Elem. – Monster Histories

Monster Histories. Capstone Press, 2020. $21.49 ea. $171.92 set of 8. 32 p. Grades 3-6. 

Cole, Bradley. Zombies. 978-1-543-57128-8.
—.
Bigfoot. 978-1-543-57121-9.
Gaertner, Meg. Shapeshifters. 978-1-543-57125-7.
Gale, Ryan. Vampires. 978-1-543-57126-4.
Pearson, Marie. Frankenstein’s Monster. 978-1-543-57122-6.
—.
Loch Ness Monster. 978-1-543-57122-6.
—.
Mummies. 978-1-543-57124-0.
—.
Werewolves. 978-1-543-57127-1.

Monster Histories is a non-fiction series chronicling the evolution of famous monsters. This reviewer read Frankenstein’s Monster, a hi-lo illustrated text sure to engage young readers. Beginning with a brief biography of Frankenstein’s Monster writer Mary Shelly along with a brief description of the monster’s origin. Subsequent chapters elaborate on the story of Frankenstein’s Creature as it was written by Shelly (also known as the Queen of Horror) over two hundred years ago. Scattered throughout the text are various images of the monster as depicted in various films and comics over the years.  Finally, readers are treated to a brief but interesting look at the impact of the monster on modern popular culture from cartoons to Halloween and even as the first tale of the horror genre. Young fans of horror, monsters, and the paranormal instantly will be hooked. Back matter includes a glossary, index, trivia challenge, and a thought provoking writing/research prompt.

THOUGHTS: Engaging and modern while full of popular culture and literary history, I would add Frankenstein’s Monster and the rest of the Monster Histories to any elementary or middle grade library in need of  an update in this nonfiction department. (Title Reviewed: Frankenstein’s Monster)

001.944 Monsters and Phenomena          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

YA – Fireborne; The Art of Breaking Things; Enough is Enough; Dreams Come to Life; Who Put This Song On

Munda, Rosaria. Fireborne. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. 978-0-525-51821-1. $18.99. 432 p. Grades 9 and up.

Ten years ago in Callipolis, a land of fire-breathing dragons, Atreus led a revolution, a massacre that took the lives of all of the members of the dragonborn families in power… or did it?

Unaware that members of the dragonborn families survived the massacre, Atreus establishes a new system of government, part of which is a tournament to determine the governing members of the new aerial guard and their leader, the firstrider. Prior to the revolution, one had to be of the dragonborn to compete for such a powerful title. Now, Annie, one of those competing for the role of Firstrider, is the epitome of the motivation for the revolution. A member of the lowborn class, her family was killed by the previous regime. In the old system, she would have been doomed to remain a lowborn for life. But thanks to the new, seemingly fairer system and Lee, another orphan who befriended and protected her in the orphanage, Annie has been able to climb to the top. They have been training with their dragons for this opportunity for years. Ironically, Lee is also competing for the role of firstrider. Even more ironic is the truth about Lee’s family history. Told in alternating points of view between Annie and Lee, the story of the Firstrider Tournaments and the secrets these characters must harbor is only the beginning of this exciting fantasy tale as war threatens Callipolis.

THOUGHTS: Equal parts action, politics, fantasy, and love, this novel has a little something for everyone. Hard-core fantasy fans will enjoy the dragons but may find themselves craving even more of Munda’s great world-building (I personally found myself craving a map at times). Munda crafts a complex political conflict that prompts readers to ponder heavy themes like loyalty, abuse of power, propaganda and censorship, and the cost war. Readers who crave a love story will not be disappointed, but those who dislike when a love story overtakes the plot will be satisfied too as the subtle romance in this novel takes a backseat to politics. A solid addition for fans of speculative fiction, and might make for a cool enrichment read in a social studies or philosophy class as Munda explains in her author’s note how Plato’s Republic inspired Fireborne.

Fantasy          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Sibson, Laura. The Art of Breaking Things. Viking, 2019. 978-0-451-48111-5. $18.99. 390 p. Grades 9 and up.

Skye Murray’s primary focus during her senior year is getting into the art school of her dreams and out of her hometown. Until she can physically escape the ghosts of her past by going away to college, she escapes through her art and some poor choices including using drugs and alcohol and engaging in physical relationships with boys that are just that – physical and nothing else. She feels that she is doing a good enough job being tough and coping until the “ghost” – Dan, her mother’s ex-boyfriend who abused her as a child – returns to their lives and reunites with her mother. Skye feels like she needs to reconsider her choices, especially when history threatens to repeat itself with Dan and Skye’s younger sister Emma, but she feels like no one will listen to her or believe her. In addition to dealing with Dan and her past, Skye also must figure out where she stands with Ben. For the last two years they have been drinking and getting high together, sharing their art and Ben’s band’s songs. Her once uncomplicated feelings for her best boy friend are starting to change, but she’s unsure she can handle a serious relationship, or if Ben even wants one because of her reputation. To avoid breaking every meaningful relationship she has, Skye must figure out how to break some other things… her habits, the truth, and a whole lot of plates.

THOUGHTS: I would not recommend this novel to sensitive readers as it contains a lot of mature language, references to drugs and alcohol, and descriptive sexual scenes in both abusive and consensual situations. However, for those readers who can handle it, Sibson’s novel is a powerful one worth reading. A story of family, friendship, love, and overcoming adversity, Sibson also conveys the power that art has to give us a voice when we feel unheard.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


McCann, Michelle Roehm. Enough is Enough: How Students Can Join the Fight for Gun Safety. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-582-70700-6. $22.99. 300 p. Grades 7 and up. 

Written as a call-to-action for teen readers, Enough is Enough is penned by an active member of Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety. As an adult with activism experience, McCann’s purpose is to prove to teenagers that they too CAN make a difference in the fight to change gun laws, despite hesitating because of their age and abilities. Part One of the book is chock-full of statistics, because, as McCann explains in her introduction, “If you’re going to argue with politicians, other adults, and your peers about why we need gun safety in this country, you will have to understand the issue pretty deeply.” Pages and pages of infographics and narration inform readers on the facts about gun violence and gun ownership in this country and compares America to other countries around the world. Part Two provides a history of gun ownership and laws in America including a thorough explanation of the Second Amendment and the National Rifle Association (NRA). Parts Three and Four provide possible solutions to the problem and practical, specific ways for teens to take action. Each chapter profiles young activists such as Parkland High School survivors who started the #NeverAgain campaign and Julia Spoor, co-founder of Students Demand Action, a group affiliated with Moms Demand Action. McCann does not alienate gun owners though, and at no point does she suggest eliminating guns entirely. She even profiles gun owners and addresses them directly, stressing repeatedly that this issue is not a political issue but a human issue that can be solved by agreeing on some common ground and working together. 

THOUGHTS: This is an excellent addition to any middle school or high school nonfiction collection. The writing is straightforward and full of documented research, and there are a variety of thorough appendices at the back of the book including lists of additional resources both nonfiction and fiction, websites and social media for young activists and activist groups, and more. I would add one new fiction book to her list of additional resources: Every Moment After by Joseph Moldover, a book I reviewed last year that features survivors of an elementary school shooting as they prepare to graduate from high school. Enough is Enough would pair well with this book in an ELA curriculum. The writing style is relatable to teens, too. Perfect example: my favorite chapter, which is titled “The Second Amendment: WTF Is That All about?”

363.33 Gun Control          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Kress, Adrienne. Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-34399-1. 304 p. $9.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life transports readers into the world of Bendy and the Ink Machine, the popular video game. This imaginative horror novel takes place inside Joey Drew Studios in New York circa 1946. Buddy has taken a dream job working as a gopher and future animator for the studio (that is if his boss ever lets him draw). Stepping up in the world means everything for Buddy, especially now that his elderly grandfather has come to live in his mother’s already overcrowded apartment, and they need the extra cash. All seems well until Buddy encounters Sammy, the strange musical director, covered in ink. Slowly Buddy begins to notice that odd things are happening around Joey Drew Studios. People and ink go missing, the latter slipping right off the page, loud thumps in the night, and rumors of a machine that no one has seen. By the time Buddy can figure out what has happened, will it be too late to save the studio?

THOUGHTS: Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life will appeal to fans of the video game, if you’re looking for media tie-ins to add to your collection this book will fit nicely.

Horror          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Parker, Morgan. Who Put This Song On? Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-0-525-70751-6. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Morgan is just trying to figure it all out, and it’s hard. Trying to fit in when you clearly stand out is hard. Getting out of bed is hard. Morgan’s in therapy for her depression but the world just seems like one cruel joke. Her family doesn’t understand her, the world doesn’t get her fashion sense, and her friends know very little about what she’s going through. The only person who seems to get her is David, her new hopefully-more-than-a-friend from art class. Morgan’s world continues to expand and grow, and she struggles to find her place in it. As she and her friends, Meg and James, spend more time together, they begin to realize that they all have secrets and maybe, just maybe, life might be a little easier if they can rely on one another.

THOUGHTS: This is a book that tackles a tough topic like depression in a funny way. Morgan relates to the world around her via song, and the playlist is truly entertaining.

Realistic Fiction           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – The Virtue of Sin; The Prom; There’s Something About Sweetie; The Starlight Claim; Rules for Vanishing; The Toll; The Speed of Falling Objects

Schuren, Shannon. The Virtue of Sin. Philomel Books, 2019. 978-0-525-51654-5. 420 p. $17.99. Grades 8 and up. 

Girls and boys don’t get to speak to one another – not in this community, not until they’re married. But, as usual, youth finds a way. When it is time for a Matrimony for all those of age, Miriam is sure that she knows who will choose her. The night, however, doesn’t go as planned, leaving Miriam to question everything she’s ever known. Married to an outsider who she doesn’t love (and who apparently doesn’t believe) Miriam is faced with a choice: comply and become the docile wife of someone she doesn’t want or face the reality that Daniel, their voice of God, may not be all that he claims to be. As the world begins to shift around her, Miriam begins to find her own path in a life that has always been dictated for her.

THOUGHTS: Miriam’s story is a powerful depiction of the control that people can hold over others and the determination it takes to let yourself be free. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Mitchell, Saundra. The Prom. Viking, 2019. 978-1-984-83752-3. 212 p. $17.99. Grades 7 and up.

All Emma can dream of is dancing with her girlfriend at prom. One special, magical night where the two of them can not only be seen in public but be normal. However, that’s entirely too much for Edgewater, Indiana to handle. When the PTA finds out that someone different wants to disrupt their perfect prom, crisis mode ensues. Emma, a cover artist on YouTube, makes headlines nationwide after taking the PTA (and their new exclusive rules) to task in her latest video. Before she knows it, big names are stepping to her side while her town turns its back, and Emma is left in one big, complicated situation when all she wanted was something so simple.

THOUGHTS: Based on the hit Broadway musical, this heart-wrenching description of the challenges LGBTQIA+ youth face is all too real. From the bullies and the isolation to the unexpected support and acceptance, readers will feel every step of the way as they follow Emma along her journey. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Menon, Sandhya. There’s Something About Sweetie. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-41678-9. 376 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Sweetie Nair is phenomenal. She’s sweet and kind, a star athlete, a model daughter with a perfect life and, oh yeah, she’s fat. Growing up fat in an Indian-American household hasn’t been simple for Sweetie; her mom is constantly trying to get her to lose weight so she can have an easy life, and society always has something to say about the way she looks. When Sweetie is offered the opportunity to date the ultra-attractive Ashish Patel, a star basketball player and ladies’ man, she learns the truth about just how far her mother’s prejudices go. Not to be deterred, Sweetie decides to take matters into her own hands: it’s time to show the world just who she really is.

THOUGHTS: Set in the same world, this companion novel will fill the When Dimple Met Rishi sized hole in your heart. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Wynne-Jones, Tim. The Starlight Claim. Candlewick Press, 2019. 978-1-536-20264-9. 240 p. $17.99. Grades 8 and up. 

Nate Crow has grown up spending summers at his family’s isolated cabin on the lake learning how to respect nature and the elements. Joined by his friends Dodge and Paul, the boys lived idyllic childhoods enjoying their surroundings in the fair weather. But come fall, it’s time to secure the cabin and head for sturdier lodging. It’s possible to winter in the cabin, sure, but life is as hard as the snow is deep and with only one train in or out of the area the isolation could be deadly. When Dodge goes missing and is presumed dead after a winter excursion to his cabin, Nate is haunted by dreams of his former best friend. He knows he needs to do everything he can to ensure that Dodge is not still out there, alive but hurt. Nate makes the arduous hike to the cabin, only to find that the isolated cabin isn’t deserted after all. Miles away from anyone who could help, with limited supplies and a blizzard moving in, Nate must figure out how to survive.

THOUGHTS: The Starlight Claim is a thrilling survival story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. This book has a bit of everything and will appeal to anyone interested in the outdoors, life or death survival, and jail breaks. 

Action/Adventure        Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Marshall, Kate Alice. Rules for Vanishing. Viking, 2019. 978-1-984-83701-1. 402 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

The tale of Lucy Gallows has lived on in Briar Glen for generations. Legend has it that once a year a road will appear in the woods, and the ghost of Lucy Gallows will appear. Those who follow the road are supposedly granted a wish. Sara’s sister Becca disappeared one year ago right around the time the road should have appeared. When Sara finds a journal of Becca’s with clues to the road, she knows where Becca went and is determined to go after her. Despite having resolved to go alone, former friends rally to join Sara on her journey, none of them knowing the challenges, dangers, and sacrifices that lay ahead- after all, the road doesn’t want them to leave.

THOUGHTS: While the story was more gory than I usually like to see, I appreciated that the plot line was original. The road was lined with challenges both fantastic and psychological with horror elements that truly made it a gripping and haunting tale. 

Horror Fiction         Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Shusterman, Neal. The Toll. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-481-49706-0. 625 p. $19.99. Grades 7+.

Good and evil forces are aligned to fight for the fate of human and scythekind in this gripping and satisfying conclusion to the highly popular Arc of a Scythe series. Even in a perfect word designed by an advanced AI to solve all of humanity’s problems, the foibles and weakness of humans derail the best laid plans. The power within the worldwide Scythedom is being consolidated under the self-serving control of Scythe Goddard and the ugly realities of bigotry, fear mongering, and political intrigues are on display. Our favorite characters seem helpless, the honorable Scythe Faraday has retreated in despair to an atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Citra and Rowan are found in the wreckage after the Endura disaster and are now hunted by Goddard’s minions. Also on Goddard’s hitlist is Greyson Tolliver, the sole person to whom the Thunderhead speaks and the spiritual leader to the Tonists. The Thunderhead, by its own law, cannot intervene in the affairs of the Scythedom. But can a small group of thoughtful, committed, major characters change the fate of the world? Overall, an engaging and thought-provoking read.

THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for Grades 7+. This book already has a long waiting list for fans of this top notch dystopian sci-fi series; our library purchased two additional copies to meet demand. Interest in the series should continue as a motion picture is in the works.

Science Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Fischer Richardson, Nancy. The Speed of Falling Objects. Harlequin/Inkyard Press, 2019. 978-1-335-92824-5. 336 p. $18.00. Grades 9 and up.

Danny is not like her absentee father in any way. He’s the in-your-face TV personality “Cougar,” a world-famous survivalist that is always flying off to exotic locations with celebrities to show the television audience how to survive in whatever dangerous situation unfolds. Danny’s given name is actually Danger Danielle Warren, but because that’s the opposite of her careful, quiet personality and because her father, who left her and her mom when he struck it rich with his television show, is the one who christened her with that name, she goes by Danny instead. She’s certain that her father is disappointed in her because she isn’t daring and athletic like him, and she suspects she is also the cause of her mom’s bitterness toward her dad. Danny’s caution stems from her struggles with her balance and perception due to a childhood accident that caused her to lose an eye. When Danny is just about to turn seventeen, and after years of neglect, Cougar reaches out to her for the chance of a lifetime to go to the Amazon Rainforest with him and one of the most popular heartthrobs in the world for an adventure. She jumps at the chance to prove her worth even though her mother is against it. The book takes a dark turn when there is a plane crash, and Danny is confronted with the truth of her father and a family secret and her need to summon her own survival skills to try and make it out of the jungle alive.

THOUGHTS: Although the characters and events were a bit contrived, it made the story possible, so I can forgive them. This book will appeal to some of my students who will enjoy the survival aspect. Fair warning that many people die while trying to survive the plane crash and rainforest, and there is romance.

Action/Adventure          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

YA – Somewhere Only We Know; The Everlasting Rose; The Field Guide to the North American Teenager; Cold Day in the Sun; Wilder Girls; They Called Us Enemy; Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak; Love from A to Z

Goo, Maurene. Somewhere Only We Know. Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2019. 978-0-374-31057-8. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Lucky, a K-pop superstar at the top of her game, has lost her spark. Somewhere in between all the performances, rehearsals, and incredibly strict rules, Lucky herself got lost. Jack is unsure of his future. He longs to be a photographer, but parental expectations push him toward banking. To fuel his passion during a boring summer internship, Jack takes on a secret side-gig working for a sleazy gossip magazine. In an attempt to break free of her K-pop cage, Lucky dons a disguise and runs to take an illicit day off. When Jack runs into her on the street, he realizes her day off is the scoop of his lifetime. Set in Hong Kong, readers will enjoy falling in love with a new city alongside Lucky. After all, the life of a star makes everything more glamorous.

THOUGHTS: Although this story has been played out time and time again, the focus on K-pop and Hong Kong adds a cultural lens that makes it worth the read. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Clayton, Dhonielle. The Everlasting Rose. Freeform, 2019. 978-1-484-72848-2. 342 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

The Everlasting Rose is the second book in Clayton’s The Belles series. Camellia Beauregard has escaped the palace with her sisters Edel and Amber and is now hiding in the Spice Isles while the royal guards search the land for the fugitive Belles. Declared a murderer by the vile soon-to-be Queen Sophia, the disgraced favorite Camellia must risk everything she has to save not only her sisters but also the citizens of Orléans before Sophia can be crowned queen. After discovering the new queen’s horrific plans for the future of beauty and the Belles, Camellia knows the only way to stop her is to find Princess Charlotte, but first she must navigate a deep web of treason and espionage in order to do so.

THOUGHTS: In this delightful sequel to The Belles, Dhonielle Clayton once again manages to ensnare readers in the world of Orléans. The vivid imagery and unique concept make this series a must for middle and high school libraries. 

Fantasy          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

In a world where beauty is a currency and society strives to achieve the next new look, the Belles, young girls gifted with the magic to change one’s features, are its idols, especially the Belle named the favorite of the royal family. However, being close to the current royal family has become very dangerous. The Everlasting Rose picks up where The Belles left off, with Camillia and her Belle sisters on the run from the diabolical Queen Sophie. The girls, along with Camillia’s former bodyguard, Remy, need to avoid capture and locate Princess Charlotte, the rightful queen. Camillia finds aid in a most unexpected place: from a group known as the Iron Ladies, individuals who refuse any beauty treatments and are content with their natural, gray appearance. Clayton creates a fascinating new world populated with individuals absorbed in little other than their appearance. The magic, or aracana, used by the Belles in their treatments is delightfully well thought out and logical, in its world. But aside from a suspenseful plot, the book offers the opportunity to reflect on the place of beauty in today’s society.

THOUGHTS: A well-crafted sequel that will absorb readers and make them think as well.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Philippe, Ben. The Field Guide to the North American Teenager. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 978-0-062-82411-0. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Norris, a black French Canadian student, learned everything he needs to know about Americans from television sitcoms. When his mom takes a job in Austin, Texas, Norris bides his time in America by cataloging his peers. The unrelenting heat is brutal for Norris, but his notebook full of clichéd observations helps him pass the time. He is heading back to Canada as soon as he can. As Norris finds ways to make Texas a temporary home, he also finds a few friends. Some of the Texas boys even want Norris to teach them how to play ice hockey – a task that seems impossible at first but turns out to be fun. Maybe Texas and Americans aren’t so bad. Norris’s snark catches up to him, though, and it’s either run away and leave behind all of the friends he’s made, or face his choices and try to be a better person.

THOUGHTS: Though Norris’s descriptions of many peers are clichés, teen readers will see them for what they are: judgmental opinions. Norris has a lot to learn about being a friend, and the lighthearted banter of these teens belongs in every high school library.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Biren, Sara. Cold Day in the Sun. Amulet Books, 2019. 978-1-419-73367-3. 311 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Minnesota teen Holland Delviss would rather write articles for her school paper or post about music and hockey on her anonymous blog than be the focus of the story. But as the only girl on the boys’ varsity hockey team, she’s gotten used to dealing with friendly attention along with some hecklers. She focuses on training and avoids the drama of dating a teammate, especially her arrogant captain Wes “Hot Sauce” Millard. After an announcement that Halcyon Lake will be one of Minnesota’s HockeyFest cities, in the running to have a game televised statewide, Holland is pushed even further into the (very opinionated) public eye. And Wes turns out to be a dreamboat: an only seemingly arrogant jerk who actually respects and values Holland as a teammate, a friend, and a potential girlfriend. The author’s breezy writing style allows room for Holland to deal with some serious stuff without veering into “issues novel” territory (although some conversations with Holland’s journalism teacher do feel a little contrived). In particular, one opponent rattles her with a truly deplorable comment, but her motivation to excel at the game she loves is unshakeable.

THOUGHTS: Sara Biren’s knack for depicting Holland and Wes’s intense connection with a “PG” rating makes this hockey romance a total joy to read! With just the right amount of sweetness and spice, Cold Day in the Sun is a perfect choice for anyone who enjoyed Miranda Kenneally’s Hundred Oaks series or Ngozi Ukazu’s delightful Check, Please! 

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Power, Rory. Wilder Girls. Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-0-525-64558-0. 357 p. $18.99 Grades 9-12+.

Raxter School for Girls, located on a small Maine island, has been under quarantine since “the Tox” struck almost two years ago. Food, medicine, and routines are strictly regulated, and the girls cooperate with the quarantine guidelines because the Navy has promised to deliver a cure. Gun Shift girls patrol the roof day and night, while Boat Shift ventures beyond the school’s fence to meet a supply boat once a week. Meanwhile, surviving students suffer from flare-ups that result in boils, bruises, gills, and other terrifying symptoms. “Things bursting out of us, bits missing and pieces sloughing off, and then we harden and smooth over.” Hetty’s right eye was damaged in a flare-up, her eyelid fusing shut; she senses something growing underneath. The newest member of Boat Shift, Hetty becomes separated from the group on one of their outings. In the woods, she discovers a cooler with a blood sample labeled RAX009. Whose blood is it, and who is expecting it? Then Hetty’s best friend Byatt vanishes after suffering a flare-up. So this unique mystery unspools, with some genuinely unsettling scenes that will satisfy most horror fans. 

THOUGHTS: The dynamic between Hetty and her two best friends, Byatt and Reese, is at the raw beating core of this debut novel. Queer themes, plague novel elements, and female adolescence converge in a strange but beguiling narrative with a just-open-enough ending. And that cover, though!

Horror          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Takei, George. They Called Us Enemy. Top Shelf Productions, 2019. 978-1-603-09450-4. 204 p. $19.99. Grades 8+.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the military to exclude “persons” (e.g. Japanese and Japanese Americans) from designated areas, namely the entire west coast. George Takei, his parents, and his two younger siblings were among the 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry who the U.S. government relocated and “interned” during World War II. This outstanding graphic memoir interweaves an adult Takei’s memories with the child’s impressions/perspective he experienced during four years spent in two internment camps. Harmony Becker’s black and white illustrations vividly evoke the emotions and anger of U.S. citizens uprooted from their homes and forced to leave behind cherished possessions, valuable property, businesses, and community. They Called Us Enemy also depicts the lighthearted fun that children can find in any situation, as young George explores his new surroundings. George’s future as a successful actor and social justice advocate are chronicled here, too. On every page, the steadfast love of his parents, most notably his father’s unshakeable belief in a people’s democracy, shines through. 

THOUGHTS: To borrow from the “About the Creators” note (and Star Trek), George Takei’s life story goes where few stories have gone before. His first person account reveals the lessons to be learned from a dark chapter in American history, so that we can do better than to repeat it over again. George’s 2014 TED talk, “Why I Love a Country that Once Betrayed Me,” is a worthy introduction to this history and his personal ideals.

Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, no one could have understood how much this decision would change the lives of so many individuals except those whose lives were uprooted. This Order called for the relocation of thousands of individuals of Japanese ancestry, even those who were born in the United States. Among the thousands was George Takei, a young boy, and his family. For the duration of World War II, George’s family lived in armed guarded interment camps. Takei reflects on his childhood memories and his family’s experiences through a child’s innocent eye, recognizing that while his parents suffered, he did not understand their struggles until he was much older. Interwoven throughout his memoir are George’s experiences as an adult which remind him of his childhood. One moving example is when George is invited to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, but his father refuses to attend.

THOUGHTS:Takei’s account of his childhood reminds readers of the innocence and resilience of children and the commitment of adults, specifically George’s parents, to keep their lives as normal as possible despite dire circumstances. Aside from one minor language trick a teen boy plays on George, this piece of history belongs in all middle and high school collections. Pair with other popular historical fiction titles like Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, and future history Internment by Samira Ahmed.

Graphic Memoir          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Alsaid, Adi. Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak. Inkyard Press, 2019. 978-1-335-01255-5. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

It’s the summer after high school, and Lu has great plans that do not include heartbreak. After her longtime boyfriend dumps her, Lu finds herself uninspired which isn’t a good thing when her NYU college scholarship depends on the love column she writes for Misonmer, an online magazine. Before Leo came into her life, Lu would eavesdrop to get inspired for her writing. Now without Leo, she once again resorts to eavesdropping which leads her to meet Cal and Iris, a couple who is in a similar position of a post-high school relationship dilemma. When Lu learns of their plan to stay together until the end of the summer, though, she becomes obsessed and wonders where she and Leo went wrong. Determined to find the answer and overcome her writer’s block, Lu becomes friends with Cal and Iris. When writing a feature column on Cal and Iris isn’t helping her writer’s block, Lu becomes entwined in distractions and puts everything else – friends, family, and writing on hold.

THOUGHTS: Alsaid highlights how easily one can be swept in love, putting many other aspects of life on hold. Teen readers will feel for Lu but may become frustrated with her inability to move on. For a seemingly intelligent girl, putting her college scholarship (and job) on the line seems very un-Lu-like. Recommended for high schools where Alsaid is popular or romance is in demand.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Ali, S.K. Love from A to Z. Salaam Reads, 2019. 978-1-534-44272-6. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Being constantly told how “bad” Muslims are (when she’s the only Muslim in class) fuels Zayneb’s anger. Wrongfully suspended for confronting her racist teacher, Zayneb is sent on an early spring break to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar. On the plane ride and subsequent layover she meets Adam. Returning home from college with a secret multiple sclerosis diagnosis, Adam knows he finally needs to tell his family, but with the anniversary of his mother’s death, it never seems like a good time. Zayneb and Adam each have kept journals of marvels and oddities – things they encounter in life. Despite their differences, they help each other process challenging emotions and situations they encounter. Zayneb and Adam are from different parts of the world and have very different personalities, though, and they may not always understand exactly what the other is experiencing.

THOUGHTS: Teen readers will love Zayneb and need to “meet” her! Love from A to Z is a beautiful love story featuring Muslim characters front and center and is a must have for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Hot Dog Girl; Every Moment After; Like a Love Story; Bloom; The River; Rough Magic; Between the Water and the Woods; Cyber Nation; The Raven’s Tale; Tell Me Everything; You Must Not Miss; Never Caught; You Owe Me a Murder; Love from A to Z; Serious Moonlight

Dugan, Jennifer. Hot Dog Girl. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. 978-0-525-51625-5. $18.99. 320 p. Grades 8 and up.

The summer before senior year should be carefree and fun-filled, but Elouise (Lou) Parker’s summer is off to an awful start. Magic Castle, the amusement park she has frequented since childhood and has worked at since last year, has announced this summer will be its last. To add insult to injury, Lou gets stuck with one of the worst jobs in the park. Again. She’ll play the role of the dancing Hot Dog Girl in the food court. The unflattering, hot, vomit-inducing costume is yet another reminder that she is just not crush-worthy. Her feelings for her crush Nick – the Pirate Diver in one of the park’s shows – will never be reciprocated, especially not when he’s dating Jessa, the girl who plays the princess at Magic Castle. Lou decides to revive her summer by secretly scheming to save Magic Castle via some questionable methods and rejuvenating her best friend Seeley’s love life by fixing her up on a date with the perfect girl. Lou’s scheming goes a little far, though, when she involves Seeley in her quest to break up Nick and Jessa. Subplots with family conflicts give the plot a little more substance, as well, but ultimately, this is a solid coming-of-age tale about love and facing inevitable change.

THOUGHTS: Laugh-out-loud funny at times and written in an authentic first-person teen voice, this book will appeal primarily to female readers looking for a fun summer read. The-dying-old-business-that-holds-so-many-childhood-memories-it-must-be-saved plot feels a bit stale, but the complex relationships are what make this book a good addition to teen collections, especially where there is a high demand for LGBTQ titles. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Moldover, Joseph. Every Moment After. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-1-328-54727-9. $17.99. 362 p. Grades 9 and up.

Cole Hewitt and Matt Simpson are well-known in their suburban New Jersey town, but it’s because they are some of just a few survivors of a tragic school shooting that happened in their first grade classroom when 18 of their classmates were killed. And that depends on one’s definition of “survivor;” the only reason – in Matt’s mind – that he survived is because he was home struggling with his diabetes that day. In the years since the shooting, the town has turned into a living memorial. Monuments both large and small pop up everywhere. The diner in town posts every failed gun control bill on its walls. The survivors themselves serve as living reminders, and the boys each handle it differently. Cole is reserved and awkward, not wanting people to recognize him as the boy in the viral photo from the shooting. Matt is wracked with guilt over not being there that day and constantly questions whether or not he is meant to live. Now they are graduating from high school, and a time in life that is scary enough for any teenager is exponentially more complicated for Cole and Matt. They must navigate family, love, and their friendship through the summer after high school carrying with them the after-effects of the tragedy that they will never forget. Told in alternating points of view between Cole and Matt, this book – which is Muldover’s debut novel – will appeal more to male readers, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

THOUGHTS: This book is heavy. Though not graphic, it obviously deals with matters of life and death. Additionally, just as a warning, it contains more offensive language than the average YA. However, the fact that it also deals with typical YA themes like love and friendship with MALE narrators is a huge plus for this book. Cole and Matt’s friendship is real and raw and touching, and this is one of the best male-narrated YA books I’ve read. I find it similar in style and tone to a John Corey Whaley novel. In an English or Social Studies class, this novel would pair well with a non-fiction book about a school shooting or gun control. Moldover focuses on the human element of a tragedy such as this, but still manages to touch on both sides of a deeply personal and passionate political debate without being overly political.

Realistic Fiction           Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Nazemian, Abdi. Like a Love Story. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 978-0-06-283936-7. $17.99. 413 p. Grades 9 and up.

It’s 1989. The AIDS epidemic evokes fear in the gay community, and Madonna’s music is at peak popularity. This is the New York City in which Art, Reza, and Judy live. Reza, originally born in Iran, just moved to Manhattan from Toronto. He and his mom and sister fled from Iran during the revolution, and now his mom is remarried. When he starts school, Reza quickly befriends edgy aspiring fashion designer Judy. Her best friend Art is the only known gay student at school. At first Judy misreads Reza’s fear of Art as homophobia, but Reza’s fears have more to do with himself. Reza’s known for some time he likes boys but is afraid to come out for multiple reasons, namely fear of his Iranian family’s reaction but also of contracting AIDS – which at this time was thought to be a disease that plagued only the gay community. As Reza starts dating Judy, he gets to know Art better and develops a secret crush on him. He also gets to know Judy’s Uncle Stephen who is gay too and suffers from AIDS. Stephen is an activist for AIDS research, and Art and Judy attend meetings and protests with him; eventually, Reza joins them, despite fear of what his parents would think if they found out. Art also introduces Reza to Madonna, and they all bond over their love of her music and the ideas for which she stands. Can Reza keep hiding who he really is – and his feelings for Art? Find out in this funny and moving coming of age novel about self-expression and owning who you are no matter your age, race, gender, or orientation. 

THOUGHTS: This book is more than just an LGBTQ love story. Because of its setting and Uncle Stephen’s position in the ACT UP activist group, it serves as a history lesson on the AIDS crisis and how far gay rights have come in the last 30 years. As a lifelong fan of Madonna, I found her role in this novel and the allusions to her songs particularly enjoyable as well. Current teen readers may not understand or appreciate these references as much, though it may serve as a good education for them on the Queen of Pop (Recently, a student actually asked me if Madonna was even still alive). Excellent addition to any YA collection, and possibly a good supplementary novel for health, history, or any class studying the AIDS crisis. Appealing to not only LGBTQ readers but also anyone fighting discrimination of any kind. The hopeful message to all readers is to “Express Yourself” no matter who your “True Blue” self is!

Historical Fiction           Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Panetta, Kevin, and Savanna Ganucheau. Bloom. First Second, 2019. 978-1-626-72641-3. 351 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Ari Kyrkos wants to move to the city with his bandmates to try and make their music career happen, but his parents want him to stay home and work full-time at their struggling Kyrkos Family Bakery. If he can find a qualified employee to replace him, maybe Ari can move without leaving his family in the lurch. Enter dreamy Hector Galeai, who has just finished his first year at culinary school and is in town to empty his Nana’s house. The boys bond over sourdough rolls, stargazing, and a road trip to the Maryland State Fair. But just when they connect physically, an accident at the bakery and misplaced blame drive them apart. Can Ari swallow his pride and reconnect with the boy he loves, delivering readers a happy-for-now ending to this sweet summer romance?

THOUGHTS: This winning graphic novel in beachy blues and greys is the perfect choice for readers seeking a romance with heart and a realistic conflict that doesn’t hinge on the characters’ sexual identity. Well-developed supporting characters, a recipe, and a playlist round out a delightful read.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Heller, Peter. The River. Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 978-0-525-52187-7. 253 p. $25.95. Grades 10 and up.

Dartmouth students Jack and Wynn, best friends who have just wrapped up a summer working as wilderness instructors in the Adirondacks, are now taking a month-long canoe trip through the lakes leading into the Maskwa River (Canada) and eventually the Hudson Bay. After smelling smoke for two days, they observe a potentially deadly forest fire. They do their best to warn other campers about the fire, including a couple they previously overheard arguing loudly on the lakeshore. But when they find him, the man is alone, injured, and claiming his wife disappeared in the night. Jack and Wynn double back to find her, touching off a chain of events that pits them against their fellow adventurers as well as the elements. This slim novel successfully blends elements of psychological suspense, survival, and transformative journeys. The prose is beautifully austere, with Jack’s and Wynn’s backstories filling in the calm stretches between whitewater and other perils. The River is a literary achievement that’s also a pageturner; it’s as taut as a spring-loaded snare trap! 

THOUGHTS: With main characters in their very early twenties, The River is an excellent crossover selection for readers who enjoy adventure stories with a tinge of menace. Comparable crossover thrillers include Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta and Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin.

Each year, seniors in Ridley High School’s Advanced Placement English Literature class participate in an end-of-year book club during the month between their A.P. exam and graduation. Recent selections include Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann and Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. I will definitely suggest The River as an option for next year’s book club!

Fiction (Crossover)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Prior-Palmer, Lara. Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race. Catapult, 2019. 978-1-948-22619-6. 288 p. $25.00. Grades 9 and up.

When Lara Prior-Palmer was nineteen, she entered the Mongol Derby, touted as the world’s toughest horse race, on a whim, and much to everyone’s surprise, including her own, she won, becoming the first female, and the youngest rider ever to do so. It’s telling that the title of the book uses the adjective “loneliest” rather than “toughest” to describe this race; not once throughout the entire 1,000 kilometer journey does Prior-Palmer allude to the toughness of the experience, while her solitude is palpable. With little hope of winning, let alone finishing the race, Prior-Palmer sets her expectations low, and when she is in close to last place at the end of the first day, it seems like a good plan. It is just this freedom from the trappings of competition, along with her ambivalence towards riding solo, that allows her to move up the ranks. Once she realizes that she’s doing well, however, she doesn’t shy away from her (somewhat shameful) need to remain at the top of the pack. She is an unusual narrator, given to philosophical musings, and starkly honest self-reflection, and writes very much in the vein of the 1950s Beat movement. Just like the race itself, the book is a meandering, introspective, yet gripping, narrative. Peppered throughout are quotes from the Tempest (the only book she brought with her), letters to her mother, Mongolian sayings and cultural references, and poetic descriptions of the landscape. This is not an endorsement for the Derby itself, nor is it a motivational guide to risk-taking and living life to its fullest; it is a no-nonsense, strangely compelling, almost epistolary exploration of this singular moment in Prior-Palmer’s life, told without hubris, but with a dash of dry British wit.

THOUGHTS: Prior-Palmer speaks often about her inability to fit in anywhere, and especially her frustration with the rigidity of the institution of education; her story, and her narration, will speak to those students who have similar feelings of frustration, isolation, and a touch of wanderlust, which, let’s face it, is most adolescents.

Memoir          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Snaith, Simone. Between the Water and the Woods. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-44020-7. 311 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up.

Magic, chivalry, monsters, secrets – these are just a few things that drive Simone Snaith’s debut novel, Between the Water and the Woods. We first meet the Bird family – Emeline, her younger brother, Dale, and Dada, their father – living a quaint country life in the small village of Equane. Their quiet lives are shattered, however, when Emeline and Dale encounter an Ithin, a monster of myth, living in the haunting woods across the moat. After reviewing the laws of the land, it is determined that the family must travel to the capital to tell the king in person about their encounter. The Birds, along with their driver, Fish, and their stowaway, Aladane (Dale’s good friend, with a serious case of FOMO), are unprepared for the ruthlessness of the world, and in short succession come across highway men, an assassin, a haughty Lash Knight, and a wealthy Sapient who is the potential heir to the throne. When they finally arrive in the capital, the villagers find themselves in the middle of a philosophical war between the Sapients – those who only believe in science and technology – and the Theurgists – those who believe deeply in magic, and the old tales. In the midst of all of this, Emeline discovers that she possesses true elemental magic, and has the ability to control water plants. She keeps it a secret, even from her family, for she knows that in the wrong hands, this knowledge could have potentially dangerous consequences for her and for her family. This is a rollicking adventure, with a courageous heroine at its heart who readers will root for. There is a sweet, chaste romance, as well, along with more serious treatment of class divisions, oligarchy, and, in a small way, the trappings of wealth. Readers will eagerly await the next installment.

THOUGHTS: A perfect book for fans of medieval tales of knights and chivalry, and for middle grade readers looking to graduate up to more complex fairy tales.

Fantasy          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Hulick, Kathryn. Cyber Nation: How the Digital Revolution is Changing Society. ReferencePoint Press, 2019. 978-1-682-82469-6. $29.95. 80 pg. Grades 6-12.

This stand alone title focuses on how digital technology is changing the way people interact, learn, and form their identities online. Broken into chapters focusing on relationships, society, information overload, identity dilemma, and future issues, this title is full of information and real life connections. Chapters are broken into subsections that highlight how easy it is to “hide” your true self while online – leading to cyberbullying, addiction, and overstimulation. Information is provided on how digital culture is affecting change in how people spend money and the need to have items “now.” Topics also addressed in brief detail include fake news, cybercrimes, censorship, and propaganda. The final chapter will hit home with students as it focuses on how the internet will greatly affect their future with virtual reality, AI, and how “smart” cities can help fix worldly problems. 

THOUGHTS: A great title for students researching the cause and effects of constant access to the internet and the future of digital access. A bit dry at times, the information is useful and applicable to the topic. The source notes, websites, and organizations available in the back of the book allow students to delve further into how the cyber world is shaping our lives.

302.30285 Social Interaction        Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Winters, Cat. The Raven’s Tale. Amulet Books, 2019. 368 p. $17.99. 978-1-419-73362-8.  Grades 9-12.  

1826, Richmond, Virginia. Seventeen-year-old Edgar Allan Poe longs to escape his foster father, John Allan. The Allans took in three-year-old Edgar when his parents died, and though his foster father showed some pride in Edgar for a while, that feeling has vanished in the face of Edgar’s writing, a talent in which businessman John Allan sees no future. Freedom is less than two weeks away, when Edgar leaves for college in Charlottesville. That’s if Edgar can make it that long. The situation worsens when Edgar’s muse physically appears in town, making residents fearful with her garish, increasingly raven-like appearance. Edgar–and John–know muses are real–John killed his own muse years ago by pushing her into a fire, and he’ll be damned if Edgar gives in to the same weaknesses. Edgar faces a devastating choice: obey his wealthy “Pa” and succumb to mindless business career, or follow the macabre muse he names Lenore and live penniless and shunned, unable to support himself let alone his secret love Elmira Royster. Yet Lenore is relentless: “Let them see me!” she demands. Edgar’s circumstances worsen at college as his foster father denies him adequate funds, and Edgar turns unsuccessfully to gambling. Many recognize his giftedness, including a second would-be muse, Garland O’Peale. Both O’Peale and Lenore hope for victory over Edgar’s soul, but neither will find this an easy fight. Edgar is young, tortured by death, and so very alone. 

THOUGHTS: Drawing on extensive research into Poe’s life, Winters crafts an elegantly written tale, told in alternating chapters from Edgar’s and Lenore’s points-of-view. The result is a novel appropriately suspenseful and macabre, weaving in Poe’s writing and creating an atmosphere which evokes a grim yet creative life that brings to mind the tortured Mary Shelley depicted beautifully in Lita Judge’s Mary’s Monster. Highly recommended for high school collections, this will entice many readers into a new or strengthened following of Poe’s horror writing.      

Historical Horror: Poe, Muses          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Enni, Sarah. Tell Me Everything. Scholastic, 2019. 282 p. $17.99. 978-1-338-13915-0.  Grades 7-12. 

Ivy thrives on art and photography, but people or the spotlight, not so much. She does well enough keeping to herself, though she’s just endured a boring summer without her best friend since fourth grade, Harold, by her side. Harold is an intelligent go-getter whose summer was spent at an Ivy League prep camp, an experience both exhilarating and sobering. Now Harold is diving into any class or club that he can, determined to impact the world, while Ivy prefers the newly minted anonymous art-sharing app VEIL. VEIL has made headlines nationwide, but it stays local, and wipes itself clean every Sunday. Though Ivy never posts any of her own artwork, she follows the posts eagerly, feeling curious about the artists and so inspired that she wishes to thank artists for the connection she feels. This desire to help and encourage others is Ivy’s strength, and she gives gifts, anonymously, then openly, to various people she has identified by their posts. But the pressure is high for Harold, and so, when Ivy discovers what she thinks is his secret, she decides to throw him a party. However, her assumptions about Harold, and her disregard for the “anonymous” label, create some horrible breakdowns in friendships. Meanwhile, a hateful anti-gay VEIL post has parents concerned and suing the creator, who unexpectedly folds the app. Where can Ivy go now?

THOUGHTS: Ivy is a likable character with a huge heart and talent, and thankfully, a strong friend in Harold.  Several adult characters, including Ivy’s art teacher and refreshingly, her parents, counsel her wisely and with compassion. Enni has a knack for current slang and a feel for how teenagers relate on and offline. The novel uses social media and art as a clever way to investigate anonymity, bravery, and character change. Though Ivy and Harold are sophomores, the novel feels written for junior high, and will work for grades 7-12.      

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Leno, Katrina. You Must Not Miss.  Little, Brown & Company, 2019. 294 p. $17.99. 978-0-316-44977-9. Grades 10-12.  

Six months ago, sophomore Margaret “Magpie” Lewis had a decent life. Normal family, close best friend Allison, and reasonable grades. But in one night, everything collapsed. She and Allison walked in on Magpie’s naked dad and aunt having sex, her mom retreated into alcohol, and her college sister Eryn kept her promise to leave if her mom ever got drunk again. To add to the pain, Magpie got drunk and was sexually assaulted by Allison’s boyfriend Brandon, and popular Allison immediately decimated Magpie’s social life. Now, a very depressed Magpie attends school, does no schoolwork, sits at the outcast lunch table, and is in danger of repeating her sophomore year. She holds her new social circle at arm’s length–Clare, whose father committed suicide; bisexual Luke; trans Ben; and Brianna, who is not allowed to live down a humiliating school incident. In a yellow notebook, Magpie creates Near, a place where her former life never fell apart, where everything is perfect, and she feels no pain, only happiness.  She believes in Near so strongly that she brings it to life, accessible via the shed in her backyard. It becomes not only a refuge, but a plan of revenge. Magpie introduces Clare to Near but quickly sees the difficulties. She instead uses Near to exact revenge on those who have hurt her–her father, her sister, Brandon, Allison (who escapes), and oddly, her teacher but not her mother. This is a slow read of an interesting premise whose details are not fleshed out well. Her alter-ego “Hither” warns her of consequences, but nothing more than exhaustion and migraines affect Magpie.  Magpie disappears into Near, but her teacher and her father return (with no memories), though they were all eaten by monsters like Brandon (who does not return). Then Allison herself chooses Near.

THOUGHTS: This is a dull read of a girl who gets temporary revenge that changes only Allison’s opinion of her, but Magpie never gets the help she needs to face reality.   

Fantasy          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Dunbar, Erica Armstrong, and Kathleen Van Cleve. Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away. Simon and Schuster, 2019. 254 p. $18.99. 978-1-534-41617-8. Grades 5-12.

Ona “Oney” Judge was born into slavery on George and Martha Washington’s estate.  At ten years old, she became Martha’s personal attendant, working to smooth all the details of Martha’s wardrobe, comfort, and volatile personality. But times were changing, and many in the country were pushing for laws to free slaves, whether immediately, gradually, or at the owner’s death. As evidenced by their letters, George’s views conflicted, but Martha’s did not; she clung to the life she had been born to expect, and slaves were part of that world. As a teenager, Oney accompanied Martha to Philadelphia, seeing a completely different world: a largely free black society, white servants, and making friends in the free black community. Upon learning that Martha planned to give Oney as a wedding gift to her granddaughter–a spoiled girl who grew into an incorrigible woman–Oney decided to escape. On March 21, 1796, at twenty-two years old, Oney chose the one time of day she was least needed, during dinner, and escape by walking from the estate onto a ship bound for Portsmouth. Enraged at the humiliation by a girl “brought up and treated more like a child than a servant,” (177) the Washingtons maintained that Oney “ought not to escape with impunity” (177). What follows is a pursuit thwarted by Oney’s stalwart resolution not to return to Mount Vernon to be freed: “I am free now and choose to remain so.” It was also thwarted by abolitionists: New Hampshire Governor Langdon, who tipped off Oney to a pursuer’s second attempt to take her by force, and by customs officer Joseph Whipple, who after meeting Ona communicated clearly to George Washington to consider abandoning slavery nationwide, follow the established laws (which Washington was sidestepping) and acknowledge the changing tide of opinion on slavery. Due to political changes and to George Washington’s death in December 1799, Oney was no longer pursued, but neither was she technically “free” unless freed by Martha or Martha’s descendants (she never was). Her life in New Hampshire was one of her own making–she chose to marry a free black sailor and raised three children–it was also a life of great poverty and hardship (she outlived her husband and children, and never learned of her Mount Vernon relatives again).

THOUGHTS: A little-known story of a young woman whose “audacity” to live free astonished leaders of our nation and certainly helped to push for anti-slavery laws. Many “supposed” thoughts are inserted into Oney’s (and others’) actions, “Maybe she closed her eyes and imagined her mother…maybe she thought about the new black church that was forming just a few blocks away…” (97). This is an uncomfortable interpretation on history that is more than overdone in the book, but it could serve to make these characters feel more real to young readers. A solid addition to middle and high school collections.               

Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Cook, Eileen. You Owe Me a Murder. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 9781328519023. 346 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10. 

Kim is on her way to Europe, but rather than being excited, she is miserable. Her ex-boyfriend is also on the trip, with his new girlfriend. When a friendly girl named Nikki starts talking to Kim on the plane, they find they have many interests in common, including being so mad at someone they could just kill them. Nikki proposes that she will kill Connor, Kim’s ex, if Kim kills Nikki’s mother. After the flight lands in London, Kim doesn’t give the conversation another thought, until Connor dies. Was it an accident? Or did Nikki really kill him? All doubts are erased when Kim receives a note: You owe me a murder. At first she shrugs it off; how can Nikki make her commit murder? But it soon becomes evident that Nikki has plotted this well, and Kim will have to out-think Nikki to be free of her control. The tension is high throughout the book, with red herrings and plot twists to keep readers guessing until the very end.

THOUGHTS: A taut psychological thriller that will captivate fans of One of Us is Lying.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Ali, S.K. Love from A to Z. Salaam Reads, 2019. 978-1-5344-4272-6. 335 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Oddity: When Zayneb gets suspended from school for (once again) defending her Muslim faith to her Islamaphobic teacher, her frustrated mother decides to send her to Doha, Qatar, to visit her aunt. Oddity: Adam, coming to terms with a diagnosis of MS, the disease that killed his mother, decides to drop out of college and return home to Doha, Qatar. Marvel: They notice each other in the London airport. Marvel: They speak on the plane to Qatar. Marvel: Her aunt works with his dad. They meet. There is attraction. But Zayneb is on her best behavior, trying to develop a more mellow personality than her outspoken activist self. Adam has yet to reveal his medical prognosis to his father. Can true love flourish under these conditions? This journal-style narrative switches viewpoints between Zaynab and Adam, slowly revealing the layers of their personalities. Intertwined is their devotion to their faith, which gently allows Ali to discuss Islamophobia, cultural appropriation and Muslim culture, including wearing the hijab and dating mores. Readers may be attracted by the plot but will be all the richer for having read the book.

THOUGHTS: A first purchase where romances are popular and an excellent addition to multi-cultural collections. 

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Bennett, Jenn.  Serious Moonlight. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-42514-9. 425 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up.

Birdie Lindbergh, mystery lover extraordinaire, is in something of a pickle. The boy she had both a wonderful and disastrous one night stand with just happens to be working at the same hotel where she has landed her first job. Daniel is everything Birdie is not – gregarious, charming, friends with everyone, and in Birdie’s estimation, uncomplicated. Despite their obvious attraction to each other, and Daniel’s solicitous behavior towards her, Birdie is floundering, unsure of her own feelings. Birdie, whose mother passed away when she was young, has lived under her grandmother’s conservative and overprotective thumb for so long, isolated from peers who her own age because of homeschooling, that she second guesses every interaction. When Daniel suggests they work together – strictly as friends – to solve a mystery at the hotel involving a hyper-famous mystery writer, she can’t resist. Jenn Bennett, just like magic-loving Daniel, masterfully utilizes misdirection throughout the novel; just when the reader thinks they know exactly what path Birdie and Daniel are going down, she veers off into an unexpected, but wholly welcome, direction. The secondary characters, particularly Birdie’s sweet natured grandfather, and her outrageous, larger-than-life auntie, are well developed and play vital roles in Birdie’s life. While Birdie is our main protagonist, it is actually Daniel who steals the spotlight over and over again – Birdie often comes off as a bit one dimensional. Daniel, on the other hand, with his outgoing, witty, and disarmingly nerdy personality draw readers in right away. A breezy, fun, and heartfelt romance novel.

THOUGHTS: This is a decidedly mature book, peppered throughout with cursing, and fairly graphic intimacy – recommended for an older YA audience.

Realistic Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

YA – The Agony House; Glimmer of Hope; Starry Eyes; Darius the Great is Not Okay; Sam and Ilsa’s Last Hurrah; Forest Queen; I Am Still Alive; Five Feet Apart

Priest, Cherie, and Tara O’Connor, illustrator. The Agony House. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018. 978-0-545-93429-9. 256 p. $18.99. Grades 7+.

For Denise Farber, the house at 312 Argonne Street in New Orleans’ St. Roch neighborhood is more of an “Agony House.” Denise’s father and grandmother died during Hurricane Katrina, and for years afterwards she and her mother bounced from one small Texas town to another. Now, with one year of high school left, she’s moved back to the area with her mom and stepfather to help fulfill their dream of renovating a fixer-upper into a welcoming bed and breakfast. The Agony House, though, is both dangerously decrepit and definitely haunted. Undeterred by a “primordial funk” emanating from the attic, and with the help of ghost-hunting pal Terry, Denise discovers an unpublished comic book called Lucida Might and the House of Horrors. She begins researching the author’s life and whether he perished inside the Agony House. Meanwhile, all-too-real perils echo the novel’s storyline; someone — or something — is trying to scare off Denise’s family and their home improvements. Illustrator Tara O’Connor contributes Lucida Bright’s portion of the story, which are a highlight.

THOUGHTS: This is an excellent, mildly scary selection for readers who enjoy R.L. Stine’s Return to Fear Street series. Cherie Priest deftly balances a haunting with the all-too-real presence of white privilege, gentrification, and sexism.

Horror          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


The Founders of March For Our Lives. Glimmer of Hope. Razorbill. 2018 978-1-984-93609-0. $18.00. Grade 8 +.

Conversational in tone, Glimmer of Hope is a collection of essays and recollections written by the students involved in the March for Our Lives movement. The survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida came together to create a response to the gun violence plaguing the USA. Featured essays written by the famous leaders of movement David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Delaney Tarr, Cameron Kaskey, and several others reflect on the events during the day of the shooting and the weeks following as they planned for action. The students provide a timely and inspiring call to action and the book ends with a platform of ten specific reforms with the aim to put sensible gun control legislation into place across the country.  

THOUGHTS: An inspiring read, encouraging readers to take a stand to prevent future tragedy. A recommended purchase for every high school collection.

363.33 Control of Firearms       Nancy Summers Abington SD


Bennett, Jenn. Starry Eyes. Simon Pulse, 2018. 978-1-481-47880-9. 417 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

It’s the summer before senior year, and at her mother’s insistence, Zorie agrees to go on a camping trip at a luxurious resort in northern California with her popular friend, Reagan, and some other girls. In an unexpected turn of events, however, she discovers last minute that there will be boys on this trip as well, including her ex-best friend, Lennon, and her crush, Brett. Things take a turn for the worst when the group gets kicked out of the campground, Reagan and Zorie get into a huge fight, and the group ditches Zorie and Lennon in the wilderness. Left alone in the wild, Zorie and Lennon face many obstacles, but perhaps their biggest obstacle is their own unresolved feelings about each other. This beautifully written novel straddles the line between love story and adventure/survival story and would make an excellent addition to any young adult collection.

THOUGHTS: Definitely written for a high school audience, there is some swearing and sex throughout this book. The book also addresses some sensitive subjects, including lesbianism (Lennon has two mothers), homophobia (Zorie’s father despises Lennon’s mothers) and divorce (Zorie’s parents separate when her father cheats on her mother). However, everything is very tastefully written and likely very relatable for many teens. The thrill of wilderness survival adds an exciting backdrop to the story, setting it apart from your everyday love story. This is a must-have for all high school libraries!

Realistic Fiction          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD


Khorram, Adib. Darius the Great is Not Okay. Razorbill. 2018. 978-0-525-55296-3.  $18.00. Grade 9 +.

Sixteen-year-old Darius is named after the Persian emperor, Darius the Great, but does not feel the greatness within himself. A bit of a loner, he stands apart at school because of his anxiety and depression and his “Fractured Persian” heritage. Darius also feels apart from his own family. His mother, an Iranian immigrant, speaks Farsi with his charming and lovable younger sister Laleh but not with him. His father, a successful architect, has become distant and seemingly disapproving of Darius’ behavior, hair style, and lack of social skills. When Darius’ grandfather is diagnosed with cancer the family makes an extended visit to the family home in Yazd in Northern Iran. There Darius discovers much about his family, his heritage, and himself. He also finds true friendship with his grandparents’ teenaged neighbor, Sohrab, who shows Darius how to live in the moment. An enjoyable read – it is well-written with engaging characters and a thoughtful treatment of clinical depression.

THOUGHTS: The book provides a fascinating glimpse into a culture we do not see often on our shelves, Persian culture with the influence of the Zoroastrian faith, a minority religion in Iran.

Realistic Fiction           Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Sixteen year old tea aficionado Darius doesn’t fit into either of his parent’s cultures. A seemingly constant disappointment to his father, Darius considers himself a “Fractured Persian” because he isn’t wholly Iranian or American. When his grandfather’s terminal brain tumor begins to take a turn, Darius and his family head from Portland to Iran, the first trip Darius’s mother has made since before he was born. With a limited understanding of Farsi and a clinical depression diagnosis, Darius isn’t sure how this trip will be. Flagged by customs upon his entry into Tehran, Darius must explain why he has prescription medicine to a customs officer who thinks the depression is due to Darius’s diet (not that he asked for an opinion). Even his grandfather thinks Darius “just [has] to try harder” to be happy. However, Mamou, his loving grandmother, and Sohrab, a friendly peer neighbor, make Darius feel welcome immediately. Though this trip won’t last forever, Darius begins to feel like he belongs somewhere for the first time in his life. 

THOUGHTS: This book gives a unique look into the life of someone who struggles with depression and his cultural identity. 

Realistic Fiction           Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Cohn, Rachel, and David Levithan. Sam and Ilsa’s Last Hurrah. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-0-399-55384-4. 211 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Though they’ve lived the same wealthy lifestyle, twins Sam and Ilsa could not be more different. Known for their lavish parties, Sam and Ilsa are ready to host the best party yet and celebrate the end – of high school, of their grandmother’s Manhattan apartment, and of not being who they are meant to be (though they don’t yet realize this). Told in alternating voices, this duo has a lot to learn about themselves and about each other. 

THOUGHTS: The lifestyle of these siblings (and lack of adult supervision) struck me as somewhat unrealistic. Then again, I’ve always lived the small town life. An additional high school purchase where multi-narrative books are popular. 

Realistic Fiction           Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Cornwell, Betsy. The Forest Queen. Clarion Books, 2018. 978-0-544-8819-7. 296 p. $17.00. Gr. 8+.

Sylvie has led a sheltered life, but that is changing. As their father slowly fades away, her older brother, John, assumes control of the estate, and was recently appointed Sheriff by the king. A cruel individual, John delights in inflicting painful punishments, and Sylvie knows she is also in his sights. However, she is shocked and horrified when he arranges a marriage for her. In a panic, Sylvie finds comfort with her oldest friend, Bird, who works on the estate, eventually deciding to flee her home with him and live in the forest. As the friends begin attracting other refugees, Sylvie faces up to the cost of her privileged life, and makes amends by using her station and family connections to provide for their growing band, as well as the poor residents of the town, soon earning the sobriquet Forest Queen. This lovely twist on the Robin Hood tale is an engaging story. Familiarity with the legend adds to the enjoyment, but the story is captivating without prior knowledge. With many of the roles inverted gender-wise, this book packs a feminist punch. Sylvie is a compelling character, who develops into a forest-wise advocate for her people.

THOUGHTS:  A can’t-put-down book with strong female characters, The Forest Queen also touches on many pertinent social issues. A touch of romance adds to the fun.

Fantasy (Fairytale)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Marshall, Kate Alice. I Am Still Alive. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-0-425-29098-9. 314 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Surviving the accident that claimed her mother’s life and left her injured and scarred, Jess has to come to terms with her grief and accept her new life. With her father absent for most of her life, Jess thinks she’ll be left to finish high school with a friend or a foster family. Instead, she’s shipped off to the Canadian wilderness to live with her father. Only reachable by sea plane and forced to live with a father she doesn’t know, Jess is angry about her situation. As she adapts to the intense physical requirements of her new home, Jess begins to get to know her father. His secrets and mysterious absence from her life catch up to him though, and Jess must learn how to survive truly on her own. 

THOUGHTS: Though primarily about survival, this novel is so much more. Told in brief before and after chapters, survivor’s guilt, grief, loneliness, action, and adventure all take their turn in this fast-paced “will she make it” novel. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Lippincott, Rachael. Five Feet Apart. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-534-43733-3. 288 p. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Stella is meticulous about managing her cystic fibrosis. Her med cart is impeccable, her treatment routines are precise, and Stella is a rule follower. Combined, this ensures Stella lives. Enter Will. Resentful of the myriad hospitals and fancy trials around the world that his mother has gotten him into, Will just wants to live. Initially drawn together to fix the other’s flaw (Stella to help Will see the importance of treatment, and Will to help Stella see the importance of actually living), opposites attract in this sweet romance. Life for these two never really leaves the hospital grounds, and when it does catastrophe can strike. For Will, the sterile air inside no longer seems so limiting, while Stella begins to dream bigger than she thought she could. Where can they really go, though, when they have to be five feet apart. 

THOUGHTS: Though serious in its discussion of a progressive, genetic disease, this sweet romance will appeal to a variety of middle and high school readers. A must-purchase where romance novels are popular. The movie in spring 2019 will also draw in additional readers. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA FIC – The Great Alone, #MurderTrending, Hidden Pieces

Hannah, Kristin. The Great Alone. St. Martin’s Press, 2018. 978-0-312-57723-0. 448 p. $28.99. Grades 10+.

The Great Alone, a remarkable family drama, is the latest novel from Kristin Hannah, author of The Nightingale. In 1974, thirteen-year old Leni Allbright’s father has just returned to the U.S. after six torturous years as a Vietnam POW. Ernt inherits a small cabin in off-the-grid Alaska, and moves his wife Cora and daughter there for a fresh start. But the Allbright family is woefully unprepared for the upcoming Alaskan winter, and the months of darkness reveal a darkness within Ernt. Leni, for her part, embraces life in tiny Kaneq, attending a one-room schoolhouse and finding a friend in Matthew Walker, a third-generation Alaskan. Hannah lovingly unspools the years, interweaving Leni’s coming-of-age with her parents’ passionate but violent marriage. Several fraught survival scenes remind readers of the many ways to perish in Alaska, but finding out what happens to the inimitable Leni (and her beloved mother Cora) is what truly keeps those pages turning.

THOUGHTS: Readers will hate to see this lengthy crossover novel come to an end!

Historical Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District


McNeil, Gretchen. #MurderTrending. Freeform, 2018. 978-1-368-01002-3. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Dee Guerrera wakes up in the middle of a nightmare. She’s been sentenced to live out the remainder of her days (which won’t be many) on Alcatraz 2.0, a modern reality app where convicted criminals are sent to be hunted by one of many authorized serial killer personalities. With a reality television star elected President of the United States and the Department of Justice sold to the highest bidder, convicted criminals have little hope of surviving until an appeal date. Initially Dee isn’t hopeful, but as things seem to go her way, she aims to prove her innocence. On an island of serial killers hunting down convicted criminals, is there anyone Dee can trust or anyone who will believe her?

THOUGHTS: Teens hungry for fast-paced, serial killer fiction will rejoice with this YA title. #MurderTrending is an essential purchase where horror books are requested. Gruesome descriptions of death throughout the novel make this suitable for mature students.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Stokes, Paula. Hidden Pieces. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-0-062-67362-6. 448 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Worried that everyone eventually will leave her, Embry doesn’t share all of herself with many people. In fact, there’s only one person who really knows her, and he’s her best friend’s ex-boyfriend. Immense guilt over choices she’s made and things she’s done prevents Embry from telling the truth to those she loves. When Embry begins to receive anonymous messages threatening to expose her biggest secrets and hurt the people she loves, Embry spirals into constant paranoia, suspecting everyone.

THOUGHTS: At the heart of this page-turning mystery, readers will find one girl’s many insecurities – about friendship, family, love, and future plans. Desperate to solve the mystery and anxious to know the damages, mystery fans will fly through this one. Underage drinking, descriptions of sex, and language make this suitable for most high school readers.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA FIC – Wrong Train; Very, Very Bad Thing; Furyborn

De Quidt, Jeremy. The Wrong Train.  David Fickling Books, 2017. 9781338121254. 206 p.  $18.99.  Gr. 7-10.

This collection of eight truly creepy short stories has an equally creepy framing device:  a boy gets on a train going the wrong way and decides to get off as soon as he can. Unfortunately, the stop turns out to be dimly lit and nearly deserted. Train after train passes by without picking him up. The boy meets a strange old man who persists in telling him tales of terror to pass the time. Each story has a unique setting and characters, and each story has an ending more spine-tingling than the last. As the evening wears on, the boy does everything except beg the old man to stop telling the stories, but he persists, and there is an especially chilling twist at the end. THOUGHTS: This book is perfect for fans of R.L. Stine and for kids who are eager to read, but not quite ready for, Stephen King. Note that The Wrong Train isn’t for the faint of heart: there are no happy endings to any of these stories, including the frame story. Recommended for all middle school and high school libraries, as it’s almost impossible to have too much good horror fiction on hand.

Story Collection, Horror                   Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Self, Jeffrey. A Very, Very Bad Thing. New York: PUSH, 2017. 978-1-338-11840-7. 240 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Jeffrey Self’s A Very, Very Bad Thing reads like a modern take on John Knowles’ classic A Separate Peace. Marley is an average teen, who struggles with finding something he’s passionate about and mostly wants to be left alone. When he meets new boy Christopher, his worldview completely changes, and he falls hard and fast. Unfortunately, Christopher’s father is an evangelical preacher who believes homosexuality is a sin, and who has sent his son to numerous conversion therapy camps in the hopes of stamping out all of Christopher’s unnatural urges. Despite this, Christopher and Marley find support from Marley’s parents – former hippies with a penchant for meditative circles and extreme creative expression – his theater loving best friend, Audrey, who often acts as his conscience, and Christopher’s aunt, who does not support her brother-in-law’s views in the least. When Christopher’s father sends him to yet another conversion therapy camp, disaster strikes. The book toggles back in forth between the present and several months in the past; the present day chapters slowly reveal details about Marley’s rise to fame, and his shame about the circumstances that lead him there.  THOUGHTS:  This is not a subtle story; the message is loud, and clear, and gets in the way of could be a compelling tale. While the characters are charming at times, for the majority of the book they are all stereotypical archetypes, which hinders the reader’s ability to fully connect with any of them.

Realistic Fiction     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Legrand, Claire. Furyborn. New York: Sourcebooks, 2018. 978-1492656623. 512 p. $18.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Legrand has stepped out of her middle-grade shoes and leapt right into the heart of YA literature with a blockbuster of a novel. Furyborn, the first book in the Emperium trilogy, is an epic (in both scope and length – it’s a whopping 512 pages) fantasy adventure written from two different points of view: Rielle’s and Eliana’s, two strong-minded, fierce, and conflicted women whose loyalties are tested over and over again. There is a prophecy that two queens will rise: the Sun Queen and the Blood Queen, both of whom will have the ability to control all seven elemental magics – wind, fire, water, shadow, light, metal, and earth. After Rielle inadvertently displays her astounding magical abilities, it is discovered that she, in fact, can manipulate all of the elements. She is put through a series of trials to test not just her abilities, but also her control – when she was five years old, she lost her temper, and set her house on fire, resulting in the death of her mother. But Rielle has another secret: she has been communicating with an angel inside her head, an angel who’s help comes at a steep cost. One thousand years later, almost all of the lands have been conquered by the Emperor, and Rielle, her magic, and angels are nothing but myths and legends that few believe ever existed in the first place.  Eliana, known as the Dread of Orline, is one of those people; she is a hired assassin, working for the Emperor, hunting down rebels. She, too, has a secret: she cannot be injured; wounds close up, bones reknit, burns heal. She is forced to confront who or what she is when she learns some shocking secrets about her past. Legrand is a natural storyteller, and has imbued her novel with a cast of complex and diverse characters; she cleverly ends every chapter with a cliffhanger, and since each chapter flips between Rielle and Eliana, it’s almost impossible to put down. This is a very mature read, however, and not appropriate for younger readers – there is an extremely graphic sex scene, and the text is peppered with casual swearing. Thoughts: This is a perfect novel for fans of Kate Elliott’s Court of Five series, Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series, and Kiersten White’s And I Darken series.

Fantasy      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

YA Fiction – Wolf Hour; Unearthly Things; Book of Dust (Bk. 1); Hell & High Water

Holmes, Sarah Lewis. The Wolf Hour. New York: Scholastic, 2017. 978-0-545-10797-6. 320 p. $16.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Sarah Lewis Holmes has written an interesting, if overly long, take on classic fairy tales.  Using the familiar tropes of the wicked witch, the haunted wood, and the wayward child, Holmes spins the stories of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood on their heads.  The story is told from three perspectives: Magia, the daughter of a woodcutter; the Pigs – Biggest, Little, and Littlest; and Martin, a wolf. Magia’s dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps and chop the special wood from the trees in the Puszka, the dark forest that borders her home.  Magia’s mother has other plans for her though; she wants Magia to use her prodigious singing talents to make a name for herself in the city.  While Magia is happy that her singing soothes her mother’s pregnancy pains, she does not want to make a career out of it.  The Pigs’ dream is to get their mother back; they have been told by the witch that the only way to do so is to play out their story, over and over again: get chased by the wolf, take shelter in the house made of bricks, trick the wolf into climbing into the chimney where he falls to his death into a pot of boiling water. Martin’s dream is to stay safe in his tower of books and find the safety and love that he experienced before his mother was killed by a human.  Martin’s mother always warned him to stay away from stories, because they can suck you in, and you can lose yourself, and so Martin was raised on books of facts.  And then there’s the witch, the puppetmaster holding all of the strings.  Eventually, the characters all find themselves in the same story, and, for better or worse, need to figure out how to extract themselves in order to set things right.  THOUGHTS:  While the book definitely lags in the middle, and Holmes takes her time getting to the real meat of the story, her premise is clever, and the characters are well-drawn.  The love that each of these characters (other than the witch, perhaps) feels for their families is palpable and heartbreaking. Hand this book to lovers of fairy tales, and those who enjoy a slow-burning plot.

Fantasy        Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Gagnon, Michelle. Unearthly Things. Soho Teen, 2017. 978-1-61695-696-7 278p. $21.99.  Gr. 8 and up.

After Janie’s parents are killed in an accident, she is shipped off to a family in San Francisco, her dad’s best friend, supposedly. She is thrown into a world where buying an $800 dress seems to be the norm, while back home in Hawaii, that money could have paid a lot of bills. Janie is sent to a private school where everything seems foreign; she can’t even wear comfortable shoes to school. Things get pretty sinister and creepy as there seems to be a ghost in the house that is bothering Janie more than the other residents in the house. The motivations of her benefactors come into question.  Between that and the haunting, Janie does not feel safe anymore, but what can she do?   THOUGHTS: This is a fast-paced book that is more than a little sinister with plot twists galore. It is a retelling of Jane Eyre, that moves quickly. Students who have not read Jane Eyre would still enjoy this suspenseful tale.

Horror; Suspense      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Pullman, Philip. The Book of Dust. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-37581-530-0. 464 p. $22.99. Gr. 7-12.

Fans of Pullman’s classic His Dark Materials series will be delighted to re-enter the world of Lyra Belacqua. Set several years before The Golden Compass, Dust focuses on Malcolm, a twelve year old boy working at his parents’ inn on the River Thames. In his spare time, Malcolm helps the nuns with odd jobs around the local priory and takes care of his precious boat, La Belle Sauvage. The quiet of his little town is disrupted when the nuns take in orphaned baby Lyra, and Malcolm and his daemon Asta begin to pay special attention when curious visitors begin to frequent the inn. One of those visitors is Hannah, who befriends and exchanges information with Malcolm, and works to decipher the mysterious alethiometer device. Another guest is one less kindly; a strange man and his disfigured hyena daemon, who Malcolm believes is trying to kidnap Lyra. When a terrible storm begins to flood the town, Malcolm must set out on La Belle Sauvage to protect Lyra at any cost. THOUGHTS: A rich, absorbing fantasy set in the familiar, parallel world crafted by Pullman so many years ago. This exhilarating read is the beginning of another trilogy.

Fantasy     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Pullman, Philip. La Belle Sauvage. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 9780375815300. 449 pp. $22.99. Gr. 8 and up.  

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series has always been a favorite of mine and countless other fantasy fans. The long wait since the publication of The Amber Spyglass is rewarded with the first novel in Pullman’s new companion trilogy, The Book of Dust.  La Belle Sauvage is a welcome return to the fantastical, alternate world of England in the early 20th century.

This story follows 11-year old Malcolm Polstead, a charming and observant boy who works in his family’s inn near Oxford. By chance he finds a clue meant for a Resistance spy, who is working against the totalitarian Magisterium. The clue leads him to a friendship with Dr. Hannah Relf, a master of the alethiometer and the spy’s local contact in Oxford.  Intrigue builds as many characters come to town in search of information about a mysterious baby who has been left under the care and protection of nuns in the village. Malcolm and a local servant girl, Alice, become the protectors of baby Lyra as she comes under threat from agents of the Magesterium and a flood of biblical proportions. The three children and their daemons take refuge in Malcolm’s trusty boat, La Belle Sauvage, in search of Lyra’s father Lord Asriel.  THOUGHTS: Readers will be more than satisfied with this captivating adventure tale with terrific and complex new characters, an intriguing plot and the promise of more adventures to come. One of my favorite books of 2017.

Fantasy      Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Landman, Tanya. Hell and High Water. Candlewick Press, 2017. 978-07636-88752.  $17.99 312 pp. Gr. 7-12.

Caleb Chappell and his father make a living as traveling performers of Punch and Judy shows in 1752 England.  Caleb admires his father Joseph, who has creative, technical and moral understanding, so it is a blow when his father is wrongly imprisoned.  Rather than death, Joseph is sentenced to be sent to the colonies.  For Caleb, it feels like death.  But his father tells him to find his aunt (unknown to him) who will care for him, and he will find him again, “come hell or high water.”  His aunt and cousin Letty accept him, unlike the rest of the town who suspects him of everything due to his skin color.  Survival in their small town of Tawpuddle is dependent upon dangerous sailing trips and the wishes of nobleman Sir Robert Fairbrother.  Then Caleb is shocked to find his dead father’s body washed ashore, identifiable only by his ring.  But while Caleb summons help, the ring is stolen and the man buried, meant to be forgotten.  But much, much more is amiss, and Caleb’s determination to prove the man was his father leads him to unearth a landslide of secrets and power in this small seaside town.  THOUGHTS: A well-crafted and twisty tale with the right amount of suspense, atmosphere and characterization (even the puppets) to intrigue readers. With a focus on unmasking racism, sexism and the power of class structure to determine one’s fate, this is not to be overlooked.  

Historical, Mystery      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area School District

YA FIC – There’s Someone Inside Your House; Forest of a Thousand Lanterns; All the Crooked Saints; Who Killed Christopher Goodman?

Perkins, Stephanie. There’s Someone Inside Your House. Dutton Books, 2017. 978-0-5254-2601-1. 287 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Makani Young has recently moved from Hawaii to Indiana to live with her grandmother, after being involved in a bullying incident at her last school. Makani has sworn never to tell anyone her shameful past and doesn’t really love living in rural Indiana. In her new town, she has only a few close friends, Darby and Alex, and mainly looks after her grandmother, who has trouble with her memory. Makani also pines for her classmate Ollie, who has a troubled past of his own. When a talented classmate is brutally murdered, the town mourns and tries to move on. But as more and more students begin to die at the hands of an alleged serial killer, Makani and her friends try to discover who is killing, and why, before they become the next victims.  THOUGHTS: Perkins weaves an intriguing story, and at one point every character is a viable suspect. A perfect treat for horror fans that keeps you guessing until the very end.

Horror      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Dao, Julie C. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. Philomel Books, 2017. 978-1-5247-3829-7. 363 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

Eighteen year old Xifeng has lived with her cruel aunt, Guma, for her entire life and is often beaten for stepping out of line. Xifeng is resentful and often dreams of running away with her secret lover, Wei. While she and Guma embroider for a living, Guma assures Xifeng that her destiny is much greater; she has seen in the cards that Xifeng’s beauty and cunning will one day get her a powerful position in the kingdom, but only if she embraces the dark magic deep inside her. One day after a particularly horrific beating that disfigures her face, Xifeng and Wei set off for the Imperial City hoping that Xifeng can enter the Empress’s services as a lady-in-waiting and eventually fulfil her destiny. As time passes, Xifeng struggles to maintain friendships, navigate the treacherous eunuchs and concubines at the palace, and also with the darkness lurking under her skin. Xifeng is a complex anti-heroine whose character will linger with readers long after the last page. Dao’s debut is a polished and masterful Asian-inspired retelling of Snow White’s Evil Queen. THOUGHTS:  A beautiful, lush story with complex and diverse characters will delight readers. Julie C. Dao has written an engrossing and refreshing fairytale retelling that belongs in all libraries.

Fantasy      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends Central School

 

Stiefvater, Maggie. All the Crooked Saints. Scholastic, 2017. 978-0-545-93080-2. $18.99. 311 p. Gr. 7 and up.

In the small town of Bicho Raro, the primary industry is miracles. The Mexican-American Soria family carries the burden of sainthood, blessed or cursed, with the ability to grant a miracle to each of the pilgrims who wander into the town. However, the miracle the Sorias grant only manifests a pilgrim’s darkness into an external entity. It is then up to the pilgrim to commit the second miracle, and banish the darkness. Lately, however, the pilgrims have not been able to accomplish the second miracle, and the Soria enclave is overflowing with a motley assortment of pilgrims struggling with their manifestations. Young Daniel Soria, the 19-year-old current saint, and his cousin Beatriz, know this situation has to change, but they will have to break the Soria code to do so, which may destroy the family.  Glorious wordsmith Stiefvater has crafted another magnificent story, more tall-tale than fantasy. Populated with a memorable cast of characters, from the Soria clan to pilgrims to the accidental visitors to the town, the book shows us the darkness in all of us, and the miracles needed to banish it.  THOUGHTS:  Stiefaver successfully departs from her myth-based fantasy genre with this beautiful read. The large cast of characters can be challenging to keep straight, but the reward is great.   

Magical Realism      Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Wolf, Allan.  Who Killed Christopher Goodman? Candlewick, 2017.  978-0-7636-5613-3. 269 p.  $16.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Set in the fictional town of Goldsburg, VA, in 1979, this well-written novel follows the intersecting paths of six teenagers leading up to the murder of one of their classmates following the town’s big summer festival.  The perspective alternates among the six teens, each of whom has different relationships with the eventual murder victim and each of whom ultimately reacts to the murder differently, wondering if their actions were at all to blame for the death of Christopher Goodman.  Based on the actual 1979 murder of Edward Charles Disney following Deadwood Days in Blacksburg, VA, this thought-provoking novel will encourage teenagers to think about the reasons behind their actions and how these actions can have rippling effects that may never be entirely known.  THOUGHTS: Reluctant readers, fans of mystery/suspense, and fans of Wolf’s previous release, The Watch that Ends the Night, will enjoy this title.  It might also be interesting to introduce this book in a social studies class.  It could prompt an interesting character study discussion in a psychology course, or U.S. history students could research the actual murder of Edward Charles Disney and compare the real-life events to those in the book.  A solid addition to any high school collection.

Historical Fiction; Mystery      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School