MG – Falling Out of Time

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Falling Out of Time. Katherine Tegen Books, 2023. 978-0-063-25161-8. 341 p. $19.99. Grades 3-7.

Zola wakes up to a different scene projected on her Picture Wall each morning: Tahiti one day, Bora Bora the next. Her school friends attend from all over the world through advanced virtual reality technology. One morning, Zola asks her AI assistant, Sirilexagoogle, to change the wall to “normal”…but, what does Zola know about normal? Zola lives in the year 2193, a time with wondrous technology and no more fear. Just like Haddix’s debut novel, Running Out of Time, not everything is as it seems in Zola’s world. Zola discovers the truth after finding a mysterious book, The Jessie Keiser Story, detailing Jessie’s daring escape during the 1990s from a fake frontier town. After she stumbles across a hidden staircase in her house, Zola realizes there is very real danger in her not-so-real world. Zola is really living in the year 2023, and she’s being unknowingly watched by hundreds of people each day. Like Haddix’s original novel, this is the story of a daring escape to the outside world.

THOUGHTS: Falling Out of Time is the long-awaited sequel to Haddix’s first novel, Running Out of Time. It certainly lives up to expectations and offers readers relevant 2023 social and environmental commentary while evoking 90s nostalgia for fans of the original story (that’s me!). Although the first few chapters start with detailed world-building and description, the rest of the novel’s plot builds with nonstop action. Some of the twists are quick and a little outlandish, but all elements in this story contribute to the adventurous tone. Readers who are unfamiliar with Running Out of Time (1995) will still be able to enjoy this fresh story on its own. Haddix builds necessary background and context directly into Falling Out of Time.

Science Fiction

Elem./MG – Your Pal Fred

Rex, Michael. Your Pal Fred. Viking Press, 2022. 978-0-593-20633-2 255p. $12.99. Grades 3-8.

Fred is activated in a post-apocalyptic world after two brothers accidentally discover him in a pile of trash. Fred embarks on a journey over a land that has been destroyed by war, aliens, a comet, and cats. It is now ruled by two opposing characters: Papa Mayhem and Lord Bonkers. Fred is on a quest to bring peace to all. Along the way he makes friends with disgruntled characters who join him to bring kindness to all. Will he be able to convince the two top dogs that peace is the answer and not war? 

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is full of silliness and fun, and how one individual can create a positive chain reaction through one act of kindness at a time.  

Graphic Novel          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

MG – It’s the End of the World and I’m in My Bathing Suit

Reynolds, Justin A. It’s the End of the World and I’m in My Bathing Suit. 978-1-338-74022-6. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Eddie is rocking summer vacation. He has managed to weasel out of doing his laundry, his agreed-upon summer chore, by methodically wearing every piece of clean clothing until he’s down to his swim trunks. This is when the plan falls apart; mom discovers the odorous closet stuffed with dirty clothes, and grounds Eddie, on the day of the big beach bash. He is home alone with a load of wet clothes in the dryer, and another load in the washing machine when the power goes out. As Eddie pokes around the deserted neighborhood, he encounters four friends and learns not only is their power out, too, but the kids seem to be the only people in their neighborhood. So what do you do when all the grownups are gone? Eat junk food!! But when no one can reach their families at the beach, a frisson of worry interrupts their unsupervised glee. The friends pool their knowledge and come up with a credible plan to stick together (it involves entering neighbors’ homes to search for useful items like flashlights, sleeping bags, food, and deodorant). Reynolds provides a lighthearted dystopian story (that’s probably an oxymoron) that will keep readers wondering what happened until the very last page and its cliffhanger ending. The kids, all Black, are an engaging group who realistically swing between joy at being on their own, and worry for their family and the long-term outlook. The one possible drawback to the book is Reynolds’ unusual choice for narration. Written in first person, from Eddie’s point of view, the story is basically a monologue, with Eddie addressing the reader. While the story feels more natural when the friends are conversing, Eddie is an entertaining, honest narrator who openly discusses his ADHD, thoughts about being in therapy and his new step-dad (whom he calls WBD – Wanna-Be Dad.) 

THOUGHTS: Some readers may be thrown by the lengthy interior monologue, but others may be captivated by the conversational tone of the writing. The lack of resolution and the cliffhanger ending will leave fans anxiously awaiting the sequel. 

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – At the End of Everything

Nijkamp, Marieke. At the End of Everything. Sourcebooks Fire, 2022. 978-1-492-67315-6. $18.99. 400 p. Grades 9-12.

Hope Juvenile Treatment Center is a misnomer; there is no hope in this juvenile detention center. When the guards start acting odd and then its residents wake up to no supervision, the teens feel a little celebratory. Though they’ve grown accustomed to living by strict schedules and demands, now they get to make all of the decisions. And one of the first choices is do we leave to find out what’s going on, or do we stay with what we know? The answer splits Hope’s residents in half, only to have the group who leaves discover that a deadly, highly contagious disease is spreading outside of the boundary fence. Armed guards, in fact, are stationed at the gate to keep them in, and they have no words of advice or comfort. When illness breaks out at Hope, the teens must join together to survive. But getting close to and helping others goes against everything they’re used to and puts them at a greater risk of becoming sick. As more people become ill and supplies dwindle, leaders step up to help. But with no rescue or aid in sight, will these teens make it out alive or will the infectious disease take over?

THOUGHTS: Written during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Nijkamp will captivate readers with this sci-fi thriller. Narrated by a diverse group of teens, readers will root for their survival and be amazed at what limits they push themselves to in order to make it out alive. Recommended for high school collections.

Science Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Hunting by Stars

Dimaline, Cherie. Hunting by Stars. Harry N. Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-75347-3. 400 p. $18.99. Grades 11-12. 

In a post-apocalyptic world where few can still dream, the brutal story of French begins. The ability to dream leaves people zombie-like, unable to remain physical or mentally well. The bone marrow of those who can still breathe becomes a commodity that is priceless. French is Indigenous to North America and is still able to dream, as many of his tribe. He has lived on the land for a while, but gets taken into one of the government schools where bone marrow is extracted and harvested. His tribe continues to seek survival in the wild while they work to be united. The story is dark and hopeful, heartbreaking and guttural, gripping, and terrifying. 

THOUGHTS: Technically, this title is a sequel to The Marrow Thieves, so it is an absolute must for libraries with Dimaline’s other novel. It’s a heavy story that has a lot of representation in a genre that has little Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and other representation. There are also many parallels to current events in Canada and the United States regarding mass graves at residential schools that would be an opportunity for discussion and curricular tie-ins.  

Science Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata SD

YA – The Infinity Courts

Bowman, Akemi Dawn. The Infinity Courts. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-45649-5. 465 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

The Infinity Courts starts with Nami who is sure that her life is finally beginning at the age of eighteen; however, those dreams are halted when she is murdered. When she comes to, she realizes she is in a place called Infinity. Infinity is ruled by a queen called Ophelia who was a virtual assistant to the human race when Nami was alive. Now, Ophelia is determined to eradicate humans, and she is very close to completing that mission. Nami has a choice to join the resistance and help eliminate Ophelia, or just ignore everything and let Ophelia take over and complete her mission.

THOUGHTS: This is a great science fiction book that doesn’t get bogged down in science facts. The pacing is well done, and the main characters have decent character arcs throughout the story. This is the first book in a trilogy, so readers have something to look forward to.

Science Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

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