YA Realistic Fiction – By Your Side; You I’ve Never Known; Hello Sunshine; Words in Deep Blue

West, Kasie. By Your Side. Harper Teen, 2017. 978-0-06245-586-4. 352p. $9.99. Gr. 6-12.
When Autumn finds herself accidentally locked in the library for the weekend (she’s in the restroom when the library closes, and she doesn’t have her phone with her), she’s pretty upset. And then, she realizes she’s not the only person locked in the library. Dax Miller is also there. She doesn’t know much about Dax, except that he’s a loner and rumor has it he spent some time in juvie. Forced to spend hours with each other, the two begin to open up – Dax about his life in foster care and Autumn about her secret struggle with anxiety disorder. When the two get out of the library, Autumn is shocked to find out that her family and friends thought she was in a car accident involving one of her friends. Feeling stressed, Autumn leans on Dax for support. But can their tenuous friendship survive outside the after hours world of the library? THOUGHTS: While By Your Side is predictable is some aspects, West’s characterizations of Autumn and Dax elevate the novel above traditional romantic fare. Autumn’s struggles with stress and her anxiety disorder are deftly handled and not glossed over. Likewise, Dax’s fear of commitment and forming connections are realistically integrated within the overall plot. Recommended for middle school and high school readers.

Realistic Fiction      Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg School District


Hopkins, Ellen. The You I’ve Never Known. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017. 978-1-4814-4290-9. 590 pp. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Ariel Pearson and her father have always moved around a lot. Ever since her mother abandoned them, it’s just been Ariel and her dad against the world. But after a few months in Sonora, California, Ariel wants to stay. She’s a member of the basketball team; she likes her dad’s new girlfriend Zelda, and she has some new friends. Ariel has romantic feelings for one of these friends, Monica, who reciprocates her feelings but doesn’t pressure her. Things get complicated when Zelda’s dreamy nephew, Gabe, arrives in town and shows a keen attraction to Ariel, an attraction she also feels. Things come to a boil as Ariel’s father becomes more volatile, possessive, and even abusive toward her. Ellen Hopkins’ signature chapters-in-verse alternate with prose chapters from the point of view of a young woman in Texas named Maya, who gets pregnant and drops out of high school to marry an older career soldier. Readers may intuit Maya’s relationship to Ariel before the reveal, but this emotionally resonant narrative will hold their interest throughout. Ariel’s exploration of her bisexuality is skillfully portrayed and a needed addition to the coming-of-age experience in YA fiction. THOUGHTS: It’s not quite Crank, but it’s well worth reading and sharing with teens.

Realistic Fiction (Novel-in-Verse)     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District


Howland, Leila. Hello, Sunshine. Hyperion, 2017. 978-1-4847-2545-0. 368 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Leila Howland charms with this depiction of one aspiring actress’s quest to realize her dreams! Boston girl Becca Harrington is crushed when she’s not accepted at even one of the eleven colleges where she applied. Since her boyfriend is off to Stanford, she decides to road trip cross-country with him to Los Angeles, giving herself one year to become a working actress. Unfortunately, Alex breaks up with her just as they pull up to their destination. Heartbroken but resilient, Becca makes a list of her goals and sets out to achieve them one by one. Get curtains and a kitchen table? Done. Get a part-time job and make a friend? Done, thanks to sweetly supportive neighbors Raj and Marisol. Getting an agent might take a little longer, and getting Alex back might be trickier still. After all, odds for success are long even for a fresh-faced ingenue! Becca’s adventures and missteps will delight readers, and her independence is really inspiring. THOUGHTS: This fun, breezy read perfectly fills the void between high school and college, in the tradition of Roomies by Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr.

Realistic Fiction    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District


Crowley, Cath. Words in Deep Blue. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-101-93764-8. 288 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.  

Rachel and Henry were the best of friends until three years ago. On the eve of her move to the Australian coast, Rachel left Henry a letter that declared her love for him and told him to call, no matter what time. Henry never called. Instead, he fell in love with Amy.

Fast-forward three years. Heartbroken in their own ways, Rachel and Henry meet back up when Rachel returns to the city for a distraction from her grief over her brother’s death. They reconnect in Henry’s family’s adorable secondhand bookshop, Howling Books. While Rachel catalogs the Letter Library, a room in the bookshop where visitors may leave markings, notes, or letters within the pages of a book, Henry tries to help her heal by writing letters to her.

Narrated by Rachel and Henry and interspersed with letters and notes from the Letter Library, Crowley expertly writes about grief and missed opportunities. THOUGHTS: At its heart, Words in Deep Blue is about second chances – in life, friendship, and love – and learning how to move forward when living seems impossible.

Realistic Fiction    Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

Middles School – EOD Soldiers; Victoria Torres

Manning, Matthew K. Art by Carlos Furuzana and Dijo Lima. EOD Soldiers. Capstone, 2017. 978-1-4965-3415-6. 40pp. $19.49 ea. Gr. 4-8.

Enter with the U.S. Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal in Afghanistan in this new graphic novel series. In Go Slow, Specialist Rose Campbell is reminded by her protective father to take everything in while being careful throughout the dangers of Afghanistan. In The List, Private Matty Giaconne makes note of experiences in Afghanistan to have answers prepared when he returns and others ask about his service there. He also worries about the disagreements he has had with his wife. Both books show the danger faced and the bravery displayed by those in the EOD. Full color artwork clearly captures the emotion and danger facing our EOD soldiers.  Back matter includes more information about EOD such as schooling or badges, visual questions, and a glossary. THOUGHTS:  This series is excellent for students that love to learn more about the military and those who gravitate towards graphic novels and artwork. The stories will leave an impact on the reader. The books could be included in a lesson as they are not too long, but leave room for discussion and research.

Graphic Novel; War      Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District


Bowe, Julie. Victoria Torres Unfortunately Average. Stone Arch, 2017. 978-1-4965-3800-0. 148p. $19.49 ea. Gr. 4-8.

In Vicka For President!, 6th grade Victoria is inspired to run for class president by her parents, siblings, and closest friends.  At her school, the President is the student receiving the most votes and the person with the second most votes becomes Vice President. Her classmate Annelise is very popular and also is able to spend her parents wealth on tokens and stickers. Henry will also run for president as challenge with a campaign around mud.  Victoria determines her slogan, stump speech, and ways to improve the school with a compost and garden. Will that be enough with all of Annelise’s trinkets and the boys all clamouring for humourous Henry and his campaign of mud?

In So Much Drama, it is time for the big 6th grade Shakespeare play. This year will be Romeo and Juliet. Vicka’s best friend is the director, and Vicka is upset to be cast as Friar Lawrence. Will everything work out in the end?

THOUGHTS: In 2016, the first four books in the series were published. The realistic fiction hooks upper elementary and middle school readers.

Realistic Fiction      Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

MS Fiction – As Brave As You; The Best Man

Reynolds, Jason. As Brave As You. New York, NY: Atheneum Books, 2016. 978-1-48141-590-3. 410 pages. $19.99. Gr. 4-8.

What does courage and bravery look like? How do families deal with hidden secrets? Questions flow out of Genie, the younger brother who is full of worries and wonder, as he and Ernie are sent to their grandparents house in rural Virginia for the summer. While their parents deal with issues in Brooklyn and go on a last ditch vacation to save their marriage, the two boys deal with new chores, no technology, and intergenerational struggles. The pull between Genie and his grandfather holds the tension in this story, but the other characters all hold a part in the relationships, secrets, and bravery that make this story remarkable.  THOUGHTS: There is plenty to unpack for the readers of Reynolds’ work, and the concept of recording a questions journal may be the perfect device to release their thoughts. The setting and dialogue are genuine and easy to picture for readers who may have never experienced this life style.

Realistic Fiction      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District



Peck, Richard. Best Man. New York: Penguin Young Readers Group, 2016. 978-0803738393. $16 .99.  240 p. Grades 5-8.

Sweet, funny, heartwarming story of family, friendship and love.  The novel starts and ends with the two weddings young Archer McGill has been in in his 11 years. The first is a remote cousin in which he meets his best friend, newcomer to town Lynette Stanley, and the last is the wedding of his beloved uncle to his fifth grade student teacher.  Over the course of his fifth grade year, Archer learns and grows, surrounded by loving family and friends including his wise and dignified grandfather, his eccentric and caring father, his stylish and proud Uncle Paul and Lynette, the smartest girl in the class with a large vocabulary and big heart. All of these people help Archer as he navigates his way into adolescence and discovers what it is to be a man in this world.  THOUGHTS: A great story that presents old-fashioned values with decidedly modern twists, proving that love is for everyone, no matter who you love.  Richard Peck still writes some of the best fiction out there for middle grades.

Realistic Fiction            Nancy Summers Abington Senior High School

YA Fiction – One Silver Summer; Moon was Ours; Still Life…

Hickman, Rachel. One Silver Summer. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-80892-7. $17.99. 263p. Gr. 7-10.

Sass’s world has fallen apart due to the recent death of her mother. She has moved from New York to England to live with an uncle she hardly knows. As a way to escape her overwhelming grief, Sass explores the countryside around the small seaside town that is her new home. It it on one of these jaunts that she stumbles across a silver horse in a pasture and Alex, who she assumes to be a stable boy. Drawn to the horse, Sass begins to take riding lessons with Alex. Over time, they form a friendship and then a romantic connection. But Sass is not the only one looking to escape problems by riding. Alex has fled the city to the rural home of his grandmother after the breakup of his parents’ marriage and the resulting publicity. But he can’t outrun publicity forever because Alex is really Alexander, son of the Prince and Princess of Wales and heir to the throne. When Sass realizes the truth and the media descend, the two teens must decide if their relationship can endure the spotlight. THOUGHTS: One Silver Summer is a gentle, romantic read with some fairy-tale like components.  Readers willing to suspend their disbelief about certain plot points (for instance, Sass not immediately recognizing the heir to the British throne in a book set in the present day, media saturated age), will find a sweet story about making connections and falling in love.

Realistic Fiction, Romance     Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS



McLemore, Anna. When the Moon was Ours. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2016. 978-1- 250-05866-9. 273 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

An intriguing romantic fantasy that follows the bond between two outsiders in a small town;  Sam a transgendered boy of  Pakistani heritage whose true past is unknown and Miel, a Latina girl who magically appears in the water spilled from the tipped over water tower.  Magical realism pervades the whole story.  Sam  paints moons that illuminate spaces and stop the fears of the school children, and Miel grows roses out of her wrists which are rumored to have romantic powers.   The two develop a genuine, caring, and protective relationship, starting as friends and growing into something much more.  The antagonists in the story are the enigmatic Bonner sisters, who have the  ability to make all the boys in town fall in love with them. This ability is lost when the eldest sister must leave town because of a secret pregnancy. When Chloe returns, the sisters hone in on Miel and her roses to recapture their power. This novel explores the themes of love, loyalty and self acceptance.  A big positive in this novel is the portrayal of diversity. Families in all forms are present, the novel reveals beautiful elements of Latina and Pakistani cultures and  the transgendered Sam, is a wonderful character whose gender is matter of fact, just another one of many intriguing character traits. Though the descriptive language is beautiful, much of the story is too ambiguous for my understanding, leaving me confused and unsatisfied at points. I found that it strained my ability to suspend disbelief. THOUGHTS: This title could be a hard sell for many teens, but for those who enjoyed McLemore’s Weight of Feathers or who have a strong preference for magical realism this tale would make a good choice.

Fantasy                 Nancy Summers, Abington Senior High School



King, A. S.  Still Life With Tornado. New York: Penguin Young Readers Group, 2016. 9781101994887. 295 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up.

Sarah is having an existential crisis. Her older brother has been in exile from the family for six years, there’s been a major rift between Sarah and her friends and classmates, and she’s been truant from school for weeks. When her artwork is sabotaged before an exhibition, Sarah stops attending school and spends her days wandering around the streets of Philadelphia. Sarah’s living in angst and denial about her family, her friends, and her art, but three of her former and future selves are helping her put the pieces together. Ten year-old Sarah is the catalyst for 16 year-old Sarah to remember the emotional and physical abuse that tore her family apart, and her 23 year-old and 40 year-old selves are there as proof that things can work out. Accept the strange detours in this novel, as Sarah figures out her complicated family and school life and enjoy this original work.  Many of King’s novels have a decided surrealistic bend, but at the heart of all of her books is the very real anguish and search for validation of her teenage characters. THOUGHTS:  A thought provoking book that looks at the effects of domestic violence without portraying the actual abuse. The intermittent chapters narrated by Sarah mother, provide a glimpse into the rationalization of the victim who hopes for the best.  

Realistic Fiction; Fantasy               Nancy Summers, Abington Senior High School

Picture Books – Water Princess; Marta; Became a Bird

Verde, Susan. The Water Princess. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016. 978-0-399-17258-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

This gorgeous picture book is based on the childhood experience of fashion model and activist Georgie Badiel. A princess, named Gie Gie, has a magnificent kingdom and wonderful powers. But the one thing she wishes for, to make the water come closer, Gie Gie cannot do. Every day she and her mother walk miles to get water, “dusty, earth-colored liquid.” Gie Gie dances with her mother on the journey there and plays with her friends while her mother waits in line for their turn. When they arrive home, mother boils water for them to drink. Gie Gie cleans their clothes, and the dinner is fixed. The next morning the journey for water is to be repeated again. THOUGHTS: The pictures are beautifully done and make you feel hot and parched. This book is a gentle, positive way to introduce the struggle some societies have over water. It is also based on a true story and has pictures in the back of Georgie Badiel and how she raised money for a well in a school situated in an area with no water. A great introductory read for a service project and to help students be aware of what some children struggle with.

Picture Book      Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School


Arena, Jen. Marta! Big & Small. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2016. 978-1-62672-243-9. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. PreK-1.

Marta is a clever girl who lives in a jungle and knows Spanish. She teaches the reader descriptive words as well as animal names throughout the book. Marta shows the reader how she’s slow compared to a horse, but fast when matched with a turtle. When a snake arrives on the scene, will Marta be as tasty as she looks? She is ingeniosa and escapes with a smile.  THOUGHTS: This fun little book incorporates Spanish & English, opposites, similarities, comparisons and animals. It’s easy to follow while still having a lot of content. Perfect for Preschool through 1st Grade when introducing any of the above topics.

Picture Book      Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School


Chabbert, Ingrid & Guridi. The Day I Became a Bird. Toronto: Kids Can Press, 2016. 978-1771-3862-10. Unpaged. $12.99. Gr. 1+.

In this sweet and unusual book, a boy falls in love with a girl for the first time. She however, only has eyes for the birds. The boy decides instead of passively waiting, to do something that will definitely catch her attention.  Whether in class or on the soccer field, he wholeheartedly makes a transformation into a large bird. Will it be enough?  THOUGHTS: I loved the spare simplicity of the illustrations and the writing. The concept of the story paired with the mostly black and white images bring something rich to the reader. A wonderful read aloud for older elementary school/middle school classes.

Picture Book    Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

YA Fiction – Girl on a Plane; Into White; The Underground Railroad; Noteworthy

Moss, Miriam. Girl on a Plane. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2016. 978-0544783997. $17.99. 288 p. Gr. 8 and up.

Miriam Moss’s fictional account of her own experience as a hostage is truly captivating. Set in 1970, the plot centers around teenager Anna’s flight to her boarding school in England after visiting her family in Bahrain. Due to recent events involving planes being taken hostage by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Anna worries that her plane could face the same fate. Sadly, her premonition comes to pass and her plane is taken hostage and rerouted to an airstrip in Jordan. Passengers are kept on the plane with limited food and water, used for propaganda photos, and told that their plane will be blown up if the British government does not release a Palestinian hostage. Anna’s friendship with another teen and a younger child are sweet and realistic, and Moss gives Anna strength but also moments of vulnerability. The story moves quickly and will easily keep the attention of young teens looking for an exciting read, but it has the added bonus of highlighting and describing a period in history that might not be well-known to today’s teens. THOUGHTS: Highly recommend this title for middle school and high school libraries as an engaging and memorable historical fiction.

Historical Fiction  (1970s Middle East)   Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

This was a fast and interesting read, and did make me want to research more about this time period and what was going on with Palestine and Israel in the early 1970s. This is an excellent title to pair with a nonfiction piece or account of the hostage situations. Miriam Moss includes a short chapter at the end describing her own personal memories of her time as a hostage, and this adds an important layer to a student’s understanding of the story. This is also a good read for reluctant readers, as it is short and plot-driven.


Pink, Randi. Into White. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2016. 978-1-250-07021-0. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Latoya Williams is one of the few black students in her Montgomery, Alabama, high school. After a bullying incident with another black student, devout Toya prays to be white, assuming it will fix all of her problems. As she says, “Black skin was filled with so many barriers, so many restrictions…” (77).  The next day, Toya wakes up changed with glittering blonde hair and ivory skin. With a new attitude, Toya is ready to conquer everything from the popular crowd to her bickering parents. With the help of her gifted brother Alex, Toya enters school as Katarina and begins living day to day as a white girl. At first she feels powerful in her new skin, but soon she learns that the life she desires is far from perfect. Soon, Toya finds that the time she’s focused on herself has alienated her from the people that matter most to  her, especially Alex. THOUGHTS: While at times somewhat predictable and generalized, Into White explores very important themes on race, gender, and consent that could lead to larger important discussions in the classroom.

Contemporary Fantasy      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad. New York: Doubleday, 2016.  978-0385542364. 320 p. $26.95. Gr. 11 and up.

Colson Whitehead’s latest novel is a dramatic and innovative reimagining of the underground railroad system in place in the American South, leading to the North, in the 1800s. In Whitehead’s world, the underground railroad was not only an elaborate communication system between abolitionists and slavery opponents; it was an actual railroad, a mishmash of cars and locomotives rushing slaves to new points along the route and safe havens for runaways. The novel follows Cora, who escapes along with a male slave from her plantation. The novel is graphic and raw, and Cora’s story is fraught with peril and setbacks. Cora eventually comes in contact with Ridgeway, an infamous slave catcher, intent on returning as many runaways as possible. This novel will haunt readers, but hopefully also assist with understanding the many ideologies and structures in place during this awful period in American history. THOUGHTS: Give this to mature students seeking to understand more about slavery and racism in America’s past.

Historical Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

Though this is marketed as a book for adults, I thought it important to include the title in our list of books reviewed for young adults. Not only will it attract interest because it is a National Book Award Winner, but it is also a great counterpart to the much-often read and discussed book in high schools, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Some might find it a better representation of the black experience in America, much above that of the hapless Jim.  Indeed, many of the characters in Whitehead’s novel portray attitudes still in place in our society today, and can spark great conversation or discussion about race and racism in order for students to draw parallels to today’s world and events.


Redgate, Riley. Noteworthy. New York: Amulet Books, 2017. 978-1419723735. 400 p. $17.95. Gr. 9 and up.

After reading and loving Seven Ways We Lie, I was excited to receive an advanced copy of Riley Redgate’s newest novel, Noteworthy. While a strong follow-up, it is not nearly as captivating and lacks some of the spark and uniqueness of her first novel. The story follows Jordan Sun, a scholarship student attending the prestigious Kensington-Blaine boarding school for the performing arts. Her focus is theatre, but after three years she still has yet to earn a part in the musical, mainly due to her lower, more masculine range. At the beginning of her junior year she’s recovering from a breakup and again fails to get a musical spot. When she learns that the legendary Sharpshooters, an all-male acappela group, is looking for a new member, she decides that she has nothing to lose by dressing up as a boy and trying out for the group. “Julian” earns a spot, and begins rehearsals, masquerading as a boy whenever she is around the group members. Jordan is an interesting character, and her inner monologues are valuable and thought provoking (if a little too frequent towards the end of the story). Some willing suspension of disbelief is necessary (how is Jordan continually able to sneak out of her dorm room and into a boys’ dorm, how do more teachers not notice what is going on, etc.), but her relationships with the boys highlight and question numerous gender stereotypes. Redgate also does a commendable job of incorporating the musical side of things into her story; it would have been awesome to have a soundtrack with this one! THOUGHTS: Musically-inclined students as well as those interested in pushing gender stereotypes and boundaries will enjoy this title. Recommended for all high schools.

Realistic Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

As noted in the review above, this was a title that I was looking forward to reading and did, for the most part, enjoy. It does drag a bit at the end, but the climax is exciting and will keep readers on the edge of their seats. I did expect Redgate to bust out of the typical boy-girl relationship, and I feel like she failed a bit on this front. Following the general format of YA romances does, however, make this title more approachable for a greater number of teens. I look forward to having my students read this and hear their responses to it.

YA Realistic Fiction – Wink Poppy Midnight; Nice Girls Endure

Tucholke, April Genevieve. Wink Poppy Midnight. New York: Dial Books, 2016. 978-0-8037-4048-8. $17.99. 247 pp. Gr. 9 and up.

A bit of fairy tale, lots of character study, and twists readers may not see coming, Wink Poppy Midnight looks at the interconnectedness of three very different characters.  Wink, lost in fairytales and caring for others, seems naive; lost to the world around her.  Midnight, a true teenage boy with teenage boy things on his mind, is torn between lust for one and growing love for another.  Poppy is cruel; the “mean girl” who leads a crew of followers to complete her bully status.  One is a hero; one a villain, and one a liar, but who can tell which is which.  With fairy tale associations and cruelty abound, Wink Poppy Midnight is reminiscent of J.K. Rowling’s character study, A Casual Vacancy, and e. Lockhart’s storytelling in We Were Liars.  THOUGHTS:  Not for the plot-driven reader, this novel is for the mature reader who understands the intricacies of character development and the importance of understanding a character in order to tell a story.

Realistic Fiction     Erin Parkinson, Beaver Area MS/HS

Much like when I read J.K. Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy, I hated and understood the purpose of this novel while reading.  It took me forever to actually read the novel because I couldn’t get into it.  I hated all of the characters and had no clue what Tucholke was trying to accomplish while reading it; yet, I couldn’t actually stop reading it (even though it took almost two months to finish).  I truly don’t know who I would recommend this title to, but it got starred reviews, so it must have an audience.  It is being compared to We Were Liars by e. Lockhart, and I understand why based on the writing style, but I got We Were Liars and understood what Lockhart was trying to do with the intersection of life, fairy tale, and loss.  I don’t understand Tucholke here except to comment on the cruelty of human character and the idea that cruelty and kindness live in all of us.  


Struyk-Bonn, Chris. Nice Girls Endure.  North Mankato, MN; Switch Press, 2016. 978-1630790479. $16.95. 256 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Struyk-Bonn has succeeded in telling a realistic yet engaging and meaningful story about a young girl looking to find her place in a world that does not seem to want her. Chelsea Duvey has always been overweight, but, as usual, life seems worse now that she is in high school. She struggles to make friends because of her social anxiety and deals with constant bullying. She spends most of her time at home watching musicals with her father, singing along with all of the songs and forgetting her life for awhile. Her mother is not so understanding and tries to sign her up for weight-loss classes. One classmate in particular targets her for constant bullying, and after he assaults her at a dance and posts photos online, Chelsea becomes despondent and struggles to overcome depression and anxiety. She slowly makes friends in her film as literature class, and one girl in particular befriends her and shows that Chelsea can be who she is and still be loved. The inclusion of a therapist is helpful, but the use of anxiety medication could have been better employed and resolved at the end. The depiction of the adults is fairly realistic, as they are given their own flaws and faults to manage. THOUGHTS: This is a good read for teenagers needing a story of strength and resilience. Highly recommended for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction     Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School Library

I did truly enjoy this book, and am excited to recommend it to my students. Chelsea does seem to give up at one point, but her friends and family rally around her to help her move on, and teens need to know that there are so many individuals around them who will help and support them. And, Chelsea is not the only one fighting demons in this story, and this fact illustrates how so many of us are fighting our own negative thoughts and emotions. I look forward to possibly using this title in a book club as well!

MS Fantasy – Shadow Magic; Giant Smugglers

Khan, Joshua. Shadow Magic. New York: Disney Hyperion, 2016.  978-1484732724  $16.99. 321 pp. Gr. 4-8.
Guilt-ridden, peasant Thorn is searching for his father when he is captured by slavers and bought by Tyburn, who is Gehenna’s executioner.  Lilith Shadow is the new ruler of Gehenna since the murder of her parents and favored brother, and she is uncomfortable with that role.  Oddly enough for a people who live by magic, women are forbidden to learn or practice magic, so Lilith is at a loss as to how to protect her people.  As generations pass, the Six Houses (including Solar, Djinn, Herne, Typhoon and Coral) are slowly losing their original magic.  To bring together the powers and prevent war, Lilith is betrothed to Gabriel of House Solar, and she loathes the idea even before she meets the arrogant, beautiful boy.  When Tyburn brings Thorn to Castle Gloom, Lilith’s home, Thorn becomes easy friends with both Lilith and K’Leef of House Djinn, held to keep war at bay.  Thorn isn’t popular with Gabriel and while escaping a beat-down, he unearths a giant bat named Hades, who will allow no one but Thorn to ride him.  Meanwhile, attempted murder of Lilith is discovered (Lilith’s puppy is the unintended unfortunate victim) and everyone is trying to locate the person(s) responsible.  THOUGHTS: An interesting backstory and unique magical power (that can unearth zombies) and gorgeous illustrations by Ben Hibon, set this story apart.  Even with the third person omniscient narration, readers don’t deeply know any of the characters.  Despite this, it has been well-liked by my students who have read it.  With an intriguing history and world as large as Khan describes, many sequels could be produced.  

Fantasy     Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



Pauls, Chris and Matt Solomon. The Giant Smugglers. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2016. 978-1250-066527.  $16.99.  278 pp. Gr. 4-7.
Charlie has spent all summer immersed in his favorite video game and enjoying the oblivion.  Now it’s time for school to begin, and he knows boredom is on the way.  Charlie’s older brother dumped college plans for life as a carnival worker, much to the disappointment of their mother, and much to the embarrassment and anger of Charlie.  Charlie’s mom has a well-meaning boyfriend, but it seems like Charlie is mostly on his own.  A nasty classmate, “Fitz,” full of anger who wishes to be the biggest and best, hones in on Charlie immediately.  So when Charlie stumbles upon a giant, a real, live giant, in an abandoned warehouse, he knows he can’t ignore it.  He sneaks in to see the giant, also discovering that an old farmer is looking out for him and moving him when he might be seen.  Charlie has no idea that he’s stumbled onto a ring of giant smugglers, who move the giants out of danger to relocate them with the rest of their kind.  Of course, nothing that big can stay hidden forever, so intermittent sightings have excited scientists who are ruthless in their determination to capture and study a giant “for the betterment of humankind.”  It turns out that bully Fitz’s father is one of those scientists.  Sean Fitzgibbons is fueled by his own failures enough to use his son as a guinea pig for his growth serums, and the possibility of using giant hormones (GGH, giant growth hormone) is enough to drive Fitz and his father crazy with need.  Charlie finds himself in the middle, with little but good intentions to stand in the way of the giant’s capture.  THOUGHTS: The premise sounds intriguing and the story’s pace keeps the book moving, but the character depth is lacking.  Even the supposed friendship between Charlie and the giant (which he names Bruce after Bruce Lee) is hard to believe when the giant can barely communicate, and the two have spent so little time together.  The authors neither show nor tell their relationship which is the crux of the story.  The story would benefit from plenty of interspersed illustrations like its cover, done by artist Matthew Griffin.  This could possibly be enjoyed by upper elementary readers who enjoy lots of action without a lot of depth.  
Fantasy      Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

Middle Grades Realistic Fiction – Towers Falling

Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Towers Falling.  New York: Little Brown and Company, 2016.  978-0-316-26222-4. 228 p.  $15.99. Gr. 4-7.

Ten year old Déja Barnes is starting 5th grade in a new school, and she is coming from some difficult circumstances. Her family is living in a homeless shelter; her father is suffering from severe anxiety and a chronic cough; her mom works hard at two jobs but is unable to make ends meet, and Déja needs to step up to take care of her younger siblings.  Déja starts the year with some trepidation and a bit of a chip on her shoulder, but she is quickly befriended by two new classmates Sabeen, a Muslim girl, and Ben, a Mexican American boy recently moved to NYC from Arizona. When their teacher begins a new study unit on the 9/11 tragedy, the three classmates learn much about themselves and their community and how the fallout from the historic event affected the lives of so many. The novel does not delve too far into the details of the terrorist attack, but it explores the tragedy in more human terms. The teacher and the author focus on the ideals and values that bring Americans and people together, not what breaks us apart. The novel also addresses some difficult issues such as homelessness, poverty, prejudice, fractured families, and survivor guilt with sensitivity.  THOUGHTS: Rhodes’ novel is a thoughtful introduction to the historical events that still resonates over many aspects of American life.   This title would make a good choice for a class reading selection to introduce the topic of 9/11 without going into the full horror of the event.  Teachers Guide with curriculum connections for history and social studies available on the author’s website at: http://jewellparkerrhodes.com/children/teaching-guide-towers-falling/.

Realistic Fiction               Nancy Summers, Abington Senior High School

YA Realistic Fiction – Cresswell Plot; W/o Annette; Sun is Also a Star; Phantom Limbs


Wass, Eliza. The Cresswell Plot. Los Angeles: Disney Hyperion, 2016. 9781484730430. 262pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

The six Cresswell siblings live with their parents in a run down house in the woods and make their living trash picking junk to fix up and sell at local flea markets. Homeschooled by their fanatically religious parents, the siblings live an isolated and cloistered life. Their father tells them they are the only “pure” humans left on earth, expected to marry each other to preserve their bloodline.  After an accident causes the  authorities to check on the welfare of the children, they begin attending public school. Their unusual lifestyle keeps them separate from their peers, and they are viewed as freaks. When 17 year-old Castellla (Castley) begins her junior year, she meets a boy in her drama class who reaches out to her. Being with George opens her up to friendship and romance and to the possibility of a normal life.  She and her siblings start questioning what they have always believed to be the absolute truth and to test the rules and demands their father has placed on them. But, their father holds the family in the grip of fear and religious fervor, and Castley worries they may never be able to break free.   THOUGHTS: A disturbing and creepy thriller for older teens who appreciate edgier reading .

Realistic Fiction    Nancy Summers, Abington SHS



Mason, Jane B. Without Annette. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016. 978-0545819954. 336 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

This is the first young adult book I have read with a lesbian couple as the main protagonists, and Jane B. Mason did a fine job of describing the lives of these young girls and the unique challenges they face as lovers in the world of teenagers. Josie, the narrator, and her best friend and girlfriend, Annette, receive scholarships to attend an exclusive boarding school. Josie sees it as a way to help Annette escape from her alcoholic and abusive mother. From the beginning, Annette seems to fit right in while Josie flounders in her classes and in the social scene. She literally stumbles into a friendship with classmate Penn, and joins him and his crew in exploring the tunnels that snake underground all over campus. Josie and Annette try to keep their relationship a secret, yet Josie watches helplessly as Annette is drawn into a world of drinking and binging, egged on by her roommate. The characters are authentic and the story is unique but can be slow at times and Josie is not the most reliable narrator. I would have liked to hear the perspectives of others in the school and especially Annette, but it is a powerful story of realizing who you are or want to be,  and how this can affect your life and relationships. THOUGHTS: This title is a necessary addition to any high school collection for LGTBQ youth.

Realistic Fiction      Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

This is an interesting title, and one that will appeal to students struggling with defining themselves in the world of adolescents. I do look forward to future titles from this author, as she does bring a unique perspective to the YA world.



Yoon, Nicola. The Sun is Also a Star. New York: Delacourte Press, 2016. 978-0553496680. 384 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Nicola Yoon impressed me with her first novel, Everything, Everything, and has truly knocked it out of the park with her most recent publication for young adults, The Sun is Also a Star. The story tells a day in the life of two characters, but Yoon incorporates other perspectives and stories throughout the novel, and this enables the story to rise above the general YA novels that highlight the give and take between two young people falling in love. The story begins with Natasha, whose family is to be deported to Jamaica after being caught as undocumented immigrants. Natasha, a lover of science, facts, and figures, is determined to do all she can to stay in the home she has known since arriving in the States 8 years ago. The second protagonist is Daniel, who yearns to be a poet, but whose Korean-immigrant parents insist that he become a doctor. He is on his way to interview with a Yale alumni when he sees Natasha walking down the street. The two end up spending the day together and trying to navigate their different worlds and Natasha’s impending deportation. Again, the perspectives and asides that Yoon includes, ranging from a chapter about a lonely security card to a short history of black hair, force the reader to acknowledge the silent stories and history going on all around as we live our own separate lives. THOUGHTS: This should be in all high school libraries, and would be an excellent choice for summer reading or book club discussions.

Realistic Fiction      Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

I absolutely LOVED this book, and will be recommending it to every student I can in the coming weeks and months. The variety of perspectives, the beautiful writing, and the well-drawn characters make it a novel to savor and read again and again. The plot touches upon many current issues in our society, and encourages the development and understanding of empathy in teens, and, really, anyone who reads it. I am going to suggest it as a summer reading title for next year, and cannot wait to discuss it with a group of adolescents.



Garner, Paula. Phantom Limbs. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2016. 978-0-7636-8205-7. 352 pp. $16.99. Gr. 9 and up.

“There was life before you, and then life with you. There wasn’t supposed to be life after you.” This haunting sentiment is at the emotional core of Paula Garner’s outstanding debut, Phantom Limbs. Sixteen-year old Otis Mueller has had to say his share of tough goodbyes. His beloved younger brother, Mason, passed away several years ago at the young age of three, and Otis has shielded himself from the painful details ever since. His first love, the girl-next-door Meg (in whose room Mason was napping at the time of his death), moved away and out of Otis’ life soon after. Otis found an outlet for his grief and loneliness in competitive swimming. He also found a coach and big sister figure in Dara, an amputee whose phantom limb pains and thwarted swimming career haunt her daily. But just as Dara is ramping up Otis’ training regimen for a run at the Olympic trials, Meg contacts him to say she’s coming home for a three-week visit. Oh, and her new boyfriend will be joining her for a long weekend with Otis and his parents at the Mueller family lake house. The trip is a-w-k-w-a-r-d, and also a catalyst for Otis to acknowledge his true loyalties and for Meg to reveal her secret pain. THOUGHTS: Phantom Limbs hits all the right coming-of-age notes with humor, heart, indelible moments, and a realistically imperfect protagonist.

Realistic Fiction      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library