MG – When You Trap a Tiger

Keller, Tae. When You Trap a Tiger. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-524-71570-0. 287 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Lily, known as Lily Bean to her mom, and Eggi in her Halmoni’s stories, and her family suddenly pack up and move to Washington one rain soaked evening. They are moving in with her Halmoni, a storyteller, and the story she shares with Lily from many years ago is about how she stole the stars from the sky and bottled up the bad stories which angered a tiger. Lily is intrigued by her story, and when a tiger suddenly appears in the middle of the road one rainy night, Lily is convinced everything is real. But time is of the essence, as Halmoni is showing signs of illness – could it be a consequence of her stealing the stars? With the help of Ricky, a boy Lily meets at the library across the street, the two devise a “hypothetical” tiger trap. Little did Lily know that the Tiger would make her an offer that can help her Halmoni, but with consequences. Lily wants answers and to find a way to help her Halmoni before it’s too late. But can a QAG, short for quiet Asian girl, really find the truth? Can she rescue her family before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will not be disappointed with the characters in this book – they are full of heart, determination, love, and curiosity, even if one of them is a tiger. This title is perfect to add to your collection of diverse books, as it shows the struggle of an Asian family and how their history and heritage affect their lives today. I truly enjoyed reading this story and believe it is the perfect story to capture how storytelling and reading books can truly be art.

Fantasy          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Change is happening in Lily’s life. With little notice, her mother has uprooted her daughters from their California home to their halmoni’s (grandmother’s) home in Sunbeam, Washington. Lily does her best to be the invisible, accommodating, “QAG” (quiet Asian girl) while her older sister, Sam, finds every reason to voice her displeasure to their mother and often rebukes Lily. Lily both chafes under and finds comfort in her invisibility. Lily’s many worries worsen when she (and only she) sees a tiger in the road as they approach their halmoni’s home. Her grandmother has shared countless Korean folktales with Lily and Sam, often with a dangerous tiger involved. When Lily discovers that her grandmother is ill and facing death, she’s determined to convince the tiger to use its magic to cure her grandmother, despite admonitions from her mother and sister that dissuade her from believing the “silly” stories have any power in their lives. The library across the street provides hope and friendship for Lily, who teams up with Ricky to build a tiger trap in her grandmother’s basement. Can she convince the tiger to help, and can she convince her family that the stories are real and useful?  Will the stories save her grandmother and her family?

THOUGHTS: This is a tale of a young girl growing up and deciding who she will be, while she comes to terms with death. The targeted age level seems to increase through the story as Lily matures, and this may not quite work for readers. The grief, anger at moving, and the sister difficulties between Lily and Sam smooth a bit too perfectly by the story’s end. I found myself wishing for more scenes with the interesting, enigmatic tiger.

Magical Realism          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Korean Folktales

MG – Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel

Currie, Rob. Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel. Tyndale House, 2020. $14.99 253 p. 978-1-496-44034-1  Grades 4-8.

In late 1944, 13-year-old Dirk’s father has gone into hiding as a leader of the Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. The chase begins immediately; in chapter one, Dirk learns via a neighbor that his older sister Els has been captured by the Gestapo, to question and torture for information, and to encourage their father’s cooperation. Dirk knows his next move must be to escape with his younger sister, six-year-old Anna, to their grandparents’ home, but questions and worries bombard his mind. Chapter two reveals Els’s perspective as she is starved; questioned; threatened; and worries for her father, brother, and sister.  Most of the story is Dirk’s, but returns to Els’s point-of-view in the final chapters. This tense novel reveals the strength of the Dutch people during what became known as the “Hongerwinter” when Nazi control of resources led to daily food rations of a mere 320 calories per person. Dirk must call upon memories of his father’s instructions and strength to guide him through difficult decisions on his journey, while shielding Anna from the brutal realities of war as best he can.

THOUGHTS: This is a middle-grade novel a step up in complexity and danger for readers who loved Number the Stars and The Devil’s Arithmetic. It will expand readers’ knowledge of Nazi tactics and brave Dutch resistance. An inspiring read.

Historical Fiction; World War II in Netherlands  Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Nowhere on Earth

Lake, Nick. Nowhere on Earth. Alfred A. Knopf, 2020. 978-1-984-89644-5. 292 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Emily would do anything to protect her little brother, Aiden, even stowing away on a bush plane when the men in black start following him around town. But crashing in the Alaskan wilderness wasn’t in the plan. However, the rapid arrival of men with guns, shooting at them, propels Emily into action. She, Aiden, and Bob, the injured pilot, head out across the dangerous landscape, trying to put distance between themselves and the hunters, making their way towards safety. The book opens with the plane crash and the adrenaline doesn’t let down. Emily’s and Aiden’s backstories are revealed as the story unfolds, including Emily’s tempestuous relationship with her parents. Emily does come to appreciate the myriad survival lessons her ex-special-ops father taught her, as well as the beauty of the Alaskan territory, but deeply resents her parents for moving from Minneapolis and forcing her to leave behind her beloved ballet. The book begins as an adventure-survival tale, but then evolves into so much more, including a massive plot-twist and several thought provoking ethical issues. A few threads could have been more fully developed, including a hint that the plane crashed due to sabotage, but readers will be forgiving.

THOUGHTS: This hard to pigeon hole book should find a home with a wide variety of readers. Perfect for those who prefer a book that grabs you from the first page, but also gives satisfaction to readers looking for some depth.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Maya and the Rising Dark

Barron, Rena. Maya and the Rising Dark. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-10622-7. 291 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

When Maya notices the colors around her fading away, it seems like something out of the stories her father tells her, stories of ancient gods, magic and scary creatures. When she and her friend Frankie encounter terrifying werehyenas, only to be saved by Frankie suddenly throwing bolts of lightning, Maya learns that her father’s job as a structural engineer is a bit more complex than he ever let on. He is an Orisha, a god, whose job it is to maintain the veil between this world and the Dark. Maya, along with Frankie and her other friend, Eli, are all godlings, or half-Orisha. When Maya’s father disappears during a trip to fix the veil, Maya is convinced that she must find a portal to the Dark and rescue her father. Her loyal friends accompany her on a journey undertaken with love, but maybe not a lot of thought and planning. Maya and Eli have not yet discovered if they possess powers, leaving the three vulnerable to attack by the darkbringers, as well as the Lord of Shadows, a sinister creature haunting Maya’s dreams. This captivating story offers a new entry in the demi-god genre, showcasing the less known mythology of the Yoruba religion, originating in western Africa. Unique among the genre, Maya, her family and friends live in an Orisha enclave; many of her neighbors are also Orisha, and she is surrounded by other godlings. The vibrancy of the community in which Maya resides adds a warmth to the narrative, as Maya never has to search out for other individuals like herself; she has a built-in support network. The tale is suspenseful, replete with deliciously creepy characters, and filled with love – family, friends and neighbors.

THOUGHTS: A noteworthy addition to the mythology based adventure collection. Hand to fans of Percy Jackson, Sal and Gabi (Carlos Hernandez) or Aru Shah (Roshani Chokshi).

Fantasy – Mythology          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – A Song Only I Can Hear

Jonsberg, Barry. A Song Only I Can Hear. Simon and Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-44252-8. 293 p. $17.99. Grades 6-8.

Rob is shy and prone to panic attacks, but otherwise is content with life. When gorgeous Destry transfers to the school; however, Rob discovers love. But how does an extraordinarily shy person get noticed? Rob’s beloved blankety-blank foul-mouthed grandfather (and best friend) provides some assistance early on, encouraging non-athletic Rob to play in the high-school’s annual soccer game against their arch-rival school. Surprising everyone, Rob shines at goalie; unfortunately, Destry misses the game. Soon after, Rob begins receiving texts from an unknown individual containing challenges designed to overcome shyness and bolster Rob’s confidence. This sweet story, however, is only one layer of a more complex issue. Astute readers may pick up on clues throughout the story (Rob mentions having to work out a problem with the school uniform, will not use public restrooms, and has image issues.), but most will be surprised that Rob, born Roberta, is a transgender male. (Readers who happen to read the Author’s Note first also will be clued into the big reveal). This thoughtful, quiet book, with its unique approach, is an outstanding entrant in the LGBTQ market. Readers accept Rob as a boy from the opening page and are rooting for this sweet, intelligent, quirky youth to succeed in overcoming his shyness. By the time of Rob’s announcement, readers are squarely on his side. An ingenious denouement allows readers to backtrack through the story with Rob and appreciate the full impact of his actions and the precipitating events.

THOUGHTS: This book deserves to be in all middle school libraries. Nowhere in the book is Rob’s gender debated or questioned, helping readers understand that Rob’s perception of himself is the perception that matters. As Rob says, “I don’t have problems with my identity…It’s other people who have that.” Hopefully, A Song Only I Can Hear will show readers the truth, and heart, of that statement.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Fable

Young, Adrienne. Fable. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-25437-5. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Four years ago, the day after a storm wrecked his ship and drowned his wife, Fable’s father, legendary sea-trader Saint, abandoned his 14-year-old daughter on the barbaric island of Jeval, leaving her to fend for herself on the brutal colony. Because she inherited her mother’s abilities as a gem sage, someone who can communicate with jewels, Fable survived as a dredger, mining gems from the sea, and making enough money to eventually purchase passage off the island, find Saint, and claim her place with his crew. But once she forces her way onto a trading ship, the Marigold, she wonders what secrets the small, young crew are keeping, even while being drawn in by their tight bond. When Saint refuses her appeal, sending her away with an unexpected inheritance, Fable has nowhere to turn but back to the Marigold and hope they will take her in. This lyrical novel, packed with adventure, quickly grabs the reader and doesn’t let go. Fable was raised on the sea, and she inherently loves being on board a ship. Young vividly conveys the routine of sailing a ship and the rhythm of the sea. Her world building is exquisite, and the port towns come alive, in their grandeur and squalor. Her characters are finely limned, and the hint of romance will satisfy. However, Fable has a flaw of always pushing the limit, and eventually she pays for a momentary slip, leaving readers hanging, awaiting the sequel.

THOUGHTS: This novel should find a wide audience, pleasing both action-adventure and romance fans.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – It Sounded Better in My Head

Kenwood, Nina. It Sounded Better in My Head. Flatiron Books, 2020. 978-1-250-21926-8. 260 p. $18.99. Grade. 8-12.

Natalie had a good grip on her life until her parents jovially announce they’re getting a divorce. They’ve known this for months but waited until the Christmas holidays and high school graduation (which coincide in Australia, where the book was first published). A rarity for literature, Natalie has a great relationship with her parents and is devastated by the news and hurt by their deceit. She turns to her support network, her best friends Lucy and Zach. But since they started dating, Natalie sometimes feels like a third wheel. Having suffered through severe, scarring acne during puberty, Natalie has a shattered self image and has not dated. At a party, she connects with Alex, Zach’s older brother, but quickly convinces herself Alex’s interest was an act of kindness perpetrated by Zach. But an accidental case of musical bedrooms at a beach house over New Year’s brings Natalie and Alex back into close proximity, and as they talk they again feel a positive connection. However, Natalie’s lack of confidence and poor self image quickly threaten to sabotage the burgeoning relationship. This engaging book covers a topic not discussed in YA literature, the trauma of severe teen acne, and the scars it leaves, both physical and psychological. Natalie is a bright teen with caring parents and friends, but the long term effects of her acne are evident in her image, (styling her hair to cover which side of her face looks worse) confidence, and self-worth. American readers will need to translate Australian terms and references but will recognize themselves in the three friends as they shakily navigate through the next phase in their lives.

THOUGHTS: A welcome addition to YA realistic fiction collections. While some characters have sex off-page, Natalie and Alex discuss the issue and decide they are not ready.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Chirp

Messner, Kate. Chirp. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-547-60281-0. 227 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Mia and her family leave Boston to move back to Vermont in order to help Mia’s Gram sell her failing cricket farm. Strange things have been happening at Gram’s cricket farm, and Mia suspects sabotage by the man interested in buying the farm. Mia joins two summer camps, Launch Camp & Warrior Camp, at her mother’s request to keep her busy during the summer. At Launch Camp, Mia meets Clover who is instantly invested in helping Mia figure out what is going on at the cricket farm and in building a business plan to help the farm. Along with Anna, the girls create a robot to harvest crickets, a social media campaign (with the #ChirpChallenge), and a plan to pitch to several local businesses to hopefully gain investors. Clover decides to join Mia at Warrior Camp where Mia’s past gymnastic experience impacts her ability to perform. Each week Mia builds her confidence and strength up in order to confront an uncomfortable situation from her past. The girls form a strong friendship and work together to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill Gram’s cricket farm.

THOUGHTS: Messner does it again! This beautifully written, coming of age story is timely and offers readers a glimpse into the struggle kids face with speaking up. The story approaches the #metoo topic with grace and is appropriate to middle grade readers. Filled with plot twists, red herrings, and other elements of mystery, this book is a quick read and sure to delight fans of Messner’s work!

Mystery          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Mia’s family moves from Boston to Vermont to be near her grandmother, and Mia is glad for the change. Since she broke her arm at gymnastics, and despite her skill and enjoyment of the sport, she is relieved to give it up. She hasn’t told anyone about Coach Phil’s uncomfortable attention. If it wasn’t all right, wouldn’t an adult have stepped in? And besides, everyone likes Phil. Mia did, too, until hugs became too tight, his texts became personal, and finally, he gave her a friendly back rub she didn’t want. Mia felt “icky” around Phil, but nothing was wrong, was it? Now in Vermont, she finds an old photograph of herself and wonders if she can ever again be the brave girl who smiled as she jumped from the rocks into Lake Champlain with friends. In the meantime, she helps with her grandma’s cricket farm, caring for the crickets, working on advertising, and more. However, as more problems occur, her grandma is worried about sabotage and keeping the business afloat. Mia knows her mom wonders about her grandma’s memory and wishes her grandma would slow down.  But as Mia learns more, she and her friends begin to look into the problems. Could an outsider be trying to put her grandma out of business? Mia has spent time lately learning to be quiet, unnoticed, and unquestioned. But finding out the truth, and sticking up for another girl, helps her to find her voice. Mia learns that it’s not about finding her way back to the brave girl she once was, but finding her way forward, and she gets to decide for herself who she will be.

THOUGHTS: Messner expertly molds the serious issue of grooming and abuse into a coming of age mystery appropriate for upper elementary and middle school readers. Mia is a likeable personality, and readers will cheer for her as she stands up for herself and others and uses her voice once more.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Mia’s family is moving back to Vermont after living in Boston for a few years. Mia, a seventh grader, is happy about this move, as she gets to spend more time with her entomologist grandmother who owns a cricket farm. Mia is recovering from a gymnastics accident, but we learn that there was more damage than a broken arm from Tumblers Gymnastics in Boston.  With her parents making her choose two camps to participate in over the summer, Mia chooses Launch, an entrepreneurship camp that helps Mia save her Gram’s farm, and Warrior Camp, a parkour camp that helps Mia come to grips with her inner athlete. In her camps she makes lasting friendships that help her solve the mystery of who is sabotaging her Gram’s cricket farm and gives her the strength to face the secret she has been hiding from her parents.

THOUGHTS: This book is a must purchase for any middle grade library. Addressing all of the controversy surrounding gymnastics recently in a very appropriate way for middle schoolers (Mia’s male coach massages her shoulders and sends “friendly” texts and is generally just a bit too friendly in a creepy way), this novel focuses on female relationships and empowerment.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

YA – You Should See Me in a Crown

Johnson, Leah. You Should See Me in a Crown. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-50326-5. $17.99. 324 p. Grades 9 and up.

This is not your average prom court story. From Liz Lighty’s motivation to run for queen to her underdog status and even the hype surrounding this rural Indiana town’s epic prom season traditions, this prom plot is anything but trite. When Liz finds out she did not get the scholarship she needs to afford Pennington College, the school of her dreams, she does the only thing she can think of that could quickly replace that money, and it’s the last thing she ever imagined herself doing. Prom in Campbell County, Indiana is an institution, and the king and queen win $10,000 scholarships – exactly the amount of money she needs to make Pennington happen. Now, Liz – who has purposely stayed under the radar her entire high school career – throws herself into the month-long campaign for a spot on the prom court by doing volunteer work and getting as much positive attention as she can on the school’s gossipy social media app: Campbell Confidential. Being an outsider – an unpopular band kid who is one of only a few Black girls at her school – is just one of many hurdles she’ll have to overcome if she wants that crown and scholarship. Aside from her few close friends, no one at school knows that Liz is queer. When a new girl unexpectedly shows up at the first prom campaign meeting, Liz finds herself immediately crushing on this skateboard-riding underdog. Dating Mack – who is also now her competition –  is exactly the type of publicity Liz does NOT want if she’s going to win that scholarship in this very conservative town, forcing her to choose which to listen to: her head or her heart.

THOUGHTS: Leah Johson’s debut novel is laugh-out-loud funny and gosh darn adorable. Novels that tackle serious issues faced by BIPOC/LGBTQ characters are extremely important, but it’s also important to see these characters experience joy in their everyday lives. That’s not to say this book lacks serious moments because it does have them. (Liz’s brother’s health and close-minded faculty/students, for example, make for some weighty scenes). It is a feel-good story overall though with a romance full of “aww”-worthy moments, an amazing supporting cast of friends and family (Liz’s grandparents and her friend Stone are particularly fun), and it is definitely a great addition to any teen collection.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Liz Lighty dreams of leaving the small town of Campbell, Indiana behind to attend her mother’s alma mater Pennington College and become a doctor. Liz has worked hard to secure financial aid and is devastated to learn that she isn’t getting it. An excellent student and musician, Liz refuses to give up on her dream and put her grandparents into financial troubles. Liz is determined to find another way to Pennington when she is reminded of the annual prom court competition (and $10,000 scholarship for the king and queen). Terrified of the added attention (Liz has anxiety), Liz decides prom court is her best opportunity. Liz isn’t openly out which has never been a problem for her close friends, but Campbell has strict rules for potential prom court members that are steeped in tradition. Adding all of the expected volunteer events to her busy schedule isn’t easy, but spending time with new girl – and fellow prom court competition – Mack is worth it. With the help of her friends, Liz is slowly climbing the Campbell Confidential (social media app) prom court rankings and might actually stand a chance. But falling for Mack might jeopardize everything Liz has worked hard to achieve. Liz knows she’ll find her place at Pennington if she can earn this scholarship, but is getting to Pennington worth not being true to herself?

THOUGHTS: This debut tackles tough topics in a way that will appeal widely to high school readers. Liz has been through a lot in her life, and readers will root for her from the beginning. Highly recommended, this one is a must have for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Bent Heavens

Kraus, Daniel. Bent Heavens. Henry Holt, 2020. 978-1-250-15167-4. 291 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Liv Fleming’s father has been missing for four year now, but no one really cares. What does it matter if the town loon is gone? He’s just another crazy man. Beloved teacher Lee Fleming showed up naked in the town square rambling about an alien abduction thus beginning a steady decline into madness, turning his shed into an armory and setting traps to protect his family against the alien invaders who Lee was sure would return for him. After Lee disappears Liv and her childhood friend Doug find something extraordinary in one of her dad’s traps they must figure out what to do next. As it turns out, the truth is even stranger than fiction.

THOUGHTS: This was one of the most horrifying books I’ve ever encountered. The emotions it evokes are intense and will leave you reeling. The story is dark and powerful with a twist you will never see coming. Bent Heavens will stick with me for a long time.

Horror        Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD