Elem. – An Ordinary Day

Arnold, Elana K. An Ordinary Day. Beach Lane Books, 2020. 978-1-481-47262-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 1-3.

This is a poignant and beautiful tale of the circle of life.  The author begins by explaining that this street appears like any other, with children playing and a woman watering her flowers. Then, two cars drive up to neighboring houses and two people get out and go into adjacent houses. Both the man and the woman are wearing stethoscopes around their necks. The man enters a house where a dog is on a bed, surrounded by a family who is crying. The woman who enters the other house meets a family whose mother is expecting another child. The veterinarian consoles the family, as the dog is put to sleep, while the midwife or obstetrician helps deliver a new child into the world. All of this is told not so much in words, but through the illustrations. The characters in the story are of various ethnicities and the author writes that both families are “surrounded by family and love.” Magnificent the Crow oversees the “extraordinary” activities on this ordinary street on an ordinary day. The Illustrator uses a variety of media, such as charcoal, watercolor, soft pastels, ink and graphite, to create a soft and muted color palette. These drawings add to the contemplative tone of the story.

THOUGHTS: This is a touching story that will appeal to a sensitive reader who may have experienced the loss of an animal.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

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

MG – Believe

Mathison, Julie. Believe. Star Creek Press, 2020. 978-1-735-00371-9. 230 p. $8.99. Grades 6-8.

The first time they met, Sabrina “came out of nowhere” according to Melanie, an imaginative 5th grader at the experimental school Buckminster Elementary. As they develop a friendship, Sabrina helps Melanie cope with her mother’s disappearance and a father who prefers to spend time creating art than paying attention to his daughter. After being cast as Peter Pan in the upcoming school musical, Melanie learns to stand up against the school bully and make true friends by being her authentic self. As the one year anniversary of her mother’s disappearance approaches, Melanie confronts her anxieties stemming from her family’s tragic past and finds that forming real, honest connections with her loved ones can help heal pain better than any make-believe world ever could.

THOUGHTS: Readers identifying as outsiders will connect with the main character in this story as well as middle grade readers struggling with difficult life experiences including divorce, death, and bullying. Readers should have a basic knowledge of Peter Pan in order to deeply understand Melanie’s emotions and grief. Some older readers may not have the patience to read the story entirely, especially if they pick up on key details early on that lead to revelations at the end of the story.

Realistic Fiction          Jaynie Korzi, 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

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

YA – Kent State; Parachutes; The Lucky Ones; The Dark Matter of Mona Starr; A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

Wiles, Deborah. Kent State. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-35628-1. 144 p. $17.99. Grades 7 and up.

May 4, 1970. Sandy Scheuer, Bill Schroeder, Jeff Miller, Allison Krause. “Four dead in Ohio.” (“Ohio” by Neil Young, Performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young). At a time when much of the nation was protesting the war in Vietnam and invasion of Cambodia, students at Kent State had had enough. Beginning with campus protests on Friday, May 1, 1970, and the burning of the ROTC building to the burning of buildings in the town of Kent on Saturday, May 2, 1970, the protests in Kent culminated with the killing of four students and wounding of nine others on Monday, May 4, 1970, by the Ohio National Guard. Where were the protectors? For a war being fought around the globe, the Kent State shootings “brought the war home to American soil” (145). Author Deborah Wiles relives this fateful time in American history in Kent State.  Shared through conversation by those who experienced this horrific event, Wiles explores the event from the perspective of student protestors, student bystanders, black students, townies, and National Guard members as they converse and share their memories of this fateful event. Each voice is unnamed and poignant as their memories and understanding of those fateful days is shared. Using different print types, readers are immersed into the conversation as a listener, another bystander, hearing history come alive by those who lived it. Wiles explains in “A Note about May 4 and This Story,” how she used primary source documents and oral histories from the archives at both Kent State University and Kent, Ohio, to create a conversation of memories, hardships, fear, and regret. “What might have happened? We have no answers for that. We have only this moment, now. We can make decisions to be informed as citizens, not accepting what we hear or see or read until we’ve dug deeper on our own, for context, for truth. We can listen. We can share. We can make commitments to the tenets of democracy that say we have freedom of speech, press, assembly, and petition in our public places” (146).

THOUGHTS: This is a must-have for all middle school and high school collections. Deborah Wiles brilliantly brings to life the tragedy of Kent State that not only engages readers in a turbulent time of American history but also forces readers to question what they know about history in order to better understand its application today. Wiles does not sugar-coat the violence of the period, nor does she ignore the various voices and experiences of those living in Kent as they experienced the protests. Much like her use of primary sources in The 60s Trilogy, Wiles’ use of primary sources to create a conversation of past experience leads to an understanding of the event while leaving the reader wanting more. This is a fabulous historical fiction novel to pair with informational texts about Vietnam and Kent State.

Historical Fiction        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

After conducting extensive research, Wiles recreates the chaos of Kent State University‘s campus on May 4, 1970, with distinct narratives (protestor, Guardsman, townie, student) to share many perspectives. An anti-war demonstration turned violent and resulted in the killing of four students and wounding of nine others. The fear and confusion, anger and sadness of those involved is portrayed through short snippets of free verse which encourages readers to approach history by considering many viewpoints. Each narrator is unnamed, and readers feel connected to their stories. Narratives are displayed in various fonts to differentiate.

THOUGHTS: This historical fiction belongs in high school libraries and would pair well with an American history reading collection of major events, especially those that may not receive as much attention.

Historical Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Yang, Kelly. Parachutes. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-94108-4. 496 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up.

Yang begins this “story of [her] heart” with a letter to readers and a trigger warning about the book’s content (sexual harassment and rape).

Due to her posh lifestyle in Shanghai, Claire Wang may seem oblivious to many of the typical woes of being a teenager. Claire holds a lot of pressure on her seventeen year old shoulders. Her father has a not so secret mistress – she actually reached out to Claire on WeChat – and her mother, hides her dissatisfaction by spending money on fancy clothes and trips to upscale restaurants. Family pressure and preparation for the gaokao (Chinese college entrance exam) drive Claire’s life; she doesn’t understand how teens in American movies seem to have so much free time, as her days are dictated by endless hours of homework and tutoring. Despite all of these outward pressures, Claire manages to spend time with her boyfriend and a group of friends. After an unfortunate assignment result and despite Claire’s wishes, her parents decide she should be foreign educated, attending American Preparatory school in LA, where she will live with a host family. Afterwards, Claire will “stand out” upon her return to China, and as an added bonus, she’ll avoid the gaokaos, having a better shot at getting into one of the UCs. Dani lives in East Covina, CA and is a student at American Preparatory, where she participates in band and shines on the Debate Team. Like her grandmother and great grandmother before her, Dani and her mom both work as maids, and Dani does not shy away from the hard work. This helps them afford living expenses and send $500 a month to family in the Philippines. It isn’t easy being a maid to the elite students of American Preparatory, but Dani needs the money to be able to travel to the Snider Tournament for debate and to afford Yale, the college of her dreams. To help the family with increasing expenses, Dani’s mom decides to rent out their spare room to a nice girl from China who will attend school with Dani: Claire. Told in alternating narratives, Dani and Claire don’t interact much; they are from entirely different worlds. Despite drastically different circumstances, Dani and Claire must learn to live together and even learn how to understand each other.

THOUGHTS: Parachutes is a beautiful YA novel that intertwines two painful narratives. This is a must have for all high school library collections. Be sure to read the author’s note too!

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Lawson, Liz. The Lucky Ones. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-593-11849-8. 352 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

“The Lucky Ones is a book about what happens after the news cameras leave and the reporters stop calling.” May McGintee is a “lucky one,” though she feels like anything but lucky. Wracked by PTSD, May is also angry. She’s the only survivor to walk out of the band room on the day when her twin brother and closest friends are killed during a school shooting. Feeling guilt, an immense amount of loss, as well as constantly fearing for her safety, no one could possibly understand how May feels – even after eleven months and therapy sessions. She finds ways to process her anger, but others see them as destructive. Zach’s life hasn’t been the same for the last eleven months either but for a very different reason. Zach is angry too. As a result of his mom’s decision, he lost everything, and his home, the only place he can be himself, is being vandalized. It doesn’t help that his mom is never home, and his dad is an absent parent, barely able to get himself out of bed or even get dressed. Zach and May each have one friend that sticks with them through everything. With their support, Zach and May just might be able to find a way to move forward.

THOUGHTS: This book tackles a heavy topic, well-covered in the young adult genre, but the fresh approach of looking at the aftermath when news cameras have moved onto the next big story gives this debut a worthy spot in high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Gulledge, Laura Lee. The Dark Matter of Mona Starr. Amulet Books. 2020. 978-1-419-73423-6. 192 p. $22.99. Grades 8+.

High schooler Mona Starr suffers from depression, which feels like an encompassing fog of “Dark Matter” that invades every crevice of her thoughts. It makes Mona feel overwhelmed, alone, and insignificant. Her best friend Nash has recently moved to Hawaii, but at his and her parents’ urging she begins seeing Dr. Vega, a therapist who helps Mona study her Matter and forge a path toward health. After emergency surgery to correct a rare condition, Mona also learns to embrace the support of her “Artners:” her partners in Art, though not without some additional growing pains. “Maybe art can help transform embarrassment and suffering into insight,” Mona realizes, “one heartbreak at a time.” Some readers will find Mona’s progress frustratingly halting, but depression is a very frustrating disorder and that is realistically portrayed here. Laura Lee Gulledge’s pencil-shaded illustrations, with golden spot color, are so stunningly evocative that readers will catch themselves just staring at the pages. Her portrayal of Mona’s internal world is brilliant, especially the panel that captures how it feels to be an introvert.

THOUGHTS: The Dark Matter of Mona Starr is an intimate, moving depiction of Mona’s journey toward emotional and physical wellness, embracing her unique self, and accepting the loving support of people who care most about her. Gulledge even includes a Self-Care Plan template at the close of the book so her readers can implement some of the practices that guide Mona in her journey.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Jackson, Holly. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. Delacorte Press. 2020. 978-1-984-89636-0. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Pippa Fitz-Amobi is a good girl: high achiever, faithful friend, devoted daughter, and big sister. So it’s a bit out of character for her to solve a murder for her senior capstone project, especially because it’s one that’s already been solved. Five years ago, high school senior Andie Bell disappeared from their small town of Fairfield, Connecticut. Her body was never found, but the remains of her boyfriend, Salil “Sal” Singh, were discovered in the woods along with evidence that he had killed Andie and then committed suicide out of guilt. Pippa’s instincts, honed on true crime podcasts and documentaries, tell her that Sal is innocent. She aims to raise enough doubts about Sal’s guilt to convince the police to revisit the case. With the help of Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, Pippa susses out one lead after another, untangling clues and connections hidden within interview transcripts, journal entries, and text messages. Meanwhile someone with much to lose is watching their every move — and he (or she?) is unafraid to follow through on threats against what Pippa holds dearest when she refuses to stop digging. Holly Jackson skillfully weaves the elements of a solid mystery into her debut: suspense, red herrings, breathless amateur surveillance, and even a spooky dark alley. A huge twist, revealed just when the crimes have seemingly been solved, propels the pace right to the final page.

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans, take note: You’ll be hooked from the “Murder Map” that appears on page 29! This fast-paced whodunnit is perfect for fans of Karen M. McManus’ thrillers, especially Two Can Keep a Secret. Note that this novel’s potentially sensitive topics include suicide, sexual assault, and an animal in peril.

Mystery          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Color Outside the Lines; The Library of Lost Things; Patron Saints of Nothing; I’m Not Dying with You Tonight; Stamped; I Know You Remember; When You Ask Me Where I’m Going; Deadly Little Scandals; The Last to Die; Winterwood

Mandanna, Sangu, editor. Color Outside the Lines: Stories About Love. Soho Teen, 2019. 978-1-641-29046-3. 269 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Color Outside the Lines is an exploration of what it means to love while you’re young, especially when something gets in the way. For some that something is race, for others it’s prejudice, and yet for others it may be superpowers. The stories are wonderfully interspersed with meet-cutes and relationships both normal and fantastical, all exploring different cultures and experiences and the dynamics and challenges that come with them. Readers will encounter mythologies and realities, villages and cities, changing families and stable relationships within the 16 stories included.

THOUGHTS: Color Outside the Lines will strike a chord with many readers who have never before seen themselves in a book. I loved the way the stories were not all what I expected, not everything was about romantic love, and not everything was rooted in reality. It’s a must add to any middle or high school collection.

Mostly Realistic, Some Fantasy Elements        Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Namey, Laura Taylor. The Library of Lost Things. Inkyard Press, 2019. 978-1-488-05135-7. 384 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

A teen literary prodigy, Darcy spends most of her spare time lost in a favorite book or working in the local independent bookstore. With best friend Marisol by her side, Darcy has found a careful balance in life, amidst her mother’s serious hoarding addiction. Darcy’s safe space has long been the one place her mother cannot set foot, Darcy’s bedroom where she is surrounded by myriad books. When a new property manager begins making cosmetic improvements around the apartment complex, Darcy worries how long she’ll be able to keep the secret of her mother’s “collections.” While her mother is able to work, she can’t control her compulsive shopping. Darcy is supplemented by her grandmother but also has learned to be self reliant. Falling for Asher Fleet isn’t part of Darcy’s plan, but something about him makes her want a real life fairy tale. Darcy is used to the comfort of her books, and real life isn’t so predictable or easy.

THOUGHTS: Avid readers will appreciate all of the literary references, and teens will enjoy the slow burning romance, friendship, and mother-daughter dynamics. Recommended for high school libraries where compelling romances are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Ribay, Randy. Patron Saints of Nothing. Kokila, 2019. 978-0-525-55491-2. 323 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Half Filipino high school senior Jay spends much of his spare time lost in a video game world, not fully aware of what’s going on around the world. Though he’s been accepted to the University of Michigan, he’s only going out of obligation to his family who worked hard, so he could life their American dream. Jay doesn’t really know what he wants, and he’s just going through the motions. When Jay learns more about his cousin Jun’s death (Jun was murdered as part of Philippines President Duterte’s war on drugs), he can’t shake his guild over losing touch with Jun. Jay wonders if he had returned Jun’s letters would have become lost – surely Jun really wasn’t into drugs. But Jay doesn’t really understand life in the Philippines, and he’s determined to learn more. Passing up the new laptop he’s wanted for college (really gaming), Jay convinces his parents to let him travel to the Philippines, promising not to bring up Jun’s death, especially around his Uncle ___. With Jun’s letters in his bag, Jay is determined to learn the truth about Jun’s death and honor his cousin in the way he deserves.

THOUGHTS: Ribay’s novel encourages teens to get out of their comfort zones and become more globally aware. With many issues from family dynamics and grief to international politics, readers will be taken on a journey of healing. Highly recommende3d for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Jones, Kimberly, and Gilly Segal. I’m Not Dying with You Tonight. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-67889-2. 249 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

From two very different worlds, Lena and Campbell are forced together inside a Friday night football game concession stand. On the outside Lena appears to be cool and confident, always wearing the “right” clothes and trying to impress her boyfriend Black. Like many girls, though, Lena isn’t as confident as she seems in herself or in her relationship. New to town after her mother takes a job abraod, Campbell is trying to find her place in school and at home with her father, who owns a local hardware store. One teen black, one teen white, Lena and Campbell must learn to work together when chaos erupts all around them. With their lives in danger, the girls must see past their differences in order to survive and get to safety.

THOUGHTS: Written by two authors, this dual narrative intertwines and comes to life. A Big Library Read selection in 2019, this title is sure to be popular with high school readers who have enjoyed other powerhouse YA titles like The Hate You Give, Long Way Down, All American Boys, Dear Martin, and more. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Reynolds, Jason, and Ibram X. Kendi. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-316-45369-1 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Re-evaluate everything you learned or think you know about history in this text that is “NOT a history book.” Broken down by various time periods, Reynolds adapts Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning for a teen audience. Reynolds explains that everyone fits into a category – racist, antiracists, or assimilationist – often moving from one to another or being associated with one but really fitting into another. Various leaders throughout time are analyzed for their words and actions, causing readers to reconsider what they think they know about history.

THOUGHTS: Teen readers will appreciate Reynolds’ open and honest voice which asks them to question the educational system – what they have been taught, by whom, and why. Instead of accepting what they are told, readers will want to prove their history texts (and teachers) wrong. teachers should appreciate the opportunity to encourage students to rewrite history with a more open, honest, and true version. This is a must have nonfiction title for every secondary library.

305.80 Racial, ethnic, national groups          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Donaldson, Jennifer. I Know You Remember. Razorbill, 2019. 978-1-595-14854-4. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Three years ago Ruthie and her mother left Anchorage, Alaska hoping for a fresh start away from Ruthie’s alcoholic father. Ruthie tried to keep in touch with her best friend Zahra, but time and distance (not to mention Zahra’s delayed or lack of responses) meant that wasn’t always easy. After a tragic hiking accident kills her mother, Ruthie finds herself on a plane back to Anchorage to live with her now clean father and his new wife and stepdaughter. Before boarding the plane, Ruthie texts Zahra, letting her know she’ll be home soon and hoping they can reconnect. Zahra never receives the message, and Ruthie is devastated to learn that Zahra has gone missing, following an argument at a party with her boyfriend Ben. Ruthie tries to help the search for clues while connecting with Zahra’s new friends. She hopes this will help her understand how Zahra has changed since they were friends. The Zahra that Ruthie knew isn’t the same girl that’s missing, but Ruthie is determined to find her and recover their lost friendship.

THOUGHTS: This twisty mystery is unpredictable, and things aren’t always as they seem. A must have for high school collections where fast-paced dramas are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Kaur, Jasmin. When You Ask Me Where I’m Going. HarperCollins, 2019. 978-0-062-91261-9. 256 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

This debut collection of poetry, prose, and illustrations will cause readers to think and feel deeply about a variety of tough topics such as sexual assault, mental health, and undocumented immigrants, just to name a few. With a strong voice, Kaur is sure to be appreciated by poetry fans.

THOUGHTS: This title will enhance and diversity existing high school poetry collections. Recommended for libraries looking to offer new voices and update poetry pieces.

Poetry          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

 


Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. Deadly Little Scandals. Freeform, 2019. 978-1-368-01517-2. 352 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Sawyer Taft is back with another southern high society debutante drama. This time she spends her time alternating between the family home and their summer lake house. Much more comfortable among her cousin Lily and their fellow debutante friends, Sawyer is still determined to solve the puzzle of her biological father. As she becomes closer with the girls, though, Sawyer must be careful not to upset the balance they have achieved. Drama seems to follow these girls wherever they go, and pledging to a long time debutante, elite, all female secret society may give Sawyer the answers she’s been seeking. Not everyone wants Sawyer to solve the mystery, though.

THOUGHTS: A new cast of characters with some old friends will ensure readers are on the edge of their seats. A must-have for libraries where Little White Lies and mysteries are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Sawyer, Lily, Campbell, and Sadie-Grace are spending the summer trying to relax, forget, and figure out the aftermath of the past year. Together at the lake, Sawyer is trying to figure out how to tell Lily who her father is; Campbell’s family is trying to survive the humiliation of her father’s arrest and save their company; Sadie-Grace is covering up Greer’s “pregnancy,” and Lily is figuring out who she is and what she wants. Of course, a relaxing summer isn’t quite in the picture for these debs, as they pledge the elite and mysterious White Gloves, and learn more about their pasts and present. When things spiral out of control, can the debs survive the scandal and the truth?

THOUGHTS: I love Jennifer Lynn Barnes. She is one of my favorite mystery/thriller authors. Although readers should read the Debutantes series in order because of references made to events from book one, Deadly Little Scandals is easy to follow. Barnes’s use of flashback for the majority of the novel keeps readers focused without confusion and constantly guessing what possibly could come next. Highly recommended for all high school collections.  

Mystery         Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Garrett, Kelly. The Last to Die. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-69844-9. 240 p. $10.99. Grades 9-12. 

Seventeen year old Harper seems to live an idyllic life. She’s a star soccer player at school and on her club team, she has a boyfriend who adores her, and she’s got a great group of friends. Home life, though is a bit more complicated. her older brother is in a second stint of rehab, her mom copes with glasses of wine, and her dad can’t deal or even be bothered to learn how to sign with Maggie, Harper’s little sister who is deaf. A regular visitor to the principal’s office for voicing her mind, Harper isn’t always a star student, but she has plans on getting a soccer scholarship. To entertain themselves friend couples Harper and Gin; Paisley and Benji; and Sara, a rival soccer teammate, and Alex make a game out of burglarizing each other’s houses, with some ground rules, of course. What seems like innocent, though sometimes embarrassing, fun turns deadly. With suspicions on one of their own, the game becomes a race of cat and mouse, and the stakes couldn’t be more serious.

THOUGHTS: Fans of mysteries will enjoy this somewhat predicable read, though the quick ending may be frustrating. Purchase for high school collections where character-driven mysteries are popular. Note: This title was first published by Poisoned Pen Press in 2017 and was republished by Sourcebooks Fire in 2019.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Ernshaw, Shea. Winterwood. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-46279-3. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

The Walkers, as legend says, are older than the woods themselves. The Wicker Woods, cursed and dangerous to enter unless it is a full moon. The Walker women do not fear the woods, as they know they sleep during the full moon and not to enter at any other time, for who knows what the woods will do when they are awake and watching…

Nora realizes all of these things, as she is a Walker. Although her nightshade has not yet come to her, she knows she is a witch like those before her. Nora is not afraid of the woods. And yet, one boy is missing and one boy is dead. What happens when Nora comes across the missing boy, alive in the woods 2 weeks after the terrible snow storm? What does this boy know about the boy who is dead? As the mystery unravels, Nora finds herself deeper and deeper in her struggle of learning the truth of this mysterious boy and solving the puzzle that lies within the heart of him.

THOUGHTS: An engaging fantasy that pulls you in as you learn more about Nora’s family and the mystery of the missing boy. This is a book you cannot put down as you hope to find out more about what truly happened on the fateful night when one boy went missing and the other met his death.

Fantasy/Mystery        Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – 10 Blind Dates; Brave Face; The Institute; Let Me Hear a Rhyme; Lucky Caller

Elston, Ashley. 10 Blind Dates. Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-02749-6. 327 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.

With the Christmas holiday fast approaching, Louisiana senior Sophie finds herself unexpectedly (and unhappily) single after her boyfriend, Griffin, breaks up with her. Her parents are away, tending to Sophie’s very pregnant older sister, so she heads to Shreveport to nurse her broken heart in the company of her grandparents and large, boisterous extended family. Nonna decides to cheer up her granddaughter by organizing family members to set Sophie up on ten blind dates. Each chapter in this delightful rom-com covers a day and a date; they range from sweet (a Festival of Lights) to embarrassing (a Nativity scene with Sophie and her date in the roles of Mary and Joseph) to very public (a Kiss Cam!) as Sophie navigates ten days and ten dudes. In the meantime, Sophie’s sister delivers her baby prematurely, Griffin wants her back, and Sophie realizes that the one date she really wants is the one she will never have … or will she? With plenty of holiday cheer and a loving, eccentric family that always provides a soft place to fall, this ultra-fresh romance will look perfect under the tree!

THOUGHTS: I fell head over heels for Ashley Elston’s remarkable (and under-rated) The Lying Woods, and I highly recommend a date with her newest novel!

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Hutchinson, Shaun David. Brave Face: A Memoir. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-43151-5. 356 p. $18.99. Grades 9+.

In his compelling memoir, Brave Face, prolific young adult author Shaun David Hutchinson recounts his teenage years and his experiences with identifying as queer, coming out, and depression. Growing up in Florida in the 1990s, Hutchinson internalized many of the stereotypes and misconceptions about gay people that were common at the time. He despised and dreaded every future he could envision for himself, all involving a terrifying combination of risky sex, AIDS, drugs, hate crimes, and a flamboyant persona. In his own words, “I was trying to see a future for myself where I could be gay without being a fag.” Lonely, frustrated, and angry, he punched walls, cut, and burned himself to vent his pain as his depression deepened, accompanied by a sharp fear of abandonment by his friends and family and he began to come out to them. As his depression whispered that this bleak existence was the one he deserved, he became suicidal. Brave Face is, indeed, a brave book. Hutchinson openly reveals the “shape and texture” of his pain. It’s also a great time capsule of a 1990s adolescence: Tori Amos CDs, dial-up, and a part-time job at Waldenbooks in the mall. 

THOUGHTS: The author deftly meshes journal entries, a frank depiction of his self-hatred, and his sly sense of humor with his vantage point “from the light at the other end of the tunnel” to create a most worthwhile read.

Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


King, Stephen. The Institute. Scribner, 2019. 978-1-982-11056-7. 561 p. $30.00. Grades 10+.

Luke Ellis is a smart kid, a really smart kid. The 12-year old student at the Broderick School for Exceptional Children in Minneapolis is ready to start two college programs … and he can move objects with his mind. This telekinetic ability brings him, through a violent turn of events, to the Institute in rural Maine, where special children like Luke are subjected to weeks of tests in Front Half before being moved to Back Half. There a mysterious but dire fate awaits the residents. No one has ever escaped the Institute; no one is quite as smart as Luke, either. Stephen King’s harrowing depiction of Luke’s and his fellow captives’ experiences, complete with sadistic medical treatments, taps into a classic horror vein. The parallel story of erstwhile police officer Tim Jamieson and his arrival in DuPray, South Carolina, eventually intertwines with Luke’s, leading to a literally ground-shaking showdown between the forces of good and evil (or so they seem).

THOUGHTS: What could make a Stephen King book even more appealing to young adults? A cast of characters made up mostly of pre-teens and adolescents! With plenty of Stephen King’s trademark self-referential Easter eggs, The Institute is a great read for budding horror fans of all ages who have the patience for a slow but highly satisfying boil.

Fiction (Crossover / Horror)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley


Jackson, Tiffany D. Let Me Hear a Rhyme. Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-84032-5. 376 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.

Late 1990s. Bed-Stuy, Brooklynn, New York. Tupac is dead. Biggie Smalls is dead. Stephon Davis is dead. After the murder of their best friend, Quadir and Jarrell are determined to immortalize Steph through his music. With the help of Steph’s sister, Jasmine, the three create a rap album to promote Steph’s previously recorded songs. When a major record label contacts “The Architect,” Steph’s rap name, to set up a meeting, Quadir and Jarrell formulate a plan to promote Steph’s music without him or Jasmine. As their lies and deceit grow bigger and bigger, the two friends must face the truth and the possibility that fighting to immortalize Steph might just be what kills him again. With the continued secrets and lies, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine must face their own stories and come to terms with the Steph’s murder and their possible involvement. 

THOUGHTS: Tiffany D. Jackson once again crafts a beautiful novel of friendship, love, and what-ifs.  Each friend must grapple with their own actions and interactions that led to Steph’s death while trying to come to terms with his murder and their need for their friend. This is a must-have for all high school collections as are all of Jackson’s novels.  

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Mills, Emma. Lucky Caller. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-17965-4. $17.99. 336 p. Grades 8+. 

Nina took the radio broadcasting class for a fun “A” in her final semester at her Indianapolis-area high school. Whether she consciously realizes it or not, she is going to need something positive to keep her mind off her changing family dynamics – her mom is getting remarried, and as a result, she and her sisters will probably move to a new house with their mom and future stepdad, Dan the dentist (who they jokingly call “the Dantist”). But when childhood family friend Jamie ends up in the radio broadcasting class as well, he turns what was supposed to be a fun class into a complicated minefield of awkward interactions and bittersweet memories resurfacing. And that does not even take into consideration their group’s squabbling over everything from their show’s format to its name and their individual roles. In a desperate attempt to solve their problems and increase their listeners – and thus their grades – the group hatches a brilliant plan that involves Nina and her sort-of famous DJ dad out on the west coast. He’ll have to actually follow through for a change in order for it to work. 

THOUGHTS: When it comes to YA contemporary, Emma Mills never fails. Lucky Caller tackles all the typical coming-of-age themes and does it while evoking both emotional tears and knee-slapping laughter. Her narrator’s voice is authentic and contains the biting sometimes dark wit her readers know and love. Mills’ novels always do justice to intimate teen friendships, and this one in particular is full of nostalgia that will take readers back to their tween years when it was still ok to play and imagine, yet it also explores how difficult it is to navigate changing relationships as one moves into high school and eventual adulthood. And the 90’s music is the icing on the cake.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

MG – Mission: Space Science; This Promise of Change; A Slip of a Girl; My Fate According to the Butterfly; Birdie

Mission: Space Science. Crabtree, 2019.  $23.54 ea. $141.24 set of 5. 48 p. Grades 4-8.

Bow, James. Building a Home in Space. 978-0-778-75384-1
—. Understanding Our Sun. 978-0-778-75395-7
Dickmann, Nancy. Chasing Comets, Asteroids, and Mysterious Space Objects. 978-0-778-75392-6.
Kopp, Megan. Journeys to Outer Space. 978-0-778-75393-3
O’Brien, Cynthia. Searching for Extraterrestrials. 978-0-778-75394-0

A colorful and engaging 5 volume reference set which explores various issues regarding explorations into outer space. Each title provides background and historical information on technological developments and discoveries over the past years, information on current technologies and missions, and outlines future plans for further explorations. All titles feature numerous full-color photos and illustrations, a student activity, a glossary, a reference list, and an index.

THOUGHTS: A solid choice for quick reference on space topics for elementary students.

629.44, 523 Space          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Boyce, Jo Ann Allen, and Debbie Levy. This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019.  978-1-681-19852-1. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy team up to tell Jo Ann’s daunting experience as a young black woman who was asked to help integrate the Clinton Tennessee High School in Tennessee in 1956. Told in free verse, the words are so carefully chosen that their impact is deep. Jo Ann’s thoughts and emotions give the reader a picture of all residents, both black and white, in this trying time. Headlines and quotations for newspapers enhance the authors’ words. The back matter is most helpful, including an annotated Timeline of School Desegregation and Civil Rights Landmarks, quotation sources, a selected bibliography of books and other media, a list for further reading, and other source credits.

THOUGHTS: Eye witness accounts and memoirs are very powerful. Jo Ann’s personal account along with the photographs in the scrapbook makes this book very personal. Her words make racism, tanks, protests, and soldiers very real for the reader. I feel readers will realize the struggle African Americans had and still have for equal rights.

379.2 School Integration, Biography         Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Giff, Patricia Reilly. A Slip of a Girl. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-43955-3. 233 p. $16.99. Grades 5-9.

Patricia Reilly Giff tells of the Irish tenant farmers’ struggle to gain security for their land and families in the late 1800’s through the eyes of Anna Mallon. Her family’s farm is everything. The family has farmed the land for years and now the absentee British landlords are clearing out the people for sheep! Anna promises her dying mother to watch over the farm and her sister, Nuala, who has special needs. Already her other siblings have emigrated to America and her father must work elsewhere. Anna is alone to manage it all. The English earl and his aides are determined to have the land by any means. When her dad is sent to jail, she must seek help from her estranged aunt, Ethna, a very talented weaver. This turns out to be another struggle but well worth it as Aunt cares for Nuala and teaches Anna to weave – a marketable skill. Leaving her sister with Aunt, Anna returns to her land to stand up for it. There is a movement for reforms to the unfair laws, the cruel evictions. The local priest organizes the locals to face off the bailiff as he comes to evict families. People come from other villages to show their support. Soldiers come to clear them away, but the crowd and Anna persist. The slip of a girl and the people win for now. Realities must be faced. The leaders may be jailed, the rent must be paid. Eventually laws are passed in England which allow the farmers to buy back their homes.

THOUGHTS: Although this is a fictional account, Giff’s ancestors went through the land war in Durmlish, County Longacre, Ireland. I find the story fascinating. I think upper grade and middle school readers will be astounded bravery and resourcefulness of a girl their age. It is hard to believe in the cruelty of others, but it exists, even in the twenty-first century. Giff writes in blank verse carefully choosing her words to evoke compassion. Her glossary explains the Irish/Celtic words that add authenticity to the story. The archival photographs help the reader visualize the people and their struggles. In her note she explains her family connection to the story and her research to bring it to us. The only thing I might have added is a map.

Historical Fiction, Ireland –History, 1837-1901          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Villanueva, Gail D. My Fate According to the Butterfly. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-31050-4. 233 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Sab (short for Sabrina) lives in the Philippines with her sister (Nadine), her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. When she sees a black butterfly one week before her eleventh birthday, she is certain that she is going to die. After all, her father always told her that the black butterfly signals the death of yourself or a loved one. With this in mind, Sab decides to make it her final mission to reunite her family. Her sister hasn’t spoken to their father in over a year, and Sab is going to figure out why. With the help of her best friend, Pepper, Sab begins to uncover family secrets and painful lies that just may change the way she views the world. A beautiful portrait of friendship, family ties, Filipino culture, and the impact of drug abuse on loved ones, this timely and relatable story is a solid addition to any junior high collection.

THOUGHTS: This title is chock full of learning and discussion opportunities. There are an abundance of references to Filipino food, traditions, and language, making this an excellent supplemental resource for units on world cultures. The realities of drug abuse, addiction, and rehabilitation that are ever present in our world today are dealt with delicately in the story, which encourages compassion and forgiveness for users. Sab’s unconventional family – which includes a mother, two fathers, a stepfather, and a sister –  is also something that many people can relate to today. Overall, this is a well-written title that definitely deserves consideration for purchase.

Realistic Fiction        Julie Ritter, PSLA Member


Spinelli, Eileen. Birdie. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-802-85513-8. 197 p.  $16.00. Grades 5-9. 

Twelve-year-old Birdie (actually Roberta, but she will change it officially when she is 18) finds beauty and solace in birds.  Her mother and she live in Hadley Falls, a small rural town, but they used to live in Philadelphia until her father, a firefighter, died in a fire. She is fairly comfortable there, but she’s 12, and life is changing all around. Her best friend Martin starts dating Nina; her grandmother, Maymee, becomes infatuated with Mr. Gray. Worst of all, her mother is becoming more friendly with a local police officer. Still loyal to her father, Birdie is naturally upset but she quietly observes these “romances” and the changes that are happening. She is angry and avoids events such as a parade that bring back memories of her dad. She worries that the annual trip to visit her father’s grave and the special customs that go with it will be lost. Eventually, she learns that “life goes on” as she starts to talk over her feelings with her friend Loretta, but also with her mother and grandmother.

THOUGHTS: This is a gentle compassionate book. Life in Hadley Falls has a nice rhythm. The pace of life there allows time for healing and understanding. I like that this story approaches romance across the generations. Spinelli does a great job portraying young love and a mature approach to love.

Realistic Fiction          Jeannie Bellavance Retired

YA – Michigan vs. The Boys; Fear of Missing Out; Soul of Stars

Allen, Carrie S. Michigan vs. The Boys. KCP Loft, 2019. 978-1-525-30276-3. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Michigan Manning is about to have the senior year she’s always dreamed of, having been selected as Assistant Captain for her hockey team with her best friend taking the big C. But nothing gold can stay, and shortly after receiving their patches the team is defunded. Without the team, Michigan won’t be able to get a scholarship to college and is rightfully devastated. That is until someone has an idea; why not play for the boys’ team? Knowing how much work she’ll have to do, Michigan tries out for the team, landing a ranking in the top five players. The problem? The boys aren’t happy with it. As she strives to maintain her spot and hopefully play well enough to earn a scholarship, Michigan faces challenges and abuse she never expected and events take a turn she never could have imagined.

THOUGHTS: This was one of the most powerful, motivating sports stories I’ve ever read. This is a story for anyone who has ever had to be strong, who has ever tried to blaze a trail, or who has ever had to speak out. Michigan’s story will inspire readers to take charge and take what’s theirs.

Realistic Fiction, Sports         Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


McGovern, Kate. Fear of Missing Out. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2019. 978-0-374-30547-5.  312 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

Astrid was the girl who survived brain cancer, until it came back. Astrid’s mom is frantically researching treatment options, and lobbying to get her into a new drug trial, but Astrid faces facts. Astrid believes in science, and she knows the odds for her survival are not good. But no one else, her mom; her younger brother; her best friend, Chloe; and her boyfriend, Mohit, is willing to give her up so easily. When Astrid attends a medical symposium, however, she is intrigued by a presentation on cryopreservation. In order to scientifically research the concept of freezing her body, she convinces Chloe and Mohit to go on a cross-country road trip to the cryopreservation facility. Chloe starts a fundraising Vlog and Astrid chronicles the trip and their detours to kitschy tourist attractions. As the trip progresses Astrid, reading her body, knows her time is limited. McGovern presents a raw look at cancer, and the emotional toll it takes on the patient, as well as those who love her. There are times when Chloe and Mohit lash out at Astrid, not understanding why she seems ready to let go. Mohit states, “I don’t feel sorry for you… I feel sorry for me. And Chloe. We’re the ones left behind.” Eventually, Astrid takes control of what is left of her life and decides how she wants to die. This is not a heroic look at cancer, but 300 pages of honest emotion from all involved.

THOUGHTS: Hand this book out with a pack of tissues. It is a beautiful, soul wrenching read. Even though you know how it’s going to end, it still hurts.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Poston, Ashley. Soul of Stars. Balzar and Bray, 2019. 978-0-062-84733-1. 424 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

The sequel to Heart of Iron continues the sprawling space saga without missing a beat. Six months after escaping the HIVE-instigated battle for the Ironblood crown, Anna and her cobbled together family on the spaceship Dossier are trying to find the mythical Great Dark, the evil that is overtaking the universe. She is bereft by the betrayal of Di, her Metal best friend, but still believes his original core is intact. A search for the rumored individual who brought a Metal back from the HIVE goes dangerously wrong, and Anna and the crew find themselves on a chase across galaxies to find an object, the heart, that will allow The Dark to assume complete control. However, Anna learns that destroying the heart will also destroy all the HIVE’d Metals, and she faces an unbearable choice. The pace rarely slows down, but not at the cost of character development. Each of our favorite characters, human and Metal, from Heart of Iron plays an integral part in the story as secrets are uncovered and identities revealed, for a satisfying conclusion to the story.

THOUGHTS: Purchase the book for fans of Heart of Iron, but also use it as an opportunity to reintroduce the series to fans of Star Wars

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD