TA – Perfectly Parvin

Abtahi, Olivia. Perfectly Parvin. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-0-593-10942-7. 310 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

On the cusp of starting ninth grade, Iranian-American Parvin Mohammadi has a lot going for her: her BFFs Ruth and Fabián, an aunt (Ameh Sara) in Iran who helps her apply make-up via video chat, and a cute boy who has just asked her to be his girlfriend. But days later, Wesley unceremoniously dumps her at their high school orientation. His reason? She’s just “too much.” After (literally) peeling herself off the linoleum to binge-watch her favorite romantic comedies, Parvin hatches a plan to secure a date to Homecoming. By modeling her behavior after the demure leading ladies of The Princess Bride, The Little Mermaid, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Parvin is sure she can get a new boy to like her. No more outlandish outfits, pranks, Hot Cheetos, or being too loud. In other words, none of the things that make her (yes) perfectly Parvin. But can she lock down a real relationship with a fake personality? A compelling subplot about Ameh Sara securing a visa to visit the States (and deliver make-up tutorials in person) adds timeliness and tension.

THOUGHTS: This effervescent, laugh-out-loud debut perfectly captures Parvin’s humor, hijinks, and occasional humiliations. It matches the tone and depth of Netflix’s Never Have I Ever and Sandhya Menon’s Dimple and Rishi series. 

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem./MG – Set Me Free

LaZotte, Ann Clare. Set Me Free.  Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-74249-7  $18.99. 288 p. Grades 4-6.

Mary Lambert, a deaf girl living on Martha’s Vineyard in the late 1700’s, went through an unimaginable and traumatic ordeal when she was kidnapped years ago to be studied to determine the reason for her deafness. Settled back into her life on the Vineyard, Mary is longing for a more meaningful life. When a friend from years ago sends Mary a letter asking for her assistance helping a young deaf girl to learn to communicate, Mary is hesitant but excited for this new opportunity. However, when Mary arrives on the mainland to teach the girl, she finds that her new charge is imprisoned in the attic and treated horribly! Mary must muster up the courage and support to help free this girl from her circumstances. 

THOUGHTS: For those that loved Show Me a Sign, this is a must purchase. I did not love this installment as much as the first, but the history behind this time period is fascinating. Mary is truly a feminist and has no problem sharing her beliefs. She is a wonderful female literary icon.

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Abington SD

YA – Sisters of the Snake

Nanua, Sasha, and Sarena Nanua. Sisters of the Snake. HarperTeen. 2021. 978-0-062-98559-0. $17.99. Grades 8-12.

Ria is a street urchin. A nothing that is just trying to survive and get out of this terrible town, away from where she is soon to be forced into the army. Princess Rian feels the same way, just slightly different. She is looking at the chance to be free to prove herself and her worth for her kingdom. When these two girls unexpectedly meet, they find out something shocking; they look identical! They decide they must be sisters… and each hopes to achieve something when they trade places.

THOUGHTS: A fun cultural fantasy novel. The first in a series, as this book ended on a cliff-hanger. The excitement for what happens next with these two magical sisters will pull at readers and have them wishing for the next novel!

Fantasy          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

MG – Just Like That

Schmidt, Gary. Just Like That. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-0-544-08477-3. 387 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Meryl Lee, reeling from the tragic death of her best friend Holling, is struggling to find joy in anything. Her parents enroll her into a New England boarding school to help her find herself again (while also shielding her from the divorce process they are secretly going through). At St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, Meryl Lee feels like she has more in common with the young ladies who are employed there rather than the stuck-up girls who attend as students. Despite being told that it is “unbecoming” to mingle with the staff, Meryl Lee knows in her heart this is wrong. With the support of the headmistress, Dr. Nora MacKnockater, Meryl Lee works on healing her heart and finding her place in the world. At the same time, a boy named Matt Coffin is always on the move. Homeless and parent-less, he moves from place to place carrying his pillowcase full of money, intent on avoiding the scary people who are coming after him. His travels take him to New England and there, his world collides with Meryl Lee’s and Dr. MacKnockater’s. With their help, he confronts his past and starts planting permanent roots in one place.

THOUGHTS: Although these two characters are seemingly different, the struggles they are going through tie them together. The book takes place in 1968 but still feels very modern. The character’s struggles are definitely ones that middle grade readers will relate to (fitting in, divorce) combined with the global struggle of the Vietnam War in the background of the story makes it more complex than it seems on the surface. Gary Schmidt’s witty writing style will make middle grade readers laugh, cry, and think.

Historical Fiction           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – The Personal Librarian

Benedict, Marie, and Christopher Murray, Victoria. The Personal Librarian. Berkeley Books, 2021. 978-0-593-10153-7. 341 p. $27.00. Grades 11-12+.

The broad genre of historical fiction needs to specify all the long, lost stories of yore that focus on little known historical figures. The fictionalized retelling of J. P. Morgan’s personal collection of books, artwork, and other materials that eventually became the Pierpont Morgan Library through the curation of his personal librarian, Belle de Costa Greene was sensational. Belle worked as a librarian at Princetown before returning to New York City to live with her family and work for Morgan as a curator of his magnificent collection. Her position took her to foreign cities, elite parties, and other exclusive events that Black women often were not at liberty to experience during that time. Some scenes include romantic descriptions. Belle also has an abortion without her consent, which can be triggering for some readers.

THOUGHTS: Some of the character building took longer than typical YA books might. But for the student who has a love of history, arts, women’s rights, and Black rights, this is the perfect story to get lost in before doing their own research on the Pierpont Morgan Library and who Belle de Costa Greene was and how her work at the turn of the 20th century still has ripple effects today.

Historical Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – A Party to Remember

Tebow, Tim, with A.J. Gregory. A Party to Remember. Illustrated by Jane Chapman. Waterbrook, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-593-23204-0. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Bronco is a friendly, loveable puppy who needs glasses to see clearly. He wakes one morning to his friend Squirrel chattering that “the party is tonight! Do you have your puzzle piece?” Every invitee has received a puzzle piece, but though Bronco received an invitation, he figures the party isn’t for someone nearsighted like him. But he really wants to go. He begins to search for his puzzle piece and encounters other friends with puzzle pieces who are excited to attend the party. When he tumbles into Chelsie the rabbit, who has fallen over her extra-long ears, he finds that she, too, feels inadequate to attend the party. Bronco encourages her to go with him, saying, “It’s always better together.” They add to their small group Ethan, the cardinal with a broken wing, and Alexis, the goat who sneezes too loudly and scares everyone away. But as they continue, Alexis’ sneeze reveals the party, Bronco discovers his puzzle piece, and they happily find that they all fit at this party. “Each creature is born unique. Our differences make us special. And someone special, like you, is always able to do great things,” says Colby the panda. The friends joyfully dance and enjoy party food and music. The book closes with a scripture verse, “we are God’s masterpiece” and a reminder, “You are unique. You are special. And you are wonderful.”  This is an often-shared message that kids still need to hear, and it gets expert treatment from illustrator Jane Chapman, who makes these characters feel like friends that the reader would like to join.

THOUGHTS: This is definitely a positive look at differences and feels like an inviting beginning to the series “Bronco and Friends.” This is a definite encouragement for all readers.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – One Jar of Magic

Haydu, Corey Ann. One Jar of Magic. Harper Collins, 2021. $16.99 978-0-062-68985-6. Grades 5-8.

Rose Alice Anders isn’t just Rose. She is “Little Luck,” so nicknamed by her father, the luckiest man in Belling Bright, the most magical place in the world. Her father has the most knowledge of magic in this town where magic is revered and frequently used for everything from improving hair quality to crafting a rainbow (though her father cautions Rose and her brother Lyle that interfering with weather is too dangerous). All her life Rose has been striving to live up to her father’s belief that she will be the most magical in their family. Her status–and her father’s–brings ‘honor’ but also trouble into her friendships. So when the new year arrives in her twelfth year, Rose both longs for the day and dreads it for the pressure. Yes, she is magical, yes, her father has answers, but something doesn’t feel right, though she’d never admit it. The town’s New Year’s Day comes, and everyone is out to capture magic in jars of any color or size. Some magic sparkles, some changes colors, some seems to enchant just by being. Rose goes straight to Too Blue Lake, where she’s certain she, of all people, will manage to fill jar after jar after jar. But as the day goes on and her friends gather jars, and her brother tries to help her (should she be grateful or insulted?), Rose is fearful to come to the feast with just one jar of magic. She can feel her father’s anger. To appease his anger, her mother takes Rose and Lyle home, stopping at a store run by “not-meant-for-magic’ people. Though the store is nearby, Rose has never been there and never met these people. Her shame at failing to live up to her name and her heritage mixes with her curiosity in these people, who seem so….free. She wants to see Zelda–the daughter of the family–again, but knows her father (and the town) forbids it. What is going on in her family and in her town?  Where does Rose belong and how can she take a stand when she’s not sure of anything?

THOUGHTS: Haydu crafts a very real town full of questions, possibilities and dangers.  She presents the confusing family dynamics well, as Rose struggles to reconcile her hesitations and doubts with her father’s certainty, her mother’s acquiescence, her brother’s kindness, and the town’s solidarity. Who is she, if she’s not Little Luck?

Magical Realism Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Super Fake Love Song

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

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

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

Realistic Fiction/Romance          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Starfish

Fipps, Lisa. Starfish. Nancy Paulson Books, 2021. 978-1-9848-1450-0. 256 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

Starfish follows the story of Ellie, who has been bullied her whole life for her weight. In order to deal with these issues, she creates “Fat Girl Rules” to live by; however, the reader can tell that these “rules” aren’t working for her. Ellie’s favorite thing is to swim and she can forget about her weight issues and take up all the space that she wants. This novel is told in verse, which really adds to the overall plot, and I feel makes this a more impactful book versus if it were told in regular novel form.

THOUGHTS: I loved Ellie and her journey throughout this book, and it felt so authentic to me. The only part that frustrated me was her mom; however, I can also imagine there are parents out there who are like that with their children who struggle with weight issues so I kept that in mind while reading.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Ellie’s nickname Splash has been with her since she was five years old. She did a cannonball into the pool in her whale-print bathing suit, and Splash was born. Now she is in middle school, and her classmates constantly tease her about her weight. Even worse, so does her family: her brother is downright mean, her sister never sticks up for her, and her mother is constantly putting her on crazy diets and weighing her at the start of every week. Her only allies are her father and her new best friend Catalina, whose family only see how wonderful Ellie really is. Ellie doesn’t understand why no one else can see what they see, especially her own family. She tries to take up less space living by the Fat Girl Rules she creates, especially one that states you don’t deserve to be seen or heard or noticed. She lives by these rules everywhere except the pool; the pool is one place where she can be weightless in a world that is obsessed with body image. With help from Catalina, her dad, and her new therapist, Ellie embarks on the difficult journey of learning to love herself despite what others think.

THOUGHTS: This middle grade novel is equal parts heart-wrenching and heart-warming. Written in verse, Lisa Fipps’ beautiful writing will resonate with anyone who has ever had body image issues or struggled to love themselves. Starfish is a must-have for middle grade libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Here in the Real World

Pennypacker, Sara. Here in the Real World. HarperCollins, 2020. 978-0-062-69895-7. $17.99. 320 p. Grades 3-6.

“Everything was something else before, and will be something else after.” Ware is an only child, and he’s perfectly happy spending his summer alone with his grandmother, whom he refers to as Big Deal, but when she falls and needs a hip replacement, Ware’s parents sign him up for Summer Rec where they hope he can have “meaningful social interactions” with other kids his age. To Ware, this is the worst case scenario, until he meets a girl named Jolene who is planting a garden in a half torn down, abandoned church right next to the rec center. Ware sees the potential in this church, and instead of going to rec, he spends his days with Jolene pretending the church is a castle and that he is a knight, living by their code of chivalry. For the first time in Ware’s life, he doesn’t feel ashamed about spending time off in his own world, and with the help of Jolene, his uncle, and others he meets throughout the summer, he realizes that it’s okay to be himself, and he doesn’t want to turn into someone else after all. “He had changed this summer. He was spending more time off in his own world. And it turned out, he didn’t feel ashamed about it. Turned out, he really liked it there.”

THOUGHTS:  Here in the Real World is perfect for readers who feel like they just don’t belong. Your heart will break for Ware and Jolene as they try to navigate through the real world in this moving and touching novel. Middle school can be such a hard time, and hopefully readers will realize, like Ware does, that it’s okay to be yourself, even when you feel pressure from parents and classmates to be someone else entirely. This realistic fiction book is about finding not only yourself, but your people, and being able to see them just as they are too.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD