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 – Hazard

Dowell, Frances O’Roark. Hazard. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-481-42466-0. 146 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Hazard Pay Stokes, or Haz as he is known to his friends and family, has found himself temporarily suspended from football over an incident with a teammate. Haz’s coach believes he needs some help with managing his anger before he is allowed back on the team. At the same time, his father has returned home from Afghanistan, which should be a happy moment for Haz. However, the reason his father came home is a tough one for the entire family, especially for Haz’s dad who has to live with the consequences of what happened in Afghanistan. Even though Haz believes therapy isn’t going to help him work through his feelings, he decides to play along and complete the assignments anyway and does in fact start to work through all of the tough emotions brewing inside of him.

THOUGHTS: Told through a series of emails, texts, reports, and assignments, the reader gets a close look at the events through Haz’s point of view. Haz’s lyrical way with words will keep the reader engaged. The topic and the format of the writing will appeal to more reluctant middle grade readers, especially boys.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Growing Pangs

Ormsbee, Kathryn. Growing Pangs. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-30129-6. 249 p. $20.99. Grades 4-7.

As a homeschooled kid with bright red hair, freckles, and crooked teeth, Katie knows she is a little different from most kids her age. But as long as she has her best friend Kacey, none of that matters. The pair head off to spend their summer at Camp Aldridge, and that’s when things begin to change. Katie notices that Kacey gets very jealous when Katie hangs out with other people at camp. When they both start at their homeschool co-op for the year, Katie’s circle of friends continues to grow while Kacey shrinks back into the sidelines of Katie’s life. One aspect of Katie’s life that hasn’t gotten smaller is the “buzzing” in her mind. The buzzing orders her to accomplish tasks like turning a faucet on and off ten times. If she completes the task, nothing bad will happen to Katie or the people in her life. When Katie finds out she needs oral surgery and that Kacey is moving away before their friendship can be repaired, the buzzing gets louder and louder. Katie realizes she needs help from her parents to take control of her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

THOUGHTS: Katie is insightful for her age yet also relatable. Her struggles mirror the pressure and anxiety tweens face every day. This semi-autobiographical graphic novel will most definitely appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier and the Sunny series.

Graphic Novel           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Little Narwhal, Not Alone

Stone, Tiffany. Little Narwhal, Not Alone. Greystone Kids, 2021. 978-1-77164-620-8. Unpaged. $17.95. Grades K-2. 

Little Narwhal, Not Alone follows a young narwhal as he explores his world, meets new friends, and has all of these new exciting adventures. However, he travels too far and ends up not finding any narwhals to spend time with, but he does find some beluga whales! But the belugas don’t understand him, and he can’t understand them. Over time the narwhal ends up fitting in with the belugas, and they even play together! The narwhal feels that he has found new friends to spend time with! At the end of this book there is a note from a marine biologist, stating how this book is rooted in some truth! That really adds to the book and makes the reader want to start at the beginning of the book all over again.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful picture book!! The illustrations add to the overall underwater feel of the story. The addition from the marine biologist at the end of the book is lovely and will make the reader want to go learn more.

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – The Bright & the Pale

Rubinkowski, Jessica. The Bright & the Pale. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-063-07712-6. 328 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

When Valeria was 17 years old, her village was encased in a magical frost that froze everyone and everything in her village. She is the only survivor. Ever since that happened, she has been hiding from the Czar, who wants to throw anyone who survived, in jail. When the book starts, Valeria is working for the Thieves Guild with her best friend Alik and doing what she can to survive, which all comes crashing down when Alik is murdered. A year later, Valeria finds out that Alik is alive. Now she needs to lead a group of criminals into her home town in order to buy Alik’s freedom.

THOUGHTS: This is a great read for fans of the Grisha trilogy, as it has a similar feel in the mythology and folklore. This is also a great book to read during the winter, with the majority of the book taking place outside with snow.

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Kneel

Buford, Candace. Kneel. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-40251-6. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Kneel follows Russell who is a talented football player from a small town looking for a full ride scholarship to escape. However, Russell’s teammate and best friend, Marion is unfairly arrested and then benched for the rest of the season, Russell decides to take a stand.  In doing so, Russell sets off a chain of events that he never saw coming and refuses to back down from. In the end, will Russell be able to enact the social change that his community desperately needs, or will he have to pick between social justice and football?

THOUGHTS: This was amazingly written, and felt extremely realistic. I enjoyed that each character felt unique to me, in how they dealt with racism as well as how they interacted with each other. This wasn’t too technical with football, which I appreciated as someone who isn’t familiar with football.  I would highly recommend this for a high school collection, and feel this would also make a great book to teach in a high school literature class.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

When practice runs late, Russell and Marion know that breaking down on the parish line between Monroe (their side of town) and Westmond (the wealthier side of town) is not the best spot to be. A few weeks ago the untimely death of teen Dante Maynard, who was killed by a white police officer for “looking suspicious,” rocked the local black community. The fact that Russell’s car could draw unwanted attention for its condition doesn’t add to his limited options as darkness approaches. Instead of the cops, though, Bradley Simmons, a varsity football player from Westmond, pulls up in a shiny BMW, and he taunts Russell and Marion about last year’s playoff whipping which ended with Marion being seriously injured and jeopardizing his football future. The pent up frustration doesn’t end, and animosity explodes when Monroe meets Westmond at center field for the coin toss. Unfair, one-sided refereeing leaves Russell injured. To make matters even worse, the cop that killed Dante Maynard is on game security, and he takes Marion off the field in cuffs. Though Russell promises Marion he’ll “handle this,” the deck is stacked against the boys, their team, and their community. Due to his pending charges, Marion is benched and barred from the team until his situation is resolved. In an instant, his only way out disappears. Russell realizes the only way to take a stand is to take a knee, and the repercussions of his action are more than he imagined. If the only way out of his situation is through a Division I football scholarship, what lengths will Russell go to in order to earn his spot, and will he have to give up his beliefs to make it happen?

THOUGHTS: Timely and thoughtful, Kneel transports readers right into the racial tensions. Readers will feel for Russell and be angered by the actions and the lack of action from local authorities. A must have for high school collections, this title also would pair well with classics and other contemporary titles dealing with similar topics.

Realistic Fiction         Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – All the Tides of Fate

Grace, Adalyn. All the Tides of Fate. Imprint, 2021. 978-1-250-30781-1. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

All the Tides of Fate starts right after the events of the previous book, All the Stars and Teeth with Amora’s magic gone and her kingdom in shambles. Amora decides to embark on a journey to find her magic with the help of the same cast of characters from the first book.  Amora’s character development really takes off in this book, and in her quest to get her magic back, she begins to come into her own. The friendships and relationships are more developed in this book, and the author really continues to make you feel as though you are on the ship with the characters. The tension from the first book which was built, is continued in this book with a well planned ending.

THOUGHTS: Overall, this was a solid conclusion to a fantasy duology that was well written and well developed from the first book to the conclusion.

Fantasy            Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA Story Collection – Meet Cute

Meet Cute: some people are destined to meet. Alloy Entertainment, 2018. 978-1328759870. 320. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

This sweet collection of stories from a variety of popular young adult authors is a welcome respite from our current contentious reality. Each story revolves around the first meeting of two individuals in a variety of settings and situations, some realistic and some based in the future or an alternate reality. There is a diverse cast of characters throughout, and many different genders and sexual orientation preferences are represented. I found myself engrossed in each story, wondering how the characters will ultimately be brought together. Two of my particular favorites were “Hourglass” by Ibi Zoboi, which highlighted one girl’s struggle with body image, and “Department of Dead Love” by Nicola Yoon, a futuristic take on dealing with broken relationships. I found myself wishing that both stories would continue! THOUGHTS: This is a great collection of stories to serve diverse audiences in a high school setting. Highly recommended!

Short Stories     Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School