YA – Muted: A Novel in Verse

Charles, Tami. Muted: A Novel in Verse. Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-67352-4. $18.99. 386 p. Grades 9-12.

Author Tami Charles, who once belonged to rhythm and blues girl group, relates a compelling story reminiscent of the R. Kelly scandal. She chooses a real-life small town between the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania and the Catskills in New York. Drawn to each other because they are the few persons of color in their predominantly white high school, three talented girls are overwhelmed and overjoyed to get the notice of a leading recording artist and record producer, Sean “Mercury” Ellis. Denver LaFleur, a curvy, African American with a powerhouse voice, her talented friends Dalisay Gomez and Shakira Brown, sneak behind their parents’ backs to meet with Merc. When Shak drops out because she has suspicions about Merc’s intentions, Merc whisks Denver and Dali to Atlanta where he grooms them to be performers separately in his mansion on Pristine Road. Gradually, Denver takes center stage, while Merc tells Dali she is not ready. Though Denver finds Merc’s methods stringent and mercurial (he limits her calories and takes away her cell phone and internet) and he adapts and takes credit for her original songs, she does get the chance to cut a demo record and make money. Both girls stay with Merc with their parents’ permission (they are only seventeen when he takes them under his wing) because of the possibility of fame and fortune. However, not long into the novel, Denver has difficulty sorting out the rigor becoming a lead singer requires from the torture of being blocked from her family and true love, Dali. Thinking Dali has returned home to Sholola, their hometown, Denver makes clandestine phone call to Shak and discovers Dali is not back in Pennsylvania. Where is she? Using her wiles, Denver explores Merc’s mansion, uncovering a maze of rooms, each one holding captive girls Merc kidnapped. Told in verse, the book is not graphic, but it is brutal. The ending brings some resolution, although not happy ones. The realistic subject matter conveys successful people get away with incorrigible acts is troubling, yet highly readable.

THOUGHTS: Students will draw parallels between this verse novel and R. Kelly, the R & B singer, and similar allegations of captive girls and sexual misconduct. Denver is a sympathetic, authentic character and her involvement in the glittering world of celebrity makes for an interesting, if depressing, read. The setting in Sholola, Pennsylvania, too, is a draw for local readers. The print in the book is extra tiny; hopefully, the published version will be standard size font. Some cursing and descriptions of sexual activity.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Best friends Denver LaFleur, Dalisay (Dali) Gomez, and Shakira (Shak) Brown are the trio that make up Angelic Voices, a singing group with hopes of making it big and getting out of their small town Sholola, Pennsylvania. When Denver sees their opportunity to get noticed in front of Sean “Mercury” Ellis (Merc), she grabs her friends’ hands and presses play on a cell phone to cue up the music. Time stands still as the group beautifully blends harmonies, and they begin to see their dreams within reach. Denver is ready to do whatever it takes to make it. But Shak has doubts about Merc who creeps her out, and she has other obligations with her family, church, and basketball. Shak isn’t ready to sneak around and lie to her family to get her big break, so the trio becomes a duo under Merc’s guidance. Denver and Dali leave their families and move into Merc’s Atlanta mansion. Despite small doubts, Denver is mostly okay as long as Dali is by her side (no one else knows of their secret relationship). Merc has rules, though, to keep his legacy safe and keep the creative juices flowing. The girls hand over their cell phones, have no internet access, sleep in separate parts of the house, and only come out of their rooms when permitted, all in the name of getting into the zone. The next time Denver sees Dali, though, Dali has been on a trip with Merc to have a complete makeover including having work done on her teeth so she no longer needs braces. Denver feels a hint of jealousy with the attention Dali’s been getting while she’s been stuck at home with a personal trainer and very limited food. And there’s Merc’s ever present old school camcorder. Fame isn’t quite what Denver thought it would be, and not being in contact with her family starts to get hard. In a few short months Denver’s life looks entirely different, but is it all worth losing herself and everyone she loves in the process?

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Denver and cringe at the warning signs she misses. This one would pair well with Tiffany D. Jackson’s Grown and is a must have for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA Realistic Fiction – Cresswell Plot; W/o Annette; Sun is Also a Star; Phantom Limbs

cresswellplot

Wass, Eliza. The Cresswell Plot. Los Angeles: Disney Hyperion, 2016. 9781484730430. 262pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

The six Cresswell siblings live with their parents in a run down house in the woods and make their living trash picking junk to fix up and sell at local flea markets. Homeschooled by their fanatically religious parents, the siblings live an isolated and cloistered life. Their father tells them they are the only “pure” humans left on earth, expected to marry each other to preserve their bloodline.  After an accident causes the  authorities to check on the welfare of the children, they begin attending public school. Their unusual lifestyle keeps them separate from their peers, and they are viewed as freaks. When 17 year-old Castellla (Castley) begins her junior year, she meets a boy in her drama class who reaches out to her. Being with George opens her up to friendship and romance and to the possibility of a normal life.  She and her siblings start questioning what they have always believed to be the absolute truth and to test the rules and demands their father has placed on them. But, their father holds the family in the grip of fear and religious fervor, and Castley worries they may never be able to break free.   THOUGHTS: A disturbing and creepy thriller for older teens who appreciate edgier reading .

Realistic Fiction    Nancy Summers, Abington SHS

 

withoutannette

Mason, Jane B. Without Annette. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016. 978-0545819954. 336 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

This is the first young adult book I have read with a lesbian couple as the main protagonists, and Jane B. Mason did a fine job of describing the lives of these young girls and the unique challenges they face as lovers in the world of teenagers. Josie, the narrator, and her best friend and girlfriend, Annette, receive scholarships to attend an exclusive boarding school. Josie sees it as a way to help Annette escape from her alcoholic and abusive mother. From the beginning, Annette seems to fit right in while Josie flounders in her classes and in the social scene. She literally stumbles into a friendship with classmate Penn, and joins him and his crew in exploring the tunnels that snake underground all over campus. Josie and Annette try to keep their relationship a secret, yet Josie watches helplessly as Annette is drawn into a world of drinking and binging, egged on by her roommate. The characters are authentic and the story is unique but can be slow at times and Josie is not the most reliable narrator. I would have liked to hear the perspectives of others in the school and especially Annette, but it is a powerful story of realizing who you are or want to be,  and how this can affect your life and relationships. THOUGHTS: This title is a necessary addition to any high school collection for LGTBQ youth.

Realistic Fiction      Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

This is an interesting title, and one that will appeal to students struggling with defining themselves in the world of adolescents. I do look forward to future titles from this author, as she does bring a unique perspective to the YA world.

 

sunalsostrat

Yoon, Nicola. The Sun is Also a Star. New York: Delacourte Press, 2016. 978-0553496680. 384 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Nicola Yoon impressed me with her first novel, Everything, Everything, and has truly knocked it out of the park with her most recent publication for young adults, The Sun is Also a Star. The story tells a day in the life of two characters, but Yoon incorporates other perspectives and stories throughout the novel, and this enables the story to rise above the general YA novels that highlight the give and take between two young people falling in love. The story begins with Natasha, whose family is to be deported to Jamaica after being caught as undocumented immigrants. Natasha, a lover of science, facts, and figures, is determined to do all she can to stay in the home she has known since arriving in the States 8 years ago. The second protagonist is Daniel, who yearns to be a poet, but whose Korean-immigrant parents insist that he become a doctor. He is on his way to interview with a Yale alumni when he sees Natasha walking down the street. The two end up spending the day together and trying to navigate their different worlds and Natasha’s impending deportation. Again, the perspectives and asides that Yoon includes, ranging from a chapter about a lonely security card to a short history of black hair, force the reader to acknowledge the silent stories and history going on all around as we live our own separate lives. THOUGHTS: This should be in all high school libraries, and would be an excellent choice for summer reading or book club discussions.

Realistic Fiction      Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

I absolutely LOVED this book, and will be recommending it to every student I can in the coming weeks and months. The variety of perspectives, the beautiful writing, and the well-drawn characters make it a novel to savor and read again and again. The plot touches upon many current issues in our society, and encourages the development and understanding of empathy in teens, and, really, anyone who reads it. I am going to suggest it as a summer reading title for next year, and cannot wait to discuss it with a group of adolescents.

 

phantomlimbs

Garner, Paula. Phantom Limbs. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2016. 978-0-7636-8205-7. 352 pp. $16.99. Gr. 9 and up.

“There was life before you, and then life with you. There wasn’t supposed to be life after you.” This haunting sentiment is at the emotional core of Paula Garner’s outstanding debut, Phantom Limbs. Sixteen-year old Otis Mueller has had to say his share of tough goodbyes. His beloved younger brother, Mason, passed away several years ago at the young age of three, and Otis has shielded himself from the painful details ever since. His first love, the girl-next-door Meg (in whose room Mason was napping at the time of his death), moved away and out of Otis’ life soon after. Otis found an outlet for his grief and loneliness in competitive swimming. He also found a coach and big sister figure in Dara, an amputee whose phantom limb pains and thwarted swimming career haunt her daily. But just as Dara is ramping up Otis’ training regimen for a run at the Olympic trials, Meg contacts him to say she’s coming home for a three-week visit. Oh, and her new boyfriend will be joining her for a long weekend with Otis and his parents at the Mueller family lake house. The trip is a-w-k-w-a-r-d, and also a catalyst for Otis to acknowledge his true loyalties and for Meg to reveal her secret pain. THOUGHTS: Phantom Limbs hits all the right coming-of-age notes with humor, heart, indelible moments, and a realistically imperfect protagonist.

Realistic Fiction      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library