YA FIC – See All the Stars; The Opposite of Innocent; Meet the Sky; And She Was; The Belles; Spinning Silver; Driving by Starlight; Mapping the Bones; Spill Zone: The Broken Vow; The Broken Girls; Fragments of the Lost; My Real Name is Hanna; Jazz Owls

Frick, Kit. See All the Stars. McElderry Books, 2018. 978-1-534-40437-3. 320 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

THEN it’s the summer before junior year, and Ellory has everything going for her – three best friends who are her whole universe, a boy she meets and starts to falls for, and plans for her future.

NOW it’s the star of senior year, and Ellory’s world has imploded because of secrets. Following an extended suspension (reason unknown), she has to start over all alone back at Pine Brook High School. Outcast and feared by most, Ellory walks the halls and suffers through classes while wrecked with guilt over everything she’s lost.

Told in alternating time periods, readers will piece together the destruction of Ellory’s life as she knew it.

THOUGHTS: The mystery of Ellory’s junior year definitely will encourage readers to devour this book. Give See All the Stars to fans of realistic mysteries and fans of multi- or unreliable narrators like We Were Liars! PS – It’s also locally set on the West Shore of South Central, PA!

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Sones, Sonya. The Opposite of Innocent. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-0-062-37031-0. 272 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Lily has grown a lot since Luke left two years ago, and her childhood crush has deepened. Though Luke is older, he is perfection in Lily’s eyes. When Luke moves in with Lily’s family until he gets on his feet, she feels like the stars have aligned. Her friends don’t understand her crush on an older guy and are distracted by more age appropriate love interests.

As Lily spends more time alone with Luke, she knows their love is real. Even if they can’t be seen on a date in public, Lily dreams of one day. At first the secrecy is exciting. Eventually Lily catches up to her friends’ opinions and questions Luke’s intentions, but it may be too late to save herself from heartbreak.

THOUGHTS: A must-read for fans of dark romances, readers are drawn into this intense, page-turning verse novel. Mature relationships and underage drinking make this most suitable to high school readers.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Hoyle, McCall. Meet the Sky. Blink, 2018. 978-0-310-76570-7. 256 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

There’s no doubt that Sophie is a hard worker. She’s a good student, and she does everything she can to ease the pressures at home. Ever since the accident that destroyed her family, Sophie has put her dreams – her life – on hold to take care of her sister and help their mom run the family business, caring for the animals.

When Finn Sanders returns to town, Sophie knows there’s no way she’ll let him get close to her again. Finn doesn’t seem to understand why Sophie is so annoyed with him. Unbeknownst to Sophie, Finn has experienced hardships of his own. In the chaos of of mandatory evacuation, Sophie is separated from her family and becomes trapped on the island with Finn. They must work together in order to survive, but personalities will clash as they struggle to beat the storm.

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Sophie and Finn as they race through the roaring storm, desperately trying to survive. The intensity of the storm mirrors the emotions both characters face as they come to terms with their situation and the past years of their lives. This character driven novel is great choice for any middle or high school library.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Verdi, Jessica. And She Was. Scholastic, 2018. 978-1-338-15053-7. 361 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

When her mom casually dismisses Dara’s shot at achieving her dreams by providing a copy of Dara’s birth certificate, she questions why and takes matters into her own hands. Her mind reveling at the what ifs, Dara doesn’t expect confronting her mom will lead her to discover that her whole life is built on lie, or that the one person who has been there for everything isn’t who she thought. When faced with a copy of her daughter’s birth certificate and two unfamiliar names listed as parents, Dara’s mom Mellie finally reveals she is transgender. Outraged at being kept in the dark, Dara gets what little information she can about her birth mother’s family and sets off on a road trip with neighbor and best friend Sam to learn about from where she comes. As Dara gets closer to meeting her extended family, Mellie shares details of her story – their story – with Dara in a series of emails. Not yet ready to forgive Mellie’s betrayal, Dara goes against her wishes to discover the life she could have lived. As Dara learns more about her family and her mom, she has the opportunity to make her own decision about what path her life will take. Mellie’s reasoning will be obvious to readers before Dara, but for the first time in her life the ball is in Dara’s court.

THOUGHTS: Mellie’s story of transitioning is raw and honest and sheds some light onto an area of YA lit that is growing. Trigger warning: Mellie has her reasons for shielding herself and Dara from the extended family; their conservative viewpoints are quite obvious and sometimes extremely offensive/insensitive. And She Was will be an excellent addition for high schools looking to diversify or expand their LGBTQ+ collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Deracine, Anat. Driving by Starlight. New York: Godwin Books, 2018. 978-1-250-13342-7. 280 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Meet Leena and Mishail, teenage girls living in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia; best friends who have an “us against the world” mentality, and whose relationship is the driving force behind Anat Deracine’s debut, Driving by Starlight. Leena and Mishail feel the burden of being a woman in Riyadh, where so many things are haraam – forbidden – and where a woman can’t do anything without the permission or escort of a male guardian, leaving the two girls to plot small rebellions in order to push back against these unjust laws. Both girls are in precarious positions socially and politically – Leena’s father is in prison for leading an insurgency against the government and its harsh laws against women, leaving her and her mother to fend for themselves; and Mishail’s father is Minister of the Interior, meaning there is no room for rule breaking in her household, as it could jeopardize her father’s place in the government. The two are inseparable, insisting, over and over, that “nothing they do can touch us.”  Their bonds of friendship are put to the test, however, with the addition of a new girl, Daria, to their class – Daria, who is half American, who has lived in New York, who has kissed boys, and who fans the sparks of Mishail’s rebelliousness into flames. And when Leena snags the attention of the boy Mishail’s crushing on – a boy who admires Leena’s father, and is determined to continue his work – it sends them spiraling further and further apart. While some of the Saudi Arabian laws and terms are hastily explained, it doesn’t get in the way of what’s at the heart of this story: the bonds of women, and the power of female unity. Although the culture, laws, and customs may be unfamiliar to Western readers, the love, angst, fear, rage, and helplessness that accompany female friendships will resonate with all readers.

THOUGHTS: This book wonderfully highlights Saudi culture and customs, and readers will come away with a better understanding of what life is truly like for the women who live there. A worthy addition to all middle and high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Clayton, Dhonielle. The Belles. New York: Freeform, 2018. 978-1-484-72849-9. 448 p. $17.99. Gr. 8-12.

Camille Beauregard and her sisters have been raised as Belles, powerful beings who have the ability to manipulate beauty and save their fellow citizens “from a life of unbearable sameness” (12). At her debut, Camille wows the crowd and the royal family with her creativity and poise, but is disappointed when her sister is picked as the Queen’s favorite, securing the coveted role of royal Belle. Camille begins working in a tea shop transforming local patrons, but a mysterious change in circumstances soon brings Camille to the palace. Under the tutelage of the Princess, Camille’s powers are tested – as is her loyalty to the crown. As time passes, Camille begins to see dark undertakings in the castle and questions her role as Belle. But being a Belle is all she knows, and Camille must confront the evasive history of the Belles in order to move forward.

THOUGHTS: Clayton does an excellent job of weaving class, race, and gender politics into her story and allowing readers to reflect on our own beauty obsessed world. This is an enthralling, unique fantasy with rich characters and vivid world-building. Perfect for fans of the Uglies series.

Fantasy          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

The citizens of Orleans revere beauty, but they are all cursed with gray skin, red eyes, and hair like straw. Only the Belles, the blessed descendants of the Goddess of Beauty herself, have the ability to help them achieve the glamorous appearances they crave. Camille is part of the latest generation of Belles, well trained in the art and science of transformation. She is excited to be called to the kingdom with her sisters to learn which one of them will be chosen the favorite: the Belle who will serve the royal family and the courtiers of Orleans. The Belles themselves are all beautiful, but in different ways; they have various skin, hair, and eye colors. But Camille and her sisters soon learn there is a dark underside to the world of Orleans, and the glamorous life they long imagined for themselves is not at all their new reality. Separated from each other and unable to access reliable information, all of the Belles struggle to make sense of the world they find themselves in, a world nothing like the one they have been preparing and planning for. Camille is physically exhausted by the demands made on her, and tormented by the moral dilemmas she faces when the horrid Princess Sophia orders her to do things she finds increasingly unconscionable. The ending is satisfying, but will leave the reader eager for the next installment.

THOUGHTS: This is a fast-paced, fun, and yet thought-provoking read. Orleans is reminiscent of The Capitol in The Hunger Games, with its emphasis on outrageous fashion. There is much to dissect here concerning the value of beauty and the dangers of objectifying the human body, especially women’s bodies. The fact that the book features a gorgeous dark-skinned girl on the cover, and includes descriptions of various skin colors as beautiful, is also an important positive aspect.  Highly recommended for high school libraries and for middle school libraries seeking fiction with appeal to older readers.

Dystopian; Fantasy          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Novik, Naomi. Spinning Silver. New York: Del Rey, 2018. 978-0399180989. 480p. $28.00. Gr.  9 and up.

Naomi Novik takes us on a journey of female empowerment and collaboration, magic and mayhem, in her newest novel, Spinning Silver, loosely based on the fairytale, Rumpelstiltskin. Meet Miryem, Wanda, and Irena – three very different women from very different backgrounds, but whose stories twist and intertwine, as they each battle their own particular demons. Miryem, a Jewish moneylender (two marks against her, as far as her neighbors are concerned), who is exceedingly good at her job; her demon comes in the form of the Staryk king, a beautiful, cold – figuratively and literally – fey creature obsessed with obtaining gold at all costs. When he takes Miryem for his wife against her will, after she succeeds in turning Staryk silver into gold, she must use all of her wit and cunning to not only survive, save her family and the rest of the villagers from a perpetual winter. Wanda lives with her demon of a father, a brutal drunkard who find any excuse to beat and berate Wanda. When she becomes a servant in Miryem’s household, she allows herself to visualize a life for herself and her two brothers beyond her father’s clutches. Irena, invisible daughter of a duke, who has little to recommend herself to members of the opposite sex (at least, according to her father), unexpectedly becomes Tsarina, when Mirnatius, the spoiled and entitled Tsar, insists on marrying her; however, he is quite literally a demon, or at least is possessed by one – a fire demon, determined to devour Irena, who carries Staryk blood in her veins. She, too, must fight for her life, and after a chance meeting, she and Miryem become accomplices, combining the powers of their intellect and sheer lust for life, to concoct a plan to conquer Mirnatius and the Staryk king. This is a breathless, epic tale, showcasing exactly what a woman is capable of when you threaten her, and the people she loves. All three protagonists are exceedingly well-rounded, each with a unique voice and perspective, and each given a chance to shine. Particularly captivating is the shift in Wanda’s relationship with her two brothers – initially cold and distant, and then, after her eldest brother, Sergey, runs afoul of the Staryk and almost dies, blindingly loving – and, in turn, their connection to their deceased mother, who seems to live on in as a white tree in their yard.  Fans of Novik’s Uprooted will not be disappointed with this second fairytale retelling.

THOUGHTS: While this is an adult novel, all of the female protagonists are around eighteen years old, and will resonate strongly with young readers. These are smart, capable women who use all of the resources at their disposal to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles – they’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Fantasy          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Yolen, Jane. Mapping the Bones. New York: Philomel Books, 2018. 978-0-399-25778-0. 417 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Survival and family are at the forefront of Jane Yolen’s Mapping the Bones, a Holocaust story loosely based on Hansel and Gretel. Twins Gittel and Chaim, and their parents, have been relatively lucky so far; they have a fairly spacious apartment all to themselves in Lodz, the Polish ghetto they’re living in, they’ve managed to stay fed, and while there’s always danger lurking in the form of Nazi soldiers, they all know how to keep a low profile. Then the Norenberg’s come to stay with them – a German-Jewish family, who are not used to dealing with any hardship – and all of their lives are changed forever, as the fates of both families are inextricably entwined. The story takes place in three central locations, and the action is divided up accordingly: in the ghetto; on the run in Bialowieza Forest; and at Sobanek, a labor camp for Jewish youth. At the heart of everything are Chaim and Gittel; they are two sides of the same coin, and have a deep-rooted connection that began in the womb. Chaim does not speak – he limits himself to five words at a time, except when he’s writing, or reciting, his poetry; poetry is his life blood, and for him, it is his duty as a witness to the horrors of war to write, and write, and write. Gittel is their spokeswoman – she is infinitely adaptable, personable, and clever, and because she narrates half of the chapters (they’re titled “Gittel Remembers”), we know that at least she survives. Nothing about this story is easy – because we see everything through Chaim’s lyrical lens, life (and death) in the ghetto and at Sobanek is painted in vivid, often brutal, detail; the conclusion of the book is especially gruesome. While Chaim and Gittel are phenomenally fleshed out, the supporting characters are less so, and many of them come off as one-dimensional.  This is particularly true in the case of Sophie and Bruno Norenberg; we never really get to know Sophie, though she seems innocuous enough, but Bruno is the quintessential spoiled brat – greedy, selfish, and weak-minded, it’s easy to dismiss him as a coward and a villain. Except that we need to remember that he’s just a 12 year old boy, thrust into the most horrific situation imaginable, with absolutely no adult guidance. As readers, let’s save our ire for those who truly deserve it. Despite this, Mapping the Bones is an honest, compelling, and, at times, hopeful take on the Holocaust told by a master storyteller.

THOUGHTS: This book is categorized as juvenile fiction, but because of its often graphic portrayal of violence, and Yolen’s mature and complex language, this is better suited for older adolescent readers.

Historical Fiction (Holocaust)          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Westerfeld, Scott. Spill Zone: The Broken Vow. Illustrated by Alex Puvilland.  First Second Books, 2018. 231 p. 978-1-626-72150-0. $22.99. Grades 7-12. (Series: Spill Zone, #2)

Three years ago, Addison’s world changed when another world mysteriously and powerfully entered ours; it killed her parents and left her younger sister Lexa unable to speak. Addison supported herself and Lexa by photographing inside the off-limits Spill Zone that Poughskeepie has become, trying hard to think only of the effort to live, and not to dwell on the nightmarish creatures and images stamped on her mind from her encounters. Book 1 brought Addison her big break: an art collector willing to pay her for not only her photographs but also for retrieving a unique object from the Spill Zone. Addison daringly accomplishes the task, but she has been left changed. No one can explain to her what has happened, until a North Korean agent, Don Jae, recognizes in her the same changes he has encountered in himself and in his country. Their zone is dead, but this zone is alive–and about to make an audacious move. Will Addison and Don Jae make the right decisions to help their world, or simply invite more terror? Meanwhile, Addison and Lexa struggle to come to terms with Lexa’s doll, which has its own power over Lexa since the Spill–but why? Westerfeld (sci-fi creator of Uglies and Leviathan and more) has created a horrifically twisted world where humans and hope still live. Puvilland’s art enhances this striking and fearful tale.

THOUGHTS: For anyone interested in science fiction and graphic art.  With volume 1, this duo is a must-have in either genre.

741.5 Graphic Novel, Dystopian          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


St. James, Simone. The Broken Girls. Berkley, 2018. 326 p. 978-0451-47620-3 $26.00  Grades 9-12.

Idlewild Hall in Vermont.  In 1950, it was where unwanted, troubled, or troublesome girls were sent, where embarrassment and illegitimacy could be hidden.  Visitors were few, teachers were strict (and mostly uncaring), and the rumors of the ghost Mary Hand were prevalent. If you were at Idlewild for very long, Mary Hand would visit you, and you would remember. This is where four classmates, out of necessity, share with each other the turmoil that brought them to Idlewild, and forge a friendship that is stronger than this awful place–or do they?  Then one of them disappears. She’s officially listed as a runaway, but her three friends know something different.

Vermont 2014, Fiona Sheridan writes fluffy freelance pieces for small-time newspapers.  It’s nothing at all like the in-depth reporting her world-renowned father, Malcolm Sheridan, has accomplished.  His name still brings awe to those in the industry. But Malcolm, like Fiona, has changed in the twenty years since his daughter Deb was murdered, her body found near Idlewild Hall. Deb’s boyfriend was convicted of the murder, but doubts still linger in Fiona’s mind. Something still feels wrong. Now, Fiona hears of an investor attempting to restore Idlewild Hall–crumbling buildings and ghostly stories be damned–and she decides to write a story about it. But who is this investor, and why Idlewild, why now? St. James tells her story from multiple perspectives: each of the four girls in 1950, and Fiona in 2014. The result is an insightful and appropriately suspenseful story linking the past to the present.

THOUGHTS: A clever crossover novel that will appeal to YA and adult audiences. St. James successfully mixes modern suspense, gothic horror, and shameful history into a page-turner with believable characters and an ending clever enough to match the journey. Not to be missed by any gothic or suspense fan.

Mystery, Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Miranda, Megan. Fragments of the Lost. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018.  369 p. 978-0399-55672-2 $17.99 Grades 7-12.

Jessa Whitworth feels completely awkward and fully grief-laden in her ex-boyfriend’s room, three months after their breakup, and two months after his death. But Caleb’s family is moving, and his mother insists that Jessa clean it out, saying it’s too painful for her, and that the room is full of Jessa, anyway. Since Jessa feels the blame from most of the community for his death (why did he go to her track meet the night he died? If he hadn’t, maybe he wouldn’t have crashed into the river….), she feels this could be a sort of penance, and maybe she deserves it. But Jessa finds that his room is full of her, and too many items bring back happy or painful memories.  The memories leave her wondering if their relationship was all that she thought it was, or if she misread herself and Caleb completely. Was Caleb hiding something from her? Why (she realizes now) was he one person with her, and another person with everyone else? And is it just grief compelling his mother to ask this of her, or does she have another motive? Jessa finds herself questioning Caleb, his past, and her own instincts. This suspenseful tale is slow in the revealing of secrets that Jessa didn’t know, and what she uncovers will surprise her.

THOUGHTS: A good choice for fans of Natalie Richards (Six Months Later, One Was Lost) who like a bit of romance and a strong female character who grows through adversity. Jessa is a likable, realistic narrator who is able to see her own shortcomings and overcome them.

Realistic Fiction, Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Masih, Tara Lynn. My Real Name is Hanna. Mandel Vilar Forge. 2018. 978-1-942134-51-0. $16.95. 208 p. Gr. 7-12.

Hanna Slivka lived a normal life, exploring her town, going to school, and giggling over her crush Leon. Everything was fun and normal until Hitler’s army crossed into the Soviet-ruled Ukraine and took over. Now, her life is going to change as Hitler and the Gestapo declares that her town, and many others, need to be shtetele, or Jew-free. Hanna and her family will soon face challenges that they did not expect – cold and dirty stares and comments from neighbors they have known for years, limited food and supplies, and running to stay alive. Thankfully Hanna has one good neighbor, Alla, who assists as much as she can, helping with the simplest things, such as creating a pysanky egg. Hanna and her family flee to the underground caves to hide, fighting against Hitler’s army and their own minds and bodies as negativity, despair, and starvation set in. The fight to survive may be more difficult then the fight against the actual army, but Hanna and her family will do anything to live on and tell their story.

THOUGHTS: A true-based story of one of the only surviving Ukrainian families during the Holocaust. Hanna’s tale is heartbreaking and gripping, leaving the reader with a sense of fear that needs to be told again and again not to forget the lost souls of the Holocaust.

Historical Fiction (Holocaust)          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


Engle, Margarita. Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots. New York: Atheneum, 2018. 978-1-5344-0943-9. 179p. $17.99. Gr.  7 and up.

In Jazz Owls, Margarita Engle has put a spotlight on a little known slice of history, the Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots, that unfortunately will resonate in today’s increasingly xenophobic political landscape. In the summer of 1943, a group of white, American sailors went roving the streets of Los Angeles assaulting and humiliating Latino men and teenage boys, specifically any man or boy wearing a zoot suit, a style of clothing that was perceived as “other”, and therefore, dangerous; none of the sailors were arrested, but the victims were rounded up and arrested “for their own safety.” This novel in verse focuses on one Mexican-American family, in particular three siblings – Marisela, 16; Lorena, 14; and Ray, 12; they’re eldest brother, Nicolás, is off fighting overseas. Marisela and Ray love to dance, and especially love the Latin music popular in some of the clubs; Lorena, more introspective, is a reluctant accomplice to their nighttime entertainment. A violent altercation a lake sets the tone early on – it is clear, by Engle’s use of two reporter’s perspectives (simply addressed as “Reporter #1” and “Reporter #2”), that anyone perceived to be Mexican will be treated as a threat.  Indeed, the siblings all get arrested after this incident, even though they were merely bystanders, and had nothing at all to do with what happened. Each sibling internalizes this ordeal, as well as the riots, differently – while she’s angry and scared, Marisela just wants to be free to dance and fall in love; Lorena is furious and outraged, especially after the riots, which she points out should be called the “Sailor Riots”, as they’re the perpetrators; and Ray, as one of the subjects of these vicious attacks, feels “peeled,” but ready to fight. There are some wonderful moments in this book, with Lorena in particular, whose character development is the most dramatic, but overall, the writing feels a little haphazard, and will most likely leave younger readers confused about the time period rather than curious. If, instead of the two characters of the reporters (who often come off sounding like cartoon villains twirling their moustaches) Engle had put in snippets from actual primary sources, she would have accomplished the same thing in a more authentic way.

THOUGHTS: While Margarita Engle has done a service to history by giving voice to these horrific race riots, this books needs some context, and would be best as an in-class read paired with articles and/or photos from the time period.

Historical Fiction (1943)           Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

YA FIC – Legendary, Nine, The Opposite of Here, Tradition, The Way You Make Me Feel

Garber, Stephanie. Legendary. New York: Flatiron, 2018. 978-1-2500-9531-2. 464 p. $18.99. Gr. 7-12.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval, the grandest show by land or by sea… Sisters Tella and Scarlett barely survived the last Caraval, an extravagant, surreal show that blurred the lines between fantasy and reality. After Tella plunged to her death, Scarlett used her winning wish to bring her back to life. And the two should live happily ever after, free of their abusive father and Scarlett’s disastrous arranged marriage. But Tella’s initial deal with Caraval’s mysterious Master Legend comes with a few strings attached, and she ended up making a seemingly impossible deal with a criminal in order to find the whereabouts of her missing mother. Tella is given the five nights of the next Caraval to discover Legend’s real name, and if she doesn’t, she could lose everything – and everyone – she loves. Before Caraval, Tella is warned that this time, the game is real, and with death courting her once more, she soon finds herself falling deeply into a twisted game, and maybe even deeply into love.

THOUGHTS: An excellent follow-up to last year’s Caraval, this series is a unique blend of mystery, fantasy and folklore. Recommend this series to readers too young for The Night Circus or Water for Elephants.

Fantasy          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Hines, Zach. Nine. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-0-062-56726-0. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Enter a futuristic world that is eerily similar to our own except for one major difference – humans have nine lives. As they burn through their lives on a government sanctioned schedule, humans are reborn into new bodies with physical and mental upgrades. Burning through lives too quickly, though, can cause rebirth sickness (most similar to dementia). After seeing his own mother become unrecognizable with rebirth sickness, Julian is not interested in burning; in fact, he’s one of the oldest ones in his school. With pressures from his peers and a desire to help his family, Julian joins the Burners, the schools secret suicide club that makes a mockery of burning through lives in an ostentatious manner. Not all is as it seems, though, and as Julian advances through lives, he begins to question the society in which he lives, determined to protect his family and find answers about what happened to his mom.

THOUGHTS: This standalone will be great for fans of dystopians, looking at a unique new approach. Trigger warning: Group suicide is explicitly described (and encouraged) throughout this book. Specific, often graphic, and attention-getting methods are used, making this a mature high school read.

Dystopian          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Altebrando, Tara. The Opposite of Here. Bloomsbury YA, 2018. 978-1-681-19706-7. 256 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

After losing her boyfriend to a tragic accident, Natalie’s parents take her and her three best friends on a “sail-a-bration” cruise to distract her and help her move on. Not feeling the party vibe, Natalie takes a break on deck and meets someone, but she doesn’t catch his name before losing track of him. When rumors about someone going overboard surface, Natalie worries she knows who it was. Caught up in her feelings and what happened to the mystery guy, Natalie can’t enjoy herself until she knows the truth.

THOUGHTS: Readers will want to know the outcome and find out who Natalie’s mystery guy is and if he’s okay. The premise of the “sail-a-bration” cruise and the lack of transparency with the passengers seems far-fetched. An additional purchase where mysteries are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Kiely, Brendan. Tradition. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018. 978-1-481-48034-5. 352 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Fed up with Fullbrook Academy, legacy student Jules just wants to finish her senior year and move on from her ex and her ex friends. Transfer student Jamie doesn’t feel like he belongs right from the start. A fresh chance to play ice hockey where nobody knows his past is the break his family has been waiting for.

Through a mutual distaste for Fullbrook’s traditions and a shared desire to stay somewhat under the radar, Jules and Jamie become friends. Living with the pressure to perform in an intense academic environment isn’t always easy. When school traditions hit close to home, Jules and Jamie have to decide where they stand and in what they believe.

THOUGHTS: With unique perspectives on double standards in our society (and how they’re encouraged at a young age), Kiely challenges traditions, whether at a private prep school or in society in general. Having read several prep school and assault books recently, Tradition is a powerful addition with strong characters – both male and female – who take a stand. Casual sex, assault, drinking, and drug use make this suitable for mature readers.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Goo, Maurene. The Way You Make Me Feel. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books, 2018. 978-0-374-30408-9. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

With a young father who feels very chill and never follows through on punishments, Clara is known for pulling off epic pranks. When one goes too far and Adrian is called into the principal’s office with other parents, he’s ready to lay down the law. Instead of roaming free for the summer, Clara will spend it working on the KoBra, Adrian’s food truck. To make matters worse, Clara’s arch nemesis Rose will be joining her. If things don’t go well, Clara can kiss her end of summer trip to visit her mom in Tulum, Mexico goodbye.

Forced to work together in a confined space, Clara begins to see that Rose might not be so bad. Does being friendly with Rose mean she can’t be friends with Felix and Patrick, and what about the coffee cart guy Hamlet? He’s not Clara’s type – at all!

THOUGHTS: Readers will be hungry for LA’s food truck cuisine after devouring this one. The Way You Make Me Feel is a fun and lighthearted summer read about growing up and features a great father-daughter relationship. With older characters and references to prom, it will be a hit in high schools, but it could be appropriate for younger readers too.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MS FIC – Murderer’s Ape; Whisper of Horses

Wegelius, Jakob. The Murderer’s Ape.  Translated by Peter Graves. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-1101931752. 624pp.  $17.99 Gr. 5-8.

This beautifully illustrated mystery is the English translation of a Swedish novel published in 2014.  The book’s heroine, Sally Jones, is an anthropomorphic gorilla who can read, write, and understand language but cannot speak.  She is single-mindedly determined to prove that her best friend, Chief Koskela, a ship’s captain, is innocent of the murder he has been convicted of.  Her quest to free him takes her on a wild adventure from Portugal through India, where she struggles not only to follow a convoluted trail of evidence but for her own safety.  THOUGHTS:  Sally Jones is an unforgettable animal heroine extraordinaire who has more humanity than most humans, and yet remains a gorilla to her core.  This fun romp blends mystery, animal fantasy, and adventure, and is highly recommended for middle school libraries.

Mystery       Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Bethell, Zillah. A Whisper of Horses.  Feiwel and Friends, 2017.  978-1250093943. 339 p.  $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

Serendipity lives in the walled city of Lahn Dahn, which clever readers will recognize as a futuristic, dystopian version of London.  She is a member of the lowest of three castes, and her most treasured possession is a map which shows a route outside the city to a place where horses–which are believed to be extinct–still thrive.  Serendipity dreams of finding the horses but despairs of finding a way outside the city until she meets Tab, an orphan who knows all about eluding the law. Together, Serendipity and Tab forge a tenuous alliance when they discover that each has resources the other can use to achieve their separate goals. THOUGHTS:  Excellent writing, an unusual storyline, and themes of friendship and loyalty that are developed in nuanced and thought-provoking ways make this book more than a run-of-the-mill dystopian novel.  One thing to note is that Bethell plays with language, imagining how words might evolve in a dystopian future (“amazering” instead of “amazing,” etc.); some readers will enjoy this, while others may find it frustrating or distracting.  Recommended for middle school libraries.

Dystopian    Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

YA – Ready to Fall; Thunderhead

Pixley, Marcella. Ready to Fall.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2017. 9780374303587. $17.99. 360 p. Gr. 8 and up.

After the death of his beloved mother, 16-year-old Max Friedman struggles with his spiraling depression and an unhealthy obsession with an imaginary brain tumor.  Withdrawing from his grieving father and completely unable to cope at his public school, he is given the opportunity to switch to a progressive private high school.  The school matches new students with a student fellow and a faculty mentor, and so Max meets Felicia, the pink-haired free spirit who goes by the name Fish and the demanding professor Gates. The change is a lifeline for Max.  With the help of his new circle of creative friends, some inspiring teachers and his supportive father and grandmother, Max hopes to lift the heavy veil of his depression and make a fresh start. Many of the characters in the book are intriguing;  well-developed and flawed or struggling in some way and Max’s relationships with all of them ring true. The writing is emotionally charged and Max’s grief is palpable. Pixley peppers the pages with scenes from Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, writings that mirror Max’s pain and depression, but also help him come to terms with his own struggles. THOUGHTS: Could be used as a contemporary companion piece for classes studying either of these classic works.

Realistic Fiction       Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Shusterman, Neal. Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe Book 2).  Simon and Schuster, 2017. $18.99. 504 p. 9781442472457. Gr. 7 and up.

Thunderhead, the second novel in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, is a compelling sequel to the boldly original Scythe. The series is set in a dystopian future in which the Thunderhead, an omniscient, advanced AI system, has solved most of humanity’s problems including war and mortality.  The Scythdom was created to maintain a sustainable population and scythes are the individuals selected and trained to be the benevolent guardians of death, gleaning people as necessary to prevent overpopulation.  But now within the Scythdom, the Old Guard and the New Order factions are at war with each other. Cintra, as Scythe Anastasia, is revered as an inspiring Junior Scythe, respected for her adherence to the Old Guard principles.  Rowan, who has been denied his initiation, has assumed the mantle of Scythe Lucifer, a vigilante out to bring justice to the New Order scythes who relish their power and the perks of their positions. The Thunderhead itself features as a narrator and provides us with glimpses into its consciousness, objectives, and motivations as the defacto government head and deity. As the two sides of the Scythedom fight for control,  the Thunderhead is forbidden from intervening in their struggle and is unable to resolve the battle between the noblest and basest instincts of individual human beings. THOUGHTS: Yet another winning series from Shusterman, the master storyteller; readers will be eagerly awaiting the final book in this trilogy. A recommended purchase for all YA collections.

Science Fiction, Dystopian     Nancy Summers, Abington School District

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

blackriverfalls

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

 

therains

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