YA – Legendborn

Deonn, Tracy. Legendborn. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020. 978-1-534-44160-6. $18.99. 498 p. Grades 9 and up.

Briana Matthews tries to get her life together after the tragic and sudden death of her mother, but she does not get off to a great start. On the night before classes in the Early College program at UNC Chapel Hill, she and her best friend Alice attend a cliff-jumping party at a quarry off-campus. There, she encounters Selwyn Kane and experiences odd sensations at his touch, sees Selwyn and another girl destroy a fiery silver mass floating above a drunken fight that breaks out, and overhears bits of mysterious conversation: mentions of magic, King Arthur, and Legendborns. She also has the strange sensation that Selwyn is trying to erase her memory of the sight of the fiery mass that night. When the cops show up to break up the fight, though, Bree has more important things to worry about now that the Dean is threatening to throw her out of the program. She is granted a second chance… and a peer mentor to keep her out of trouble. Turns out that Nick Davis, her peer mentor, only brings more trouble. While walking together on campus, Nick and Bree are attacked by a green-lit wolf-like creature, similar to the one she saw the other night with Selwyn, and Bree is unwillingly pulled into a secret world of which Selwyn and Nick are members. Though she’d love nothing more than to move on from these strange events, memories from the days after her mother’s death start resurfacing, and Bree comes to the startling conclusion that answers to mysteries surrounding her mother’s death might be found within the world of the Legendborn. Now, Bree must decide if joining the Legendborn at the brink of a war is worth finding the answers she seeks.

THOUGHTS: The first book in a series, this urban fantasy puts a new, modern spin on the Arthurian legend with a contemporary setting and characters and by interweaving African American spiritual traditions into the magic. Deonn has created a captivating world and mythology that fantasy readers will surely love. She also tackles serious issues such as grief, trauma, racism, and sexual violence throughout the book. This is a must-have for YA Fantasy collections.

Fantasy          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – Who I Was With Her

Tyndall, Nita. Who I Was With Her. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-97838-7. $17.99. 385 p. Grades 9 and up.

Corrine Parker arrives at school one morning to overhear her cross country teammates talking about how their rival school’s team captain, Maggie – who happens to be Corrine’s girlfriend – died the previous night in a car accident. This is tragic enough on its own. But Corrine is not out, and she and Maggie were dating in secret. This means Corrine can’t even genuinely express her grief when she hears the news or talk to anyone about it. Living in a conservative area of North Carolina, Corrine never felt ready to come out to anyone, so she feels she can’t talk to her divorced parents – especially her alcoholic mother – or her best friend Julia. The only person she can talk to is Dylan, Maggie’s older brother and the only other person who knew the two were dating. And even Dylan is not an optimal confidant – he and Corrine had a rocky relationship while she was dating his sister. What Dylan does do for Maggie is introduce her to someone else to talk to: Elissa, Maggie’s ex-girlfriend who she dated prior to Corrine. It’s complicated even to talk to Elissa, though. Why hadn’t Maggie ever mentioned her? Why did Dylan have a good relationship with Elissa and not her? And why does she find herself starting to feel an attraction to Elissa?

THOUGHTS: This is not a typical coming out story given the circumstances. The complexities of Corrine and Maggie’s secret relationship and Corrine’s struggles to deal in the aftermath of Maggie’s death are told in an alternating timeline format back and forth from their year-long relationship prior to the accident to the present months following her death. It’s also a very unique grief story as Corrine struggles with it primarily on her own, so it understandably gets messy at times. The novel also touches on addiction, college admissions pressures, and asexuality through subplots and supporting characters. Overall, recommended addition to collections where the demand for LGBTQIA+ literature, particularly bisexual protagonists, is high.

Realistic Fiction                              Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA Series Continuation – See How They Run, Embassy Row Bk. 2

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Carter, Ally. See How They Run. New York: Scholastic Press, 2015. 978-0-545-65484-5. $17.99. 323p. Gr. 7 and up.

It’s time for the lady librarian assassins, at least that’s what Grace Blakely thinks after learning of a secret society of Adrian women formed at the inception of Adria and still in existence today.  Women who shoot powerful men (i.e. Ms. Chancellor) to protect secrets; secrets of the past, secrets of the present, and secrets that have been lost to history.  Grace’s mom, Caroline, had been a member of the society prior to her death, a death Grace can’t live down since she caused it.  Now, it’s Grace’s turn to carry on the tradition of Adrian women to protect their land, their country, their men, and their secrets.  In the follow up to All Fall Down, book 1 of Carter’s Embassy Row series, Grace Blakely finds herself two weeks after learning the truth of her mother’s death.  As she deals with the mental exhaustion of her realization, her brother, Jamie, and his friend, John Spencer (Spence), from West Point, arrive.  Grace knows this is not a friendly visit, but welcomes her brother home.  That is until Spence kisses Grace, Alexei witnesses it, fights Spence, and the next morning Spence’s body washes up on the shore of Valencia.  Now it’s up to Grace and her motley crew of friends: Lila and Noah, the Israeli and Brazilian ambassadors twins, Rosie, the German ambassadors daughter, and Megan, daughter of a US embassy worker, to clear Alexei’s name and find Spence’s actual killer.  But, as with everything from her past, Grace quickly learns that things aren’t quite so easy, and perhaps, Spence was never the intended target. THOUGHTS:  Carter’s follow-up lacks in some basic developmental areas, but overall will keep readers interested and wanting more, especially at the end (which is somewhat predictable, but still entertaining).

Realistic Fiction; Mystery       Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

I loved Ally Carter’s Heist Society novels because, although they all connected, they could also all stand-alone.  A reader needn’t read them in order to understand what is happening and keep up with the story (although it doesn’t hurt).  With Embassy Row, I feel like Carter lost something, some of her Heist Society magic.  First, the books have to be read in order, and readers will probably need to re-read each text before the next one because of the cliff-hanger endings (or at least the final chapters).  I understand that “cliff-hangers” are important to series, but they aren’t a requirement, and I think Carter could have done amazing things with this new series, much like she did with Heist Society, if she would have tied things up a bit better.  Ending a novel doesn’t take anything away from it.  Second, Carter’s timeline is too condensed to be believable.  Two weeks ago Grace finds out she was the cause of her mother’s death (no spoilers here – read All Fall Down to find out how).  Now, she’s in the midst of a secret society, her brother is back, his friend from West Point washes up dead on the shores of Valancia, and her best friend and his is wanted for killing a US citizen.  Too much too fast Ally Carter.  If it was six months later or a year, sure, I’d believe it, but not two weeks later.  Thus the “realistic” part of realistic fiction goes away.  Third, Grace herself as the narrator is irritating.  She is selfish and whiny; get over it.  Yes, your mother is dead; that’s awful, but quit making everything about you and what happened to cause her death.  This is part of the reason why the setting of the novel bothers me so much.  Give Grace time to heal before the next novel and next death.  Finally, fill in the holes and don’t make the ending so predictable.  There are way too many holes with the history of Adria and the society.  Take some of the random pages of description and use them to explain what’s going on.  Also, Dominic…just explain something with him and why he’s following Grace.  It’s creepy without an explanation.  Overall, See How They Run is exciting at the end, but not nearly as fullfilling as All Fall Down was through the entire novel.  I liked the idea of the secret society, but apparently I need Dan Brown to write that portion for me to be intrigued.  Hopefully, book three will not disappoint (and tie everything together).
One final note, why is it recently second books in series aren’t nearly as good as books one and three?  

I’m Glad I Did

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Weil, Cynthia. I’m Glad I Did. New York: Soho Teen, 2015. 978-1-61695-356-0. 264p. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Justice Jeanette “JJ” Green was born into a family of lawyers and is expected to follow in her parents footsteps, but JJ is not interested in law.  She dreams of being a songwriter!  As a teenage girl in 1963, this is no easy task.  JJ manages to land a job in the music business as a secretary thanks to her estranged Uncle Bernie.  JJ meets Luke in the Brill Building elevator.  He becomes her song-writing partner, and maybe something more?  Can they write a song and record a demo by summer’s end?  Or will JJ’s dreams of working in the  music business be over?  JJ gets the chance to record a demo with Dulcie Brown, a legendary singer who has fallen on hard times and is working as a custodian in the building.  I’m Glad I Did has secrets, a tragedy, hidden identities, and a mystery.  This book will keep you reading to find out what happens to all of the characters.

Historical Fiction    Rachel Gutzler, Wilson High School
JJ is a great character.  She is smart, driven, and follows her passion for songwriting.  I always look for books that have music as a theme, and music was central to this book.  I particularly enjoyed the cultural references of the early 60s and the knowledge that the author had of the recording industry.  Cynthia Weil, although she is a first time YA author, was a songwriter at the Brill Building in the 1960s, and the story seemed very authentic because of her knowledge. It took a little while for the mystery/event to occur, so I kept reading, thinking that something bad was going to happen, but the story really picked up pace during the last half of the book and kept me very interested right up to the end. Great job to this first-time author.

Going Rogue…an Also Known As novel

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Benway, Robin. Going Rogue (Also Known As Book 2). New York: Walker Books, 2014. 978-0-8027-3604-8. 306p. $17.99. Gr. 8+.

Maggie Silver, seventeen year old international safe-cracker, has finally settled into a “normal” life in Manhattan.  She has a best friend, Roux, a boyfriend, Jesse Oliver, and is thinking about her future (and the SATs) when her parents are accused of stealing from the Collective, the international spy/Robin Hood-ian organization they have devoted their lives to.  With her parents under suspicion, it is up to Maggie to figure out who is framing her family and bring them down without anyone finding out (because her parents would totally freak out if they knew).  As Maggie pieces together the clues, she employs Angelo, forger extraordinaire and life-long friend and ally of her family, to help with the case.  What Maggie doesn’t anticipate is that by trying to hide her investigation she ends up entangling her family, best friend, and boyfriend into the Collective’s maniacal plot.  It is up to Maggie now to save her friends and family, while figuring out what’s happened to the Collective.

Going Rogue is a great addition to a YA collection.  Maggie is an entertaining female protagonist who readers will easily identify with because of her relationships with Roux, her best friend, and Jesse, her boyfriend.  These three, although involved in an international crime-solving exploit, still struggle with emotions associated to growth and maturity.  Going Rogue is a very quick, fun mystery, along the lines of Ally Carter’s Heist Society.  I can’t wait for Maggie’s next adventure.

Mystery    Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

Let’s Get…New YA Realistic Fiction

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Alsaid, Adi.  Let’s Get Lost. New York: Harlequin Teen, 2013. 978-0-373-21124-1. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 11 and up.

Leila is seventeen years old and on the ultimate road trip to visit Alaska and see the Northern Lights.  Along the way Leila meets four teenagers who she attempts to help with their own issues.  The novel is broken up into five chapters with each character retelling their own backstory and accepting help from Leila.   Hudson is a young mechanic who fixes Leila’s car in Vicksburg , Virginia, and after a brief romantic encounter, she leaves Hudson as suddenly as she drove into town.  In Kansas, Leila meets a young woman, Bree, who has been orphaned and is on her own road trip to find herself.  The two girls get into trouble with the law, but after a night of mischief, Leila helps Bree understand the importance of family.  Bree is reunited with her estranged sister and finds the importance of family.  Elliot meets Leila when she nearly runs him over in Minneapolis after being dumped at prom.  The two teenagers work together to prove Elliot’s love for his unrequited love, Maribel.  The last teen, Sonia, has been stranded at the Washington/Canadian border and must now smuggle wedding rings across the border to help a friend in need.  The final chapter is Leila’s story about her own lost love and the struggle to move on with life.  Leila is a mystery up until the last chapter with the first 4/5ths of the story told entirely in the third person point of view.

Realistic                 Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Leila’s story is slowly revealed through her interactions with the four very different strangers she meets during her cross-country road trip to Alaska.  The main character, Leila, is never the focus of the story, but instead acts as the catalyst for change in the lives of those she meets.  This title is recommended for grades eleven  and up because of the teens’ reckless situations with driving, drinking, a night in jail, and no strings attached romantic relationships.  Fans of John Green’s Paper Towns will find similarities with the story line and content but will enjoy the story for its own unique examination of a life.

 

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Betts, A.J. Zac and Mia. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 978-0-544-331648. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Zac and Mia are two teenagers that are too old for the children’s ward at their local Australian hospital, but the youngest people on the adult wing receiving cancer treatment.  Life outside of the hospital was very different for the two teens and without their treatments to bond them they would never have met let alone become friends.  The two teens start their friendship by tapping on their shared wall and carrying on Facebook conversations.  One day Mia disappears suddenly, and then reappears just as suddenly in Zac’s life asking for his help.  During their time apart Mia has lost her leg to cancer and must re-enter the hospital for the infection that has spread but wants to take one final trip while they are both well enough to travel.

Realistic         Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Readers who are fans of John Green’s Fault in Our Stars will find similarities with the storyline and content but will enjoy the story for its own unique blend of romance and realistic fiction.  This book has recently been published but has already become a fan favorite at my local high school.  Students have shared that they enjoy the story while also learning about a different culture, Australia, and what teens in another country like to watch on TV, eat, and live their day-to-day lives.  A great addition and a must have for high school libraries looking for readalikes to Fault in Our Stars.

 

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Han, Jenny. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. 978-1-44242-670-2. 368p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Lara Jean  has been in love.  She has been in love more than once.  Each time Lara Jean falls in love she pours out all of her feelings into heartfelt love letters but does not give those letters to anyone, especially her great loves.  Each time Lara Jean falls in love it is a crush and by writing her letters she is able to deal with her feelings. This has always worked for her until one day her letters go missing.  Lara Jean quickly learns that the letters were mailed, and when one of her crushes, Peter, reads his letter the two team up to mend both their broken hearts.  Peter has been unable to get over his ex-girlfriend, and Lara Jean is trying to ignore the boy next door, Josh, who used to date her sister, Margot.  Readers will be rooting for Lara Jean and all of her relationships not just with boys but her sister, father, and friends.

Realistic               Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Jenny Han fans will not be disappointed with her newest novel and will eagerly await the sequel.  Lara Jean is a very likable character and is relatable to many teenage girls regardless of their own romantic lives.  The struggles she faces in life growing up half Korean, dealing with her mother’s death, and the complications of teenage love are realistically depicted and relate-able.  Popular with fans of Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins, this a must have for high school libraries.  The title is a good fit for romance and realistic fiction fans and would be a good addition for high school collections.

 

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Kenneally, Miranda. Breathe, Annie, Breathe. Sourcebooks Fire: New York, 2014. 978-1-40228-479-3. 320p. $16.99. Gr. 11 and up.

The fifth installment of the Hundred Oaks series focuses on Annie picking up the pieces of her life after the sudden death of her high school boyfriend.  Annie resolves to run the Music City Marathon in memory of her late boyfriend, Kyle.  The training is hard, but dealing with her grief is even harder.  Six months of intense training has helped to get Annie physically ready for the race, but meeting her trainer’s brother, Jeremiah, causes Annie to examine if she is mentally ready to race and move on with her life.  Readers will root for Annie to race and love again.

Realistic                Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

The series Hundred Oaks focuses on a different sport in each book and appeals to mostly female readers but gives enough sports background to keep all students engaged.  Kenneally has written several books in the last two years and all have been wildly popular with my students.  Annie is a strong female character and will be relatable to teens that have suffered loss of any kind.  A great addition and a must have for high school libraries in need of sports fiction.

Defy…YA Fantasy

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Larson, Sara B. Defy. New York: Scholastic, 2014. 978-0-545-59758-6. $17.99. 323p. Gr. 8 and up.

Alexa’s world was changed forever the night her parents were killed.  Disguised as a boy, she and her brother fled their home and joined a group of  loyal fighters in Antion’s elite army, the personal guard assigned to protect the prince.  For years, she has learned to hide her secret and control her emotions, but the death of her beloved brother may unravel her inner-strength and reveal her secret.  In the midst of turmoil, dedicated and loyal friend and fellow guard, Rylan, is acting peculiar, and Prince Damian is making absurd requests, even for a petulant young prince.  When the kingdom is attacked by an malevolent sorcerer, Alex, Rylan, and Damian become allies as they are taken captive and led through the jungle to an enemy kingdom.  Just when Alex thinks they are safe, the mystery and treachery of secret alliances and speculation of treason place her life in danger once again, and she must fight to protect her prince and friends.

A sensational story of mystery, intrigue and romance, fans of the Legend series will enjoy another remarkable heroine.  Living in a world where captive women are forced into slavery and live each moment at the mercy of the king, Alex shows unparalleled strength and courage.  Larson leaves readers eagerly awaiting a second installment.

Fantasy         Christine Massey JWP Middle School