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 – 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

YA – Scavenge the Stars

Sim, Tara. Scavenge the Stars. Disney Hyperion,  2020. 978-1-368-05141-5. $12.99. 377 p. Grades 9-12.

“To inherit the sky, you must first scavenge the stars.” In this retelling of the classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, Amaya has been living on a ship called The Brackish for years. She became indentured after she was sold by her family to work off a debt. It’s a rough life, and like the other “water bugs” that share her fate, she’s counting down the days until she’s free. Their cruel captor and captain renames each indentured child, and on his ship, she’s known only as Silverfish. After rescuing a man from drowning, she hopes she will be rewarded with riches. Instead, he makes her an offer she can’t refuse. Meanwhile, Cayo Mercado is trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his father after getting into debt from gambling. He starts working at the family owned shipping company, but when his sister comes down with ash fever, his choices are limited, and he winds up back in the life he tried to leave behind. Unknowingly, Amaya and Cayo’s lives become intertwined, and both characters must untangle a web of secrets and lies to reveal the surprising truths about the people they thought they knew and trusted.

THOUGHTS: This book was fantastic! I was hooked from the very beginning to the last page. It’s full of twists and turns, secrets and betrayals, and characters fueled by revenge and justice. As in The Count of Monte Cristo, the classic novel this book is loosely based upon, revenge is never as simple as it seems, and no one can really be trusted.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From

De Leon, Jennifer. Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From. Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2020. 978-1-534-43824-8. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Though nothing at home is as it should be, fine is the one word that describes 15 year old Liliana. After her father takes off (again), her family is barely holding things together. Her mom seems to be living in a fog (if you can even call it that), and her younger brothers are hard to reign in and keep calm. Even her best friend is too distracted by a boyfriend to be an ear to listen. Unbeknownst to Liliana, before he left her father signed her up for METCO, a scholarship opportunity of sorts for city kids to attend “better” schools in the suburbs. Liliana (half Guatemalan, half Salvadorian) fit right in at her richly diverse school in Boston. Not only is her new school unbelievably white, Westburg is an hour bus ride away. Liliana gives it a chance, though, because it was her father’s dream. To fit in at Westburg, Liliana becomes Lili, but when she discovers some secrets about her father’s citizenship, she is even more torn between her two very different worlds.

THOUGHTS: This book will find a home with anyone who is sick of the “Where are you from?” or “What are you?” questions. Liliana’s story will personalize the more generalized immigration news stories for teens and will open their eyes to the struggles of undocumented citizens and the reasons so many flee to America for better opportunities. This is a must have for high school libraries looking to diversity their collections with contemporary issues.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MS Fiction – See You in the Cosmos; Ashes to Asheville; Real Friends; All’s Faire in MS; Goldie Vance

Cheng, Jack. See You in the Cosmos. Dial Books, 2017. 978-0399-186370. $16.99. 314 pp. Gr. 5-8.

Alex Petrowski will tell you a lot about himself.  He loves astronomy, and he named his dog after his hero, Carl Sagan.  He plans to launch his rocket with recordings of himself on his ‘golden iPod.’ His dad died when he was too young to remember him, and his older brother Ronnie lives in L.A.  Ronnie doesn’t visit much, but he keeps track of their bills.  Alex is eleven but “more like thirteen in responsibility years,” considering he cooks and cares for Carl Sagan and his mom, who has a lot of quiet days and who doesn’t work or drive, and everything’s ok if he just stays out of her way.  So Alex begins the trip alone to the Albuquerque, NM, annual rocket launch and finds himself meeting many new people, considering many new things, and finding new friends.  A couple of recordings he wants to include on his iPod are of people in love, and it takes a while to discover just who that might be.  His launch is a failure, but with two helpful adults, he detours to Las Vegas to discover why his dad’s name and birthdate shows up at an address there.  He finds a family surprise, heads to L.A. for Ronnie, then back home where his mom has disappeared and an accident lands him in the hospital under social services radar.  Reminiscent of Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan for the bright, unflinchingly open narrator who navigates the world with autism and high amounts of optimism.  THOUGHTS: A thoughtful look at honesty, family and love, and what sacrifice and adulthood mean.  This is an unusual read for tweens who want something fresh and different.

Realistic Fiction     Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

 

Dooley, Sarah. Ashes to Asheville.  G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017. 978-0399-165047.  $16.99.  243 pp. Gr. 5-8.

Fella is hurting from the all-to-recent death of her Mama Lacy.  Her grandmother, Mrs. Madison, fought for custody of Fella, and the courts granted it, despite the fact that Fella has another mother, Mama Shannon, and sister, Zany.  Fella is still grieving and feeling out of place when late one night, Zany creeps into Mrs. Madison’s house and steals Mama Lacy’s ashes from the mantel then takes Fella and Mrs. Madison’s poodle with her.  Zany is on a mission to scatter Mama Lacy’s ashes in the last place she was happy, their old house in Asheville.  Fella isn’t so sure this is a good idea, isn’t sure she’s ready, and isn’t even fully dressed.  And so begins a road trip filled with difficult weather, an injured poodle, a thieving & grieving teenager, and too many stops along the way.  Zany, Fella, Mama Shannon, and Mrs. Madison are on track to come to terms with their loss if they can ever say what they really think and feel to each other.  THOUGHTS: This is a disappointing follow-up to Dooley’s deeply felt Free Verse (2016). The writing is slow, even for a road trip, and although the adults seem realistic enough, the sisters never fully gel.  

Realistic Fiction     Melissa Scott, Shenango Area School District

 

Hale, Shannon and LeUyen Pham. Real Friends. First Second Books, 2017. 978-162672-4167. $21.99.  207 pp. Gr. 5-9.  

Together, author Shannon Hale and illustrator LeUyen Pham deliver a wonderfully and tragically realistic tale of navigating friendships.  Based on Hale’s own experience and divided by her 2nd-6th grade school years and her significant friends, readers see the perfection of being understood by a best friend, the pain of a best friend moving, the tightrope-walking of being part of ‘the group,’ the pain of stigmatization, and hope from the potential for change.  Pham’s illustrations perfectly illuminate young Shannon’s emotions and thoughts.  Anyone who has ever had a best friend, struggled to make friends, been the outsider, or wondered where they fit in will find insight in this tough but smart book.  As Hale concludes: “Friendship in younger years can be especially hard because our worlds are small….If you haven’t found your ‘group’ yet, hang in there.  Your world will keep growing larger and wider.  You deserve to have real friends, the kind who treat you well and get how amazing you are.”  THOUGHTS: This will appeal to nearly every student in upper elementary or middle school and could help to give needed perspective about navigating friendships, however fulfilling or painful.   

Graphic Novel; Realistic Fiction      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

 

Jamieson, Victoria. All’s Faire in Middle School. 978-0-5254-29988-2. 248 p. $20.99. Gr. 4-8.

Imogen’s entire family works at the Florida Renaissance Faire, and she and her brother have been  homeschooled there her entire life. Imogene decides that for 6th grade, she wants to go to middle school. Excited and nervous, Imogene navigates new friendships, mean teachers, confusing bullies, and social norms while trying to find a place to fit in. And while she has grown up at and loves the Renaissance Faire, she finds that fitting in might mean hiding something that’s a huge part of her. THOUGHTS: Another uniquely excellent from the author of Roller Girls. You won’t be able to keep this graphic novel on the shelves!

Graphic Novel; Realistic Fiction     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

I book talked this graphic novel that the beginning of the school year to our middle schoolers, and it has been consistently checked out ever since. I think kids really respond to Victoria Jamieson’s art and see themselves in the characters she creates. Our 6th graders also take a field trip to the Renaissance Faire, so many students seem interested in the content because of this. Overall, an excellent addition to our collection this year that I can’t recommend enough.

 

Larson, Hope. Goldie Vance, Volume 2. Boom! Box, 2017. 978-1-6088-6974-9. 112 p. $14.99. Gr. 6-9.

Goldie Vance returns in the second installment of this fun, retro detective series. Goldie is still working at her father’s Palm Springs resort as a valet and solving mysteries on the side. This time, a mysterious woman, wearing a spacesuit, is found on the resort beach with no memory of how she got there. While Goldie and the resort detective Walt try to track down this woman’s identity, Goldie’s best friend Cheryl grows distant, and Goldie realizes she’s hiding some secrets of her own. Goldie is determined to solve the mystery and get her best friend back. THOUGHTS: It’s refreshing to see a graphic novel that celebrates girl-on-girl crushes and diverse skin tones and body sizes. Another excellent addition to any graphic novel collection from Hope Larson.

Graphic Novel; Mystery     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Picture Books – Peep & Egg; Little Green Truck; Cat Nap; Let Me Finish

Gehl, Laura. Peep and Egg: I’m Not Hatching. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016.   978-0-374-30121-7.  32 pp. $16.99. Gr. Pre-K-2.

Peep wants Egg to hatch so that they can have fun together!  But Egg is NOT hatching!  It is too scary out there in the big world! Peep persists and continues to remind Egg of all of the fun things that they could do if she would just hatch; watch the sunrise; ride the sheep; splash in puddles. But Egg continues to say “I’m not hatching,” after each. This cute, highly graphic yet sweet picture book will have kids repeating Egg’s refusal with you and cheering when she ultimately doesn’t want to be left behind.  THOUGHTS:  This is a fun book that gently introduces the topic of fears and how to overcome them.  It is perfect for a younger crowd who will get into the repetition of repeating, “I’m not hatching!”  Students can even create a group story and choose another creature to try to convince to come out ( a turtle;  a hibernating bear; a tadpole) and give excuses and then a solution for how to finally get them to decide to come out!

Picture Book     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy

 

Schotter, Roni. Go, Little Green Truck! New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016. 978-0-374-30070-8. 32pp. $16.99. Gr. K-2.

Little Green Truck is the Farmer’s faithful helper.  Then one day, he is replaced by a Big Blue truck that is new and can haul bigger loads.  Little Green truck is forgotten and sad.  Then one day, the farmer’s daughter remembers how gently Little Green took them to town and what a nice small size he is for the narrow lanes at the Farmer’s Market.  So begins Little Green Truck’s transformation.  He is washed and painted.  The little girl paints happy flowers and fruit on his sides.  His engine is replaced with one that runs on corn and soy oil from their vegetables, and just like that Little Green gets a new life!  Little Green is used to haul all of the vegetables, pies, and preserves to the farmers market because he has a gentler ride and a fun new look that all of the customers love. This sweet transformation and repurposing tale is beautifully illustrated by Julia Kuo.  THOUGHTS:  This tale can be used to illustrate how we can repurpose and reuse things that might have otherwise gone into a landfill.  It also might be used to illustrate how we all have a unique purpose.  I loved how Little Green got a hybrid soy oil engine!  This might be a fun way to introduce alternative fuels to the younger set as well!

Picture Book     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy

 

Yuly, Toni. Cat Nap. New York: Macmillan, 2016. 978-1-250-05458-6. 32 pp. $16.99. Gr. Pre-K-1.

Cat just wants to sleep.  But Kitten just wants to play.  So Cat thinks up a clever way to get some quiet time, a game of Hide and Seek! Except Kitten is very good at finding Cat.  Too good!  Readers join Kitten in the search to find Cat. Finally exhausted, Cat decides to just go take a nap and finds a surprise waiting in his bed.  THOUGHTS:  This bold graphic tale of Cat and Kitten will delight young readers and perhaps make a good going to bed (or naptime) story.

Picture Book     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy

 

Le, Minh. Let Me Finish. New York: Hyperion, 2016. 978-1-4847-2173-5. 32pp. $16.99. Gr.  K-2.

The young boy has just gotten settled with his new book.  He is excited and anxious to get started.  Then, out of the tree, pop some birds who spoil the plot and tell the ending of the book.  Discouraged, the boy heads back to find another book that he wanted to read.  He sneaks off and finds a quiet spot, but again the animals spoil the book.  Why can’t they just let him finish?!? This hilarious romp to avoid the spoilers and finish the book he wants to read is a problem that many readers can relate to. The action packed illustrations are colorful and full of emotion.   Will he avoid hearing the ending?  Or should he really have listened?  THOUGHTS:  This is a great discussion starter for why students should not be “spoilers” – those who tell the ending of a book or movie and ruin it for others.  It also might be a fun way to talk about where students go to read and not be interrupted.

Picture Book     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy