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

YA – The Game

Miller, Linsey. The Game. Underlined, 2020. 978-0-593-17978-9. 240 p. $9.99. Grades 9-12. 

Lia Prince has lived her life in the background; She isn’t good at anything her parents value. To make matters worse, Lia’s older brother, now off at college, was good at everything. Determined to make a name for herself by besting his third place finish in her Lincoln High’s senior class game of assassin, Lia’s been planning for a year. Carefully noting and observing patterns of her peers, Lia is ready for the game to begin. No one appreciates her skills, but Lia is good at games. Ready to lead her team and get their target, the game begins. As they get more into the game, it becomes deadly. Someone is playing dirty, but Lia is determined not to miss this opportunity to be good at something. Against advice of her parents, her school, and her friends, and determined to keep the fun of the game going Lia keeps playing. Can she win, and what does winning mean?

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans will love this brief, action-packed, stand alone and may overlook some of its flaws. Grief and fear are brushed aside to make room for the game, but would the game really continue with a killer on the loose? Purchase in high school libraries where mysteries are in high demand.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe

Herandez, Carlos. Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe. Disney, 2020. 978-1-368-02283-5. 423 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7. 

This sequel to Sal and Gabi Break the Universe picks up shortly after the end of the first book. Sal’s father, a calamity physicist, is convinced he has perfected the remembranation machine to close the wormholes in the multiverse created by Sal and Gabi. This is great news! So why does Sal feel so empty? Cuban-American Sal Vidón, seventh grade magician extraordinaire and his friend-who is-a-girl-but-NOT-his-girlfriend Gabi Reál knew they created chaos when they manipulated the wormholes previously. Yet something is obviously wrong. Then Gabi from another universe (dubbed Fix-It- Gabi) shows up and explains to Sal that his reaction to the activation of the remembranation machine was a result of being cut off from the multiverse. Repairing the membrane between the multiverses will actually destroy Sal’s universe, Fix-It Gabi declares. She has seen it happen in other universes. But Sal, who adores his family, can’t believe his Papí is a force of evil. On top of saving the multiverse, Sal has problems closer to home, including saving his school’s ambitious Rompenoche performance of Alice in Wonderland scheduled for Parent Night in just a week. The cast of characters in the book series is over-the-top delightful. Family dynamics are explored as Sal adjusts to his new stepmamí, and Gabi deals with a contingent of dads, male, female, and robotic. Artificially Intelligent characters, including Vorágine, the AI toilet at Sal’s school, as well as the newly aware remembranation machine add to the fun. Set in Miami, the book celebrates the vibrant city as well as Cuban culture, frequently integrating Spanish dialog. Sal’s type 1 diabetes also plays an integral part in the story, as it does in Sal’s life. The downside to all this joie de vivre can be feeling a bit like encountering a cyclone. Hernandez does not waste time with exposition. No recap or backstory is provided to bring readers up to speed. This is a delightful, clever sequel, but will work best if read immediately after the first book, while all events and characters are fresh in the reader’s mind. There are also some political allusions that feel out-of-place in a book aimed at 10-year-olds, who will likely not catch or understand the comments.

THOUGHTS: This is a riotous ride of a book that is definitely not a stand-alone. While filled with fart jokes and talking toilets, the book also addresses more serious issues such as diabetes, death, and abusive parents. Keeping up with the multiverse of characters is also challenging. Hand this series to readers who like books with humor, or use for a class read-aloud.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – The Perfect Shelter

Welsh, Clare Helen. The Perfect Shelter. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-68464-050-8. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades K-3.

The Perfect Shelter follows two sisters who are trying to make the perfect shelter outside; however, something is wrong. One sister is sick, and the other sister has to deal with the consequences of her sister being sick and not being able to build the perfect shelter with her. As the story progresses, the sisters decide to build a shelter inside because “it’s the perfect place to build a shelter.” The illustrations show the progression of the older sister’s sickness, as well as how the family handles and deals with it. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful.

THOUGHTS: I loved how the ending of this book doesn’t promise a happy ending, merely that the family will just be together. This book could be a great conversation starter for a child who is dealing with someone in their family having an illness, or if they personally have an illness. The family is drawn as being interracial, which I also loved that representation.

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Elsie

Robert, Nadine. Elsie. Abrams, 2020. 978-1-419-74072-5. Unpaged. $16.99. Grades K-2. 

On nice and sunny Sundays, the seven siblings in the Filpot bunny family go fishing. Elsie doesn’t quite fit in with her older siblings–she would rather stay at home than go fishing. She’s a unique personality with her own way of doing things. This can cause conflict with her siblings, who try to convince her to do things the “right” way. Elsie would rather walk along the brook when the rest of the family wants to to walk through the woods. When Elsie wants to bait her hook with a buttercup, her siblings (who prefer traditional bait) exclaim that she shouldn’t do it and it won’t work! When the family eats their lunch, Elsie wants to feed her sandwiches to the ducklings. But when Elsie catches a large fish with her buttercup bait, her siblings realize that Elsie’s ideas, though different from their own, have merit and should be respected and valued. The text is enhanced by the detailed tempera and watercolor illustrations of Maja Kastelic. Each bunny has a unique appearance and the woodland setting is filled with flora and fauna to engage the attention of the reader.

THOUGHTS: This delightful bunny tale would make an ideal read aloud choice and could easily be integrated into lessons on respecting others opinions and viewpoints, acceptance, individuality, and more. Highly recommended.

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – The Sea in Winter

Day, Christine. The Sea in Winter. Heartdrum, 2021. 978-0-062-87204-3. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Seventh grader Maisie isn’t having a great day just before her school’s midwinter break. She’s tardy to homeroom, and she earned a 70 on her most recent math test. A break from school and a family trip back home will be good “heart medicine.” Maisie could use a distraction from eating lunch alone and getting text updates from her ballet friends who she no sees. Maisie isn’t sure how to respond, so she usually doesn’t. Things start to look up when her physical therapist suggests that Maisie’s recovery from a torn ACL and surgery might be moving faster than initially anticipated. This news gives Maisie hope; she’s missed ballet and her friends so much, and she might even be able to make a few spring auditions if she keeps progressing. With this news (and a green light for hiking) Maisie’s family heads to the Olympic Peninsula to explore some areas that are important to their Native family. Maisie’s stormy emotions seem to get the best of her at times, and she’s not sure why she says some of the things she does. When Maisie’s frustration reaches a peak, she’ll have to decide who she wants to be, even if that doesn’t include ballet.

THOUGHTS: Upper elementary and middle school students will adore Maisie and recognize the roller coaster of emotions she experiences. Maisie’s little brother provides comic relief to some of her emotional “funks,” and her parents are extremely supportive. #OwnVoices author Day addresses negative self talk and depression in an age appropriate way that will resonate with students. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Maise Cannon is many things: a middle schooler, a sister, a daughter, a Native American descended from the Makah and Piscataway tribes, and a ballet dancer. Her favorite of all her identities is of a ballet dancer, but her knee injury that she is recovering from may prevent her from ever dancing again. Her physical therapy is going well, and she hopes that she will be able to audition for a summer program like her friends. When her family goes on a hiking trip, Maisie re-injures her knee dashing any hopes of dancing any time soon. Maisie’s anxiety and depression take hold of her, and she shuts out everyone and everything in her life. Her family encourages Maisie to go to therapy. After a few months, Maisie finds a life for herself without dancing, and finds that she can be happy with what she CAN do.

THOUGHTS: This is a story where the characters just happen to be Native Americans. This would be a great addition for readers who are struggling with an injury.

Realistic Fiction         Krista Fitzpatrick, PSLA Member

YA – Again Again

Lockhart, e. Again Again. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-385-74479-9. 286 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up.

After moving and family upheaval, Adelaide Buchwald is trying to find herself. It’s the summer between her junior and senior years, and she has taken a job as a dog walker (and watcher). As she deals with the dogs, her family dysfunction, lack of motivation and focus, a serious breakup, and a new crush, Adelaide reconciles herself with the “what is” but wishes for the “what could be.” When she meets Nick (or re-meets him), she begins to fantasize about how things should be or could be while trying to ignore what is. When Adelaide finally realizes that she must face who she is and what actually is, instead of “who she could be” or “what could be,” she begins the process of forgiveness: forgiveness of herself; forgiveness of her parents; forgiveness of her brother, and forgiveness of what will not be.

THOUGHTS: Again Again is a fun magical realism, romance. Adelaide plays through every situation in the hope of the best outcome (or possibly the worst outcomes). This trait may be very familiar to readers, especially teens, which adds to the connection to Adelaide; she is an easily understandable character. The text font changes as situations change from reality to Adelaide’s imagination. This is harder to follow when listening to the audio book, which is excellent, but easy to see when looking at the print novel. This is a sure-to-please lighthearted romance for all ages.

Romance          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD
Magical Realism

MG – Lux: The New Girl

Woodfolk, Ashley. Lux: The New Girl. Penguin Workshop. 2020. 978-0-593-09602-4. 139 pp. $15.99. Grades 6-9.

Lux Ruby Lawson has had a default setting – pissed – ever since her dad left. She was kicked out of her old school for fighting, and her mom has put her on notice: if she messes up again, she’ll have to go live with the father who walked out on her, the same father who just welcomed a new baby girl. Lux wants to stay out of trouble, but when a classmate pushes her too far the ensuing scuffle is captured on multiple cell phone cameras. Lux is expelled and relocated to her dad’s apartment. Through a connection and a strong interview, she’s accepted at Augusta Savage School of the Arts in Harlem, to pursue her interest in photography. She makes friends with the “Flyy Girls,” Noelle, Tobyn, and Micah (each of whom takes center stage in subsequent installments of the Flyy Girls series). But Lux worries about what will happen if the videos of the fight resurface and her new friends discover the past she’s kept hidden. Ashley Woodfolk packs a lot into just 141 pages: family dynamics, friend drama, mild romance, school pranks, and even a photography assignment for the school paper. Each character’s personality is vibrant and distinct, and Lux is believably flawed. Her evolution, from a girl who settles scores with a punch to a more mature friend and daughter, is the endearing core of the novel.

THOUGHTS: Lux: The New Girl is an excellent hi-lo series starter to add to school library collections, and more importantly to read and discuss with students. It would pair well with Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence by Joel Christian Gill for a professional book study.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – The Willoughbys Return

Lowry, Lois. The Willoughbys Return. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-42389-8. 182 p. $17.99. Grades 4-6.

The Willoughby family is back in this entertaining sequel. After being frozen in the snowy Swiss Alps for thirty years, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby have thawed, apparently none the worse for wear, except for being behind the times. The couple, who were not the most caring parents, decide to return home and reunite with their children, who are now technically older than them. During the time of their absence, all four children were adopted by Commander Melanoff, who married their nanny. The eldest son, Tim, succeeded the Commander as CEO of a successful candy company. At least, it was successful until the government banned all candy as unhealthy. Next door to the mansion lives the Poore family, who like their name, is in very reduced circumstances. They open a bed and breakfast and the first guests are Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, whose stay is cut short after eating a salad of poisonous leaves prepared by the unwitting Mrs. Poore. Eventually, the Willoughbys are reunited and the parents thaw out their relations with their children, as they adjust to the new world of Google, FaceTime and Skype. Even the hapless Mr. Poore, an unsuccessful traveling encyclopedia salesman, returns home penniless, but with some glittery rocks, which will change his family’s life forever. The author speaks to the reader in occasional footnotes, which provide additional plot details or explain a reference.

THOUGHTS: This satirical “rags to riches” and “riches to rags” story is sure to delight fans of Lemony Snicket’s books and those who can appreciate a parody of those classic orphan stories.

 Humorous Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member