YA – Family of Liars

Lockhart, E. Family of Liars. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-48585-9. 299 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

In this prequel to We Were Liars,  we are transported back to the 1980s on the small private island off the coast of Massachusetts that belongs to the Sinclair family. As the title states, this is a family of liars. A family that has many dark secrets. This story takes place over a summer and focuses on the Sinclair sisters and the events that will alter the lives of the Sinclairs. They are joined on their summer vacation by their cousin, Yardley Sinclair who has brought three teenage boys with her. This will not be a normal summer of picnics, fireworks, and swimming for the Sinclairs. The boys bring about a change of atmosphere to the island that will end with tragedy. The family will have to live up to their reputation as liars once again in order to survive.

THOUGHTS: First, this is a prequel and should be read AFTER reading We Were Liars.  This book will appeal to those who enjoy intrigue, mystery, drama, and ghost stories. Lockhart is able to write a story that flows so smoothly that students want more.

Mystery Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Readers of We Were Liars (2014) are taken back in time to meet the Sinclair family, each a liar in their own way. Welcome to summer at Beechwood, the Sinclair family’s private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Appearances are everything, and the family lives by their father Harris’s mottoes: “Here in the Sinclair family…We make the best of things.” At the end of the summer of 1986 Rosemary, the youngest Sinclair sister, drowns, and each family member copes separately. Rosemary is rarely mentioned after her death, though, and Carrie, the oldest of the four sisters, struggles immensely with this loss. Just two weeks after losing Rosemary, Carrie and her sisters Penny and Bess leave Beechwood for the North Forest Academy boarding school where Carrie continues to struggle. Returning to Beechwood in the summer of 1987 isn’t much help, as Rosemary’s things have been taken to the attic. Uncle Dean arrives with his kids, Yardley and Tomkin, and Yardley has a surprise: she’s brought “the boys” (her boyfriend George and his friends Major and Pfeff). And so ensues another summer – however different – on Beechwood. Lines in the sand will be drawn and crossed, relationships will be tested, and lies will be told. But above all else, “We make the best of things.”

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – All the Best Liars

Kahaney, Amelia. All the Best Liars. Flatiron Books, 2022. 978-1-250-31270-9. 324 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

At the age of nine, Syd, Rain, and Brie are inseparable as friends until Brie moves to a more upscale neighborhood and leaves Syd and Rain behind. Fast forward to their senior year when tragedy strikes these three teenagers. It is a few weeks before they graduate, and they all attend a huge party. At this party, everything comes to a head and that night will see one of the trio dead. This book is for fans of a slow burn thriller that revolves around high school friendships and drama. The twists and turns of the story will keep the reader engaged until the last page.

THOUGHTS: I read this book quickly and really enjoyed the character development. The story does involve high school parties with drinking and drug use. This is a book geared towards high school students. Fans of Karen McManus would enjoy.

Mystery          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Thriller

MG – A Magic Steeped in Poison

Lin, Judy I. A Magic Steeped in Poison. Feiwel and Friends, 2022. 978-1-250-76708-0. 364 p. $18.99. Grades 5-8.

This debut fantasy novel revolves around a magical competition to find the kingdom’s best Master of the Art of brewing tea. Ning is desperate to compete and win this competition after her mother dies from a poisoned tea and her sister is slowly dying from the same tea. Ning is hopeful that winning the competition will give her access to the antidote to save her sister. However, she becomes caught up in the politics and magic of the kingdom. She is clever and determined to win this competition and save her sister at any cost.

THOUGHTS: This book is for students who are huge fantasy lovers as well as those who love mythology. The characters are well-written, and the action starts slowly but it builds fast. There is a glossary in the back for Chinese terms and pronunciation which was quite helpful while reading.

Fantasy          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Elem./MG – Miss Quinces

Fajardo, Kat. Miss Quinces. Graphix, 2022. 978-1-338-53559-4. 256 p. $12.99. Grades 4-7.

Suyapa (Sue) would love to spend all summer creating comics and attending sleepaway camp with her friends. They’re even introducing LARPing to the activities this year and she’s going to miss it, because instead Sue’s family is taking a trip to Honduras to visit her mom’s relatives. With no texting, Internet, or cable to distract her, she hopes to spend her days reading and avoiding family drama (particularly with her older sister, Carmen). But despite Sue’s specific and repeated request NOT to have a quinceañera, her Mami has already sent out a hundred invitations behind her back. With the guidance of her doting abuela, Sue compromises with Mami: if she participates in the celebration without complaint, she can attend sleepaway camp with her friends in August! Can a soon-to-be “Miss Quinces” who hates the spotlight, frilly dresses, and dancing in public, possibly survive this festive family tradition … maybe even enjoy it? This incredibly appealing graphic novel debut features bright, digitally rendered artwork and a loving, boisterous extended family. Text in the speech bubbles is blue when the characters are speaking Spanish, and black when they are speaking English, which visually reflects Sue’s experiences of existing in two cultures.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel checks all the boxes: authentic, endearing, and funny! Follow it up with Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega for another perspective on feeling like an outsider in one’s own family.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – An Arrow to the Moon

Pan, Emily R. X. An Arrow to the Moon. Little, Brown, and Company, 2022. 978-0-316-46405-5. $18.99. 400. Grades 9-12.

Luna Chang and Hunter Yee each come from a family that hates the other, and although they are forbidden to see each other and try to keep their distance, they become friends and then more. As they begin to spend more time together, they notice that each has special, almost supernatural abilities: Luna is followed by a group of fireflies, and her breath can heal Hunter when he’s hurt or having an asthma attack. Hunter has a special relationship with the wind, and when he aims, especially with his bow and arrow, he never misses. As graduation nears, Luna realizes her life is not as perfect as it seems, and Hunter continues to feel trapped within his. Each family has secrets, and as the lies unravel and some dangerous truths are revealed, their world begins to crack and their lives fall apart. Will their love be enough to save them, or will it destroy them?

THOUGHTS: An Arrow to the Moon has been described as a “Romeo and Juliet retelling” mixed with Chinese mythology, specifically the Chinese legend of Chang’e and Houyi. The families are Taiwanese immigrants, although Hunter’s family consider themselves to be simply Chinese. This brings up a conversation between the characters about cultural identities and the struggles of immigration. Readers also may make connections to the characters as they experience family struggles and the realities of growing up. This title falls into the fantasy genre as magical realism, and it would be a perfect suggestion for readers looking for a love story with just a touch of magic.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – Lines of Courage

Nielsen, Jennifer A. Lines of Courage. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-62093-1. 388 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

This historical fiction novel takes place during World War I. The story is told through the voices of five children who are experiencing the war from different perspectives. The story starts with the voice of young Felix in Austia-Hungary as he witnesses the assassination of the Archduke which triggers the start of the war. The book is divided into five sections and is told in chronological order through the the voices of the children. Their stories become intertwined as they try to make sense of this war that they have been forced to grow in. The novel comes to a conclusion with Felix as the final storyteller.

THOUGHTS: This book is for students who are drawn to historical fiction. The characters are well-written, and the action is fast-paced. It is good to see a book focused on World War I which does not get as much attention as other historical time periods.

Historical Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

YA – All That’s Left in the World

Brown, Erik J. All That’s Left in the World. Balzer + Bray, 2022. 978-0-063-05497-4. 338 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

When 78% of the world’s population has been decimated due to a superflu, and the world has headed in post-apocalyptic terrority, survival takes center stage in the lives of those remaining. Andrew decides that he needs to leave Connecticut on foot in order to settle a debt. He becomes injured and stumbles onto a remote cabin in the Pennsylvanian woods. This is where he meets Jamie. Jamie has been surviving on his own for many months, and he has not made contact with another human during this time. The two form a friendship, and their daily lives fall into a comfortable pattern until their sanctuary is threatened and the two must escape. They spend the next few months discovering just what has happened to the rest of the country.

THOUGHTS: This was a fast read. I thoroughly enjoyed the strong character development of both Jamie and Andrew as they discover their strengths and weaknesses as they fall in love in this broken world.

Science Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Elem./MG – Frizzy

Ortega, Claribel A., and Rose Bousamra, illustrator. Frizzy. First Second, 2022. 978-1-250-25962-2. 224 p. $21.99. Grades 3-6.

Marlene’s cousin Diana is having her quinceañera, which means Marlene is at the salon with her Mami to get her thick, natural curls straightened. It’s painful and time-consuming, but necessary to make Marlene “presentable” – even beautiful? – for the festive gathering. Marlene both admires Diana’s “good hair” and longs to flaunt her natural curls like her Tía Ruby. Her best friend, Camilla, suggests looking up a beauty tutorial on YouTube, but debuting her new style goes terribly wrong thanks to some bullies and a cruel reminder about the death of her Papi when she was five. Marlene wants people to see her true self, occasionally frizzy hair and all, but her Mami warns that she must try and fit in to get by in the world. Why, she wonders, isn’t she good enough to be accepted the way that she is? A weekend with Tía Ruby may be just what Marlene needs to embrace her curl power, recognize and reject inter-generational racial bias within her family, and realize that there really is no such thing as good hair or bad hair. Artist Rose Bousamra uses bright, appealing artwork to depict Marlene’s Dominican culture (the salon scene, a lavish quinceañera, and tight-knit extended family) and urban neighborhood. Marlene’s facial expressions are wonderfully emotive, though her fabulous curls definitely are the star of the show!

THOUGHTS: Readers will appreciate this big-hearted (and, yes, big-haired) middle grade graphic novel for both the engaging storytelling and the underlying theme of self-acceptance.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem./MG – Swim Team

Christmas, Johnnie. Swim Team. HarperAlley, 2022. 978-0-063-05677-0. 256 p. $6.99. Grades 3-6.

Bree and her single dad, Ralph, move from Brooklyn to Palmetto Shores, Florida, where he has both an IT training program and a job as a delivery driver lined up. To calm her nerves about moving and starting at a new school, Bree focuses on her favorite things (doing homework with her dad, cooking, and the library), but sometimes intrusive negative thoughts make her doubt herself. Bree, who can’t swim and hates pools, is crestfallen to be placed in the only open elective at Enith Brigitha Middle School: Swim 101. Now her anxious internal dialogue, depicted as heavily outlined, grayscale thought bubbles that are in stark contrast to her sun-drenched surroundings, really run wild. When Bree accidentally falls into the condominium pool and is rescued by her neighbor, Ms. Etta (who happens to be an outstanding swimmer), Bree realizes that she’s found the perfect swimming instructor. Ms. Etta agrees to give Bree lessons – and an informal mini-history of Black people and swimming. Bree surprises everyone, including herself, by winning her first race. Despite some botched flipturns and belly flops, Bree develops into a strong member of Enith Brigitha’s team, which suddenly has a shot at the state championship. Meanwhile, the school district plans to sell the land where the pool is located to Smoothie Palace, but if the swim team starts winning, maybe the plans will change. A rival-to-“swim sister” subplot reinforces the theme of teamwork and adds a layer of drama that middle grade readers will love. 

THOUGHTS: Swimming is often under-represented among sports stories, and this one works on every level: an endearing protagonist, bright artwork (including gorgeous underwater panels), representation of young Black swimmers, and exciting races. Readers of Living With Viola by Rosena Fung and New Kid by Jerry Craft will adore it!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – A Dark and Starless Forest

Hollowell, Sarah. A Dark and Starless Forest. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-0358424413. $19.99. 368 p. Grades 9-12.

“The flowers that grow from my magic are usually indistinct little things, but those flowers – I knew those flowers. They were mandrake flowers. In legend, mandrakes grow where the blood falls under a gallows.” Derry and her adopted siblings all have one thing in common: they all have magical abilities. Abandoned by their families, the girls live with their caretaker, Frank. In addition to caring for the girls, he teaches them to use their magic and protects them from the dangers of the outside world. He prefers to call them alchemists rather than witches, and over the years, the girls have bonded and consider themselves a family. When Jane, the oldest, disappears, Derry knows she didn’t run away. Desperate to find her, Derry ventures into the dark forest that surrounds their isolated cabin looking for answers. Each night, she’s drawn to the forest, and while her magic begins to grow, darkness takes root within her and she soon discovers that nothing is what it seems. As more of her sisters go missing, protecting her family becomes her most important priority, and she soon realizes that the forest may not be the dangerous presence lurking in the shadows of her life.

THOUGHTS: This is a fantasy novel unlike any that I’ve read before, and by the end, it felt a bit like a horror movie. One of the book’s best features is the diversity and representation among the main characters including sexual orientation, gender identities, race, mental health, body image, and even deafness. Although the book is fantasy, it covers a lot of real world issues like abuse, neglect, and grooming but leaves romance out of the plot. The mystery of the forest and the disappearance of the girls will keep readers hooked and intrigued until the very end.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD