YA Fiction – Flame in the Mist; Eliza & her Monsters; Inexplicable Logic…; Goodbye Days

Ahdieh, Renée. Flame in the Mist. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017. 978-0-3991-7153-5. 392 p. $17.99. Gr. 7+.

Hattori Mariko is a gifted samarai and skilled alchemist, but none of that matters since she was born a girl. Unlike her warrior brother Kenshin, Mariko has been raised to serve her family in marriage and has been betrothed to the son of the Emperor. On her journey to the Imperial Palace, her caravan is attacked by members of the Black Clan, and Mariko only barely escapes with her life. Determined to discover who sent the infamous Clan to kill her, Mariko dresses as a peasant boy and infiltrates the group. As she sinks deeper into their ranks, Mariko finds her intellect and skills appreciated for the first time in her life and also finds herself falling in love, and begins to question her family, her purpose and her country. THOUGHTS: A nice addition to any Young Adult collection. Teens will relate to Mariko’s conflicted choices and get lost in the excellent world-building and storytelling.

Fantasy     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Zappia, Francesca. Eliza and Her Monsters. New York: Harper Collins, 2017. 978-0-06-229013-7. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl who have been looking for a follow-up, look no further!  Eliza and Her Monsters, by Francesca Zappia, is a perfect pairing. Eliza has a huge secret; she is the author and creator of the webcomic Monstrous Sea.  Since she is only known as LadyConstellation online nobody knows her true identity.  While she is an internet superstar, her offline life is less than ideal. Eliza feels beleaguered and misunderstood by her classmates, and her parents, who are baffled by her ties to her “fake” internet friends, and her desire to spend all of her time on her phone or computer. Then hulking, football player-looking Wallace comes into her life.  Wallace, who inexplicably and shockingly is a huge fan of Monstrous Sea, writes his own stellar fanfic too; a more unlikely pair you won’t find.  The slow build up of their friendship is well done; there is some skeptical orbiting, followed by cautious interaction, and eventually, full-fledged trust.  However, when Eliza’s secret is exposed her entire world comes crashing spectacularly down around her. THOUGHTS: Even if you’re not into webcomics or fandom, Eliza is a relatable character; her love of her digital community, her desire to spend all of her time with her friends, and her mixed feelings for her parents and siblings are all things that teens will identify with.

Realistic Fiction     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Saenz, Benjamin Alire. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. New York: Clarion Books, 2017. 978-0-544-58650-5. 464 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, Benjamin Alire Saenz’s follow-up book to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, is just as brilliant, beautiful, and heartwarming/wrenching. Sal never thought of himself as an angry kid.  And yet, here he is, getting into fight after fight for no real reason and hating himself because of it; Sal can’t help but wonder if he’s more like his biological father than he thought. As in Aristotle, parents and adults play a major role throughout the book.  Both Sal and his best friend, Samantha, are molded by their parents. Even though Sal has been raised by a steady, kind hearted, loving adoptive father, Vicente, a man who fully embraces the idea of turning the other cheek, he fears that, ultimately, his character will be shaped by the temperamental, unstable father he never knew. The matriarchs, Sal’s terminally ill grandmother, his deceased mother, and Samantha’s mother, also get a starring role here. This novel highlights in ways no other YA book in recent memory has just how powerful and pivotal adult-child relationships are and addresses head on the age old question of nature vs. nurture. Another powerhouse of a novel from Saenz. THOUGHTS: The platonic friendship between Sal and Samantha is a refreshing change from the best-friend-to-boyfriend/girlfriend trope in many contemporary YA books.

Realistic Fiction      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Zentner, Jeff. Goodbye Days. Crown, 2017. 978-0-553-52406-2. 404 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

“Where are you guys? Text me back.” This seemingly unremarkable text from Carver Briggs to his three best friends may have precipitated the car crash that killed Blake, Eli, and Mars. Now the fourth member of their “Sauce Crew” must face both senior year at Nashville Arts Academy without his closest friends and a potential criminal charge of negligent homicide. Some of his classmates sympathize with Carver, and others (including Eli’s twin sister) blame him for the tragedy. Carver finds solace in the company of Eli’s former girlfriend, Jesmyn, even though part of him feels like he’s betraying Eli by growing closer with her. Meanwhile, Blake’s grandmother invites Carver to spend a “goodbye day” with her doing all the things that Blake loved best. As guilt, panic attacks, blame, and legal fees threaten the stability of Carver’s world he must find a way to make it through the goodbye days and go on living.   THOUGHTS: Zentner won the 2017 Morris Award for his debut, The Serpent King. In my opinion Goodbye Days is an even better book, with a stronger hook for booktalks and an emotionally resonant depiction of a hot-button issue. The richness of Nashville’s arts scene and unique locales (including the iconic Ryman Auditorium and Parnassus Books) imbues every page and provides a wonderful backdrop to the story.

Realistic Fiction     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District


Zentner, Jeff. Goodbye Days. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-553-52406-2. 405 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Goodbye Days begins with Carver (aka Blade) attending the funerals of his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. Together, the four of them made up “Sauce Crew,” and without them Carver is facing a long, lonely summer and a potential trial. Though his older sister Georgia is a much needed distraction, she has her own life at the University of Tennessee. After Carver suffers from a panic attack, Georgia helps Carver begin his healing by taking him to see therapist Dr. Mendez. It seems the only people that truly knew Carver were his now deceased friends. Readers are slowly introduced to each friend through flashbacks memories Carver shares. Carver and Eli’s girlfriend Jesmyn sit together at one of the funerals and through their shared grief become friends. Over the course of the book, Carver is able to lean on Jesmyn and open up more about his friendships and his guilt. It is Blake’s grandmother (who raised Blake) who presents the idea of a Goodbye Day to Carver. At first he isn’t sure, but he eventually concedes. Together they share memories of Blake, learn things they didn’t know about him, and truly begin the process of healing. Word of Carver’s Goodbye Day spreads to the other families, and eventually he has very different Goodbye Days with each.  THOUGHTS: People who know me will tell you Goodbye Days is a book just for me. I find the heartbreaking books to be most compelling. Having lost a best friend in my mid-20’s (to a terminal illness), I found the voice of Carver’s grief to be very authentic. Readers will be torn between pulling for him in the pending legal mess and feeling frustrated or angry with the choice he made to text a friend who was driving. While Goodbye Days is part cautionary tale, it is more about consequences, grief, and moving on after loss.

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

MS Fiction – Dance Fever; The Shadow Cipher; The First Rule of Punk; Auma’s Long Run

Bowe, Julie. Dance Fever. Stone Arch, 2017. 978-1-4965-3819-2. 148p. $19.99. Gr. 4-8.

Victoria Torres is back in another installment of Capstone’s Victoria Torres, Unfortunately Average series. In Dance Fever, Victoria is finding her role on her middle school’s fundraising committee to be stressful. Annalise (one of the bossiest girls in the school) proposes holding a formal dance to raise funds, but other students want a more relaxed activity. Victoria thinks she’s hit upon the perfect compromise: a barn dance with a Wild West theme. When Annalise agrees, it looks like a crisis has been averted. But Annalise has one condition, she wants the event to be a Sadie Hawkins dance. Now Victoria not only has to deal with helping to organize and run the event, she also must try to work up the nerve to ask her crush Drew to the dance! THOUGHTS: This series is fun and humorous, yet incorporates issues/topics relevant to upper elementary and middle school students. The characters in Dance Fever must work together to meet a common goal, compromise in order to reach their goal, deal with obstacles/complications, and even ask someone out for the first time. Overall, a great (and quick) read.

Realistic Fiction       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg School District


Ruby, Laura. The Shadow Cipher: York (Book 1). New York: Walden Pond Press, 2017. 978-0-0623-0693-7. 496 p. $17.99. Gr. 5-8.

In 1798, the Morningstar twins arrived in New York City and began building impressive buildings with state-of-the-art machines and technology. They then mysteriously disappeared with their assistant, but their legacy left a lasting impact on the city. It was also rumored that the twins hid a vast fortune in the city that could only be discovered by solving the Old Cipher, a cryptic, seemingly unsolvable puzzle.  Over 300 years later, Tess and Theo Bidermann and Jamie Cruz live in an apartment building designed by the Morningstar twins. A real estate developer is determined to demolish the building along with the other Morningstar buildings in the city. Tess, Theo, and Jamie are determined to save their beloved building and are convinced it’s their time to solve the Cipher and show the world it’s real. THOUGHTS Ruby’s middle grade follow-up to the excellent Bone Gap is a fun, adventurous novel with a lot of heart. Give this one to The Mysterious Benedict Society fans.

Mystery     Vicki Schoewbel, Friends’ Central School


Pérez. Celia C. The First Rule of Punk. Viking, 2017.  978-0-425-29040-8. 310p. $16.99.  Gr. 4-8.

Malu has to move to a new place, but only for two years for her mom’s job.   She calls her mom, “Super Mexican” as she tries to get Malu to become more of a senorita.  Malu’s parents are divorced and her dad, who is a white record store owner and lover of punk music, won’t be coming with them.  Once she gets to Chicago, for the first time in her life, there are other Mexican-Americans around her besides her mom.  In order to deal with all of the changes in her life, Malu makes zines, many of which are sprinkled throughout this book.  Malu does manage to make friends in Chicago and make some music as well.  Malu is a strong character, who still makes mistakes.  At times, this story hits the reader over the head with too much Mexican history and culture at once, but at other times it feels appropriate and flows naturally.  It works best when it is incorporated into one of Malu’s zines.  THOUGHTS: If you are looking to add diversity to your collection for this age group, this is a solid purchase.  Any student who feels out of place can relate to Malu.  

Realistic Fiction      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Odhiambo, Eucabeth. Auma’s Long Run.  Carolrhoda Books, 2017. 978-1-5124-2784-4  298 p.  $17.99  Gr. 5-8.

Auma has been running her whole life.  She lives in Kenya and has pinned her hopes on attending secondary school knowing that her only chance of making it there is via a track scholarship. Auma’s dreams don’t stop there; instead of marrying young, like so many girls, Auma wants to become a doctor. Compared to many of the families in her small village, Auma lives a comfortable existence with enough to eat, occasional treats, and the tuition money that will allow her to complete primary school and score well on her admittance exams. However, a dark cloud looms over the village as more and more adults start succumbing to a strange new disease that no one wants to talk about. When Auma’s beloved Baba (father) comes home from his job in the city not feeling well, Auma’s world is turned upside down. Although Auma desperately wants to hold on to her dreams, she is suddenly burdened with the responsibility of supporting and caring for her younger siblings.  Auma starts to learn the truth about the dreaded disease invading her village, AIDS, but there is no cure and little comfort.  Auma’s struggle to keep her dream of getting an education and eventually becoming a doctor alive while keeping her family from starving is nothing short of inspirational.  THOUGHTS: While the writing is very straightforward, at times almost pedestrian, the story is vitally important both in terms of its specific setting (1990s in Kenya) and its larger, universal themes.  A valuable addition for middle school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD