MG – The List of Things that Will Not Change

Staed, Rebecca. The List of Things that Will Not Change. Wendy Lamb Books, 2020. 978-1-101-93810-2. 218 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Bea was eight when her parents divorced and gave her a green notebook with a list of “Things that will not change” written into it.  The first two items on the list are that her mom and dad will always love her and each other. Bea has been adding to that list ever since getting her notebook. The thing is, lots of things in Bea’s life are changing, and being the worrier that she is, it’s not always easy to adjust. Seeing her therapist helps, as does having both parents love and support her. When her dad tells her that he and his boyfriend are getting married, Bea is filled with excitement, for her father and his boyfriend, and for herself as Jesse has a daughter that is her age.  Bea has always wanted a sister, but things aren’t as easy as Bea wishes. As the wedding gets closer, Bea comes to terms with her past secrets and the fact that things don’t always have to be perfect to be perfect for her.

THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection.

Realistic Fiction                   Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

YA – A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

Jackson, Holly. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. Delacorte Press. 2020. 978-1-984-89636-0. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Pippa Fitz-Amobi is a good girl: high achiever, faithful friend, devoted daughter, and big sister. So it’s a bit out of character for her to solve a murder for her senior capstone project, especially because it’s one that’s already been solved. Five years ago, high school senior Andie Bell disappeared from their small town of Fairfield, Connecticut. Her body was never found, but the remains of her boyfriend, Salil “Sal” Singh, were discovered in the woods along with evidence that he had killed Andie and then committed suicide out of guilt. Pippa’s instincts, honed on true crime podcasts and documentaries, tell her that Sal is innocent. She aims to raise enough doubts about Sal’s guilt to convince the police to revisit the case. With the help of Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, Pippa susses out one lead after another, untangling clues and connections hidden within interview transcripts, journal entries, and text messages. Meanwhile someone with much to lose is watching their every move — and he (or she?) is unafraid to follow through on threats against what Pippa holds dearest when she refuses to stop digging. Holly Jackson skillfully weaves the elements of a solid mystery into her debut: suspense, red herrings, breathless amateur surveillance, and even a spooky dark alley. A huge twist, revealed just when the crimes have seemingly been solved, propels the pace right to the final page.

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans, take note: You’ll be hooked from the “Murder Map” that appears on page 29! This fast-paced whodunnit is perfect for fans of Karen M. McManus’ thrillers, especially Two Can Keep a Secret. Note that this novel’s potentially sensitive topics include suicide, sexual assault, and an animal in peril.

Mystery          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Pippa Fitz-Amobi has everything going for her: She’s a good student with good friends and a great family. Pip is a “good girl,” and she can’t help but notice how local missing (presumed murdered but never found) Andie Bell also seemed like a good girl. A fan of true crime podcasts and documentaries, Pip can’t ignore the feeling that the five year old murder/suicide of two local teens has some gaps in its investigation. She knew Sal when she was younger, and he couldn’t have possibly killed Andie then himself. Or did he? Though she sells it to her advisor as a look at how media sensationalizing can impact an investigation, Pip decides her senior capstone project will be to look into the Andie Bell case. As she uncovers one clue after the next, she begins to hope that she can prove Sal’s innocence. When Pip receives a threat telling her to stop digging, she knows she must be onto something. Then again, maybe someone is just playing a sick joke. Getting closer to Sal’s little brother Ravi during her investigation doesn’t help Pip keep her feelings separate from the case. When a threat hits close to home, Pip is ready to give up. She might be paranoid, but it seems like someone in Fairview doesn’t want her to keep looking. Told throughout Pip’s investigation, readers will be on the edge of their seats to learn what really happened to Andie Bell and if Pip will successfully complete her project.

THOUGHTS: Told in a variety of formats, readers will not want to put down this fast-paced mystery. The full cast audiobook is excellent. Fans of other YA Thrillers by authors like Karen M. McManus, April Henry, and Gretchen McNeil will be happy to have a new author to enjoy. Mature topics (drug use, drinking, and suicide) make this one best suited for high school readers.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The Cousins

McManus, Karen M. The Cousins. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-525-70800-1. 336 p. $22.99. Grades 7-12.

It begins with a most unexpected letter. Teen cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah are invited to spend the summer on Gull Island, the resort home of their wealthy WASP grandmother, Mildred Story, the woman who, decades before, cut off all contact with her children, enigmatically telling them, “You know what you did.” Except the three brothers and their sister have always denied knowing what their mother meant. Now the adult siblings, encouraged by this gesture, bribe, threaten, and cajole the cousins to accept the offer, for a variety of personal reasons, including, but not necessarily limited to, possible access to the immense Story fortune. Sweet Aubrey, bearing a traditional Story family name; sophisticated Milly, named after her grandmother; and extremely disgruntled Jonah meet up on the ferry ride to the island, pondering what the summer will hold. None of them envisions the events that unfold. But when one of the first people they encounter on the island tells them “you shouldn’t have come back,” the cousins become reluctant allies, uncovering lost family history and learning exactly what happened all those years ago. McManus presents another tour de force with her fourth young adult mystery. This character driven plot has the feel of a classic Agatha Christie. Breathtaking suspense takes a back seat as Aubrey, Milly, and Jonah, burdened with parental legacies, expectations, and disappointments, cautiously open up to each other, shedding secrets and personas molded by family legacy. Plot twists keep the reader guessing until the tempestuous climax, but the journey is the true star in this book.

THOUGHTS: McManus just keeps getting better. A first purchase for all middle school and high school collections, and multiple copies will be needed. 

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Cousins Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story did not grow up enjoying extended family vacations on Gull Island or at the resort home of their wealthy grandmother. Instead each has had to deal with a parent who is still – years later – dealing with the fallout of being disinherited by their mother, matriarch Mildred Story. Cut off with only a message of “You know what you did.” the story children are left to fend for themselves which, given their upbringing, they were not prepared to do. When the cousins each receive a postcard from their grandmother inviting them to work on Gull Island’s resort for the summer, they have mixed reactions. Their parents, however, insist. It’s the opportunity to get back into their mother’s good graces, and they’ve been waiting decades. Forced together, the cousins arrive on Gull Island only to be told they “shouldn’t have come back.” They bond together to make the best of their circumstances and learn more about the family they never got to know.

THOUGHTS: This one will keep readers guessing, and fans of McManus’s other books will be happy with this new mystery. A must have for middle and high school libraries.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – The Great Upending

Kephart, Beth. The Great Upending. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-4814-9156-3. 259 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7. 

Sara has what she needs: her younger brother, Hawk, her parents, the family farm with all its wonder. Hawk is her best friend, and together they navigate life. When a gentleman rents the converted silo on the farm, Sara and Hawk are expressly told to not bother Mister. But, being 12- and 11-years old, they wonder, they spy, they uncover secrets. Sara also has those things in her life she wishes she didn’t have: a drought that is pushing the farm into bankruptcy, a heart condition requiring surgery, and Marfan syndrome, which has caused her to grow taller than her mother already. Sara is tired of being gawked at and whispered about when she is in town, and is miserable about the anxiety and strain her condition puts on her parents. The bankers have turned down a loan application, telling her father that the farm has no value as collateral, leaving the family struggling to find funds for her surgery. This is a secret Sara keeps from Hawk, which begins to put a strain on their relationship. However, the secret the siblings uncover about Mister just may change many lives. This is a lyrically written book first about family, then about the rare condition of Marfan syndrome. Sara’s voice is wonderfully nuanced, as she rockets between being a child and a girl with too many burdens for her age. Her and Hawk’s spying on Mister definitely crosses boundaries, but galvanizes the pair into a wild scheme in which Sara finds purpose and a way to forget about her health issues. Readers will fall in love with Sara and root for a happy ending for everyone.

THOUGHTS: This lovely book addresses a medical condition with which most people will not be familiar. But while Sara’s illness is the nudge that drives the plot, it does not take over. Sara is a memorable character who has Marfan syndrome, not because she has Marfan syndrome. The theme that shines throughout is the closeness of family. This story will linger after the last pages.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – War Stories

Korman, Gordon.  War Stories.  Scholastic Press, 2020.  978-1-338-29020-2.  231 p. $15.67. Grades 3-6.

No matter how many times his father tells him that war is not a video game, 12-year old Trevor Firestone refuses to believe it. Not when his video game seems to line up with what his great grandfather has told him about his experiences in World War II. So when his G.G. has an opportunity to return to France as the guest of honor at a celebration commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the victory in Europe, Trevor can’t wait to tag along. But even before they leave the United States, there are hints that G.G.’s time in France was not as described.  It seems some people remember him differently and would rather he did not return for his hero’s welcome because they see him as anything but a hero. With chapters alternating between present day and 1944, Korman increases the tension the closer Trevor and his family get to Sainte-Régine. G.G.’s stories of war, which had always seemed so exciting to Trevor, start to turn somber, and when the truth is revealed, Trevor will have a better understanding of the price of war.

THOUGHTS: Korman does an excellent job of taking the glamour out of war for students who may experience it only through video games. Ultimately, this is a well-told story about the importance of family.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

MG – Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

Kim, Jessica. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! Kokila, 2020. 978-0-525-55497-4. 306 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.

A sleek pixie cut is just the change Yumi Chung needs to start seventh grade. What she gets, instead, is the perm her mother wants. Such is the life of Yumi Chung–overruled by the adults in her life at every turn. So when she hears her family can no longer afford to send her to her private school, Yumi is elated. But her thoughts of freedom are short lived as her mother informs her that she will have to ace the Secondary School Admission Test in two weeks in order to get a scholarship. Instead of the summer Yumi had planned–watching Youtube videos of her favorite comedian, Jasmine Jasper, and writing jokes in her Super-Secret Comedy Notebook–she will now have to attend tutoring sessions in order to pass the test. One afternoon as she is leaving tutoring, she stumbles upon a new comedy club in her neighborhood, and it is offering a comedy camp for teens taught by none other than Jasmine Jasper. A case of mistaken identity finds Yumi attending the camp and having the time of her life. But when she is found out, how will Yumi explain to her parents, her fellow comedy campers, and Jasmine Jasper? Will shy Yumi Chung finally find her voice and stand up for herself?

THOUGHTS: Middle grade students will sympathize with Yumi. She is picked on at school, she has an older sister who is an actual genius who she is always being compared to, and her parents refuse to listen to what Yumi wants. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! is an Own Voices novel about family and friends that stands out in the crowd.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Yumi Chung’s goal in life is to become a stand-up comedian. That vision does not fit with her traditional Korean-American family who value hard work (see their struggles to maintain their Korean barbeque restaurant in a gentrified neighborhood) and education (see their older, more perfect daughter who excelled at school and now is on track to becoming a doctor). Yumi sees her family’s financial difficulties as a way out of attending the posh private school where she has no friends and finally being able to reinvent herself. No such luck! Mrs. Chung persuades the principal of Winston Preparatory Academy to give Yumi a chance at winning a scholarship. She only has to cram for it at a Korean prep class with Mrs. Pak. Turns out the hogwon is right near a comedy class for young people hosted by Yumi’s Youtube  idol, Jasmine Jasper. Yumi inserts herself into the class through a case of mistaken identity. Author Jessica Kim blends just the right amount of pathos and humor to make Stand Up, Yumi Chung! a entertaining read. Drawn by her desire to make people laugh and perform, Yumi gets sucked into a web of lies that are difficult to unravel. While she is busy making a mess and cleaning up after herself, she forms a stronger bond with the sister she used to envy and a clearer understanding and appreciation of her parents’ sacrifices and efforts. She also is able to make her dreams come true by boosting the business at her parents’ failing restaurant with a series of schemes to promote it, including a comedy night. Lots of lessons threaded throughout this story make it endearing to a wide audience: self-identity, problem solving, appreciation of family, and the importance of trying after failing.

THOUGHTS: The hunt for a solid story that infuses humor­­­­­­­ is hard to find (Front Desk by Kelly Yang and It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel! by Firoozeh Dumas comes to mind). Stand Up, Yumi Chung! can be in that category. A reader doesn’t need to be Korean-American to appreciate the pressure to fulfill a parent’s dreams, but the Asian references will resonate with Asian-American students and educate non Asian-American ones. The rabbit hole Yumi falls down is relatable to any middle school student floundering with being impulsive and making decisions.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Birdie and Me

Nuanez, J.M.M. Birdie and Me. Kathy Dawson Books, 2020. 978-0-399-18677-6. 249 p. $14.81. Grades 5-8.

Jack and her little brother, Birdie, were perfectly happy living with Uncle Carl after their mother’s sudden death. Uncle Carl let them eat as many Honey Bunny Buns as they wanted, school was optional, and Birdie could wear his lip gloss and sparkly clothes.  But it turns out school is not optional, so Jack and Birdie are now going to live with Uncle Patrick. Life with Uncle Patrick is very different from their life with Uncle Carl or their life with their mom. He doesn’t talk much, and Jack and Birdie are sure he doesn’t like them. Living with Uncle Patrick means school every day, and Birdie will have to wear “normal” clothes if he wants to fit in with his classmates. But what about Jack? Can she find a way to fit in? And will Birdie’s bully back off if he wears the clothes Uncle Patrick buys for him? It won’t be easy, but if they all can confront the past, they may just find a way to become a family.

THOUGHTS: This is a beautiful debut about love and loss and how to make a family. An important addition to middle school libraries.

Realistic          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

YA – What I Like About You

Kanter, Marisa. What I Like About You. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-44577-2. $18.99. 409 p. Grades 7-12.

Halle Levitt and her brother Ollie have just moved in with their grandpa. She will spend her senior year in a new small town and new school while her parents jet off to another country to film their newest documentary. Halle struggles, along with her Gramps, to be in the house without her Grams who passed away just a few years ago. It was her Grams that inspired her love of reading and baking, and when Halle isn’t studying for her SATs or applying for college at NYU, she connects with her online best friend, Nash, and updates her online blog called One True Pastry. Online, Halle is known as Kels, and she’s famous for her YA book reviews and her cupcake book cover creations. When Halle meets Nash in real life and discovers he lives in the same town as her Gramps, she decides not to tell him that she’s also his online best friend, Kels. Halle and Nash grow closer, but Halle needs to find the courage to tell him who she really is and hopes that he’ll like real-life, awkward Halle as much as he likes online, confident Kels.

THOUGHTS: What I Like About You reminds me of a YA version of the movie You’ve Got Mail. Halle’s decision to keep her Kels identity from Nash is frustrating, especially when he feels guilty about liking Halle while also keeping his crush on Kels. This book not only focuses on romantic relationships, but on family relationships as well. I love how close Halle is to her brother Ollie, and together they help their Gramps overcome the loss of their beloved Grams, and although Halle and Ollie are Jewish, their busy parents never had much time for their family to be a part of a Jewish community, like they can be with Gramps. Anyone that loves books will connect with Halle, Nash, and their online friends, and after finishing this sweet, romantic story, you might be inspired to whip a batch of cupcakes for yourself. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – Wild About Dads

Murray, Diana. Wild about Dads. Imprint, 2020. 978-1-250-31574-8. 32pp. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Rhyming couplets pair with full-page, vibrant illustrations in this sweet tribute to dads of all kinds. This title’s opening spread features human dads and their children enjoying a day at the park. Subsequent pages feature dads from all over the animal kingdom interacting with their young. From boosting little ones up to grab berries and playing hide-and-seek, to cozying up for an afternoon nap, animal dads share all kinds of one-on-one time. The closing spread features the same human dads and children at the park, reminding readers that “There’s a lot that dads can do, the best of all is loving you!” The back endpapers feature an illustration of each animal highlighted in the story as well as a brief description of where the animal lives and what the father does as a caretaker. 

THOUGHTS: This book is perfect for read-alouds, especially ones centered around families or in celebration of Father’s Day. The text and illustrations will prompt discussions and comparisons between things humans dads do and things animal dads do to take care of their families. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MG – The Magic Fish

Nguyen, Trung Le. The Magic Fish. Random House Graphic, 2020. 978-0-593-12529-8. 256 p. $23.99. Grades 7-9.

In The Magic Fish, author/illustrator Trung Le Nguyen braids together a family’s immigration story, a son’s desire to reveal a part of his identity to his parents, and retellings of classic fairy tales such as Cinderella and The Little Mermaid. Eighth-grader Tien reads these fairy tales to his mother, whose first language is Vietnamese, to help her improve her English. Mother and son (and father, when he isn’t at work) are close as can be, but still Tien struggles with how to share his secret with them: he is attracted to boys. The problem is part language barrier, part apprehension for how they will react. Tien’s mother, meanwhile, is struggling with the declining health of her own mother in Vietnam, and memories of fleeing her home country many years ago. Nguyen’s truly exquisite artwork is color-coded to orient the reader both in time and within the story; the present is ruby red, the past is mustard yellow, and the fairy tales are various jewel tones. It sounds complicated, but it works beautifully. The fairy tales foreground themes of new beginnings, identity, isolation, and connection, while also casting light on the experiences of our main characters. The gentle twist at the end satisfyingly reminds Tien (and readers!) that true happy endings are the ones we write for ourselves.

THOUGHTS: Readers of The Magic Fish will find themselves equally captivated by each storyline within this many-layered tale.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD