MG – The Kate in Between

Swinarski, Claire. The Kate in Between. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-062-91270-1. 289 p. $15.15. Grades 5-8.

Kate and Haddie are best friends and have been since first grade. But Kate needs a change, and she’s not exactly sure where Haddie fits in the new life she is trying to fashion for herself.  Kate’s mother has left town to pursue her dream of becoming a True Diamond in the world of True Cosmetics, and Kate is left to move into the guest room of her police officer father’s apartment where she doesn’t even have a bed. It’s embarrassing for Kate, and it’s sometimes difficult when you have a friend who knows your truth. She hopes seventh grade will be different, and when Kate finds herself in popular mean girl Taylor’s orbit, there just isn’t room for Haddie. When a near tragedy involving Haddie and some bullies who may or may not be Kate’s friends turns Kate into a hero, she begins to question exactly what it means to be Taylor’s friend and why it is harder than it should be. But when a video of the incident goes viral, her status as a hero also goes viral. Kate knows what really happened, and it’s only a matter of time before everyone else does too. Will Kate be able to figure out just who she is with her life in the spotlight?

THOUGHTS: Claire Swinarski takes a familiar middle grade theme of friends growing apart and makes it fresh. I would recommend this book to upper middle school students.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny 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 – Jukebox

Chanani, Nidhi. Jukebox. First Second. 2021. 978-1-250-15636-5. 224 p. $21.99. Grades 6-9.

Twelve-year old Shaheen and her father have always been connected through music, but lately his interest in record-collecting borders on obsession. When he doesn’t come home one evening, Shahi and her teenaged cousin Tannaz sneak into his favorite music shop to look for clues. In the attic, they discover a rare jukebox that plays whole records … and transports the listener to the album’s time period, for just as long as the side plays. A Bessie Smith record sends the girls to the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago. A Nina Simone album takes Tannaz on a solo trip to a women’s march in 1960s D.C. Shahi realizes that her dad may be trapped in another era, unable to return home. But traveling back and forth in their quest to find him has serious consequences, and the girls know they are running out of time to bring everyone home safely. The girls’ slight age difference provides an interesting dynamic, incorporating their unique strengths and insecurities. The author’s depiction of each era’s color palette and fashions are especially engaging. The abundant music references and iconic album covers are complemented by a Playlist at the book’s close, perfect inspiration for budding music lovers!

THOUGHTS: Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina was well-received, and Jukebox displays even greater depth in portraying both adventure and family relationships.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Chanani, Nidhi. Jukebox. First Second. 2021. 978-1-250-15636-5. 224 p. $21.99. Grades 5-8.

Shaheen and her dad have a special bond through music. Her dad is an avid record collector, who is getting a little too lost in his music of late for Shahi. When her dad goes missing, Shahi and her cousin Naz go looking for her dad, starting at the last place he was seen, the record store. It is here that the cousins find a magical jukebox that transports listeners back to a concert of whatever record is playing. Musicians such as Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, and James Brown are featured in these magical concerts. Can Shahi and Naz find her dad and bring him back to the present safely? The end includes a playlist of the music featured in the book and a section that shows an artistic exploration of the character sketches. The process of how the illustrations are colored is also shown.

THOUGHTS: This beautifully illustrated graphic novel is a must read for music lovers! This would be a great addition to any graphic novel section and includes diverse characters throughout the story.

Graphic Novel          Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

Elem. – Wrong Way Summer

Lang, Heidi. Wrong Way Summer. Amulet Books, 2020. 978-1-419-73693-3. 268 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.

“Claire no longer believed her dad.” She used to, and sometimes she still wanted to, but when she discovered what really happened to her mother, that she wasn’t stolen by a troll king, that she wasn’t a pilot on the world’s fastest jet, a scientist working on a new crayon color, or even a secret agent infiltrating a pride of lions, she stopped believing her out-of-work father’s endless supply of tall tales. So when he pulled into the driveway with an old van and declared that this was a summer of adventure, that they would fix up the van and travel the country living the “hashtag vanlife,” Claire knew there was much more to the story. Told from Claire’s point of view as they travel from one city to the next, the reader slowly learns why the family is living in a van, and why Claire’s mother is no longer in the picture.

THOUGHTS:  Nestled underneath the fantastic tales told by Claire’s dad is a story about homelessness and poverty, although it may not be immediately apparent to a reader who doesn’t recognize the subtle clues. The reveal of the whereabouts of Claire’s mother is quick with few details, but it should be enough to satisfy most readers. There are students in our libraries who need to read a story about an unreliable parent and the burden that is felt when the child has to act as the responsible one.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

YA – Clap When You Land

Acevedo, Elizabeth. Clap When You Land. Quill Tree Books, 2020. 978-0-062-88276-9. 432 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Because of a terrible tragedy, two sixteen year old girls suffer an unimaginable loss. Though they’re half sisters, Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios have never met; they don’t even know of the other’s existence. When Camino arrives at an airport in the Dominican Republic to pick up her Papi for the summer, she sees a crowd of people in tears. The plane he was on went down over the ocean, and Camino’s future plans of attending medical school in the US vanish in an instant. Despite the utter hole her Papi’s disappearance leaves in Camino’s life, she holds onto hope that he will be found alive. Who else will protect her from El Cero, a local pimp who starts hanging around and following her. In New York Yahaira suffers a similar loss, though her grief is overshadowed by guilt and anger. Because she learned one of her Papi’s secrets, Yahaira gave up playing chess and rarely spoke to her father for the past year. Yahaira struggles to see her Papi as the man she grew up idolizing, as the man her local Dominican community in New York sees. Her mother is also experiencing similar mixed emotions, and she is adamant that Yahaira’s father be returned to the states, though his wishes were to be in the Dominican. As Yahaira learns more about her father and his time away from her, she becomes more determined to know more.

THOUGHTS: Told in alternating chapters of verse, do not miss out on this newest Acevedo book! It is a must have for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Camino and Yahaira live in two different worlds; Camino in the Dominican Republic as an apprentice to her healer aunt, and Yahaira, a chess champion, in New York City. Camino dreams of attending Columbia University and lives for summers when her father, who works in NYC, returns to DR. Yahaira cannot escape who she is and the unspoken truths that surround her. Connected by a secret, completely hidden to one and unspoken by the other, a plane crash reveals the truth and connects these two together forever unleashing a world of pain, hope, and family.

THOUGHTS: Told through alternating, novel-in-verse chapters, Acevedo explores one family in two separate worlds: one of wealth and one of poverty. One of hope and one of want. One of love and one of anger. Yet it is not always clear which world each character lives in. The exploration of the haves and have nots as defined by the characters alternates within each story as each girl grapples with the world in which she lives. Throughout the story, Acevedo explores a variety of issues facing each character: sexual orientation, sex trafficking, abuse, loss, desire, and hope. Readers will connect with the characters of Camino and Yahaira even if their situations are a window.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD