YA – Super Fake Love Song

Yoon, David. Super Fake Love Song. G.P. Putnam & Sons, 2020. 978-1-984-81223-0. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Asian-American Sunny Dae is a nerd, into Dungeons and Dragons with his best buddies, Jamal and Milo and anticipating multiple followers when they broadcast an interview with the much admired Lady Lashblade. Then he meets Cirrus Soh, the daughter of a Japanese couple who do business with his own workaholic parents. To impress Cirrus, he takes on the persona of his rocker-brother, Gray. His older brother has returned from his Hollywood pursuit for fame with his tail between his legs. Depressed and disillusioned, Gray succumbs himself to his basement room only to be drawn out to mentor the fledgling band Sunny and his pals have formed as they rehearse for the annual high school talent show. As Sunny’s feelings for Cirrus deepen, he becomes more conflicted about his duplicity: he is pretending to be a rocker and gaining Cirrus’s admiration and the longer he pretends, the more he likes the confidence and attention he is getting from others, including Gunner, his former bully.  When the day for the show comes, the Immortals pull it off, until a drunk Gray interferes. Author David Yoon has a knack for clever dialogue. His narrator, Sunny, weaves DnD references with contemporary situations that are fun for teens. Sunny is wealthy and lives in a posh area of Rancho Ruby in California. Though he is intelligent and good-looking, he still deals with insecurities and feelings of being a loser. However, the charmed life he leads refutes that claim. For those looking for a light romance enhanced by good writing, Super Fake Love Song may be just the thing.

THOUGHTS: Dungeons and Dragons fans will appreciate Sunny’s obsession. Romance fans will like the different male perspective. Though the genre is realistic fiction, the circumstances and events that occur in this book are fantasy to many of the teens who may pick up this book. In one section Sunny gives his take on the extravagant party Cirrus throws when her parents leave her home alone: “Such phenomena occurred solely on insipid television shows written by middle-aged hacks eager to cash in on the young adult demographic” (224). This comment may be a prediction for Super Fake Love Song.

Realistic Fiction/Romance          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – The Game

Miller, Linsey. The Game. Underlined, 2020. 978-0-593-17978-9. 240 p. $9.99. Grades 9-12. 

Lia Prince has lived her life in the background; She isn’t good at anything her parents value. To make matters worse, Lia’s older brother, now off at college, was good at everything. Determined to make a name for herself by besting his third place finish in her Lincoln High’s senior class game of assassin, Lia’s been planning for a year. Carefully noting and observing patterns of her peers, Lia is ready for the game to begin. No one appreciates her skills, but Lia is good at games. Ready to lead her team and get their target, the game begins. As they get more into the game, it becomes deadly. Someone is playing dirty, but Lia is determined not to miss this opportunity to be good at something. Against advice of her parents, her school, and her friends, and determined to keep the fun of the game going Lia keeps playing. Can she win, and what does winning mean?

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans will love this brief, action-packed, stand alone and may overlook some of its flaws. Grief and fear are brushed aside to make room for the game, but would the game really continue with a killer on the loose? Purchase in high school libraries where mysteries are in high demand.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The Black Kids

Reed, Christina Hammonds. The Black Kids. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-46272-4. 362. p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Los Angeles is in flames after the police officers who beat Rodney King senseless are acquitted. These events of the early 90s have an intense, life-changing effect on native Angelinos and upper middle-class African Americans, Ashley Bennett and her older sister Jo. As Christina Hammonds Reed’s relatable narrator, the popular, thoughtful Ashley, nears graduation, she starts to view her childhood (white) friends differently, a situation exacerbated by the local disruptions. Her teenage stresses about college acceptances, parental conflicts, and illicit flirting, pale once the riots start and her rebellious sister Jo drops out of school, marries, and protests the verdicts. Ashley has lived a privileged life pampered by the family’s Guatemalan housekeeper, Lucia, and indulged in every material way. Now, her father’s family-owned business–run all these years by his brother– is in ruin, bringing her uncle and her cousin to the Bennetts’ doorstep. When Ashley connects with the kind, charming basketball star, LaShawn Johnson who attends the elite prep school on scholarship, and the off-beat Lana Haskins who is possibly a victim of physical abuse, she questions her friend choices and wonders why she has no Black friends. When Ashley inadvertently starts a rumor at her school that gets LaShawn suspended, she finds it difficult to rectify the situation; but it makes her reflect on the inequity in the lives of people of color. Her sister’s mounting militancy finally gets her arrested and sentenced, though she was just one of the crowd of protestors when someone threw a Molotov cocktail setting a fire. Ashley becomes accepted by the Black kids at school and discovers she can widen her circle of friends. More importantly, the Bennett family grows better at communicating with each other and, in doing that, they realize they care deeply about each other. Christina Hammonds Reed takes a coming-of-age story set in the early nineties against the backdrop of the Rodney King beatings to a new level. The relationships, tension, and plot development as well as the cultural references and dialogue draw in the reader. In particular, Reed’s writing style is fresh and exact, giving a unique take on the typical high school tropes—mothers vs. daughters, siblings, popularity, the future, romance, self-discovery –thus making The Black Kids a compelling read.

THOUGHTS: Recommend this title to high school students who liked Karen English’s middle grade novel, It All Comes Down to This that told of the Watts riots, and lead them to Ana Deavere Smith’s one-woman show featuring the players in the Rodney King beating and its aftermath, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Activism and passivity are shown in the two sisters and students can discuss these divergent characters. The difficulty separating from childhood friends or the desire to be seen in a different light as one matures is a strong theme in this book. Though the elements of the story are not uncommon, Reed’s gifted writing style pulls you into to the book.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Step back into the early nineties in LA for a coming of age story that could easily situate itself into the current landscape of America (without social media and cell phones). Main character, Ashley lives a pretty posh life, removed from the hardships her parents faced growing up and even from a lot of the current events. She attends a private school with a lot of white friends and lives in a respected neighborhood. When the Rodney King trial and subsequent riots take over the city, Ashley’s world starts to shake, and she’s forced to reckon with questions of identity. From the shift from child to adult, Ashley’s experience provides the foreground to the city of Los Angeles during a fragile moment in US history.

THOUGHTS: This book should replace some of the dusty “classics” taking up room on high school shelves. Although suitable for high school students, there is mention of drugs, alcohol, and self harm.

Historical Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Six Angry Girls

Kisner, Adrienne. Six Angry Girls. Feiwel and Friends. 2020. 978-1-250-25342-2. $17.99. 262 p. Grades 9-12.

Raina Petree got dumped by big crush boyfriend, Brandon. Emilia Goodwin got dumped by the pompous all-male Mock Trial Team. They join forces to salvage their senior year by forming an all-female Mock Trial Team in their Pittsburgh suburban high school of Steelton drawing on Raina’s drama skills and Millie’s knowledge of the law and research. Adapting the title of the 1950’s movie, Twelve Angry Men, these six angry girls (all but one Caucasian)–overcome heartbreak and self-esteem issues to create a strong challenge to their male counterparts and a serious threat to other Mock Trial Teams as they compete for Nationals. Told in alternating chapters narrated by either Raina or Millie, the book develops a girl power story with the message that people need to stand up for what is right and, especially, stand up for oneself. Author Adrienne Kisner also manages to weave in a subplot involving knitting. Raina searches for an outlet for her grief and joins the knitting group at The Dropped Stitch, a local yarn store. Not only does she learn to cast on and purl, she finds herself involved with activists trying to stop the election of a local magistrate because of his history letting off misogynists and blocking legislation for reproductive rights. Their rebellion manifests itself in yarn-bombing the courthouse with knitted female genitalia. In a twist, the targeted judge turns up volunteering in Mock Trial. At the knitting shop, Raina meets new student Grace who is happy to join an extracurricular activity. Millie falls for Grace and begins to value herself and her time, separating her needs from her helpless father who expects Millie to be chief cook and bottlewasher after her mother moves to Ohio. Though told in a light-hearted manner, the book addresses serious topics, contains a full-range of LBGTQ+ characters, and models the strengths and weaknesses of adults in young people’s lives. What begins as a revenge against the boys story builds with each club meeting, practice, and competition to a triumph of self-identity and self-worth.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: The cover illustration depicts a diverse group of girls, but the two main characters are white. Author Adrienne Kisner is emphasizing gender identity: Millie and Grace form a romantic relationship; Izzy, a minor character, is transgender; the Mock Trial court case for the win centers on gender discrimination. Some parts to be aware of: The Dropped Stitch crew are not shy about using anatomically correct terms, and a smattering of curses appear throughout the dialogue, making it more a high school choice than middle grade. This book has the same feminist fight tone of Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu; and if this suburban, western Pennsylvanian high school resembles yours, Six Angry Girls is an attractive purchase.

YA – How to Speak Boy

Smith, Tiana. How to Speak Boy. Feiwel and Friends, 2020. 978-1-250-24221-1. $17.99. 245 p. Grades 7-12.

Quinn Edwards and Grayson Hawks have been rivals on their speech and debate team for years. As seniors, they have been chosen as co-captains, and have no choice but to spend time with each other. While Quinn tries to juggle debate practices and schoolwork, one of her AP Government assignments gets mixed up with another student. Her ID number is 15511, but she received 15211’s paper. When she returns the assignment to the cubby of 15211, explaining the mix up in a note, she receives her assignment back, along with a message, beginning a series of notes exchanged between Quinn and this mystery student. Meanwhile, her relationship with Grayson remains a mystery also. One moment, they’re arguing, and the next, he asks to take her to the formal. As Quinn tries to puzzle out her relationships, she begins to wonder about 15211’s identity. Could it be Grayson? Does she want it to be? Or, could it be Carter, one of her best friends? Quinn feels like she can talk to 15211 about anything, but when he asks to meet in person, she panics. If he finds out who she is, will it ruin the relationship and trust they’ve built through their letter writing, and will it ruin any chance of being in a relationship with Grayson?

THOUGHTS: If you read the summary of this book on the inside of the dust jacket, you know that Quinn is actually writing to Grayson. It’s one of those books where, as the reader, you know more than the characters in the story. Throughout the story, Quinn’s friends try to give her advice about her relationship with Grayson and 15211. Quinn learns that sometimes the people who you are closest with might not always have your best interests at heart, and others turn out to be completely different if you just take the chance to get to know them. I think readers will also connect with the theme of anonymity, especially in today’s world. Although Quinn and Grayson hide behind letters, only signing their communications with their ID numbers, many young people today hide behind social media accounts where they may not share their identity yet connect with people that have the same interests as themselves. This is a sweet, romantic novel perfect for any reader looking for a love story.

Romance          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Just Our Luck

Walton, Julia. Just Our Luck. Random House. 2020,  978-0-399-55092-8. $17.99. 272 p. Grades 9-12.

Leonidas –Leo- quirky knitter and sensitive photographer, has been successful staying under the radar for most of his high school years. Then Drake Gibbons a wise-cracking, hyperactive jock punches him, and their consequences are enduring each others’ company in the counselor’s office until they become amicable. Leo’s mother died years ago and now with his Greek grandmother Yia Yia’s death, the silence in their Greek household is deafening and the relationship between him and his father even more distant. When his father insists his gentle son take a martial arts course to improve his pugilistic skills, Leo gets scared off and signs up for a yoga master certification course. Turns out, the person taking his registration is Evey Paros, from another Greek family who just happened to have cursed Leo’s many generations ago. Though she seems aloof, Evey has her own agenda. She’s been wronged by the biggest, richest, most popular dude at school, Jordan Swansea. After their breakup, Jordan sent out nude pictures of Evey over social media. She enlists Leo as her assistant in wreaking revenge. What ensues is a light romance with a touch of humor. Leo unexpectedly finds love, friends, and self confidence. A bonus is that Evey, too, finds a powerful alternative to thwarting Jordan besides sophomoric pranks.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: Librarians should be aware this quick read has a lot of curses and little diversity (Drake’s girlfriend Jenn seems to be Latinx). However, the characters are humorous, and the plot discusses generalized anxiety, a condition today’s teens may recognize. Both Leo and Evey also have an interest in writing, and Leo delivers his first-person narrative in journal format. Pull for reluctant readers.

YA – A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

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

Pippa Fitz-Amobi has everything going for her: She’s a good student with good friends and a great family. Pip is a “good girl,” and she can’t help but notice how local missing (presumed murdered but never found) Andie Bell also seemed like a good girl. A fan of true crime podcasts and documentaries, Pip can’t ignore the feeling that the five year old murder/suicide of two local teens has some gaps in its investigation. She knew Sal when she was younger, and he couldn’t have possibly killed Andie then himself. Or did he? Though she sells it to her advisor as a look at how media sensationalizing can impact an investigation, Pip decides her senior capstone project will be to look into the Andie Bell case. As she uncovers one clue after the next, she begins to hope that she can prove Sal’s innocence. When Pip receives a threat telling her to stop digging, she knows she must be onto something. Then again, maybe someone is just playing a sick joke. Getting closer to Sal’s little brother Ravi during her investigation doesn’t help Pip keep her feelings separate from the case. When a threat hits close to home, Pip is ready to give up. She might be paranoid, but it seems like someone in Fairview doesn’t want her to keep looking. Told throughout Pip’s investigation, readers will be on the edge of their seats to learn what really happened to Andie Bell and if Pip will successfully complete her project.

THOUGHTS: Told in a variety of formats, readers will not want to put down this fast-paced mystery. The full cast audiobook is excellent. Fans of other YA Thrillers by authors like Karen M. McManus, April Henry, and Gretchen McNeil will be happy to have a new author to enjoy. Mature topics (drug use, drinking, and suicide) make this one best suited for high school readers.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – It Sounded Better in My Head

Kenwood, Nina. It Sounded Better in My Head. Flatiron Books, 2020. 978-1-250-21926-8. 260 p. $18.99. Grade. 8-12.

Natalie had a good grip on her life until her parents jovially announce they’re getting a divorce. They’ve known this for months but waited until the Christmas holidays and high school graduation (which coincide in Australia, where the book was first published). A rarity for literature, Natalie has a great relationship with her parents and is devastated by the news and hurt by their deceit. She turns to her support network, her best friends Lucy and Zach. But since they started dating, Natalie sometimes feels like a third wheel. Having suffered through severe, scarring acne during puberty, Natalie has a shattered self image and has not dated. At a party, she connects with Alex, Zach’s older brother, but quickly convinces herself Alex’s interest was an act of kindness perpetrated by Zach. But an accidental case of musical bedrooms at a beach house over New Year’s brings Natalie and Alex back into close proximity, and as they talk they again feel a positive connection. However, Natalie’s lack of confidence and poor self image quickly threaten to sabotage the burgeoning relationship. This engaging book covers a topic not discussed in YA literature, the trauma of severe teen acne, and the scars it leaves, both physical and psychological. Natalie is a bright teen with caring parents and friends, but the long term effects of her acne are evident in her image, (styling her hair to cover which side of her face looks worse) confidence, and self-worth. American readers will need to translate Australian terms and references but will recognize themselves in the three friends as they shakily navigate through the next phase in their lives.

THOUGHTS: A welcome addition to YA realistic fiction collections. While some characters have sex off-page, Natalie and Alex discuss the issue and decide they are not ready.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Eighteen-year-old Natalie is looking forward to her well-planned future: she and her close friends and new couple, Zach and Lucy, will join her in their respective majors at a local Australian university. Perhaps then, Natalie will be able to shed some of the body shame she has from her years with inflammatory, scarring acne and finally experience a love life.

When Natalie’s seemingly loving parents announce their divorce on graduation night, Natalie relies even more on her friends, though she’s feeling more and more like a third wheel. As the trio await their uni placements, they join Zach’s family at their beach house in Queenscliff to vacation and celebrate New Year’s. What follows is a comedy of errors. Going against his house rules, Zach asks Natalie if she will trade rooms so he and Lucy can sleep together. Older brother, Alex, shows up at the beach house in the middle of the night and crashes in Zach’s room surprising both Natalie and himself. It doesn’t help that Natalie has a secret crush on handsome Alex since he gave her a peck on the cheek during a game of Spin the Bottle at a pre-graduation party. As their nights together multiply, romance blossoms. The revelation of the pair as boyfriend and girlfriend causes a ruckus not just in Alex’s and Zack’s family but also in Zach’s and Natalie’s relationship. Natalie’s first-person narrative reveals her insecurities in navigating the new terrain of sex and a boy/girl relationship. Though no graphic sex scenes occur, It Sounded Better In My Head does percolate the angst and delight of true friendship, first love, and new beginnings. Author Kenwood makes this story light and funny and her characters seem very real.

THOUGHTS: Natalie spends a lot of time obsessing over her bad skin and her lack of a love life. Natalie and Alex spend a lot of time talking and kissing in bed during the room switch and afterward. At this time when there are so many serious issues abound, Natalie’s common concerns about friendship, sex, appearance, university, and her parents may seem a bit trite; however, young readers may share Natalie’s insecurities and longings and enjoy her sense of humor.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – If These Wings Could Fly

McCauley, Kyrie. If These Wings Could Fly. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-88502-9. 385 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Crows. Hundreds and then thousands of them arrive in Auburn, Pennsylvania seemingly overnight. Are they a sign of the unease and anger that lays just beneath the surface of this tiny town? Leighton is your typical senior in high school – struggling with the advances of classmate Liam, applying to college, and balancing school and family. She is also her sisters’ protector – as her father is a violent and abusive man. Leighton’s father was a high school football star until an injury took him out. Holding this against the town and struggling with a failing family business leads to him destroying their home with his words and fists. Leighton is terrified to leave her sisters to go to college, her mother will not leave him, and every day the crow population grows. The girls show an interest in one particular crow, Joe, who seemingly knows what to bring and steal at their home. As the town grapples with how to remove the crows, Leighton and Liam attempt to finally remove the family from the domestic violence in their home. It’s not easy as it seems though…

THOUGHTS: A gripping story of survival amidst a small town, this is a book you will want to devour in a single sitting. The story does a fantastic job of showing what an abusive home can do to children, but still provides hope that there is a way out. The author does a remarkable job of balancing the influence of the crows on the mood throughout, and it brings the story together beautifully.

Realistic Fiction        Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA – Admission

 Buxbaum, Julie. Admission. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-1-984-89362-8. 304 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Chloe Berringer is the daughter of beloved sitcom star, Joy Fields, whose classic show is now in production for a new season. Chloe’s parents send her and her younger sister to Wood Valley School, a prestigious and expensive private school in Los Angeles, the setting of Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things. Among the academic elite at Wood Valley are Chloe’s crush, Levi, and her best friend, Shola, a Nigerian American. Levi and Shola both have high aspirations for Ivy League colleges, but Chloe is just an average student. When her mom and her venture capitalist dad hire an admissions counselor to help her get into the selective Southern California College, Chloe is happy for the assist. But before long, the college admission cheating scandal blows up and Chloe and her mom are at the forefront. Seemingly taken directly from the Lori Laughlin case, the story feels a bit derivative. As the story begins neither Chloe or her mother are very sympathetic characters, they are both supremely entitled, clueless and a bit unlikeable. Though white privilege, wealth and educational inequality, drug addiction and undocumented immigrants are all mentioned, the novel seems to gloss over them lightly with the peripheral characters serving as a way to highlight those issues. Chloe and her family do eventually experience the consequences of their actions which allows them to make significant adjustments to their thinking and behavior as the story unfolds.

THOUGHTS: Admission is a quick and easy read that seems more suited for a summer beach read than a hard look at some of the substantive issues that are presented. But I do believe that this will be a popular title with high school students on their own path to college admissions. I will certainly be adding this title to my school’s collection.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Daughter of a beloved sitcom star, Chloe Wynn Berringer has lead a privileged life. At best an average student at prestigious private school Wood Valley, Chloe (and her parents) has her heart set on attending a selective southern California college. Her counselor advises Chloe to consider other options that aren’t such a reach, but to keep up appearances Chloe’s mom hires a private admissions counselor that guarantees his work. Chloe isn’t totally sure she needs that much help, but she’s nervous, so she gladly obliges with his sometimes seemingly outlandish requests. Told in reverse Chloe’s story begins with a knock on her door. The FBI is there to arrest her mother for her involvement in a college admissions scandal, and Chloe may face charges too. Shocked, Chloe thinks back to the beginning (these days she has plenty of time to think), filling readers in on how she got to this point. The public outrage and her best friend’s reaction leave Chloe feeling completely alone. Her little sister, who is not the same average student, gives Chloe some advice which helps her accept all that has happened and her life for what it now is.

THOUGHTS: This quick read will have appeal to many high school students who may be on their own college admissions paths. Though tied to the admissions scandal, the isolation that Chloe experiences mirrors the way many teens may feel after suffering consequences of poor decision making. It is difficult to ignore the parallels to the 2019 national college admissions scandal, but high school readers, especially fans of Buxbaum will enjoy this newest novel. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD