YA FIC – Spill Zone; Skinful of Shadows; Race to the Bottom of the Sea; Starfish

Westerfeld, Scott. Spill Zone. First Second, 2017. 978-1-59643-936-8. 224 p. $22.99. Gr. 9-12.

Addison and her sister Lexa live in the seemingly abandoned town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Lexa hasn’t spoken since her parents disappeared three years earlier, when a strange “spill” occurred and changed the town forever. Not many venture into the spill zone, where nightmarish creatures and cruel manifestations lurk around every corner. But in order to support herself and her sister, Addie illegally ventures into the zone to capture pictures of the otherworldly terrors inside, selling them to curious outside collectors for top dollar. While in the zone, Addie has rules for herself that she refuses to break in order to stay alive – that is, until a collector offers her an incredible sum of money for extremely dangerous photographs. So Addie decides to take the risk, putting her life in danger, but to also hopefully to learn more about the spill – which might not be the only one in the world. A haunting, peculiar story from YA staple Westefeld, with surreal artwork from Alex Puvilland. THOUGHTS: A good addition to any graphic novel collection where post-apocalyptic tales are still popular.

Graphic Novel      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Hardinge, Frances. A Skinful of Shadows. New York: Amulet Books, 2017. 978-1-4197-2572-2. 415 p. $19.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Frances Hardinge writes odd, dark, twisty, and cleverly complicated novels, and her most recent offering, A Skinful of Shadows, is no different. This is the story of Makepeace, a girl raised in a strict Puritan community, who has the ability to house spirits inside of her head. Most of her life, Makepeace fought against these spirits and spent her formative years learning defensive tactics to keep them out. However, after a devastating accident leaves Makepeace orphaned, she unwittingly allows the spirit of a once-captive bear to take up residence in her head. Bear, as she calls him, becomes a fierce ally, and he and Makepeace form an unshakeable bond. Sent to live with her mysterious and aristocratic relatives, the Fellmottes, Makepeace learns some disturbing secrets about this side of her family, so when it becomes clear that her life is in danger, Makepeace flees. The novel is set in England during the reign of King Charles I, amidst great political turmoil and upheaval; the civil war between the Royalists and Parliamentarians plays a large role in the plot, with Makepeace both spying for, and subjugating herself to, both sides. While on the run, Makepeace acquires other spirits; watching the interplay between all of the personalities, including Bear, is what makes this story great and drives the action. Makepeace, who has no cause to trust anyone other than herself and Bear, must learn to come to terms with her abilities, and learn to put herself – literally – into the hands of others.  At the same time, she transforms from a girl with no agency into a fully-fledged, autonomous young woman, who is not afraid to get what she wants.

Historical Fantasy     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Eager, Lindsay. Race to the Bottom of the Sea. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2017. 978-0-7636-7923-1. 432 p. $17.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Life is a series of oceanic adventures for Fidelia Quail, daughter of two prominent scientists (a marine biologist and a zoologist) in Lindsay Eager’s Race to the Bottom of the Sea. On track to be as brilliant as her parents, and already with several substantial and successful inventions under her belt (including a two-person submersible), Fidelia’s future looks very bright indeed. When disaster strikes, and Dr. and Dr. Quail are tragically lost during a storm, Fidelia is consumed by grief and guilt and is unsure how to move on. Her mourning is rudely interrupted by Merrick the Monstrous, the most fearsome pirate alive, who kidnaps Fidelia with the intent of using her to find his treasure. Merrick, however, has some secrets of his own, and is, perhaps, not as monstrous as everyone things. THOUGHTS:  This book is at once a fast-paced adventure novel of the high seas, while at the same time it’s also a philosophical look at life, death, and sacrifice. The latter at times feels too heavy for middle-grade readers; this, combined with Merrick’s backstory all about his doomed romance (the reader knows who his love interest is, but Fidelia does not), makes this novel less accessible than it should be.  However, Fidelia is such a feisty, whip-smart heroine, who uses both common sense and her scientific mind to think her way out of trouble, and she will definitely resonate with readers of all levels. Her relationship with Merrick, and her growing empathy towards him, is palpable, and serves to move the plot forward. Hand this to readers who enjoy quirky, outside-the-box tales.

Fantasy      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Bowman, Akemi Dawn.  Starfish.  Simon Pulse, 2017.  978-1-4814-8772-6. 343 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9 and up.

All her life, Kiko Himura has felt like an outsider.  She suffers from anxiety and wants nothing more than acceptance from her mother, who belittles Kiko’s Japanese descent (which came from her father) as well as her dreams of attending Prism Art School in New York City.  When Kiko receives a rejection letter from Prism, she is devastated.  She cannot stand to live in her house any longer with her emotionally abusive mother and her sexually abusive uncle.  She cannot move in with her father, for he is too preoccupied with his second wife and their newborn twin daughters.  Therefore, when a childhood friend invites her to head to California with him and look at art schools out west, she decide to take advantage of the opportunity.  Once there, Kiko begins to flourish.  Under the mentorship of artist Hiroshi Matsumoto, who befriends her at an art show, Kiko begins to find herself through art, and she finally gains the courage and conviction that had been missing all her life.  A moving story that will speak volumes to any reader who has ever experienced anxiety or self-doubt.  THOUGHTS: Though slow-moving at first, the pace of this novel picks up about halfway through, and readers will find themselves desperately rooting for the realistic and relatable Kiko and hoping that she soon finds her voice.  Besides drawing relatable characters, the author has also interweaved a love story and complicated family dynamics into the novel, creating a narrative that will speak to a variety of readers for different reasons.  A 2018 William C. Morris Award finalist, this novel will have readers anxiously awaiting Bowman’s next release, set to debut in September of 2018.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

YA FIC – Sparrow; Far from the Tree; They Both Die at the End

Moon, Sarah. Sparrow. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017. 978-1-338-03258-1 264p. $18.99.  Gr. 6 and up.

Sparrow is super shy and doesn’t really like people.  She “checks out” of uncomfortable situations by watching birds and imagining she can fly.  Her refuge at school is the school library, but her librarian dies suddenly, leaving Sparrow adrift.  The book begins when she wakes up in the psych ward of the hospital after she is found on the school roof and everyone assumes she was going to jump.  Sparrow ends up in therapy, which is really helpful, eventually. She is exposed to music that really speaks to her.  Music becomes a new obsession.   She even ends up at a great summer camp where she learns to play the bass guitar.  The story ends with great hope for Sparrow’s continued growth.  THOUGHTS:  This is a painful story to read, but an important one.  It is for all of our super shy kids.  It is for all of our black girl nerds.  It is for music lovers.  It is for all of us to build empathy for people in similar situations to Sparrow.

Realistic Fiction       Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Moon, Sarah. Sparrow. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017. 978-1-338-02358-1. 272 p. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

For introvert and only child Sparrow, navigating her peers and the halls of her school has never been easy. She found “her place” in the library with Mrs. Wexler, the school librarian who knew just the right books to give Sparrow. In the quiet comforting space, Sparrow ate her lunch in the library with other book people but not really with them. The book opens as Sparrow wakes up in a white hospital room, after being found on her school’s roof, apparently attempting suicide. No one believes that she really wasn’t trying to kill herself. Sparrow isolates herself from her mom, the one person who used to understand her, and finds herself meeting with a therapist. Resentful of this invasion of privacy because she really wasn’t trying to kill herself, Sparrow sits quietly through her therapy sessions. Oddly, Dr. Katz is perfectly willing to let Sparrow sit and be with her thoughts and some intriguing music. Eventually, Sparrow begins to trust Dr. Katz, and she pushes herself out of her comfort zone in an attempt to find an outlet for all that she is feeling.  THOUGHTS: This book really gets into the head of a girl dealing with mental health and anxiety issues. I’m not sure how much teens will like Sparrow’s bird fascination, but the way she is able to connect with music on an intense emotional level will resonate. Sparrow’s journey seems like a stretch, since she is initially found isolated on the school’s rooftop and at the end she is healing and able to go so far out of her comfort zone.

Realistic Fiction   Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District


Benway, Robin. Far from the Tree. HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-06-233062-8 374p. $17.99.  Gr. 9 and up.

Grace has had a tough year.  She became pregnant and chose an adoptive family for her baby.  Attending school during the pregnancy is tough, as she loses friends and is mocked in the hallways.  After the birth and seeing her daughter being taken home by someone else, Grace is adrift and wants to know more about her own birth family.  Grace’s adoptive parents are supportive as Grace meets Maya and Joaquin, her biological brother and sister.  Maya has her own secrets as her adoptive parents fight all of the time and her mother drinks.  Joaquin has spent seventeen years in the foster care system and keeps all of his secrets as to not hurt anyone else.  This fast-paced story kept me turning pages to find out how the three of them would treat each other and handle all of the other things happening in their lives. All three siblings have romantic relationships that need some work.  THOUGHTS: This is a great read.   It explores the meaning of family, the complexities of secret-keeping, and the importance of letting other people in. A great purchase for a high school collection.

Realistic Fiction      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Silvera. Adam. They Both Die at the End. HarperCollins, 2017. 9780062457790. $17.99. 384p.

Gr. 8-12.

What would you do if you knew you only had 24 hours left to live? This story follows two teenaged boys, Mateo and Rufus, who are Puerto Rican and Cuban-American respectively, on their End Day. In the future, you will receive a phone call from specially trained “Deckers” whose job it is to tell you that you will be dying soon. Fortunately, there is an app called Last Friend that allows people to connect with someone that will also die, which is how Mateo and Rufus finally meet after having to deal with a few believable trolling incidents from people using the Last Friend app. The reader follows along as the two teens try to make the most of their last few hours while also coming to terms with their impending death. Chapter titles countdown the time and include additional characters thoughts. THOUGHTS: I enjoyed the premise of this book – that one day you will find out that it is your last day on Earth. It’s something that most people have thought about and can be a great way to focus on what is important in life. Silvera did away with pesky families so that the characters didn’t want to just sit around with them on their last day. This sets the teens up to go out and have experiences together, which included developing a romantic relationship with each other. This will be another great book to add to your LGBT collection.

Dystopian     Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

YA FIC – Wild Beauty; Language of Thorns; Optimists Die First; The List

McLemore, Anna-Marie. Wild Beauty. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2017. 978-1-250-122455-5. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Anna Marie-McLemore has become the undisputed queen of Magical Realism.  Her third book in as many years, Wild Beauty, is even more nuanced, sophisticated, and breathtakingly beautiful than her first two novels, and that is saying quite a lot.  Wild Beauty describes this story perfectly; it is a story about a family of women who have the ability – a compulsion, really – to grow flowers simply by reaching into the soil and willing them into existence.  As with all good stories, however, it is much more complex. Up until about a century ago, the Nomeolvides women had been persecuted, hunted, shunned, or killed because of their gifts. When they are offered sanctuary at La Pradera on the estate of the wealthy Briar family, they take it gratefully. It comes with a price, of course: the Nomeolvides women can never leave; if they try to escape, or outrun their destiny, they will die. La Pradera also takes their lovers; if a Nomeolvides woman loves someone too hard, they disappear. The current generation of cousins, Estrella, Azalea, Gloria, Calla, and Dalia, are all in love with the same girl, Bay Briar, and they are determined to keep her from disappearing. When they make a sacrifice to the land, the land gives them back a boy, a boy who can’t remember how he got there, where he came from, or who he is. This is a story of love, betrayal, heartbreak, jealousy, but above all, family, and the lengths one will go to to protect those she loves. Thoughts: Every page of Wild Beauty is a sensuous, tactile, graceful dance, and while the steps can be challenging, it is absolutely well worth the effort.

Magical Realism      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Bardugo, Leigh. The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. New York: Macmillan, 2017. 978-1250122520. 288 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Leigh Bardugo reimagines classic tales in her newest collection of stories, The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. Each of the six stories are set in Bardugo’s Grishaverse, but readers don’t have to be familiar with that world in order to understand or appreciate them.  There is something warm and familiar about each, but with a dark, and often subversive, twist to them; these are stories meant to be read aloud around a roaring fire on a blustery evening; the lovely and whimsical illustrations by Sara Kipin add to the magic, as well. Every story here is a gem, but there are two standouts.  “Amaya and the Thorn Wood” is a spin on the Minotaur myth, with a hint of “Beauty and the Beast.” Bardugo does a wonderful job playing with rhythm, repetition, and pacing; as it’s a story about a storyteller, it’s cleverly done. It is a story of two outcasts, both of whom are ostracized because of their looks, and both of whom are second-fiddle to their more attractive, more talented siblings. Through a shared love of stories, they redefine the idea of a “happy ending.” “The Witch of Duva,” a take on “Hansel and Gretel,” challenges the tropes of the evil stepmother, and the child-snatching witch, and explores the ways in which women mistrust each other; it is richly told, and Bardugo once again utilizes repetition to great effect. The ending is exceedingly disturbing, but will hopefully imbue a sense of caution to any young person who reads it; at the very least, it will leave a lasting impression. A common thread throughout the book is the complexity and diversity of women; each tale forces the reader to confront their own preconceived notions of how women should behave. Thoughts: Give this to lovers of fairy tales, self-proclaimed feminists, and anyone who needs a wake-up call about a woman’s place in society.

Fantasy     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Nielsen, Susin. Optimists Die First. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2017. 978-0-553-49690-1. 240 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Petula is scared of everything and spends her days thinking of the myriad ways in which people can be killed. Before the accident that killed her little sister, Petula was an average adolescent girl with a passion for crafting.  Petula, however, has never stopped blaming herself for what happened, and she has cut herself off from everything that reminds her of that time, including crafting, and her best friend. When Petula meets Jacob, a new boy with a prosthetic arm, a warm and open demeanor, and a tragic past of his own, her life slowly starts to knit back together. Jacob, however, is keeping a huge secret, and when Petula inevitably finds out, it completely alters the way she views him.  Nielsen does a wonderful job getting into Petula’s psyche; the way her grief and guilt manifests will hit home to a lot of people.  Petula is constantly hounded by that little voice going “If only…,” a voice that beleaguers everyone at some point in their lives.  Jacob’s prosthetic is sensitively portrayed, and is only one small part of him; it does not define who he is.  THOUGHTS:  While the heavy emphasis on crafting may turn some people off, at its heart, it is a story about two lost, grieving souls finding each other, and finding joy.

Realistic Fiction    Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Forde, Patricia. The List. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017. 978-1-4926-4796-6 353p. $16.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

The Melting (of the icebergs) has happened and much of life as we know it has disappeared.  John Noa has set up a settlement he calls “Ark” where he tries to make sure humans survive by not making the same mistakes.  He thinks one of those is language, so he limits what people in Ark are allowed to say, by approving a “list” of words.  Letta, the wordsmith’s  apprentice, is overwhelmed by the order to take more and more words off of the list.  At the same time, she is trying to preserve old wordsn her master disappears, leaving Letta to become the wordsmith.  She meets a boy who speaks more eloquently than the list will allow and Letta discovers much about the artists and others who are forced to live outside of Ark.   Letta has to make a lot of decisions that she never thought she would have to, much bigger than what words to take away from the citizens of Ark.  THOUGHTS: A book that will make everyone think about the importance of words, and of language, this would be a great purchase for libraries with lovers of fantasy, especially dystopian stories.

Dystopian     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Forde, Patricia. The List. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017. 978-1-492-64796-6. 368 p. $16.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Ark is a gated post-apocalyptic community that only survives because of the extreme planning and strict rationing of John Noah, Ark’s founding leader. With food, water, and even words strictly limited to only what is essential, life is not always easy. Sentences like “We ready now.” and “I no wait.” are considered speaking in List and take some getting used to. Reading List sometimes requires more than one glance. Letta lives in Ark and is the apprentice to the Wordsmith, a highly respected job. Almost immediately, her master Benjamin, the Wordsmith, heads out on a journey for a few days to hunt for new words to be preserved. This is considered a typical task of the Wordsmith. Letta is left behind to run the shop, where she transcribes boxes of List words for the Ark teacher, and creates special request List words for various trades.  Shortly after Benjamin leaves, an injured boy enters the shop, requesting a box of List words. Though she does not recognize him, Letta is intrigued by Marlo, and without thinking she quickly hides him before the gavvers (police or military equivalent) arrive. As she attempts to nurse Marlo back to health, Letta learns information about life outside of Ark, and she begins to question all she’s ever known. Thus begins Letta’s dissent from Ark.  THOUGHTS: As a former English teacher, my mind was racing with fun activities for using this book in the classroom: What words would be on your list? Could you figure out all of the words on Ark’s list? Would you eliminate/add any words to Ark’s list? The focus on the importance of words can lead to many great discussions, regardless of age. Though this book is marketed as middle grade, I could absolutely see using it in a high school classroom.

Dystopian   Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District


YA Fiction – Spliced; One Memory of Flora Banks; Crown’s Fate; Liberty

McGoran, Jon.  Spliced.  Holiday House, 2017.  978-0-8234-3855-6. 368 p.  $18.95.  Gr. 8 and up.

Jimi lives in Philadelphia, sometime in the future when the “zurbs” no longer have power and and much of North America has flooded.  Her next-door neighbor and best friend, Del, makes her miss the bus to school one day, so they walk to school.  On the way they witness a police officer becoming overly violent while he is apprehending some chimeras.  (Chimeras are humans who have voluntarily spliced their genes with animal genes.)  Jimi and her friend get involved in the melee which leads them on a path filled with danger and adventure.   Woven into the story are parallels to our political climate and current events, such as police brutality, hate groups, environmental warnings, as well as some cautionary tales about technological advances. McGoran stretches the dystopian genre and makes this well-worn genre seem fresh again with this book.  THOUGHTS:  Students who enjoy action-packed dystopian stories will enjoy this, but you could also hand this to someone concerned about the environment or hate groups.

Dystopian, Action/Adventure     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Barr, Emily. The One Memory of Flora Banks. Philomel, 2017. 978-0-399-54701-0. 290 p. $15.99. Gr. 9-12.

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks suffers from anterograde amnesia. While she can remember events from her early childhood, she has been unable to create new memories since she was ten years old. This all changes, however, when she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend. She remembers everything about their kiss. Thinking that perhaps Drake is the key to curing her condition, she sets off to find him in Svalbard, Norway, where he has gone to study abroad. Throughout her journey, Flora makes discoveries about herself, about her past, and about Drake that lead her to question everything she thought was real.  A touching story of bravery, self-discovery and independence, this book will speak to any teen who desires the freedom to make his/her own decisions which is pretty much every teen. THOUGHTS: At the heart of this book is a great amount of repetition: Flora must constantly read her notes to herself about who she is and what she has done in order to figure out why she is doing what she is doing. Her thoughts are often jumbled and bounce back and forth between memories of her childhood and reminders about who she is now.  Obviously, the purpose of this is for the reader to be able to relate to her condition, although this could potentially bore and/or confuse some readers.  In Flora’s conversations with Drake, there are some sexual references which makes this book more appropriate for high school audiences. While there are not many young adult books on the market that deal with this particular type of amnesia, the 2004 movie 50 First Dates, starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, focuses on anterograde amnesia.  Therefore, this movie and Barr’s book could possibly be paired for a unit on amnesia in a psychology course.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD


Barr, Melissa. The One Memory of Flora Banks. Philomel Books, 2017.  978-039954710. 304p. $15.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

Flora Banks has been unable to form a new memory since she was ten years old.  Every day when she wakes up, and sometimes in the middle of the day, she doesn’t know who or where she is.  Flora’s coping mechanisms for this are impressive; notes to herself, writing on her arms, a notebook that re-explains her condition to herself.  It is fascinating to imagine what that would feel like, but this book is so much more that that.  The story becomes very complex, and the reader does not know what the truth is.  Which of the characters in the book are reliable?  THOUGHTS: This is a compelling read that fans who have outgrown Wonder and Out of My Mind will enjoy. Fans of e. Lockhart’s We Were Liars will also enjoy this.

Realistic Fiction     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Skye, Evelyn. The Crown’s Fate. Balzar + Bray, 2017. 978-0-06-242261-3. $17.99. 417 p. Gr. 8 and up.

In this sequel to The Crown’s Game, Imperial Russia is teetering on the brink of chaos. Pasha must convince his countrymen he is the legitimate heir to the throne. Vika, the Imperial Enchanter after Nikolai sacrificed himself for her, pines for her former companion, resents Pasha for causing his death, and chafes under the authority of Yuliana, Pasha’s sister. But Vika becomes aware that Nikolai is not fully dead but living in a land of shadows. As he becomes stronger and more corporeal, Nikolai also becomes more evil, exposing magic to the unsuspecting populace and challenging Pasha for the throne.  Can Vika save herself, let alone her dearest friends and the empire? THOUGHTS : A thoroughly satisfying sequel filled with magic, well-developed characters and a fascinating alternate history of Imperial Russia.  The ending leaves the possibility of further books.

Fantasy, Romance     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Portes, Andrea. Liberty. HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-06-242199-9. $17.99. 388p. Gr. 9 and up.

Paige’s parents have been missing for two years, and no one is telling Paige if they are dead or alive. Journalists, the pair was grabbed on their way to Damascus. Now Paige is in college, attempting to live in a state of suspended animation. But Paige, who speaks five languages and is an expert in several forms of martial arts, captures the attention of a super-secret government agency (after taking out two guys with AK-47s at the Altoona Applebee’s restaurant), and they have a deal for her. If she helps them learn what information a government hacker currently stranded in Russia possesses, they will reopen her parents’ case. Hard for a girl to say no, so off to Russia she goes, where she meets the mysterious Katerina and is befriended (a new experience for Paige) by the son of a Russian mob boss. THOUGHTS: The funniest book I have read in years, Liberty covers many headline issues – ISIS, Putin, Edward Snowden – with a scathing, snarky voice. Paige continuously addresses the reader, frequently advising her to google a particular topic, then come back to the book. Some readers may need to do that, to comprehend every nuance of the plot, but it is worth the time it takes. A totally delightful book, with implied sequels to come.

Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


HS Sci-Fi/Fantasy – The Forgetting; Scythe; Crooked Kingdom

Cameron, Sharon. The Forgetting. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-54594-521-9. $18.99. 416 pp. Gr 7-12.

Canaan is a sheltered, quiet city, free of technology and surrounded by a large, secure wall. The citizens live in peace, writing about their “truths” in their books, which remains attached to them at all times. They will need these books and their truths after The Forgetting, a day without consequences that occurs every twelve years. All members of Canaan forget, and what isn’t written, isn’t remembered. But Nadia, the Dyer’s Daughter, does not forget; she remembers the chaos of the last Forgetting and how her mother, father, and sisters forgot her name. She remembers a sky the color of fire and the screams as people committed heinous acts without remorse. Since then, Nadia has found it hard to trust anyone. As the town prepares for the next Forgetting, Nadia meets Gray, the Glassblower’s Son, and together they sneak over the wall to explore the beyond. But they uncover a secret that not even the town’s highest council members know which could shake the foundation of Canaan to it’s core. And, as Nadia begins to fall for Gray, she begins to fear the Forgetting like never before and is determined bring the real truth to her city. THOUGHTS: With elements of The Giver and Lost, Cameron weaves an engrossing and thought-provoking story for middle schoolers and teens. A must for any library where science fiction and fantasy reign.

Science Fiction/Fantasy                  Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Cameron, Sharon.  The Forgetting. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2016. 978–0545945219.  416 p.  $18.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Nadia and her family live in the city of Canaan, a walled city where the people carry their life stories around with them, required by law to write down their thoughts and experiences in their books. Every 12 years, the Forgetting comes; people’s memories are wiped, and the only connection they have  to their pasts is the entries they have written down. The lives of the citizens are carefully regulated; there are assigned occupations, set times for waking and resting, rations are doled out by the Council, and no one is permitted outside the walls. Nadia is different from everyone else; she seems to be the only one who actually remembers what happened before the last Forgetting, and she is the only one who scales the walls to venture into the outside world. She guards her emotions and never becomes close to anyone, since she knows all will be forgotten. But when Gray, a neighborhood boy, confronts her as she returns from a night outside the city, he becomes her friend, her confident and more. As the next Forgetting looms closer, the two of them are determined to find out what really happens, and they discover much more than they bargained for. THOUGHTS: Though the writing is very descriptive and the characters are well developed, this dystopian romance and sci-fi adventure is very slow to build and does not really build up steam until the final few chapters.

Science Fiction     Nancy Summers, Abington Senior High School


Shusterman, Neal. Scythe. New York: Simon and Shuster, 2016. 978-1-4424-7242-6. 433 p. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Another compelling dystopian series in the making from Shusterman. In MidMerica, technology and science have advanced so that death is no longer a reality for most people. Illness and injuries can be quickly cured and people can live for centuries, able to reset their clocks to younger ages. But population control remains an issue, so scythes are selected to “glean” individuals to keep numbers down. A scythe is an honored and feared individual who decides who shall die and carries out this sentence using a variety of tools and techniques at their discretion. Scythes are expected to be beyond reproach and the law; they should have compassion and integrity to carry out their task, and every so often a scythe must select an apprentice to train for this awesome responsibility. The serious and respected Scythe Faraday has broken with tradition and selected two, Cintra and Rowan, both seventeen, who begin their training in the arts of killing. When Faraday unexpectedly gleans himself, his apprentices are pitted against each other in a contest in which only one will live.  THOUGHTS : An interesting premise with a look into a world perfected by the “Thundercloud”, the AI super program which has solved all conflicts, cured  all afflictions and governed all nations. But what is the value of human existence when there is nothing to provide purpose or meaning?

Science Fiction/Dystopian     Nancy Summers, Abington Senior High


Bardugo, Leigh. Crooked Kingdom. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2016. 978-1-62779-213-4. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

Kaz Brekker and his crew of misfits: Inej, the silent thief and killer; Jepser the perfect sharpshooter; Nina, the Grisha Heartrender; Matthias, the once cold-blooded Fjierdan and Wylan, the illiterate merchant’s son, have just pulled off a seemingly impossible heist and broken an important Grisha out of an impenetrable jail. This Grisha, Kuwei Yul-Bo, holds the key to jurda parem, a dangerous drug that if unleashed could wreak havoc on Ketterdam and the rest of the world. But the merchant who hired them, Jan Van Eck, has double crossed them, kidnapping Inej and refusing to pay the reward he promised for the job. Kaz and his crew must work together to not only free Inej, but to hold onto the secret of jurda parem in order to prevent war on their streets.  Bardugo once again creates an exceptionally vast world with rich characters and an incredibly tense storyline that will keep readers hooked until the very end. THOUGHTS: Fans of the Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows will not be disappointed; these series have taken YA fantasy to the next level and made it one of the best genres on the market today.

Fantasy     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

YA Dystopian – Black River Falls; The Rains


Hirsch, Jeff. Black River Falls. New York: Clarion Books, 2016. 978-544-390997.  $17.99. 328 pp. Gr. 7-12.

The residents of Black River, New York, have been hit with a virus (specifically, Lassiter’s Viral Retrograde Amnesia), which leaves them physically healthy but robbed of their past memories of family, occupation, and self.  Seventeen-year-old Cardinal Cassidy is writing this book as a letter to his older brother in college to explain the drastic changes in their town and family (both parents were infected).  As an uninfected person, Cardinal is now best friends with his former bully, Greer, and in a mountain camp in the quarantined city they try to protect younger infected children from falling victim to the increasingly lawless city.  Piecing together their pasts or their futures would be helpful too.  A green-haired girl they call Hannah joins them, and they deduce that she came to Black River to be infected and forget…but what?  As time goes on, the government wants to erase the existence of the disease and the city, and Cardinal and his friends are caught in the crossfire.   THOUGHTS: This is an odd book to categorize.  The setup is appealing and seems to promise either action or thoughtful introspection about memory and identity.  Instead, the intriguing premise falls flat; the book lacks both action and depth of insight.  While Hirsch does offer some action, it’s not until the final chapters. He does attempt thought on character choices (seeing how happy she is, Cardinal chooses not to reveal his mom’s sometimes happy, sometimes painful past to her; when immune Cardinal has a chance to be infected and thus forget his own awful memories, he chooses to keep his life as it is).  Ultimately, a quote from Cardinal himself sums up the book: “I…got moving without any real destination in mind” (301).  The book is refreshingly free from explicit relationships or language, and the action, while deadly, is handled with care.  Recommended for collections where stand-alone dystopian fiction is in high demand.   

Dystopian       Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



Hurwitz, Gregg. The Rains. New York: Tor Teen. 2016. 978-0765382672. 352 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Something is terribly wrong in the isolated community of Creek’s Cause, home to 16-year old Chance Rain and his older brother, Patrick. A recent meteor shower has unleashed a “Dusting” of malignant spores that infected everyone over age eighteen. With eyeholes bored straight through their skulls, the Hosts waste no time in capturing, caging, and transporting the town’s children to parts unknown. Some of the kids seek shelter at the high school and try to organize a resistance. But with Patrick’s eighteenth birthday just a week away, the Rains and Patrick’s girlfriend, Alex, decide to go in search of help. On the way, they discover that what’s happening in Creek’s Cause is only a prelude to infection on a much greater scale. Incorporating elements of classic zombie and alien invasion stories, The Rains gets off to a gruesome start and a quick pace that Hurwitz maintains throughout. The brothers’ race against time adds extra suspense to this YA horror series-starter. THOUGHTS: It’s the best of all the recent zombie novels, and it’s recommended for fans of Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin series. Hopefully the sequel isn’t far behind!

Dystopian (Zombies)      Amy Pickett, Ridley High School



YA Sci-Fi – Burning Midnight; On the Edge…; We Are the Ants


McIntosh, Will. Burning Midnight. New York: Delacorte Press, 2016. 978-0553534108. $17.99. 320 pp. Gr. 7 and up.

People all over the world are captivated by mysterious spheres that have suddenly appeared  on Earth. The colorful orbs are rated by their rarity and effects.  Those that are very rare with the most valuable effects are worth thousands, if not millions of dollars. If a person has two of the same kind, the spheres can be “burned”,  which will allow the owner to acquire the spheres’  special properties. In the years since they first appeared, people have been on a mad dash to find or purchase and burn the spheres in order  to enhance their personal abilities. Now the possibility of finding new ones is diminishing.  Sully, who  struggles to help his single mom pay the bills, and Hunter, an orphan trying to make it on her own, team up to search for any valuable spheres still at large. Before long they discover the rarest one yet. Next thing they know, billionaire businessman Alex Holliday and his ruthless team of professional collectors are on their trail and will stop at nothing to get their treasure. The story brings in some interesting themes: the division between rich and poor; the possibility that a rare find could completely change a person’s life, and the unknown long-term effects of the miracle spheres.  THOUGHTS:  Overall, Burning Midnight is a page turner, a sci-fi adventure that would have special appeal for gamers, reluctant readers, and Pokémon Go aficionados.

Science Fiction    Nancy Summers, Abington Senior HS



Duyvis, Corinne. On the Edge of Gone. New York: Amulet Books, 2016. 978-1-41971-903-3. $17.95. 456pp. Gr. 9 and up.

In 2043, a comet is hurtling towards Earth, and it’s impact is expected to be devastating. Hours before it hits, sixteen year old Denise is anxiously trying to get her drug-addled mother out of their apartment and into an underground shelter. Although her family has been assigned a shelter on the outskirts of their hometown, Amsterdam, Denise’s’ sister Iris is missing. A random encounter outside their apartment leads Denise and her mother to a generation ship; one of a few left on Earth, grounded due to mechanical issues. The ship will leave in search of new planets to settle on after the comet hits. While Denise worries her mother will not stay clean or follow the rules to keep them on board while the comet hits; she is also determined to become useful enough to convince the crew to allow her and her mother a lifetime spot on the ship. While the crew works to repair the ship, Denise works on and off board to prove her worth, all while searching for her missing sister. Since Denise is autistic, she must break out of her comfort zone in order for her family to survive. THOUGHTS: A good story with a lot going on, readers may be overwhelmed at first by the many overlapping themes, but those who stick with it will find a satisfyingly heartfelt story in the so often bleak and depressing universe of dystopian/sci-fi.

Science Fiction          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School



Hutchinson, Shaun David. We Are the Ants. New York: Simon Pulse, 2016. 978-1481-449632. 451 pp. $17.99 Gr. 9 and up.

Henry is a lonely teen struggling to deal with the recent suicide of his boyfriend. Henry is bullied at school and bullied at home by his older brother, a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend.  His mom is a harried single mom and his grandmother is slowly fading away from Alzheimer’s.  He’s fallen out with his best friend and his secret school boyfriend is toxic. He has a lot on his plate, without counting the periodic alien abductions he has endured since he was thirteen. The aliens have now given him the choice to save the world with the push a button, and Henry is trying to figure out if it is worth it. When a new student with a troubled past joins his class, Henry finds a supportive friend and potential romance which helps him to see his life in a more positive light. We Are the Ants is a strong portrayal of a character going through the grief process and working his way through his difficult family and school situations. Virtually all of the characters are well drawn and genuine; each flawed, and there are a couple who not that likeable. But, even the negative characters, Henry’s brother and Marcus, the sometime bully, sometime friend and romantic partner are shown to have more depth than many story villains.  Henry’s wry, introspective and frequently hilarious voice are central to this tale. The alien abductions and Henry’s ruminations provide some much needed levity to the serious subject matter.  THOUGHTS: A strange story that blends together the sci-fi fantasy with a very raw and real coming of age tale. Rough language, explicit scenes and mature themes make this a choice for older teen readers.

Science Fiction   Nancy Summers, Abington Senior HS

YA Fantasy, Paranormal, and Sci-Fi: Darkthaw; The Accident Season; Illuminae; Forget Tomorrow


Boorman, Kate A. Darkthaw. New York: Amulet Books, 2015. 978-1-4197-1663-8. 325 p. $17.95. Gr. 7 and up.

In this sequel to Winterkill, Emmeline and a small band of sympathizers leave the compound where they have had little free will in pursuit of freedom in a place she has seen in her dreams and from which her companion, Matista, has come. The two young women are connected by the foreshadowing dreams that involve each other, and now that the promising thaw has come in terms of both the environment and the fall of the Council that governed the settlement, Emmeline sets out. Her journey is fraught with challenges as she navigates the terrain, confused loyalties, the questions of forgiveness and redemption, illness, hostile tribes, and her relationship with Kane, whom she loves and who has told her he will go with her anywhere until his responsibilities are also tested. THOUGHTS: Emmeline is a strong female character upon whom secondary and male characters depend for modeling behavior, dedication and decision-making. Fans of Winterkill and similar fantasy adventure stories led by dominant female characters will enjoy this sequel. Includes mild sex scenes (kissing with “heat”) and graphic violence.

Fantasy     Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy




Fowley-Doyle, Moira.  The Accident Season.  New York: Kathy Dawson Books, 2015.  978-0-525-42948-7. 291 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Every October, Cara and her family suddenly become extremely accident-prone.  Having
no explanation for all of the cuts, bruises, and tragedies during this time, they refer to this month as the accident season and simply prepare for it as best as they can.  This year, however, Cara notices that a strange girl named Elsie appears in every single one of her photos and begins to wonder if there is a connection between this mysterious girl and the accident season.  As she searches for Elsie, family secrets are uncovered, relationships develop, and Cara’s entire world comes crashing down as everything she thought she knew about the accident season is turned upside down.   THOUGHTS: An interesting mix of mystery, suspense, romance, paranormal fiction, and realistic family dynamics make this an intriguing read.  Although the story starts out slow, the plot picks up about halfway through, and plot twists and turns will keep readers hooked from this point on.  Some sensitive subjects, such as teenage drinking and sexual assault, make this book more appropriate for high school audiences.

Paranormal Fiction        Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School




Kaufman, Amie, and Jay Kristoff. Illuminae: The Illuminae Files_01. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 978-0-553-49911-7. 599 pp. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

When an illegal mining operation on the planet of Kerenza is attacked by BeiTech Corporation, escapees flee to nearby spaceships Alexander, Hypatia, and Copernicus. Among these refugees are recent exes Kady and Ezra, who wind up on different ships but manage to re-connect via pirated communication channels. Ezra is quickly conscripted into the military as a fighter pilot, while Kady is tapped for her computer hacking skills. When the battleship Alexander inexplicably bombs a member of its own fleet, killing thousands of people, it seems the ship’s artificial intelligence (AIDAN) has gone rogue. Kady just might have the skills to stop AIDAN, but at a great personal cost. Oh, and BeiTech’s attack included a highly contagious new virus called Phobos that turns its victims into paranoid space zombies. The novel is packaged as an intelligence report in the form of transcripts, data files, and images, compiled by the mysterious Illuminae group. It will be fun to booktalk with fans of zombies, science fiction, graphic novels, and IM-style narratives. THOUGHTS: Don’t be put off by Illuminae‘s hefty 599 pages; the novel reads at near-warp speed and its many deft plot maneuvers will have readers scanning the galaxy for the sequel, Geminae, coming in 2016!

Illuminae would be a great choice for fans of the movies The Martian and Interstellar. Thanks to the fun, unique format it has appeal for reluctant readers and avid readers alike.

Science Fiction    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School




Dunn, Pintip.  Forget Tomorrow.  Entangled Teen, 2015.  978-1-63375-238-2.  336 p. $16.99.  Grades 6 and up.

Callie Stone, like every other young person turning seventeen in Eden City, looks forward to her birthday with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.  Each seventeen-year-old receives a vision sent back from the future to their younger self.  This vision is viewed by society as the definitive course that each person’s life will take.  People have visions of themselves as experts in certain fields, as parents of large families, or even as criminals committing terrible offenses.  Callie hopes to receive a vision of herself as an expert chef,  but in her horrifying dream, she has killed her sister, Jessa.  Callie willingly goes to “limbo”, the prison for future offenders, because she must stop herself from doing something so terrible to her beloved sister.  Her childhood sweetheart, Logan, who has ignored her for the past five years, unexpectedly appears to free her from prison.  Logan is involved in the Underground, a resistance group that helps those seeking to escape their pre-ordained futures. Is the future already written?  Can Callie change her fate?  Logan has now given her the chance to find out.  THOUGHTS: Forget Tomorrow is an exciting novel that creates a richly detailed dystopian society.  Like many of the better offerings in the genre, it asks larger questions about the human condition.  This book tackles the issue of free will and a person’s ability to circumvent fate.  Forget Tomorrow is romantic and somewhat violent, but teen and pre-teen fans of dystopian literature will love it.

This novel hasn’t received a lot of buzz, possibly because it is from a  smaller independent publisher, but it is one of the best dystopian novels to come along in a while.  Callie, Logan, and the other characters are interesting and relatable.  The action is exciting and a number of plot twists will keep the reader guessing.  There is a cliffhanger ending that points to future adventures for Callie, Logan, and Jessa.  Forget Tomorrow is a book that readers won’t forget any time soon.

Dystopian         Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. High School

New Fiction Grades 6 and up…Code of Honor; Nightfall


Gratz, Alan. Code of Honor. New York; Scholastic, 2015. 978-0545-695190 278 p. $17.99 Grades 6-12.

Kamran Smith is living a great life: senior football star, he and his girlfriend are homecoming king and queen, and he has strong family ties, especially with his brother, who’s eight years his senior. He’s even on track to attend West Point and enlist in the Army, following in his brother Darius’ footsteps. Sure, his mother is from Iran, and he looks Iranian, but he’s 100% accepted, 100% American.


Until Darius appears in a terrorist video broadcast on American TV, spewing anti-American religious rants, standing by while an American journalist is beheaded, and pronouncing coming destruction.  It’s bad enough seeing the videos and facing his own questions—dealing with the personal fallout in his community is worse. His girlfriend dumps him; his best friend doubts Darius (and Kamran); news crews hover and torment; his parents are just holding it together. Then Homeland Security ransacks their home for information and takes Kamran and his parents into custody. The questioning makes Kamran question his own conviction that Darius is innocent, that the “code of honor” he and Darius pledged to one another still stands strong.


Until Kamran really listens to the videos of Darius and discovers his brother mixing up the stories with heroes and villains they once pretended to be. It doesn’t make sense—or does it? Could Darius be sending messages in the videos? The authorities don’t believe it, except maybe one…. Or does he? Does Kamran believe himself? Soon Kamran finds himself outside the walls and in a race to prove his brother’s innocence. Will he get to do so? What if Darius is not so innocent? Does their Code of Honor have meaning to anyone but Kamran? This is a tense action story that has Kamran and the reader changing their minds about Darius’ intent, and what the outcome should or will be. Violent but not gory, certainly a realistic plot, Gratz wraps up this story ever so neatly. Safe for middle school and thought-provoking about trust, honor, and loyalty.

Realistic Fiction     Melissa Scott, Shenango High School




Halpern, Jake and Peter Kujawinski.  Nightfall.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015. 978-0-399-17580-0.  368 p. $17.99.  Grade 7 and up.

From its very beginning, Nightfall builds a sense of foreboding in readers.  Marin and her twin brother Kana live on the island of Bliss.  The residents of Bliss live in daylight for 14 years, but when the sun sets at the end of the cycle, they must migrate to the desert lands to wait until the next sunrise on their island fourteen years later.  Before the tide retreats and they sail away, each family performs a series of intricate rituals; deep cleaning, moving furniture, placing items throughout the house, and removing locks.  The description of these rituals is the reader’s first clue that there are “nighttime” inhabitants of the island.  On the day of departure, Line, a close friend of Marin and Kana is missing from the oceanfront.  Marin and Kana decide to search for him during chaos of the departure.  In the end, all three teens are left behind.  They try desperately to find a way off the island, are pursued by the nighttime “creatures”, and find out some uncomfortable truths about themselves and the inhabitants of Bliss.  This is creepy, mysterious and, ultimately, enjoyable tale.  THOUGHTS: I would not consider this book to be an outstanding or innovative work of literature.  However, it is an enjoyable and fast-paced read, guaranteed to send a shiver up your patrons’ spines. It is a perfect addition to your Halloween collection.

From the outset of the novel, it is clear that the darkness is something to be feared and that monstrous creatures inhabit the island at night.  However, the authors do an expert job of making the obvious elements of the story surprising and scary.  Each of the main characters in Nightfall has a secret and has told lies, so there is an element of suspicion throughout the novel.  The plot twist involving Kana is truly unexpected and the reader will begin to question who the good and bad guys really are.  In the final scene, Marin, Kana, and Line escape the island, so there may be a sequel (set in the desert lands) in the works.

Dystopian, Horror                Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. High School

YA Dystopian…A Girl Undone


Linka, Catherine.  A Girl Undone.  New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.  2015.  978-1-250-06867-5.  $19.99. 296p. Gr. 9 and up.

A Girl Undone, by Catherine Linka, is just as action-packed and fast-paced as its predecessor, A Girl Called Fearless.  In a time when the United States government has made more irreparable mistakes than they would like to admit, women are bought and sold like livestock.  The men with the most money have the best prospects for wives including Jesop Hawkins, California gubernatorial hopeful.   Hawkins has contracted Aveline Reveare to be his future wife, but Avie is now a fugitive and suspected terrorist.  After living in Salvation, a remote Idaho compound, she is forced to leave her longtime boyfriend  in order to save her own life and the secrets entrusted to her by Maggie, a leader in the anti-government organization.  When Avie’s identity is discovered, she is swiftly returned to Hawkins’ estate where she is closely guarded until her wedding day. The Exodus organization  is stronger than Avie ever imagines, and she learns that she too is stronger than she knows.  THOUGHTS:  It has the appeal of a realistic dystopian that will hook readers and a fast-pace that will keep the readers reading.

Dystopian   Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School