YA – That Weekend

Thomas, Kara. That Weekend. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-1-524-71836-7. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Claire’s – who had been unconscious – senses suddenly start becoming alert when a hiker and her dog approach on Bobcat Mountain. Claire doesn’t know if she’s alone, and she has a splitting headache. The woman and her dog leave to get help, and Claire begins to piece together what little she does remember: it’s prom weekend, but she didn’t go; she lied to her parents about being on Fire Island; and she’s hurt. Arriving at Sunfish Creek Hospital in the Catskill Mountains, Claire realizes she wouldn’t have hiked without friends Kat and Jesse, since Kat’s grandmother has a lake house nearby. After glimpsing herself in the ER bathroom mirror, Claire wonders, “Who are you?” and “What happened to you?” Then readers are taken back three days before Clair’s trip to Sunfish Creek. Told in alternating time, readers travel back and forth as Claire tries to puzzle out what happened to her and to her friends up on Bobcat Mountain.

THOUGHTS: When readers think they have another puzzle piece, the timeline switches, and this fast-paced mystery goes in another direction. Mental health, drug/alcohol abuse, and domestic violence make this thriller best suited for high school collections.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Misfit in Love

Ali, S.K. Misfit in Love. Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44275-7. 320 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12. 

It’s two days before her older brother Muhammad marries Sarah, the love of his life, and Janna is looking forward to the arrival of Nuah, who she finally is ready to tell “yes, I like you back.” They’re at her father’s Mystic Lake, IN estate, though Janna has had her own strained relationship with her dad. Due to Sarah finishing her Master’s degree and her family throwing their own official reception next year, wedding plans have been left up to Dad and Muhammad which means Janna has been there helping for weeks. It’s been nice to spend time away from home, even with stepmother Linda and the laddoos, Muhammad and Janna’s half siblings. Janna is excited to see her mom again, however awkward this huge family event may be, but she didn’t count on an attraction to Sarah’s gorgeous cousin, her mother’s distraction with an old friend, and a brooding sad guy who seems to get Janna. Still, she’s determined to reconnect with Nuah who, despite Janna’s best efforts, seems distracted himself. As friends and family arrive for the celebration, Janna experiences a whirlwind of emotions.

THOUGHTS: With appearances by beloved characters from other Ali books, this is a must have addition to high school romance collections.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Off the Record

Garrett, Camryn. Off the Record. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-984-82999-3. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Josie, a high school senior, film aficionado, and journalist, has had her heart set on Spelman College since middle school. She has a great resume and is just waiting for her official early decision acceptance notice. She’s also waiting to hear if she won Deep Focus‘s (her favorite major magazine) talent contest. Josie knows winning will help launch her journalism career. In the meantime, she owes Monique, her freelance gig editor from Essence magazine, an op-ed, but Josie’s anxiety is distracting her. Josie’s parents casually mention that they worry she’s putting all of her eggs in one basket. Josie thinks they just don’t get her, especially since her mom always is pushing her to try a new diet. They try to talk about the “hard time” Josie had in middle school after which Josie switched schools, but Josie insists she’s fine. Josie proves just how fine she is when she is selected as the winner of the Deep Focus talent search. The grand prize will send her on a five city tour for a new film with interview access to the cast and crew. Her parents aren’t so sure about this and only agree if Josie’s older sister Alice – home for winter break from Spelman – can be her chaperone. Alice reluctantly agrees, and Josie leaves for an experience unlike any other. Nothing, however, could prepare Josie for the story a young actress asks her to tell or the feelings Josie develops for the film’s teen star. Is Josie the right person to tell this story, and will it do more harm than good?

THOUGHTS: Readers will empathize with Josie as she struggles to overcome her anxiety and focus on the story she was hired to write. A must purchase for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – The Magical Imperfect

Baron, Chris. The Magical Imperfect. Feiwel & Friends, 2021. 978-1-250-76782-0. 232 p. $15.15. Grades 5-8.

Etan has not always been an outcast. He used to play baseball with the other boys during recess. He used to hang out with his best friend. He used to talk in class and interact with classmates. But that was before his mother checked into a mental hospital. Now suffering from selective mutism, Etan has pulled away from everyone in his life except for his father and grandfather, with whom he shares a very strong bond. While visiting his grandfather at his jewelry shop, Etan is asked by the grocer next door to deliver a package. It is only after his brief, mysterious, and interesting encounter with the family’s daughter, Malia, that he finds out she is known to his classmates as “The Creature.” Etan, however, doesn’t see her that way, and as he makes more trips to her house, their friendship grows. Etan wishes he could help Malia find a cure for her eczema so she can return to school. Malia wishes she could help Etan find his voice. Perhaps finding someone who accepts them for who they are will be the key for Etan and Malia to shed that outcast label.

THOUGHTS:  There is so much to unpack here–Mental illness, prejudice, immigration, bullying, friendship—the list goes on. Chris Baron knows exactly which issues face middle grade readers and writes about them in an accessible, heartfelt, and beautiful way. This book is a perfect fit for middle school libraries.

Fantasy            Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

MG – Taking Up Space

Gerber, Alyson. Taking Up Space. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-18602-4. 259 p. $17.99. Grades 5-9.

Sarah has a lot of aspects of her life she really loves: basketball, her best friends Ryan and Emilia, and detective novels. She also has aspects of her life that she wishes would change; for example, she hates that her mother has issues with eating and never has enough food in the house for Sarah to eat. In fact, sometimes her mother forgets to make meals which makes Sarah feel unimportant. How can you matter when the people in your life who are supposed to take care of you forget that you have to eat? Sarah also discovers that as her body is changing in her teen years, so are her basketball skills. She is slower lately, making more mistakes on the court. As a way to take control over her sluggish performances on the court, Sarah starts restricting what she eats, trying to lose excess weight so she can be faster and stronger. This is not a challenge at home, but it does become an issue when Sarah partners up with her crush Benny to compete for a spot on Chef Junior, a televised cooking show holding auditions at Sarah’s school. Eventually, the stress of the competition and diet restrictions catch up to her, and Sarah has to learn for herself how a person becomes physically and mentally healthy.

THOUGHTS: Taking Up Space shines a spotlight on the pressure teenage girls are under to look a certain way. A very unique aspect of this book, however, is that the character’s mother is also struggling with eating, demonstrating to young readers that sometimes adults don’t always have all the answers and have to seek help, too. This book is a must-have for middle grade libraries and could be a thoughtful option for a book club.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Summer of Brave

Parks, Amy Noelle. Summer of Brave. Albert Whitman & Co., 2021. 978-0-807-57660-1. 232 p. $16.99. Grades 4-8.

Lilla likes to make everyone happy, even if it means not speaking her mind. The Summer Wish is a tradition between friends Knox, Vivi, and Lilla – whoever blows off the most seeds of the dandelion gets to make a Summer Wish that the other two must do. When Vivi wins (again), she decides to make her wish for a summer of brave, where everyone is honest and shares their feelings in order to overcome a fear. For Lilla this will be a challenge at home since she spends half her time living on the second floor with her mother, a scientist, and the other half on the first floor with her father, an artist. When the trio apply for summer camp counselors, tensions mount when Vivi doesn’t get chosen and Lilla can’t tell her the truth (which equals not being brave). Add to that the decision on which school to attend in the fall (the private school for science or art? Or the public school for a more well rounded education?), Lilla struggles with finding her voice to tell both her parents and friends her true wish. Will the Summer of Brave truly work?

THOUGHTS: A great coming of age story about being honest with yourself and others while finding out who you are. These middle school students are relatable and each bring a special connection to the story. Lilla struggles with self doubt, and readers at this level will connect with her in more ways than one. A wonderfully written and brave story of finding the courage to speak up for what you believe in.

Realistic Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Haydu, Corey Ann. One Jar of Magic. Harper Collins, 2021. $16.99 978-0-062-68985-6. Grades 5-8.

Rose Alice Anders isn’t just Rose. She is “Little Luck,” so nicknamed by her father, the luckiest man in Belling Bright, the most magical place in the world. Her father has the most knowledge of magic in this town where magic is revered and frequently used for everything from improving hair quality to crafting a rainbow (though her father cautions Rose and her brother Lyle that interfering with weather is too dangerous). All her life Rose has been striving to live up to her father’s belief that she will be the most magical in their family. Her status–and her father’s–brings ‘honor’ but also trouble into her friendships. So when the new year arrives in her twelfth year, Rose both longs for the day and dreads it for the pressure. Yes, she is magical, yes, her father has answers, but something doesn’t feel right, though she’d never admit it. The town’s New Year’s Day comes, and everyone is out to capture magic in jars of any color or size. Some magic sparkles, some changes colors, some seems to enchant just by being. Rose goes straight to Too Blue Lake, where she’s certain she, of all people, will manage to fill jar after jar after jar. But as the day goes on and her friends gather jars, and her brother tries to help her (should she be grateful or insulted?), Rose is fearful to come to the feast with just one jar of magic. She can feel her father’s anger. To appease his anger, her mother takes Rose and Lyle home, stopping at a store run by “not-meant-for-magic’ people. Though the store is nearby, Rose has never been there and never met these people. Her shame at failing to live up to her name and her heritage mixes with her curiosity in these people, who seem so….free. She wants to see Zelda–the daughter of the family–again, but knows her father (and the town) forbids it. What is going on in her family and in her town?  Where does Rose belong and how can she take a stand when she’s not sure of anything?

THOUGHTS: Haydu crafts a very real town full of questions, possibilities and dangers.  She presents the confusing family dynamics well, as Rose struggles to reconcile her hesitations and doubts with her father’s certainty, her mother’s acquiescence, her brother’s kindness, and the town’s solidarity. Who is she, if she’s not Little Luck?

Magical Realism Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG/YA – Sylvie

Kantorovitz, Sylvie. Sylvie. Walker Books, 2021. 346 p. $24.99 978-1-536-20762-0. Grades 7-12.

In this graphic novel, Artist Sylvie Kantoritz shares her life growing up in France, living in an envied apartment that was part of the small teaching college her father directed. She shows the personalities of her father (easy-going), her mother (never satisfied), and her younger brothers and sister. She strives to make everything work: to be the perfect student, daughter, sister, and friend, while feeling uncertain of where she is headed. As the years pass, she changes friends, finds a boyfriend, and always tries to find her own place. Her fascination with art continues to grow throughout her life, and her father encourages her to seek a future in teaching and art. Finally, Sylvie feels that she’s found her own way to a life of her choosing. She ends the memoir with this thought: “Finding out who we are, and not who others think we are or want us to be, is the most important search in life.” The characters’ expressions are endearing and revealing, through anger and surprise to dismay and joy.

THOUGHTS: Readers will enjoy following Sylvie’s life and growth in this quiet homage to the ups and downs of family life.

Graphic Novel          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Throwaway Girls

Contos, Andrea. Throwaway Girls. Kids Can Press, 2020. 978-1-525-30314-2. 392 p. $17.30. Grades 9-12.

With only three months left until graduation and a few days after that until she turns 18, Caroline Lawson is more than ready to leave her prep school and unsupportive parents behind. All she has to do is put on a smile and pretend like everything is perfect. Things are anything but perfect, and Caroline can’t wait to leave and be who she truly is meant to be. Caroline’s girlfriend recently broke up with her and left for California, and Caroline’s best friend Madison just disappeared. Having kept secrets from each other and grown apart, Caroline feels partially responsible for Madison’s disappearance. Feeling like the only person capable of finding Madison, Caroline sets off on a dangerous path, determined to find her friend before it’s too late. But Caroline has to face some truths about herself, her relationship, her family, and about her friend. The deeper Caroline digs, the more she uncovers – including other girls who have gone missing. Why hasn’t anyone noticed these girls, and how is Madison connected to them? As Caroline gets closer to uncovering the truth, she realizes she may be the one connection between them all.

THOUGHTS: Despite having endless means, Caroline is extremely unhappy. The adults fail teens over and over. Mystery readers will be absorbed into this twisty narrative (this reviewer had a few jaw-dropping realizations) and will root for Caroline to uncover the truth before it’s too late.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem./MG – Allergic: A Graphic Novel

Lloyd, Megan Wagner. Allergic: A Graphic Novel. Illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter. Graphix, 2021. 978-1-338-56891-2. 240 p. $24.99. Grades 3-6.

With younger twin brothers and a new baby on the way, Maggie feels alone in her loving family. She’s convinced her parents, who are preoccupied with baby names and other preparations, to let her adopt a puppy that will be her own. Maggie has been looking forward to her tenth birthday for a long time, since this is the day she gets her perfect pet. At the animal shelter, however, Maggie breaks out into a severe rash, and she learns that she’s allergic to anything with fur. So much for her puppy. Devastated, but determined to find the perfect pet, Maggie begins research, as she works her way through allergy shots and makes a new friend. Told in colorful graphic panels, readers will enjoy Maggie’s attempts at finding a perfect pet and will appreciate her frustration when things go awry with her new friend.

THOUGHTS: Readers with any allergies, but especially those allergic to pets, will felt represented in this cute graphic novel. A great addition to elementary and middle grade collections.

Graphic Novel          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Maggie is feeling left out in her family. Her parents are focused on the new baby they are expecting, her twin brothers are always together and doing their own thing. She thinks a dog would be the perfect companion! But, when her family goes to pick out a dog for Maggie’s birthday, they discover that she is very allergic to anything with fur! Maggie is devastated, but her new friend that moved in next door is helping to ease the disappointment. That is until her friend talks her dad into getting her own dog. Now, Maggie feels betrayed by the one person she thought understood her. Can Maggie survive allergy shots and make things right with her best friend?

THOUGHTS: Fans of Raina Telgemeier will love Allergic! A great addition to your graphic novel section.

Graphic Novel          Krista Fitzpatrick, PSLA Member