy and she becomes the strong, fearless surfer girl she is meant to be.

THOUGHTS: This sweet novel set in an ocean town will be a perfect middle grade read for students nostalgic for summer. Students who are struggling with divorce or feelings related to LGBTQ+ identity will appreciate and connect with these characters.

Realistic Fiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA FIC – Layover; The Girl You Thought I Was; The Summer of Broken Things

Andelson, Amy, and Emily Meyer. Layover. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-254-76487-6. p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Two years ago at thirteen, Flynn’s mom was in an accident. After losing her mom, Flynn leaves her Northern California home, moving across the country to New York, to live with her dad, stepmom, stepbrother, and half sister. Though Flynn has adjusted and it’s not as fresh, the pain of losing her mom is still with Flynn.

Amos has just returned to New York after trying to avoid an uncomfortable and confusing situation. He fled New York going to boarding school in Massachusetts. While some parts of his life remain the same, his friendship with Flynn is quite different, and Amos wonders if running away was the answer he had wanted.

Poppy is happy to have her siblings back under one roof, so they can do the things they always used to do – together.

While en route to meeting their parents on a winter vacation in Bora Bora, these siblings decide to take a stand and stick together. What happens on their layover in Los Angeles is a whirlwind few days of being together yet sometimes feeling torn apart.

THOUGHTS: What a cute story! Readers will delight in the sibling relationships with narrators Flynn, Amos, and Poppy. The various storylines propel readers forward, as they will want to learn the outcome and see how each sibling resolves his or her situation. Underage drinking and discussion of mature relationships as well as a lack of parental supervision throughout the novel make this a suitable high school read.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Phillips, Rebecca. The Girl You Thought I Was. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-0-062-57094-9. 368 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Though her parents recently divorced and her older sister is now off at college, to everyone else Morgan Kemper appears to live an ideal life. She and her dad have adjusted well to their new apartment and are getting by together.

Things aren’t always as they seem; however, and when Morgan is picked up for shoplifting at the mall, her carefully constructed life begins to crack. Able to hide her crime from all of her friends, Morgan is spared the embarrassment of a trial by volunteering and taking an online shoplifting class.

While volunteering, she meets Eli, the boss Rita’s nephew. Rita knows why she’s really there, but Morgan can’t bring herself to tell Eli. As she falls for Eli and volunteers throughout the summer, Morgan struggles with her urge to shoplift. She still has not processed her mother’s infidelity and used shoplifting to feel some control in her life. In order to move forward and heal, Morgan needs to accept herself and her life for what it is.  

THOUGHTS: Pressures placed on teens and the aftermath of divorce as well as sibling, parent/child, and teen romantic relationships are all addressed in an authentic way. At times predictable, readers still will root for Morgan to get her life together. This is an excellent addition where realistic, character driven books (with a little romance) are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Haddix, Margaret Peterson. The Summer of Broken Things. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-481-41764-8. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Avery Armisted has everything any 14 year old girl could possibly want, and she doesn’t have to work hard to get it. When she doesn’t get her way and is forced to spend the summer before high school in Spain while her dad is there on business, she is anything but thrilled. Instead of seeing the trip as an opportunity or adventure, she fights to attend soccer camp with her best friends. Even her mom doesn’t seem to be on her side this time, though. To soften the blow, Avery’s parents compromise and allow her to bring a friend along. Their choice is Kayla Butts, a childhood friend of Avery’s who is a far cry from someone Avery considers a friend these days.

While Avery sulks in Spain, Kayla seems to thrive, despite her simple, normal upbringing. While reinventing herself without the “Butt Girl” stigma of her small-town school, Kayla begins to see that maybe Avery doesn’t really lead such a charmed life. When the girls discover a shocking secret that links their past, they have to work together to move forward and understand who they really are.

THOUGHTS: Avery is not the most likeable character. In fact, she’s a spoiled brat. That doesn’t mean she deserved to uncover a family secret the way she did. At an impressionable time in her teenage life, Avery’s world crumbles, and she’s an ocean away from home. Readers will go from despising Avery to rooting for her in this coming of age novel of deciding who you are in the face of adversity. This is a clean read that is suitable for any middle or high school student looking for a book about friendship, family, and self-discovery.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD