YA – Killing Time

Ehrlich, Brenna. Killing Time. Inkyard Press, 2022. 978-1-335-41867-8. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Natalie has lived a pretty sheltered life in Ferry, Connecticut, thanks to her mom’s overprotective rules. Working in their family diner, it’s always just been the two of them. When Natalie, who recently graduated from high school, learns that her favorite teacher died under suspicious circumstances she’s determined to honor Mrs. Halsey’s memory. Though their last conversation didn’t end well, Mrs. Halsey understood Natalie’s interest in true crime and supported her (and Nat’s best friend Katie) as the true crime club advisor. They even started their own podcast – Killing Time – where they evolve in their discussion of legendary killers. All of this “true crime stuff” is done, of course, without her mom’s knowledge or permission. But Nat, who wants to go to college to be a journalist, is determined to tell her teacher’s story and honor her life. When she finds a threatening note telling her to “Stay out of it. I’m warning you.” she’s even more motivated to piece together what happened to Mrs. Halsey. Between the conversations among customers at the diner, her internship at the paper, and some convenient friendships, Nat seems to be getting closer to the truth. But how likely is a teenager operating on her own to solve a crime, especially when someone doesn’t want the truth to come to light? Interspersed throughout the novel are “Then” chapters that flash back to Helen’s college days which shed some light onto the strained relationship between mother and daughter and some of Helen’s overprotective tendencies.

THOUGHTS: Fans of true crime will like this one. I especially enjoyed the Then chapters which seemed to have more suspense and keep the story moving. A supplemental purchase where mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The Agathas

Glasgow, Kathleen, and Liz Lawson. The Agathas. Delacorte Press, 2022. 416 p. 978-0-593-43112-2. Grades 9-12. $18.99.

Once one of the “Mains” – wealthy kids at Castle Cove High who go by their last names – Alice Ogilve has been a social pariah since disappearing for five days last summer, causing her friends, family, and especially her ex-boyfriend Steve a lot of heartache and costing the town of Castle Cove a lot of money. Since then Alice has been homeschooled while on house arrest, and her only friend was the complete works of Agatha Christie. Now it’s Halloween (Alice is under dressed for the occasion.), and the message: “Alice Ogilve is crazy.” greets her on her locker. Alice’s former best friends are less than thrilled to see her. To make matters worse, Alice is called out of class to visit Ms. Westmacott’s counseling office, and she’s assigned a peer tutor. One of the “Zoners” – kids who seem to be thrown together out of necessity because they’re poor – Iris prefers to fly under the radar and focus on her studies. Though they’ve gone to school together since kindergarten, Iris only accepted the tutoring job because of the promise of a nice paycheck, regardless of how well Alice does. Besides, she has other things on her mind like getting herself and her mother “out of Castle Cove and away from the Thing.” When Alice’s former best friend goes missing, the town thinks she’s “pulling an Alice,” but Alice knows Brooke never would run away. Though unlikely, Alice teams up with Iris, and the two have to work together to figure out what happened, especially when the local police and Brooke’s own father think nothing is wrong. But each with their own secrets, it won’t be easy to let someone new in, especially someone so different.

THOUGHTS: There are a few mysteries within this character driven thriller, and readers will root for different people throughout, unsure of exactly what happened until the big aha moment. Recommended for high school collections where compelling mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

The previous summer, Alice suddenly disappears, and the small oceanside town of Castle Cove goes into a panic trying to locate her. She shows up unharmed without an explanation five days later. Her friends are not willing to welcome her back with open arms, and she begins to struggle with school. It is a year later, and another girl goes missing. It is believed that this is a copycat of what Alice did before, so no one is in a hurry to find her. Except Alice and her mysterious tutor, Iris. When the girl’s body is discovered, the police immediately make an arrest. Alice and Iris believe they have arrested the wrong person, and with the help of Iris’s friends they channel Agatha Christie to solve the mystery.

THOUGHTS: This book is for fans of One of us is Lying and We Were Liars. The story revolves around a small town with many mysterious characters. I really enjoyed the back and forth between Alice and Iris since the chapters alternate between their voices. It also has a map in the beginning of the book. Who doesn’t love a map?

Mystery Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

MG – Answers in the Pages

Levithan, David. Answers in the Pages. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2022. 176 p. 978-0-593-48468-5. Grades 4-8. $17.99.

“At that moment Rick knew just how deeply he loved Oliver, and Oliver knew just how deeply he loved Rick…” One’s interpretation of a single statement can make all the difference. The statement itself might be less noticeable depending on where it is seen or heard and the surrounding context. When the The Adventurers, a book being read by Donovan’s fifth grade class, is picked up at home by his mother, she decides it is inappropriate for him to read. It doesn’t take her long to get on the phone with Donovan’s friends’ moms either and schedule a meeting with the school. Donovan only read the first few pages in class but can’t see what his mom would think is wrong about a book where kids go on adventures. Before he returns to class without his copy of The Adventurers (because his mom hasn’t returned it), Donovan stops by the school library to get a copy so he can see what’s “so bad.” Because his mom drew so much attention to the book, several classmates have finished reading and the kids have honest, open discussions with each other and their teacher Mr. Howe who is openly gay. Told in short, alternating chapters, Donovan’s story unfolds; alongside Gideon’s, another elementary school-aged boy; and Rick and Oliver’s, the characters from the book being challenged. Readers will see what happens when a book’s content is challenged – how it impacts the teacher, the students, and families who may not agree with each other.

THOUGHTS: Timely and full of heart, Answers in the Pages is a book that should be in every upper elementary and middle school library! Highly recommended for readers who will be able to follow three separate narratives.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Donovan really enjoys his English class, mostly because of his teacher. When his teacher assigns a book called The Adventurers, Donovan is looking forward to reading it. However, after leaving it out on the kitchen counter one day, he discovers that his mother has read the book – and decides to launch a book challenge. Donovan’s mother interprets the last line of the book to mean that the two male main characters are gay, and she takes issue with this. Donovan finds himself in the middle of a fight that polarizes the school community and pits him against both his favorite English teacher and his mother. Donovan has to examine his own beliefs and decide what he thinks is right, even if it means upsetting someone he cares about. Aside from the main thread of this story, there are two other stories interwoven throughout the book. One is of Gideon and Roberto who are paired up for a school project and develop feelings for each other; the other is about Rick and Oliver, the main characters in the very book Donovan’s mom is challenging. All three stories connect together at the end.

THOUGHTS: With curricular book challenges at an all-time high, Leviathan’s timely book provides a window for students who might be facing the same complicated situations in their own homes.  Leviathan writes from experience as many of his own books have been challenged in schools across the country. All librarians, teachers, parents, politicians, and school board members should read this book. Answers in the Pages is a must-buy for all middle grade libraries.

Realistic Fiction           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Walls

Elliott, Laura, and Megan Behm. Walls. Algonquin, 2021. 978-1-643-75024-8. $19.95. 352 p. Grades 7-12.

It is 1960, and Drew MacMahon and his family have recently relocated to West Germany. Drew’s mother is thrilled, since her family emigrated to the United States in 1934, and she is eager to reconnect with the great aunt, sister, and nephew that still live behind the “Iron Curtain” on the East Berlin side of the city. Drew has more reserved feelings about his family’s move; he is nervous about starting a new school and meeting his estranged extended East German family. Although he finds his cousin and aunts difficult to understand at first, he develops a tremendous amount of empathy for them and the harshness of life under Communist rule. Over the course of one tumultuous year, Drew tries to navigate his complicated new family members, the tensions of living so close to the border between East and West Germany, and problems of his new schoolmates.  At the end of the story, he and his cousin must make a terrifying decision that will change all their lives forever.

THOUGHTS: The family dynamics between Drew, his parents, his sisters, and his East German family are realistic and poignant in this book. Watching Drew’s character and sense of right and wrong, good and evil, and efforts to understand the motivations of his friends at school and the people on both sides of the Cold War was fascinating. The detailed photographs and captions at the beginning of each chapter help the reader gain much-needed context and a greater understanding of the cultural and political climate in the early 1960’s for this important historical novel.

Historical Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

YA – You’ll be the Death of Me

McManus, Karen M. You’ll be the Death of Me. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-0-593-17586-6. 326 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Ivy, Cal, and Mateo used to be friends, but then high school happened.  Now in their senior year, things aren’t quite going as they had hoped.  After losing the senior class presidential election, Ivy doesn’t want to be at school to hear the winner’s speech. Cal was stood up for a breakfast date, so he’s not in the mood for school, and Mateo’s just in the right place at the right time. Cal suggests the three recreate “The Greatest Day Ever” when they skipped a class field trip in Boston, and they agree. Once in Boston, the three end up following another classmate, Boney Mahoney, into an abandoned warehouse where Ivy finds him dead. Caught up in a murder-mystery, with Ivy as the prime suspect (according to all of the gossip and “news” reports), the three try to figure out what happened and how to get out of this mess. Things only get worse as history is revealed and current situations are realized.

THOUGHTS: Although it started out slow, You’ll Be the Death of Me keeps the reader questioning what they know and don’t know. Ivy, Cal, and Mateo are all unreliable narrators who continually hide information from one another leading to more mystery beyond the death of Boney Mahoney. This title will fly off the shelves with all of McManus’s books.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Zara Hossain Is Here

Khan, Sabina. Zara Hossain Is Here. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-58087-7. 256 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Moving through Tae Kwon Do patterns is the calm after the storm Zara can’t seem to find anywhere else in her life. Constant microaggressions leave her feeling frustrated and alone. Despite living in Corpus Christi, Texas since she was a baby, Zara is the only Muslim girl in her private Catholic school. Though her father is a respected physician, Islamaphobia isn’t anything new to Zara. Her family still is waiting for their green card approval (nine years later), so she tries to remain under the radar. While presenting her US history paper (on the inequities and indignities of the US immigration system), Zara faces questions from her classmates like “why do we have to take care of everyone else in the world?” and “What about all the illegals that are flooding our country?” Zara actually was talking about legal immigration – like her own family’s – but no one seems to care. When things go too far, and Zara’s dad reacts to defend their family, the Hossain’s immigration status is put in jeopardy. Zara’s family is ready to move back to Pakistan but recognizes that Zara, who really doesn’t remember their home country, will not have the same educational and life opportunities. And Zara may face just as much prejudice in Pakistan, since she identifies as a bisexual female.

THOUGHTS: In Zara, Khan presents a character who is sick of accepting the ignorance of others and who fights for what she believes. Readers will adore and root for Zara and her family. A must have for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, SD

YA – Never Saw You Coming

Hahn, Erin. Never Saw You Coming. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-76124-8. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

Upon learning that she’s been lied to her entire life, eighteen-year-old Meg flees her hometown to find herself in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While Meg tries to process her feelings and question her beliefs, she meets Micah who has his own reasons to question his faith as well. Meg, a former church youth group leader and church camp counselor, struggles to accept the strict Christian way her mom raised her when it comes out that her mom’s own teen years were not so pure. Even with the church’s conservative views on modesty, purity, abstinence education, and homosexuality, Meg still strongly values her faith and belief in God. And she has to reconcile her feelings. Micah, who idolized his father before he was caught in a sexual misconduct and embezzling scandal, has shunned his beliefs and struggles to find forgiveness for his father’s mistakes. Life in the church community his dad demolished hasn’t been easy for Micah. Both feeling wronged by the families they trusted, Meg and Micah become fast friends then more than friends, and their relationship gives them the space to process their hurt feelings, questioned beliefs, and church teachings. Told in alternating narratives, teen readers will love this sweet romance that addresses the core of one’s beliefs and values.

THOUGHTS: This story is a personal one for Hahn, and she well represents the struggles that teens of faith may face. With honesty and care for the topics, Hahn addresses the church’s hypocrisy in a way that will help teens consider their own feelings. Highly recommended for high school collections.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, SD

MG – Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero

Faraqi, Saadi. Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-062-94325-5. 357 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8. 

Yusuf lives in Texas with his family, and he has some big life changes coming up. He is starting middle school, hoping to enter a Robotics competition with his school’s Robotics team and is spending time helping his family build their community’s new mosque. However this is the 20th year anniversary of September 11th, and his community isn’t happy about the new mosque, or any of his family living in their small town anymore. Yusuf has to deal with bullies from many different directions, and he isn’t sure how to handle it. Will Yusuf be able to hold onto things that bring him such happiness in the face of so much hate and hostility?

THOUGHTS: This well told story touches on many things that today’s readers are either familiar with from their own personal experience, or they have seen it happen to their friends and community members. This book handles these topics with grace and compassion as well as feeling authentic to the situation. Highly recommend this for any middle school collection. 

Realistic Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Out of the Fire

Contos, Andrea. Out of the Fire. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-72616-9. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

With her earbuds in, Cass Adams was out for a run on her usual path through the woods when she was grabbed and thrown into the trunk of a car. Though narrowly escaping an abduction, the police question Cass’s story. Does she have a description of the man or car or any letters or numbers from the license plate? No, she was running for her life! Frustrated with herself for being so routine oriented, Cass tries to go back to her old life. Then the pink envelopes start arriving. Methodically placed where Cass will see them and in places no one else should have access to, the letters warn Cass that she’s always being watched. The police wonder if Cass wrote them herself, but she knows they’re from him. When an old friend reconnects with Cass over the shared experience of being wronged, Cass doesn’t feel so alone. It’s not long before they realize there are other girls who have been wronged too. And they want revenge. After not being believed by the police and not wanting to burden her overworked father, Cass decides to track down her kidnapper herself. But she can’t do it alone, and to have help she has to open herself up to others and share things she may not be ready to face.

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans will devour this fast-paced thriller which is set during a two week time frame. Hand this one to readers who enjoy April Henry and Karen McManus titles.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The Cost of Knowing

Morris, Brittney. The Cost of Knowing. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44545-1. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Despite trying his best to hold things together, sixteen year old Alex Rufus is struggling. Since the death of their parents, he and his little brother Isaiah have grown apart, barely interacting with each other in their Aunt Mackie’s house. Alex has his girlfriend Talia but constantly worries that he’ll do something wrong to ruin their relationship. At work Alex would prefer to remain in the back washing dishes while wearing rubber gloves than be out front scooping ice cream and interacting with customers. At the same time, Alex and Isaiah’s neighbor Mrs. Zaccari makes initially subtle and increasingly frustrating comments about neighborhood crime and what the Shiv concert coming to the area will mean for their safety. Alex is one touch from losing his carefully constructed exterior. Since the death of his parents, Alex gets a glimpse of the future when he touches anything. Usually something simple and easily dismissed, things become complicated when Alex visualizes an unreadable expression on Talia’s face – the sign of a breakup – and unbearable when he has a vision of his brother’s death. Burdened with the knowledge that he he can’t stop the inevitable, but determined to fix his relationship with Isaiah, Alex races to reconnect with his brother and learns that the two may not be as different as he thought.

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Alex from the beginning as he works against “his curse.” Many readers will be able to suspend reality enough to believe this mostly realistic fantasy. Recommended for high school collections where compelling, character driven titles are in demand.

Fantasy (Paranormal)          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Magical Realism
Realistic Fiction