YA – All These Monsters

Tintera, Amy. All These Monsters. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-01240-5. 450 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up. 

The world has been overtaken by vicious man-eating monsters that randomly pop up from underground. No one knows where or when they’ll attack next, all must be on guard, and deaths are staggering. Clara Pratt’s home life is still worse. Her abusive father is violent, angry, and manipulative, and anything can set him off in an instant. When Clara discovers her brother is about to leave, she knows she needs to too. After learning about Grayston St. John’s plan to send teams to fight the monsters (the scrabs as they’re called) overseas in Europe where America has refused to send help, Clara knows that’s her way out. Only if she can make the team and leave the country. But all is not as it seems in the world of the scrabs, and to face it she will have to fight her inner demons.

THOUGHTS: An action-packed novel, All These Monsters has earned a spot on my shelf right between The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.

Dystopian            Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD
Science Fiction

YA – The Loop

Oliver, Ben. The Loop. Chicken House, 2020. 978-1-338-58930-6. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

The Loop. The high-tech prison serving adolescent death-row inmates is a unique hellscape. With torture every night and isolation most of the day, these juveniles are the dregs of society, committers of crimes so unspeakable as to be sentenced to death before they ever turn 18. But one thing can “save” them; choosing a ‘Delay’ extends their sentence by 6 months. Another 6 months to live, but only if they partake in scientific experiments including experimental surgeries, that’s assuming they survive. Everything runs like clockwork, down to the minute the same thing happens every day. Until it doesn’t. Until the rain doesn’t come. Set in a society where the government has the control, even over the weather, what will happen when things go awry, when the people revolt?

THOUGHTS: A thrilling-fast paced dystopia, The Loop will appeal to fans of The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games.

Dystopian          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

MG – The Middler

Applebaum, Kirsty. The Middler. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-31733-9. 262 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Eleven year old Maggie is a middler, nothing special like an eldest, and is mainly ignored and invisible in her town of Fennis Wick. When Maggie meets a “wanderer” who lives outside the boundary, she decides she wants to step up and get noticed by trying to capture her. Once Maggie steps outside her town and into the boundary that has always kept her isolated, everything she has ever known and believed gets turned upside down. Join Maggie in this dystopian adventure that exposes the lies her town has told for years and changes the way of their world forever. Fans of The Giver will love this debut novel!

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

Fantasy          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

YA – Imagine Me

Mafi, Tahereh. Imagine Me. HarperCollins, 2020. 978-0-062-67644-3. $18.99. 464 p. Grades 9-12.

“Imagine me, master of my own universe. I am everything I ever dreamed of.” Juliette Ferrars has survived abandonment, imprisonment, isolation, and loneliness, but she still learned to let people into her life as mentors, companions, and friends. She fell in love, became a leader, and almost lost it all. Although the reestablishment is still a threat, Juliette must now face her past in order to survive her future. Now that Juliette knows about Ella, she’ll need the support of her loved ones to help her understand who she truly is. When Juliette is captured, Warner and Kenji must find a way to bring her back and put an end to the reestablishment once and for all.

THOUGHTS:  Imagine Me is the final book in the Shatter Me series, and this is a series that gets better and better with each book! I wasn’t overly impressed with Shatter Me, but I was hooked after reading Unravel Me and Ignite Me. The series could have ended after Ignite Me; however, there was so much more to all the characters than I could have ever imagined, so I’m glad that Mafi decided to continue the series to tell the rest of their stories. Imagine Me reveals even more secrets, plot twists, and shocking moments that will keep readers on edge until the very end.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

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

YA – City of Beasts; The Queen of Nothing

Wang, Corrie. City of Beasts. Freeform Books, 2019. 978-1-368-02662-8. $17.99. 374 p. Grades 9 and up.

Glori and her multi-generational group of co-habitant fees (females) are content living their lives on Grand Island outside what used to be the city of Buffalo. Nearly 17 years ago, a nuclear war killed most of civilization and left most of the planet uninhabitable. After years of natural disasters and unrest culminated with the world-wide nuclear attacks, males and females in the area around Buffalo decided to live separately. The nuclear bombings (referred to as The Night) left females unable to procreate anyway…or so they thought. Then five years ago, Glori’s mother, Majesty, gave birth to a beast (a male) they named Two Five. Mystery surrounding his birth aside, the “family” raises the male in secret… until Two Five is kidnapped and taken by beasts to Buffalo. Of course, Glori decides she must rescue her brother, against the wishes of her grandmother, the leader of the fees on Grand Island. She and Su, her best friend and co-habitant, sneak over the bridge to the city to try and rescue Two Five where they meet Sway, a beast who is nothing like the terrifying stereotype of males they were taught. Glori and Su discover there is much more to their rescue mission when they learn about the politics of this society that has been kept from them their entire lives. Not only are they trying to rescue Two Five, but they also end up fighting in a war between beasts and fees that has been 17 years in the making.

THOUGHTS: Complex world-building and relationships coupled with timely themes of politics, science, and gender stereotypes make this an intriguing read for fans of dystopia.

Dystopian          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Black, Holly. The Queen of Nothing (Folk of Air Book 3). Little, Brown and Company, 2019. 978-0-316-31042-0. 320 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Following her exile to the mortal world by King Carden, Jude, Queen of Elfhame, is forced to return, in defiance of her exile, to Elfhame as her twin sister, Taryn, following the death of Taryn’s husband Lock.  Although only meant to be there a few hours, Jude ends up back with her father, Madoc, in his military camp. As Jude learns of Madoc’s plan to take the Blood Crown from Carden and rule Elfhame, her guise of being Taryn is also revealed.  Ending up at the court, Jude is accepted back as Queen of Elfhame by King Carden, and they begin their rule together. When Madoc challenges Carden for the crown, Carden’s actions release the spell placed upon the crown on himself. Will Jude be able to save Elfhame, Carden, and herself, or will the magic destroy all of Elfhame and all Jude has known and loved?

THOUGHTS: Black’s end of the Folk of Air trilogy develops well, but falls a bit flat with the resolution.  Conflicts are a bit too tidy with the end, although all of the rising action, climax, and falling action are excellent.  Students who enjoy fantasy and/or romance will enjoy this trilogy. The final book includes much more romance than the previous texts which was a bit awkward and led to the flat resolution.

Fantasy, Romance          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Opposite of Always; Rebel; The Girl in the White Van; I Am a Feminist; The Revolution of Birdie Randolph; Slay; Frankly in Love; Hack Your Cupboard; All Eyes on Us; The Grief Keeper

Reynolds, Justin A. Opposite of Always. Katherine Tegen, 2019. 978-0-062-74837-9. $17.99. 457 p. Grades 9 and up. 

Jack King has spent most of his life on the sidelines – figuratively and literally. He attends his high school’s sporting events but only to cheer on his best friend Franny from the stands. Jack also is on the figurative sideline in his friend group. Though he had a major crush on Jillian during freshman year, she started dating Franny before he could tell her how he felt. He has spent much of high school content with being their 3rd wheel, supporting them through their family struggles. During senior year on a visit to a nearby college the trio of friends is hoping to attend, Jack meets Kate on a dingy stairwell, and he feels as though he finally has a chance at getting off the sidelines. Jack feels that he is falling in love with Kate, and she seems to return his feelings, but she keeps secrets and fails to commit completely to a relationship. When Kate suddenly falls ill and dies, Jack inexplicably time travels back to the moment they met on the stairwell and relives it all again… and again… Armed with knowledge of Kate’s future and the future in general, can Jack change the course of events and save Kate’s life? Can he fix his friends’ problems, too? Opposite of Always tells a mostly realistic but also slightly fantastical story that explores the concepts of time, priorities, relationships of all kinds, and what really matters. 

THOUGHTS: Contemporary YA romance meets Groundhog’s Day probably best describes Opposite of Always. As a result, the plot – by nature – is a bit repetitive. However, Jack’s self-deprecating humor makes him an easy character to root for, so with each iteration of the plot, the more he tries, the more readers will want to see him succeed. Though the narration is often heavy in dialogue, that’s okay because the snappy banter between Jack/Kate or Jack/Jillian is delightfully laugh-out-loud funny. Any YA book with a relatable male narrator gets my recommendation, but add the fact that Jack and his friends are black, and that makes this an excellent addition to any collection, especially one where students demand books with diverse characters. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Lu, Marie. Rebel. Roaring Book Press, 2019. 978-1-250-22170-4. $18.99. 376 p. Grades 7 and up.

One decade ago Eden’s older brother Daniel – better know by the nickname Day – took the Republic of America by storm, rising above poverty to become the nation’s most notorious criminal and later the rebellion’s hero. Now settled into Ross City, Antarctica, Eden is a top university student, and Daniel works for AIS, the Antarctican Intelligence System. The leveling system of Antarctica ensures the boys are living comfortably on the Sky Floors – but what neither boy realizes is how unhappy they both are. Alternating narratives show Daniel as an overprotective, older brother and Eden as an independent, frustrated younger brother. While the boys live together, they’re beginning to drift apart, and both feel frustrated by their relationship. Tired of living in his brother’s shadow, Eden is ready to make a name for himself, even it if takes him into the dark and dangerous Undercity. With friend Pressa by his side, Eden is ready to test his skills in a big way – an illegal way – entering Undercity drone race. When Eden’s invention catches the eye of Daniel’s and AIS’s target, life becomes more dangerous. This of course is right around the same time June and the President of the Republic of America are scheduled to arrive in Ross City. What follows is a fast-paced story about brothers and what it means to look out for each other while becoming who you were born to be.

THOUGHTS: Fans of Marie Lu’s writing will rejoice with this new installment to the Legend series. Though Lu takes a new approach with narrators in this fourth book, there is still enough of June’s character to satisfy earlier readers. References to previous events (and Daniel’s struggle to remember them) make this most suited for readers of the series; however, new readers can follow along as a new cast of characters surround the main conflict. Highly recommended for secondary libraries, especially where dystopian or sci-fi books are popular.

Dystopian Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Henry, April. The Girl in the White Van. Henry Holt & Company, 2020. 978-1-250-15759-1. $17.99. 224 p. Grades 7-12.

About 7 months ago Savannah and her mom relocated to Portland to live with her mother’s newest boyfriend. Tim isn’t exactly what his online dating profile promised. Though Savannah is trying to make the best of life in Portland, she hasn’t really found her place except in the Kung Fu dojo. There she finds solace, and she’s working on building her strength and her confidence. With her mom working nights Savannah is forced to spend some time with Tim. Luckily, Kung Fu gets her out of the house for a bit most nights. When Tim threatens to take away Kung Fu, Savannah runs out of the house and loses herself in that night’s class. Daniel, a fellow student, notices that Savannah seems distracted. Afraid to get too close to anyone only to move away again (they’ve lived in many different towns and states throughout Savannah’s life), Savannah doesn’t let herself get too tied to Portland. Distracted on her walk home and trying to figure out how to apologize to Tim, Savannah doesn’t notice she’s not alone. All of her Kung Fu lessons can’t save her from Sir, who overpowers Savannah and kidnaps her. Savannah isn’t alone in the RV, though. She’ll need to rely on her determination and convince Jenny that life is still worth living if they have any hope of getting free.

THOUGHTS: With fast-paced, compelling stories and characters readers will root for, it is no wonder why April Henry’s books are popular in my high school library. The Girl in the White Van is no different and is a must have for secondary libraries where mysteries or other books by Henry are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Orca Issues. Orca Book Publishers, 2019. $21.41 ea. $64.23 set of 4. 175 p. Grades 9 and up.

Polak, Monique. I Am a Feminist: Claiming the F-Word in Turbulent Times. 978-1-459-81892-7.
Siebert, Melanie. Heads Up – Changing Minds on Mental Health. 978-1-459-81911-5. (2020)

Stevenson, Robin. My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights. 978-1-459-81712-8.
Tate, Nikki. Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die: The Complexities of Assisted Dying. 978-1-459-81889-7.

Polak’s narrative explores multiple aspects of feminism starting with a chapter on its history from the suffragists of the early 20th century up to the current movement including the Women’s Marches in 2017. The book covers feminism around the world, highlighting many issues girls and women on this continent do not typically have to deal with like lack of access to education and genital mutilation. It looks at feminism in the workplace, feminism as it relates to love and relationships, rape culture, body image, issues of diversity and sexuality, and more. Finally, Polak discusses the toxic masculinity that exists in our culture and offers suggestions for readers to support men in becoming feminists, too. The book contains colorful photos and illustrations on nearly every page. Sidebars highlight specific news stories, individuals making a difference, or unique products that support the movement like, for example, a nail polish that changes color when it comes in contact with a date rape drug. The book also contains a very thorough glossary and list of resources at the back. Though Polak is from Canada and many of her references and examples come from that country, she also cites people, studies, and stories from the United States, so readers from the US do not feel like the book is irrelevant.

THOUGHTS: This book is an excellent resource for students doing a research project on feminism or simply seeking personal awareness on the topic. A relatively quick read, it could be read cover-to-cover, but could also be easily searched for a single specific topic using the index. While the lexile suggests the writing is at a high 9th grade reading level, Polak’s style is simple and conversational enough that it is accessible for a wide range of readers. Polak points out on several occasions that equal treatment for all is the aim of feminism, whether a woman wants to subscribe to traditional gender roles or not. As her title suggests, her purpose is to have all readers proclaim that they are feminists and shed the word’s negative connotation it has gained in recent years.

305.42 Feminism          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Colbert, Brandy. The Revolution of Birdie Randolph. Little Brown, 2019. 978-0-316-44856-7. 336 p. $17.99 Grades 8 +. 

A sweet and empathetic coming of age story about a sixteen-year-old growing up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago. Dove Randoph, affectionately called Birdy by her family, has led a sheltered life kept away from trouble and temptation by her protective parents. The unexpected arrival of a new boyfriend and her long lost Aunt Carlene shows Birdie a different view of life away from the high expectations and straight lines drawn by her loving but controlling parents. These two new individuals in Birdie’s life both have checkered pasts. Carlene is in recovery, overcoming years of drug addiction and life on the streets and Booker has spent some time in juvenile detention, which definitely marks him as unsuitable in the eyes of Birdy’s parents. But both Carly and Booker expose Birdy to a new way of experiencing life, and this adds spark and adventure to her sedate existence. These new experiences and conversations open Birdy’s eyes and lead her down a path of her own choosing, rather than that of her parents’. This touching novel shows a teen figuring out how to live life on her own terms, walking the line between her loyalty to her family and following her own heart. Colbert expertly weaves together so many interesting and important themes, rebellion, family, addiction, rehabilitation. She gives an empathetic portrayal of the troubled Carlene and Booker and shows the potential for redemption every person may have inside of them.

THOUGHTS: With several of the author’s previous books on bestseller and awards lists, this novel is sure to be a teen favorite.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Morris, Brittney. Slay. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-44542-0. 321 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Kiera Johnson lives a double life. By day she is one of four African American students at Jefferson Academy. She excels academically and works hard to fit in, never wanting to be seen as an outlier. But by night, Kiera lives in a world she has created, one in which she can truly be herself, the world of SLAY. An underground game that requires a passcode to get in, SLAY caters to the black community all over the world. More than 500,000 gamers use SLAY as a sanctuary from the real world, and Kiera, along with her developer Cicada, gives them all a safe place to be themselves. Known only as Emerald within the game, Kiera keeps her double life a secret from even her closest friends and family. But when an unexpected tragedy thrusts the game, and Emerald, into the limelight, Kiera must fight to keep her world and her online community safe from intruders.

THOUGHTS: Slay was an incredibly fun read. Morris explored the deeply important ideas of community and belonging in a way that was fresh. An empowering read.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Yoon, David. Frankly in Love. Putnam, 2019. 978-1-984-81220-9. 406 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Frank Li knows his parents are racist. They look down on anyone who isn’t Korean, so much so that when his sister married a black man she was disowned. As Frank tries to cope with senior year and the girls that come with it, he finds himself in a cultural conundrum. His parents would like nothing more than for him to date a nice Korean-American girl, but Frank Li only has eyes for Brit Means, a white girl who is definitively not Korean. Joy Song, a close family friend, finds herself in a similar situation prompting the teenagers to make the obvious choice, pretend to date each other so neither their parents nor their significant others ever find out that there is an issue. What follows is a whirlwind story that will take the reader on a journey to explore race, relationships, and what it takes to be true to yourself.

THOUGHTS: Frank Li’s story will resonate with anyone who has ever felt their choices would never be supported by their parents and has had to deal with the emotional fallout of that thought.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Wiegand, Alyssa, and Carla Carreon. Hack Your Cupboard: Make Great Food with What You’ve Got. Zest Books, 2019. 978-1-942-18607-6. 168 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Let’s face it: grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen are three big components of “adulting” that must all master eventually. Hack Your Cupboard is here to guide the way from cereal-for-dinner to a fancy date-night dinner with minimal kitchen catastrophes. Authors Alyssa Wiegand and Carla Carreon have organized their collaborative cookbook into four sections: Your First Kitchen, Dorm Room Dining, First Apartment Dining, and First Solo Kitchen. Within each section are tips on stocking your pantry, food storage, selecting kitchen equipment, and mastering kitchen techniques from beginner (basic vinaigrette) to intermediate (caramelizing onions) to advanced (deep frying). The cookbook’s signature element is the concept of “hacking” recipes by using what’s on hand to improve each dish or tailor it to your personal tastes. Recipe pages are liberally peppered with gourmet, spicy, budget, healthy, and hearty hacks: incorporating nuts or fresh herbs, adding protein like chicken or shrimp, marinating veggies for more flavor, and preparing part of the recipe in advance to maximize prep time. 

THOUGHTS: The cookbook benefits from the authors’ “you’ve got this!” tone and beautiful, full-color photographs of each prepared recipe. Ramen noodles topped with shredded rotisserie chicken and red peppers have never looked so delicious! Hack Your Cupboard is a worthy addition to every library’s cookbook section, and it will appeal to cooking novices or anyone looking for ways to rejuvenate their worn-out recipes.

641.5 Cooking          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Frick, Kit. All Eyes on Us. Margaret K. Elderry, 2019. 978-1-534-40440-3. 374 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Logansville’s elite girl Amanda Kelly has it all: she’s pretty, she’s popular, she’s rich, and she’s witty to boot. To top it all off her boyfriend is none other than Carter Shaw, of Shaw Realty, and together they make the perfect power couple, the new generation that will take over the town. But Amanda’s life isn’t as perfect as it seems; Carter’s been cheating on her, slumming it with Rosalie from Culver Ridge. Rosalie, for whom going out with Carter is nothing more than a convenient cover, has no intentions of keeping Carter around once high school is over. She plans to move into an apartment with her girlfriend. All is well for both Amanda and Rosalie as long as no one knows. But when a Private number begins sending the girls threatening messages and ultimatums attempting to expose their secrets to their families and communities, will they choose to work together to save their futures?

THOUGHTS: A fun, fast-paced mystery that will keep you guessing until the end!

Mystery          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Villasante, Alexandra. The Grief Keeper. Putnam, 2019. 978-0-525-51402-2. 310 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up. 

How much would you give up to ensure your safety? Your family’s? Marisol and her little sister Gabi have fled El Salvador and purchased illegal passage into the United States. Their family, torn apart by gang violence, is no longer safe. The sole future the girls have is to be granted asylum. Trapped in a Pennsylvania immigrant detainment center, the only hope for the girls is their ability to prove their need to stay in the asylum interview. When the interview does not appear to go as Marisol had hoped, she and her sister flee the center at the first chance they get. Unexpectedly, an opportunity presents itself that seems to be too good to be true, take part in an experiment that will potentially treat the grief of others for one month, and they will be allowed to stay legally. Marisol jumps at the chance but the toll is one she never imagined. How much can one person be expected to endure?

THOUGHTS: Touching on immigration and exploitation, The Grief Keeper is a thought-provoking novel that brings to light the plight, hopes, and fears of those who have nowhere left to go.

Realistic Fiction           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – The Virtue of Sin; The Prom; There’s Something About Sweetie; The Starlight Claim; Rules for Vanishing; The Toll; The Speed of Falling Objects

Schuren, Shannon. The Virtue of Sin. Philomel Books, 2019. 978-0-525-51654-5. 420 p. $17.99. Grades 8 and up. 

Girls and boys don’t get to speak to one another – not in this community, not until they’re married. But, as usual, youth finds a way. When it is time for a Matrimony for all those of age, Miriam is sure that she knows who will choose her. The night, however, doesn’t go as planned, leaving Miriam to question everything she’s ever known. Married to an outsider who she doesn’t love (and who apparently doesn’t believe) Miriam is faced with a choice: comply and become the docile wife of someone she doesn’t want or face the reality that Daniel, their voice of God, may not be all that he claims to be. As the world begins to shift around her, Miriam begins to find her own path in a life that has always been dictated for her.

THOUGHTS: Miriam’s story is a powerful depiction of the control that people can hold over others and the determination it takes to let yourself be free. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Mitchell, Saundra. The Prom. Viking, 2019. 978-1-984-83752-3. 212 p. $17.99. Grades 7 and up.

All Emma can dream of is dancing with her girlfriend at prom. One special, magical night where the two of them can not only be seen in public but be normal. However, that’s entirely too much for Edgewater, Indiana to handle. When the PTA finds out that someone different wants to disrupt their perfect prom, crisis mode ensues. Emma, a cover artist on YouTube, makes headlines nationwide after taking the PTA (and their new exclusive rules) to task in her latest video. Before she knows it, big names are stepping to her side while her town turns its back, and Emma is left in one big, complicated situation when all she wanted was something so simple.

THOUGHTS: Based on the hit Broadway musical, this heart-wrenching description of the challenges LGBTQIA+ youth face is all too real. From the bullies and the isolation to the unexpected support and acceptance, readers will feel every step of the way as they follow Emma along her journey. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Menon, Sandhya. There’s Something About Sweetie. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-41678-9. 376 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Sweetie Nair is phenomenal. She’s sweet and kind, a star athlete, a model daughter with a perfect life and, oh yeah, she’s fat. Growing up fat in an Indian-American household hasn’t been simple for Sweetie; her mom is constantly trying to get her to lose weight so she can have an easy life, and society always has something to say about the way she looks. When Sweetie is offered the opportunity to date the ultra-attractive Ashish Patel, a star basketball player and ladies’ man, she learns the truth about just how far her mother’s prejudices go. Not to be deterred, Sweetie decides to take matters into her own hands: it’s time to show the world just who she really is.

THOUGHTS: Set in the same world, this companion novel will fill the When Dimple Met Rishi sized hole in your heart. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Wynne-Jones, Tim. The Starlight Claim. Candlewick Press, 2019. 978-1-536-20264-9. 240 p. $17.99. Grades 8 and up. 

Nate Crow has grown up spending summers at his family’s isolated cabin on the lake learning how to respect nature and the elements. Joined by his friends Dodge and Paul, the boys lived idyllic childhoods enjoying their surroundings in the fair weather. But come fall, it’s time to secure the cabin and head for sturdier lodging. It’s possible to winter in the cabin, sure, but life is as hard as the snow is deep and with only one train in or out of the area the isolation could be deadly. When Dodge goes missing and is presumed dead after a winter excursion to his cabin, Nate is haunted by dreams of his former best friend. He knows he needs to do everything he can to ensure that Dodge is not still out there, alive but hurt. Nate makes the arduous hike to the cabin, only to find that the isolated cabin isn’t deserted after all. Miles away from anyone who could help, with limited supplies and a blizzard moving in, Nate must figure out how to survive.

THOUGHTS: The Starlight Claim is a thrilling survival story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. This book has a bit of everything and will appeal to anyone interested in the outdoors, life or death survival, and jail breaks. 

Action/Adventure        Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Marshall, Kate Alice. Rules for Vanishing. Viking, 2019. 978-1-984-83701-1. 402 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

The tale of Lucy Gallows has lived on in Briar Glen for generations. Legend has it that once a year a road will appear in the woods, and the ghost of Lucy Gallows will appear. Those who follow the road are supposedly granted a wish. Sara’s sister Becca disappeared one year ago right around the time the road should have appeared. When Sara finds a journal of Becca’s with clues to the road, she knows where Becca went and is determined to go after her. Despite having resolved to go alone, former friends rally to join Sara on her journey, none of them knowing the challenges, dangers, and sacrifices that lay ahead- after all, the road doesn’t want them to leave.

THOUGHTS: While the story was more gory than I usually like to see, I appreciated that the plot line was original. The road was lined with challenges both fantastic and psychological with horror elements that truly made it a gripping and haunting tale. 

Horror Fiction         Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Shusterman, Neal. The Toll. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-481-49706-0. 625 p. $19.99. Grades 7+.

Good and evil forces are aligned to fight for the fate of human and scythekind in this gripping and satisfying conclusion to the highly popular Arc of a Scythe series. Even in a perfect word designed by an advanced AI to solve all of humanity’s problems, the foibles and weakness of humans derail the best laid plans. The power within the worldwide Scythedom is being consolidated under the self-serving control of Scythe Goddard and the ugly realities of bigotry, fear mongering, and political intrigues are on display. Our favorite characters seem helpless, the honorable Scythe Faraday has retreated in despair to an atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Citra and Rowan are found in the wreckage after the Endura disaster and are now hunted by Goddard’s minions. Also on Goddard’s hitlist is Greyson Tolliver, the sole person to whom the Thunderhead speaks and the spiritual leader to the Tonists. The Thunderhead, by its own law, cannot intervene in the affairs of the Scythedom. But can a small group of thoughtful, committed, major characters change the fate of the world? Overall, an engaging and thought-provoking read.

THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for Grades 7+. This book already has a long waiting list for fans of this top notch dystopian sci-fi series; our library purchased two additional copies to meet demand. Interest in the series should continue as a motion picture is in the works.

Science Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Fischer Richardson, Nancy. The Speed of Falling Objects. Harlequin/Inkyard Press, 2019. 978-1-335-92824-5. 336 p. $18.00. Grades 9 and up.

Danny is not like her absentee father in any way. He’s the in-your-face TV personality “Cougar,” a world-famous survivalist that is always flying off to exotic locations with celebrities to show the television audience how to survive in whatever dangerous situation unfolds. Danny’s given name is actually Danger Danielle Warren, but because that’s the opposite of her careful, quiet personality and because her father, who left her and her mom when he struck it rich with his television show, is the one who christened her with that name, she goes by Danny instead. She’s certain that her father is disappointed in her because she isn’t daring and athletic like him, and she suspects she is also the cause of her mom’s bitterness toward her dad. Danny’s caution stems from her struggles with her balance and perception due to a childhood accident that caused her to lose an eye. When Danny is just about to turn seventeen, and after years of neglect, Cougar reaches out to her for the chance of a lifetime to go to the Amazon Rainforest with him and one of the most popular heartthrobs in the world for an adventure. She jumps at the chance to prove her worth even though her mother is against it. The book takes a dark turn when there is a plane crash, and Danny is confronted with the truth of her father and a family secret and her need to summon her own survival skills to try and make it out of the jungle alive.

THOUGHTS: Although the characters and events were a bit contrived, it made the story possible, so I can forgive them. This book will appeal to some of my students who will enjoy the survival aspect. Fair warning that many people die while trying to survive the plane crash and rainforest, and there is romance.

Action/Adventure          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

YA – Down from the Mountain; No More Excuses; Patron Saints of Nothing; Mike; Girls on the Verge; On the Come Up; The Weight of Stars; The Girl King; Coral; Her Royal Highness; Scars Like Wings; We Are the Ghosts; How the Light Gets In; We Set the Dark on Fire; The Lady from the Black Lagoon

Andrews, Bryce. Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-1-328-97245-3. 274 p. $25.00. Gr. 10+.

Bryce Andrews grew up in Seattle and spent a decade ranching outside Missoula, Montana, before joining the nonprofit conservation group People and Carnivores. The group’s purpose is “to mitigate the conflicts that arise when ranchers, farmers, hunters, and recreationists share landscapes with large predators.” As bears gravitate to agricultural crops in Montana’s Mission Valley — especially corn — opportunities for dangerous encounters with people increase. Bryce’s quest to find a solution that protects both people and bears parallels the journey of Millie, a grizzly bear named for Millie’s Woods, and her two female cubs. Down from the Mountain‘s subtitle reveals Millie’s fate. Her story “embodies the violence that mankind inflicts everywhere on wilderness and wild creatures.” It’s a tragic story, to be sure, but one that should be widely read by anyone who cares about nature, wildlife, and the changing American landscape. 

THOUGHTS: Although some sections of Down from the Mountain about building, monitoring, and repairing an electrified fence dragged on, most of the book is both fascinating and eloquently written. Of special, poignant interest is the future of Millie’s cubs when she is unable to care for them.

This would be an excellent choice for an A.P. Biology book club, and could readily be excerpted for a unit on endangered species.

599.7, Grizzly Bears         Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Keyser, Amber. No More Excuses: Dismantling Rape Culture. Twenty-First Century Books, 2019. 144 p. $28.04. 978-1-541-54020-0. Grades 9-12. 

The bold black and white cover of this book parallels its content: a persuasively blunt presentation of the abuse and criminalization of women in our culture and the painful, misleading messages perpetuated about men AND women.

“What is… rape culture?
The belief that men don’t have to listen when a woman says no.
The belief than men can objectify the bodies of women.
The belief that women who like sex are sluts.
The belief that men can’t be expected to control their sexual urges.
The belief that women are responsible for keeping horny men at bay.
The belief that women don’t have a right to decide what they do with their bodies.
The belief that rape isn’t really a big deal.”  (101-102)

Keyser shares individual stories of survivors–both unknown and celebrities, details the birth of the #MeToo movement, tackles pervasive media objectification of women, and examines how even our legal system does little to prevent rape culture. This book could be eye-opening to young people (male or female), who will see themselves in the stories and misunderstandings presented. “Speaking out, standing up” is increasingly an option, and Keyser gives ways that we can stop the abuse. The book closes with rich source notes, glossary, and further information. Students intimidated by the topic will be encouraged by the straightforward and relatively short presentation (144 pages) and the engaging sidebars.

THOUGHTS: This book is an excellent starting point for anyone seeking to understand the current culture and push for change. Strongly recommended for all high school collections. 

362.8 Rape, Sexual Harassment          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Ribay, Randy. Patron Saints of Nothing. Kokila, 2019. 329 p. $17.99. 978-0-525-55491-2. Grades 7-12.  

Filipino-American Jay Reguero edges toward the end of his senior year feeling unsure of future plans and realizing that outside of his parents’ support, he’s pretty alone despite friends and siblings. He spent his first year of life in the Philippines, until his Filipino dad emigrated to the US with his American mom, and they successfully embarked on medical careers and provide well for their three children, of whom Jay is the youngest. Jay has memories of visiting his Filipino family eight years ago and the strong connection with his cousin Jun, about his age. For a while, the two wrote letters (Jun’s more frequent than Jay’s), until news came four years ago that Jun had run away. Now Jay learns that Jun is dead. There is no explanation, and there is to be no funeral. Jay is stunned by the news and heavily burdened by memories of a great cousin and friend that he abandoned. What really happened? All he can learn is that Jun was killed as a drug user or dealer, and these killings are allowed (even welcomed) under President Duterte’s policies to wipe out crime in the Philippines. But under the policies, police and vigilantes kill, largely unquestioned and without recrimination. Jay cannot imagine his caring cousin to have fallen into drug use. Jay finagles a solo 10-day spring break trip, ostensibly to connect with his Filipino heritage, but really to uncover the unraveling of Jun’s life. He takes Jun’s letters, and reads them to remember. These letters offer needed insight into Jun’s way of life, his motivations, and his numerous questions about faith, purpose and more. On Jay’s visit, he is to stay in three relatives’ homes: his Tito Maning (Jun’s father and police chief); Tita Chato and Tita Ines; and his grandparents Lola and Lolo. At Tito Maning’s, no one speaks of Jun; it is as though he never existed. Jun’s letters disappear from Jay’s bag, and Jay also discovers Tito’s harsh control of the family as well as his disregard for Jay’s American beliefs. Through Jun’s sister Grace, he meets Mia, 19-year-old aspiring journalist determined to write the truth of her country, despite the reality of death for those who speak out. Through Mia, he is able to piece together most, but not all, of Jun’s last four years, and he is angry at family secrets, defensive of his cousin’s memory, and grieved again and again by the truths he learns. He returns to the U.S. having stood up to Tito Maning, and determined to delve into his Filipino heritage more fully, reconnecting with his own father on the way.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful story of grief and how to make a difference both from within a country, and from a world away. Ribay has Jay (like the reader) humbly learn of devastating corruption outside of a bubble of American safety, prosperity and ignorance–corruption that controls his own family’s lives. The wonder here is that Ribay suffuses the novel with such hope, through Jun, Mia, Grace, and ultimately, Jay. Masterfully done, eye- and heart-opening, and not to be missed.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Norriss, Andrew. Mike. Scholastic, 2019. 232 p. $17.99. 978-1-338-28536-9. Grades 7-12.

Floyd Beresford is a 15-year-old tennis prodigy.  He began playing at age two, and his parents encourage everything about the sport: daily training (in a backyard court), expensive matches, traveling, anything.  Floyd’s dad’s own tennis career derailed due to injury, and only Floyd’s birth restored his hope. So Floyd plays, and plays well. But then Floyd notices Mike. Mike, who shows up quietly at odd times and says or does unusual things (like holding Floyd’s arm down during a match). And, since no one else can see Mike, Floyd’s parents hire psychiatrist Mr. Pinner, who will figure this out in a few sessions so Floyd can get back to tennis. With the support of Mr. Pinner, who believes Mike has important things to say to Floyd, Floyd begins to pay attention to Mike and to himself. Soon, he faces the fact that he doesn’t like tennis. And he doesn’t want a career in tennis. It’s a major hurdle to tell his parents, but an even more major one to discover just what it is he does want to do. This is a book to encourage young people to listen to their own “Mike” and discover themselves.  

THOUGHTS: A unique book, light-hearted enough to carry what could seem a heavy message of self-determination. Everyone can identify with Floyd, and this book will have readers seeking what their own Mike has to say to them.  

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Waller, Sharon Biggs. Girls on the Verge. Henry Holt & Co., 2019. 978-1-250-15169-8. $17.99. 221 p. Gr. 9 and up.

17-year old Camille has only had sex once, but she finds out she is pregnant as a result. It’s been months, and she has not even spoken to the boy since. She is definitely not ready to have a baby, but while she knows she wants to terminate the pregnancy, getting an abortion in Texas is no easy task. Restrictive laws, fake clinics that turn out to be abortion deterents, and judgemental shamers at every turn force Camille to take matters into her own hands. As a result, she embarks on a road trip to Mexico in search of an abortion with Annabelle – a new friend she barely knows but who supports her decision – and her life-long, very conservative best friend Bea – who does not support her decision but decides to make the trip last-minute nonetheless. Shockingly enough, this story takes place in present day. Though primarily a story meant to reveal the magnitude of shame and struggle women in the US still face when making decisions about their own bodies, Girls on the Verge is also very much a tale of the strength of female friendship as this trio endures trial after trial in this quick-paced compact plot. 

THOUGHTS: Girls on the Verge will not blow anyone away with its character development or prose, but it serves as more proof that contemporary YA fiction should be taken seriously as more than just fluff and sparkly vampires. Biggs Waller tackles a hot button issue head-on, and does it well and even-handedly. While she obviously wants readers to sympathize with Camille, her best friend Bea’s conservative side is also presented fairly on multiple occasions throughout the novel. A good addition to any high school collection but may contain language and themes that are too mature for sensitive readers. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Thomas, Angie. On the Come Up. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 978-0-780-40461-8. 447 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Bri Jackson wants to rap.  As the daughter of Lawless, a rapper who’s life was taken too soon, she wants to stand out as her own talent in The Ring and beyond. After an incident at school, Bri uses her words to express her feelings. She records “On the Come Up” and becomes a neighborhood and internet sensation. But with praise, comes criticism: criticism of her representation of police and praise of gang life. Facing poverty at home and a desire to help her family, Bri must decide what life to live and how to remain true to herself. 

THOUGHTS: On the Come Up is a must-have for all high school collections. Angie Thomas is a master craftsman. Her beautiful words and characters evoke so much emotion: anger, laughter, happiness, tears, that the reader becomes entwined in the story. Her authenticity is insightful and leads to understanding, empathy, compassion, and action. The audiobook is superb and brings the story to life with depth and soul.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Bri wants to be a rapper, and she’s good–like really good. She probably got some of her talent from her late father who was a well-known rapper before he was murdered in a gang fight. Obviously, her mother and brother do not want her involved in a lifestyle that could be dangerous. Bri’s aunt, on the other hand, is more than willing to go against her sister’s wishes and help Bri rap in big battles. Bri’s mom is a recovering addict who just lost her job, recently stopped going back to school, and is trying to figure out how to pay rent while Bri’s brother decides to drop out of college to help put food on the table. This story is hard in that it touches on drugs, violence, and racism, and family issues.

THOUGHTS: Read it for the phenomenal raps. I enjoyed Thomas’ second novel even more than The Hate U Give–she can write a rap! I was so into it, and I’m not even a music person. On the Come Up includes more relatable characters for readers to attach to and still manages to touch on big issues that span all demographics.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata


Ancrum, K. The Weight of the Stars.  Imprint, 2019. 978-1-250-10163-1. 378 p. $18.99. Grades 9+.

Ryann Bird is an orphaned teen who takes care of her younger brother and his son Charlie, in a trailer on the wrong side of the tracks. She also serves as protector and friend to a group of delinquents and misfits from her high school. When a troubled new girl moves to town, Ryann’s teacher asks her to reach out to her. Alex Macallough is obsessed with finding out about her mother who was one of the sixteen “Uninauts” chosen to launch out into space for the rest of their lives to record galactic phenomenon. Always obsessed with space herself, Ryann helps the guarded and hostile Alex as she listens for transmissions for her mother’s spaceflight. After a tense start, Alex and Ryann form a tentative friendship which begins to turn into something more. Though much of the plot focuses on the space mission, this book is decidedly not a sci-fi novel, it is very much about friendship and relationships of all sorts. The Weight of the Stars features a very diverse cast of characters: mostly queer, of various ethnicities, with wide disparities in wealth and even a polyamorous parental relationship. Ryann’s squad of misfits is a family- each one a bit troubled and different, yet they all fit together.  

THOUGHTS: An emotional and introspective book that explores some heavy issues such as grief, PTSD, anger, and love. Another solid title with LGBTQ themes and characters for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Yu, Mimi. The Girl King. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19889-7. 488 p. $17.99. Grade 9 and up.

Lu is the eldest daughter of the emperor, trained as a warrior and ready to take on the throne when her father steps down. However, in an unexpected move, Lu’s father names her cousin Lord Set as the heir to the throne instead and promises Lu’s hand in marriage to cement the succession. At their betrothal ceremony, Lu challenges her cousin and proposes a competition to determine who is truly fit to rule. But Set has organized an assassination plot against her and her father to ensure his success. Lu escapes and must head to the north to convince the magic wielding lords and warriors to support her claim to the throne. The Girl King is told in the alternating points of view of Lu, her timid younger sister, Min, and Nokhai, an Ashina peasant. As Lu tries to raise an army to oppose her cousin, she is joined by Nok, the last surviving “Gifted,” a shapeshifter whose clan was destroyed by Lu’s father and grandfather. Meanwhile, Min is left behind at court with the ruthless Set when she realizes that she herself possesses some incredible magic. This fast paced novel blends fantasy with Asian history to create a fascinating adventure with complex characters and a richly detailed setting and background story depicting political intrigue and ancient legends. The ending is a terrific setup for the next book in the series, expected next year.

THOUGHTS: Fans of Sabaa Tahir and Renee Adhieh novels will especially appreciate this epic fantasy tale. Because of some graphic scenes of violence, this book is recommended for grades 9 and up. 

Fantasy          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Ella, Sara. Coral. Thomas Nelson, 2019. 368 p. $18.99. 978-0-785-22445-7. Gr. 8 and up.

Trigger warning: Suicidal acts and death by suicide are discussed and described in detail. 

Mermaids cannot cry. So when Coral discovers that her sister, the Crown Princess, has tears it can only mean one thing: Red Death is coming. Afterward, Coral knows it will not be long before Red Death finds her too. Only Coral’s Grandmother seems to understand Coral’s struggle, but running away from the family curse also means giving up everything she has ever known. On dry land Coral will have to learn who she is all over again. Merrick, son of a wealthy business magnate knows that it’s his responsibility to uphold the family name in front of the paparazzi. When tragedy strikes and tears his family apart, Merrick is forced to take his sister into hiding while searching for his estranged mother. Brooke appears one day in the same coastal California town as if she just walked out of the sea. All three story lines become woven together in a deliciously unexpected twist. Coral is part fairytale, part romance, and part tragedy rolled into one unforgettable story about loss and healing. Mental health is handled in a relatable way as several characters struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal actions. The ripple effect of mental health challenges within families is also a poignant takeaway from this novel. The alternating views from narrators keeps the reader guessing until all of the pieces are beautifully woven together into a modern day fairytale ending. 

THOUGHTS: Although the subject matter is sometimes painful, this book also carries a beautiful message about recovery and self-love. I would definitely recommend this title to mature teen readers. 

Realistic Fiction          Jackie Fulton, PSLA Member


Hawkins, Rachel. Her Royal Highness. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019. 304 p. $17.99. 978-1-524-73826-6. Grades 9+. 

Recently heartbroken by her best friend turned maybe something more, Millie applies for scholarships to ensure that she can attend boarding school in Scotland and avoid a daily reminder of what she can’t have. It was her original plan for senior year before the awkward ending with Jude anyway. Millie is determined to enjoy her time in the Highlands of Scotland as part of the first class of women admitted to Gregorstoun, and it doesn’t seem difficult considering the lush green surroundings. However, Millie has a bit to learn after she insults her roommate, who she later learns is Princess Flora. Tons of teenagers with titles and a lot more money (and freedom away from parents) than a scholarship student proves to be challenging at times in this lighthearted international LGBTQ+ romance. Those who read Royals will be happy with the appearance of some familiar characters, but Millie and Flora and a new cast of high society teens take center stage in this companion.

THOUGHTS: Hand this book to any romance reader who likes learning about royals and their drama. Fans will want more books featuring this royal family!

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Stewart, ErinScars Like Wings. Delacorte Press, 2019. 352 p. $18.99. 978-1-984-84882-6. Grades 9+.

After losing everything how does one move forward? Almost one year ago life as Ava knew it ceased to exist. Of course, she didn’t realize that until months later when she woke from a coma and was given devastating news: the fire that burned over 60% of her body also took the lives of both of her parents and her cousin/best friend Sarah (Ava’s Aunt Cora and Uncle Glenn’s only child). Many painful days of healing later, Ava now lives with Cora and Glenn while struggling with who she is; the old Ava died in the fire. Now as far as Ava is concerned, cyber school and staying hidden away define her existence. The only people who regularly see her are her aunt and uncle and her doctors. When her surgeon and aunt suggest she attend school, Ava begrudgingly agrees to a two week trial period. Though the stares are hard at first, Ava is used to them, and she begins to realize how much she misses having friends. Taken under the wing by Piper, another girl who has scars of her own, Ava begins to define her new normal and adapt to life outside of her comfort zone. Though Ava’s grief is at the heart of this novel, Piper provides some much needed comic relief. Readers will learn that it isn’t just the outside appearance that defines who we are.

THOUGHTS: With plenty of tear-jerking moments, there also are plenty of laugh out loud scenes and musical references (I definitely had a few songs stuck in my head). Hand this book to any fan of a compelling, emotional read or those who will appreciate the healing power of music.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Skinner, Vicky. We Are the Ghosts. Swoon Reads, 2019. 272 p. $17.99. 978-1-250-19535-7. Grades 9+. 

Ellie’s life looked a lot different a year ago. She and her older brother Luke, who their whole school idolized, were best friends, and she was starting to date Cade. Then Luke disappeared, and Ellie’s life came to a screeching halt. Her grades plummeted, and she withdrew into herself, lost without Luke. With no word from her brother in over a year, Ellie is awoken by her parents with news of Luke’s sudden death. Completely devastated again, Ellie looks for answers and reconnects with Luke’s best friend and his ex-girlfriend. Cade and Ellie tentatively reconnect as well. Together the four teens embark on a road trip to get away and find some answers. While Ellie, Wes, and Gwen have questions about Luke, not everything they learn is easy. Ellie must find a way to accept Luke’s death and exist without her brother beside her. Even Cade gets some answers to questions about his own family.

THOUGHTS: This emotional journey leaves readers with a lot of unanswered questions, but the mystery surrounding Luke’s last year will compel readers to the surprising ending. Hand this one to fans of unpredictable plot twists.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Upperman, Katy. How the Light Gets In. Swoon Reads, 2019. 336 p. $18.99. 978-1-250-30567-1. Grades 9+. 

Callie and Chloe spent last summer visiting their recently divorced Aunt Lucy and helping transform her new historical house into a bed and breakfast. Then Chloe died tragically. Callie has spent the past year in a haze – mostly of her own creation – and her dad has had enough. He gives Callie a choice for this summer: go to Montana wilderness camp or spend another summer in Bell Cove, Oregon working with her aunt. It doesn’t seem like much of a choice, so Callie decides to return to Bell Cove, her aunt, and her memories. Unusual dreams and old house sounds are unnerving, but Callie doesn’t seem so far away in Bell Cove. Tucker, a local boy who is working on Lucy’s yard, helps Callie feel again. As Callie works on the house and uncovers some of its history, she learns how to manage her feelings in a productive way. But to move on Callie has to face some harsh truths about Chloe’s death and her part in it, or neither of them will be able to move on. Readers will feel the blanket of guilt and grief that covers Callie’s life and the hope that healing brings.

THOUGHTS: Upperman skillfully combines a subtle mystery with the paranormal and the unbreakable bond between sisters. The sweet romance brings hope and lightens the tone of the novel. Recommended for high school libraries where compelling stories or romance are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Mejia, Tehlor Kay. We Set the Dark on Fire. Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-69131-6. $17.99. 364 p. Gr. 9+. 

Daniela Vargas is the top Primera of her graduating class at the Medio School for Girls. Primeras are the first wives – the family planners, the socialites, the wives with no emotion and all the logic. The Segundas are the second wives – the childbearers and caretakers. This family system based on an ancient religious tale is how Medio has functioned for thousands of years. By graduating as top Primera, Daneila ensures she will be married off to the richest, most powerful young bachelor on the island, which has been her goal since her parents illegally snuck over the wall and into the capitol city when she was only four years old. No one can find out where she really comes from, though, if she hopes to maintain this life her parents worked so hard for her to have. Upon graduation, she is married off to Mateo Garcia, a young man from a powerful family, and rumor has it he is being groomed for the presidency. It seems Daniela finally reaches her lifelong goal and promise to her parents, but on the night of graduation, Daniela is approached by a rebel group who knows her secret and threatens everything she has worked so hard for unless she cooperates with them. As if that weren’t enough trouble, she also finds out her Segunda, the woman she must share her life with, is Carmen, a gorgeous but venomous rival of hers from school. Politics, forbidden love, and an emerging rebellion collide in this page-turning debut novel.

THOUGHTS: This was one of the more refreshing speculative fiction novels I have personally read in a while (and speculative fiction is my favorite genre). Though the politics of the world are fairly standard – the rich and powerful class maintaining – even strengthening – the divide by suppressing poor outside the city walls, the Latin-based culture and two-wife family structure are what makes it stand apart from other dystopian stories. While there were some plot twists readers might peg early on, it still managed to surprise me, personally, at several turns, making this a very enjoyable, unputdownable read. Highly recommended for students searching for strong Latina and/or LGBTQ characters, and very timely given the political issues presented.

Dystopian          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Outside the walls, people are dying. Daniela Vargas barely escaped that life with her family when she was just a girl, fleeing over the wall to the relative safety on the other side. But just how safe is her new life? With a capital living a life of luxury while people starve, things are bound to get messy. At the Medio School for Girls, young women from prominent families are trained to be one of two wives for the political leaders of Medio and, despite her less than desirable background, Daniela has managed to rise to the top of her class. Graduation is just days away when civil unrest strikes yet again in Medio and if Daniela isn’t careful, she may just lose everything.

THOUGHTS: Set among a background of political unease, Daniela’s struggles to remain true to herself and to her convictions, leading her down a path both frightening and exhilarating. This was an intriguing and entertaining read that will appeal to fans of Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

Fantasy (mythology); Dystopian          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


O’Meara, Mallory. The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick. Hanover Square Press, 2019. 978-1-335-93780-3. 307 p. $26.99. Gr. 10+.

Mallory O’Meara is a writer, filmmaker, podcaster, and fan of all things horror. With her deep love of monster movies, she is the ideal author to relate the rise, fall, and disheartening obscurity of the woman who created one of cinema’s most iconic monsters: the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Early chapters cover Milicent’s childhood and teen years in (maybe a little too much) detail, particularly the period when her father worked as a construction engineer on the California estate of media magnate William Randolph Hearst. Later, Milicent attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where her work earned her a job offer from Walt Disney; she became one of the first female animators at Disney Studios in 1939. She then spent the next decade working as a freelance artist and professional model, and later as an extra on various movie sets. In 1952, she became the first woman to work in a special effects makeup department (at Universal). There, she designed one of cinema’s all-time most recognizable monsters, eventually going on a national publicity tour to promote The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Sadly, this tour triggered the professional jealousy that would derail her trailblazing career. It’s clear that Mallory O’Meara identifies deeply with her subject and the professional challenges Milicent Patrick faced, especially sexism in the film industry and the experience of being a female in a male-dominated space. Also, not every Hollywood monster wears a rubber suit and a mask.

THOUGHTS: A woman before her time, Milicent Patrick should have been hailed as a hero. But few even recognize her name … until The Lady from the Black Lagoon. It’s a great listen for anyone with an interest in hidden Hollywood history, creature features, the #MeToo movement, and the feminist perspective of the divine Ms. O’Meara. 

777, Motion Picture Industry/Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – The Similars; I Love You So Mochi; The Rest of the Story; Girl Gone Viral; The First True Thing; Heroine; Internment; Salt in My Soul; You Asked for Perfect

Hanover, Rebecca. The Similars. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-4926-6510-6. $17.99. 381 p. Gr. 8 and up.

The Similars takes place in a dystopic future, but most of the story setting is familiar enough. There’s a private boarding school in Vermont, teen romance and drama, and testing into a select group of students that ensures acceptance into any Ivy League school. However, Darkwood Academy just enrolled six clones (called The Similars), and the people they were illegally cloned from 16-years ago are all upperclassmen at the school. Students and their wealthy parents’ reactions to these newcomers is mostly opposite Darkwood’s legacy of acceptance and diversity, but soon a club is formed, and demonstrations are held to boycott the Similars’ presence at the school. Emmaline Chance, the protagonist, is in her junior year and, although she welcomes The Similars and believes they have a right to be at Darkwood, she is having a difficult year after the suicide of her best friend, and fellow student, Oliver. It doesn’t help that one of the Similars, Levi, was cloned from Oliver. Not only does she see him all around campus, but they are both inducted into the elite group of students called The Ten where she’s forced to interact with him. When someone tries to kill Emma’s friend, Pru, and Levi becomes a suspect, Emma tries to figure out who was behind the attack. The story includes a lot of sneaking out of dorms past curfew to uncover illegal experiments and breaking into a top-secret island laboratory owned by a madman. The story ends with the set-up for a sequel which will aggravate some readers.

THOUGHTS: This debut novel is a fun read, despite some formulaic characters and over-the-top espionage work done by teens. The interesting twist and the use of teens clones should make it a book that 8th grade and up will enjoy reading. The acceptance/rejection of the Similars mirrors some of what’s currently being said about immigrants.

Dystopian/Mystery          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Kuhn, Sarah. I Love You So Mochi. Scholastic Press, 2019. 978-1-338-30288-2. $17.99. 308 p. Gr. 8 and up.

Kimi’s future seems bright and sure. While many high school seniors experience anxiety over future plans, Kimi has been accepted into a prestigious art academy, and her path appears clear. In reality, she hasn’t been able to paint in months and has dropped her Fine Arts class, all unbeknownst to her mother, also an artist; she has instead been “goofing off” designing and making her own clothing. In fact, she’s not even sure she wants to attend the Liu Academy anymore. When Kimi’s secrets are revealed and she feels the wrath of her mother’s silent disappointment – the worst equation in “Asian Mom Math” according to Kimi’s friends – she decides to forgo spring break plans at home in southern California and instead spend two weeks in Japan visiting the grandparents she’s never met (and who have not spoken to Kimi’s mother in 20 years) on a journey of self discovery. Though most readers will know the answer to Kimi’s problem within the first few pages (even though she doesn’t), the journey she takes to get there makes this book worth reading. In a story slightly reminiscent of Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, Kimi’s self discovery relies heavily upon learning her family history, particularly the complicated relationships between the women. Of course, a budding romantic relationship with Akira, a cute boy Kimi first meets as he is dancing in a giant mochi costume in front of his uncle’s mochi shop, also drives this plot. “What. Is this extremely handsome piece of mochi trying to flirt with me?” Kimi asks herself in Kuhn’s authentic teenage voice. Young women readers will empathize with Kimi, as she discovers the answer to this and many other questions.

THOUGHTS: Though the plot is predictable, Kuhn’s imagery and integration of Japanese culture give this story more substance than the typical YA contemporary. Readers may find themselves wanting to use “the Google” – as Kimi’s grandfather calls it – to look up Japanese words, food, landmarks, and clothing.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Dessen, Sarah. The Rest of the Story. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 987-0-062-93362-1. $19.99. 440 p. Gr. 9 and up. 

Emma Saylor lost her mother when she was just 10 years old. Due to addiction Waverly was in and out of Emma’s life long before she died. Though she doesn’t remember a lot about her mom, Emma recalls the bedtime stores about life in North Lake, Waverly’s hometown. Since her mother’s death, Emma has lived a privileged life, growing up in Nana Payne’s fancy apartment with her dad who works as a dentist. Just remarried, her dad and new wife Tracy (also a dentist) are planning to honeymoon sailing around Greece. Nana is scheduled for a cruise while her apartment is renovated. Emma is an organized planner – to a fault. Due to a sudden illness in her best friend’s family, Emma’s carefully arranged summer has to change. Emma goes to stay with Mimi Calvander and her mother’s family in North Lake – family she doesn’t remember, family who calls her Saylor, and family who she hasn’t seen since she was four. Emma quickly notices the two different lakeside communities – North Lake where her mother grew up and Lake North where her father vacationed in the summer. Though only 3 miles apart, these two communities couldn’t be more different. Always known as Saylor to her mother’s family, Emma begins to see the world through a new lens. Once she breaks through the icy welcome of some of her cousins (who think she’s just there for a vacation, not to work like them), Saylor learns what it means to be a Calvander. As her time too quickly passes, Saylor tries to learn as much about her mother as she can. When her dad returns from his honeymoon, Emma Saylor has changed, and she has to decide who she wants to be. One thing is certain: She’s not the same Emma Saylor she was when she arrived in North Lake.

THOUGHTS: No one does teen romances like Dessen. This sweet story will captivate readers, transporting them to summers on North Lake as Emma learns more about her family and herself. This one will fly off the shelves. Underage drinking (to excess) and Emma’s mother’s drug use are included. Highly recommended for high school collections, especially those where romance is popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Ahmadi, Arvin. Girl Gone Viral. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-425-28990-7. 384 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up. 

17 year old Opal Tal – now known as Opal Hopper – is a coding genius who is determined to learn what happened to her father, a tech guru who disappeared seven years ago. Howie Mendelsohn, her father’s business partner at the time, may know more than he admits, but he hasn’t ever responded to Opal’s emails. Now a senior at a prestigious boarding school for tech whizzes, Opal and her friends Moyo and Shane are coding their way into a WAVE competition. WAVE is a virtual reality world with incredible detail and lifelike features. Stumbling upon information that causes their channel to go viral brings its fair share of challenges, including Opal’s initial desire to be out of the limelight. As she quickly learns, though, the self you put out there on WAVE isn’t always the self you really are. Opal has to decide what she believes in and if finding out what happened to her father is worth the risk – for herself and for her friends.

THOUGHTS: There is a lot of technical jargon, so this might be a tough read for some. The mystery keeps the pace moving, but there’s a lot more than fun and games going on here, including government/police corruption and social media’s influence on politics. Hand this STEM title to students who are into VR, AR, or video gaming, as the worlds Ahmadi depicts sound incredible. A great addition to high school libraries looking to diversify their STEM offerings with a strong female lead.

Science Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Needell, Claire. The First True Thing. HarperTeen, 2019. 978-0-062-36054-0. $17.99. 256 p. Gr 10 and up. 

After riding on a dangerous path through the woods while drunk, Marcelle crashed her bike under a neighbor’s parked car. Her alcohol use finally catching up with her, Marcelle is forced to attend rehab sessions at the Center after being discharged from the hospital. Being labeled an alcoholic isn’t the easiest, especially considering her friends are into much worse things. With her parents on high alert for missteps, it seems like Marcelle can do no right. Even her peers at the Center don’t fully believe she’s giving her best effort. When Marcelle receives a text from her best friend Hannah asking her to cover, she is desperate to feel connected. Hannah disappears, though, and Marcelle is the last one to hear from her. Torn between loyalty to her friend (and her friend’s dangerous secrets) and guilt over not doing more to intervene before it came to this, Marcelle keeps her story to Hannah’s mom and the police vague. As time goes on, though, everyone’s panic levels increase, and Marcelle has to decide if it’s better to keep a friend’s secret or be honest with everyone including herself.

THOUGHTS: Drug and alcohol abuse are openly discussed, making this most suitable for mature readers. The lack of support for Marcelle both as she recovers and faces the disappearance of her friend is surprising. Readers who want to know what happened to Hannah will stick with the story. Recommended as an additional purchase where realistic mysteries are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


McGinnis, Mindy. Heroine. Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-84719-5. $17.99. 432 p. Gr. 10 and up. 

Trigger Warning: Please proceed with caution, as this book discusses (in great detail) addiction, drug use, overdose, and withdrawal, among other difficult topics.

The Prologue begins with the end: “When I wake up, all of my friends are dead.” Readers are placed front and center and feel the sheer terror of this realization before being told what happened. Mickey Catalan has never felt comfortable in her own skin, unless she’s behind home plate catching for her best friend and star pitcher Carolina. Though Mickey doesn’t quite know who she is, playing catcher defines her. When Mickey is in a terrible car accident with Carolina as her passenger, their chances of playing senior season are threatened, as is Carolina’s Division I pitching scholarship. Mickey is determined to get back on the field; she too wants to earn a scholarship. What starts as pain management for a major injury quickly spirals into an addiction, as Mickey tries to make it back into shape for spring training. When her physician refuses to refill her Oxycontin prescription, saying she’s doing so well she doesn’t need it, Mickey turns to alternative methods. It’s just to get her back on the field, though, and she can stop at any time. She’s not an addict, and Mickey has some great new friends who understand her and will keep her (and her secret) safe. Mickey’s tolerance level quickly increases, and she begins to lose control of all she was fighting for.

THOUGHTS: Heroine is definitely for mature readers and should be presented with a trigger warning. That said, it serves as a great cautionary tale about how easily one can become addicted to opioids, regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. Check your ego and what you think you know about addiction at the door. McGinnis’s novel will take you on a terrifying roller coaster ride with some unforeseen consequences. I listened to the audiobook version and was hooked from the first minute.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Ahmed, Samira. Internment. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-316-52269-4. $17.99. 387 p. Gr. 9 and up. 

In a future United States where the Presidential election has shaken up American beliefs and freedoms, 17 year old Muslim American Layla Amin is frustrated. Her parents always had been respected in their community, but with the President’s new Exclusion Act they feel compliance will keep them safe. Layla, however, breaks government mandated curfew to see her Jewish boyfriend. Though unfriendly neighbor stares bring fears to the forefront of her mind, the risk is worth the reward. Despite her parents attempts to remain safe, Layla’s family is rounded up and taken off to an interment camp, one like those used for Japanese and German Americans during World War II. They only have a few moments to gather comforts of home, not knowing if they will ever return or if their possessions will still be there. Once in the camp, Layla finds herself increasingly frustrated by her parents’ (and many of the adults’) complaisance but is fortunate to find friends who she can laugh with and share her frustrations. Together, Layla and her friends find subtle ways (at first) to rebel against the Director. Building their rebellion also increases the risks they face, and Layla has to decide if standing up for what she believes in – what is right – is worth risking her life and the lives of those she loves.

THOUGHTS: This timely diverse title will appeal to fans of historical fiction. Internment will pair well with World War II novels or memoirs, especially those relating to internment or concentration camps. I personally enjoyed reading it then reading The War Outside by Monica Hesse. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Layla and her family are American, but they also happen to be non-practicing Muslims. After the 2020 census, all Muslims are taken to internment camps for the safety of all citizens. In this all too real and near future novel, Layla and her friends inside the walls of the camp, her boyfriend outside, and one brave guard on the inside plan a revolt to end the camp once and for all. Much of this book skims the surface of many of the political, racial, and religious issues that many Americans are facing with today’s political climate. Some of Layla’s decisions seem rash, even for an angry teen, which makes parts of the story a bit difficult to rationalize. 

THOUGHTS: Although this book moved me and scared me, I wanted more. I think this book belongs on the shelves of high school libraries, if the budget allows because it will open conversations of possibilities of the future state of our country. It will only start the conversation and pique the interest of students who wonder what could happen with the next census and elected officials. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Smith, Mallory. Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life. Spiegel & Grau, 2019. 978-1-984-85542-8. $26.00. 288 p. Gr 9 and up. 

Immensely positive and determined to live her best life, even in the face of cystic fibrosis and rare bacteria B. cenocepacia, Mallory Smith is a girl everyone loved. From the beginning readers know Mallory tragically dies young; however, it is how she lived her life that will inspire readers. Her “live happy” mantra carries her through frustrating hospital stays and discharges and helps her remain focused on really living. In reading Mallory’s most personal thoughts, readers are given a glimpse into the life of someone who struggles with a chronic illness, though not always visible on the outside.

THOUGHTS: Pair this nonfiction text with the fiction Five Feet Apart which will be even more popular with the 2019 movie. Excellent addition for high school nonfiction collections where memoirs and medical stories are popular.

616.372 Diseases          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Silverman, Laura. You Asked for Perfect. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-65827-6. $10.99. 288 p. Gr. 9 and up. 

Seemingly perfect senior Ariel Stone has everything going for him. He’s a great student, musician, and his college application couldn’t be more well-rounded, especially since he’s expected to be valedictorian. When Ariel earns a 5/10 on his first Calculus quiz and there’s no opportunity for redemption, Ariel’s careful facade begins to crumble. Accepting help means he’s not as perfect as everyone, especially himself, thinks. With a Harvard interview to prepare for, and his top spot on the line, though, Ariel doesn’t have much choice. He finds he was wrong about Amir, who is actually nice to be around, and Amir is really great at Calculus. Among a long list of obligations, one more might just be enough to break Ariel.

THOUGHTS: This should be required reading for every high school student. The internal and external pressures on students to be perfect, to achieve the top rank, to go to the best school is unfortunate. I see many students so stressed that they don’t allow themselves room to breathe and relax. Highly recommended for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD