YA Realistic Fiction – Dodgers; Great American…; Highly Illogical…; When We Collided


Beverly, Bill. Dodgers. New York: Crown Publishers, 2016. 978-1-101-90373-5. 290pp. $26.00. Grades 10 and up.

At fifteen years old, East has never left Los Angeles. He works as a lookout in his Uncle Fin’s drug organization in a neighborhood known as “The Boxes.” But, after failing to warn his crew about a police raid, East is called up to redeem himself by running a special favor for Fin. East and three other boys, including his younger brother Ty, are tasked with driving to Wisconsin to murder a key witness. Beginning with a quick, but complicated stop in Las Vegas, the plans go tragically awry as the boys barrel headlong into the heartland in search of their mark. Along the way East realizes that maybe, just maybe, a different kind of life awaits him somewhere down the road. In depicting East’s cross-country journey, debut novelist Bill Beverly incorporates elements of crime fiction, travelogue, and classic coming-of-age stories. THOUGHTS: With a teen protagonist, Dodgers is an excellent crossover selection for readers looking to experience a poetically austere new voice in fiction. With frank depictions of drug dealing, violence, and urban survival, it is strongly reminiscent of the brilliant TV series The Wire.

Realistic Fiction      Amy V. Pickett, Ridly High School Library



Federle, Tim. The Great American Whatever. New York: Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2016. 978-1-4814-0409-9. 278 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

It’s fair to say that Pittsburgh teen Quinn Roberts is not having a great junior year. His mom’s on disability, his father has unceremoniously ditched the family, and worst of all Quinn’s beloved older sister, Annabeth, died in a car crash on the day before Christmas break. Quinn has essentially suspended all contact with the outside world, until summer hits and record-breaking highs interrupt his personal record-breaking lows. Bolstered by his best friend Geoff, Quinn emerges from both his room and his shell. At a party, he meets cute, college boy Amir, who genuinely likes him back. Quinn, however, is less than forthcoming about his deeply sad back story; he’d rather “imagine how the ideal screenplay version of events would play out.” A cinematic thread runs throughout the novel; movie buffs Quinn and Annabeth were amateur filmmakers, with Quinn writing and Annabeth directing his scripts for “Q&A Production,” and an abandoned application for a student filmmakers’ competition brings the narrative full circle. This winning LGBT coming-of-age novel has just the right balance of tragedy, comedy, and reality. THOUGHTS: Tim Federle’s first YA novel, The Great American Whatever, is 2016’s answer to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. References to Pittsburgh locales such as Squirrel Hill and Kennywood will especially delight Pennsylvania readers!

Realistic Fiction    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School



Whaley, John Corey. Highly Illogical Behavior. New York: Dial Books, 2016. 978-0-525042818-3. 249 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Solomon Reed, age 16, hasn’t left his house in over three years. He suffers from agoraphobia and debilitating panic attacks, but he’s managed to build a safe and comfortable life for himself in his parents’ home. Enter Lisa Praytor, who remembers Solomon’s all-too-public 7th grade meltdown and takes a keen interest in befriending him. Lisa also has a keen interest in receiving a full ride to a prestigious psychology program. Her essay prompt: “My personal experience with mental illness.” Once Solomon allows Lisa into his life he enjoys the companionship, even coming out to her during one of their visits. Lisa values his friendship, too, ignoring the pangs of guilt she feels over quietly manipulating him for essay material. When Lisa invites her boyfriend Clark to join her daily visits with Solomon, everyone gets along swimmingly until unexpectedly complicated feelings arise. With humor balancing the more serious plot lines, Highly Illogical Behavior is a fresh spin on the tried-and-true formula of a staged relationship leading to real feelings. THOUGHTS: Although this endearing novel doesn’t have quite the literary gravitas of Whaley’s debut, Where Things Come Back, or the creative chutzpah of Noggin‘s head transplant, it will leave readers thinking about and feeling for Solomon, Lisa, and Grant.

Realistic Fiction     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library



Lord, Emery. When We Collided. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016. Print.  978-1619638457. 352p. $17.99. Gr. 9+

I had never heard of Emery Lord before, but after absorbing the drama and characters in When We Collided, I am eager to read her other titles. Free spirit Vivian has moved to Verona Cove for the summer with her artist mother. The idyllic beach town enchants Vivi from the start, and she quickly begins making friends, including five year old Leah Daniels, who happens to have a handsome older brother. Jonah and Vivi strike up a romance quickly, but they both have pasts that haunt them. Jonah, along with his older brother and sister, is trying to keep his family afloat after the death of their father. Their mother is present, but so severely depressed that she can hardly take care of herself, let alone her three youngest children. Readers slowly learn that Vivi is battling her own inner demons, and her relationship with Jonah is tried when she begins to lose the battle. Told in the alternating perspectives of Vivi and Jonah, the book is reminiscent of Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. The perspective of Vivi is powerful, and gives the reader a hint of the jumbled thoughts in her mind. The author concludes with a powerful note to her readers and resources for further reading on mental health. THOUGHTS: This is an excellent addition to the growing novels about mental health, and can help spark a good discussion among teens about various issues they face.

Realistic Fiction       Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

Though this book is a hard read, it is also an important read.  Mental health issues still carry a negative stigma, especially in high school or a teenage setting. It can be hard for some students to grapple with these issues, including students going through them as well as their friends who simply want to help. Having books like this, that highlight depression and other mental problems, are great ways to spark conversations and discussions, and to lead teens to more resources. This is definitely a book that warrants more thought and discussion upon finishing, so make sure to suggest it to more mature teens who are ready for the subject matter, or a book club willing to tackle issues that might be uncomfortable to discuss.

Some Assembly Required…new memoir


Andrews, Arin. Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. 978-1-48141-675-7. 248 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 & up.

Arin’s memoir traces his struggles with gender dysphoria and eventual transition from female to male.  Arin, born Emerald, felt from a young age that he was born in the wrong body.  As he began to develop as a female, he became depressed and suicidal.  It wasn’t until he saw a first-person YouTube video about a transgender person that Arin realized what he was experiencing.  He began attending an LGBT support group and met Katie Hill, a teen who was transitioning from male to female.  Their relationship highs and lows played a large role in Arin’s journey.  Although Arin’s mom was not 100% supportive at first, she ultimately learned to accept him for who he is.  Not all transgender teens are lucky enough to have family and friends as supportive as Arin’s, which he acknowledges.  A list of resources in the back is essential to teens in isolated small towns such as Arin’s.  This book is a strong addition to any memoir collection: All teens will gain compassion for the struggles of the transgender community, and teens who are transgender will find strength in Arin’s moving story.  Pair with Katie’s memoir (Rethinking Normal), which also touches on her relationship with Arin.

Memoir (LGBT)    Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School

Infinite in Between…new from Carolyn Mackler


Mackler, Carolyn.  Infinite in Between.  New York: HarperTeen, 2015.  978-0-06-173107-5. 462 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Five students who meet at freshmen orientation decide to write letters to their future selves, which they will open in four years when they graduate from high school.  Gregor is a band geek who longs for love and is faced with tragedy.  Mia is shy and focused on academics, while Whitney is pretty, popular and outgoing.  Jake used to be part of the popular crowd but has kept his distance since admitting he was gay.  Zoe, the daughter of a movie star, tries to fly under the radar as her famous mother publicly deals with alcoholism.  As time passes, each of these five students deals with his/her own issues as their lives intersect in unpredictable ways.  THOUGHTS: There is something in this book for everyone, as the characters are faced with common issues and scenarios that teenagers see regularly, such as underage drinking, the loss of a parent, divorce, teenage pregnancy, standardized testing and college applications, LGBT issues, and more.

Realistic Fiction         Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School​

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda


Albertalli, Becky. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2015. 978-0-06-234867-8. 303 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 & up.

Simon Spier hasn’t exactly been hiding the fact that he’s gay, but he’s not ready to announce it yet either.  So, when a classmate spies him e-mailing a mystery boy he’s falling for, Simon is blackmailed into setting him up with a female friend.  Simon will do almost anything to protect “Blue,” his e-mail pal, who is more hesitant to come out.  (Why do only gay people have to come out?  “Straight people really should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better,” Blue writes while debating how to broach the subject with his parents.)  Simon longs to meet Blue in person, and their strings of flirty, funny e-mails will have readers rooting for that outcome too.  Simon is an endearing character with a slew of loving friends and family which makes his emotional journey easier than it may be for others.  The strong supporting cast is similar to that in Jenny Han’s To All the Boys books which pull the reader into a supportive circle, as idealistic as it might be.  This book is a solid addition to LGBT collections, but the sincere romance between Simon and Blue also makes it an easy pick for most readers.

Realistic Fiction, LGBT, Romance     Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School

This Book is Gay…new LGBT nonfiction


Dawson, James.  This Book is Gay.  Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2015. 978-1-49261-782-2. 272 p.  $15.99.  Gr. 9 and up.

A solid addition to LGBT collections, this book answers all the questions people have about the LGBT experience.  Directed not only at gays and lesbians but also at straight readers, the book covers many topics that are often overlooked in school curricula.  For instance, the author discusses homosexuality as it relates to various religions, gives tips for coming out and dealing with homophobia and bullying, describes international laws pertaining to homosexuals, makes suggestions for using sex apps and online dating websites, explains the ins and outs of gay sex, and more.  Scattered throughout the book are humorous cartoons, helpful charts, and descriptive quotes by LGBT individuals.  A useful cheat sheet of terminology as well as contact information for support groups is included at the end of the book.  The author uses a light, humorous tone throughout the book and provides guidance and encouragement for teenagers struggling with their sexual identities.  The enthusiastic and straightforward way in which information is presented will appeal to all teens who are curious about LGBT issues.

300s; Homosexuality      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

The teenage years are difficult for everyone, but they can be especially hard for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals, all of whom society considers abnormal.  Furthermore, because these topics are considered taboo, LGBT teens do not have access to many nonfiction resources that address these topics.  Not only does this book help to fill that void, but it does so in an easily accessible, humorous way that teens will appreciate.  The book is a great addition to a sex ed curriculum and would also pair wonderfully in a display with David Levithan’s books – who, incidentally, wrote the introduction for this book.

We Are All Made of Molecules


Nielsen, Susin.  We Are All Made of Molecules.  New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2015.  978-0-553-49686-4. 248 p.  $16.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

Stewart and Ashley are complete opposites: Stewart is a nerdy 13-year-old boy who struggles to fit in socially, while Ashley is a beautiful 14-year-old girl who is at the top of the social ladder.  When Stewart’s father and Ashley’s mother decide to move in together, both Stewart and Ashley are forced to make some adjustments.  Ashley ignores Stewart’s attempts to befriend her, and Stewart struggles to fit in at his new school until he tells Jared, a boy who is bullying him in gym class, that he is Ashley’s stepbrother.  When Stewart begins relaying messages to Ashley from Jared, her crush, she finally starts to tolerate Stewart.  As their relationship grows, Stewart tries to convince Ashley both that Jared is a jerk and that she should mend relations with her estranged father.  Narrated by both Ashley and Stewart in alternating chapters, this humorous book takes a lighthearted look at such serious topics as bullying, sexual orientation, dysfunctional family relationships, teenage drinking, and teenage sex.

Realistic Fiction    Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

Because of Stewart’s struggle to fit in despite his endearing personality, I could see this book being a hit with fans of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder or Sharon Draper’s Out of my Mind.  It might, however, be more suitable for mature readers, as there are scenes in which Jared tries to get Ashley to have sex with him as well as scenes involving teenage drinking.  Because Stewart is a victim of bullies and Ashley’s father is a homosexual, this book could spark insightful conversations on these topics and would therefore be an excellent addition to both bullying and LGBT collections.

New Biography and US History Stand-alone Nonfiction


Andrews, Arin with Joshua Lyon. Some Assembly Required. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. 978-1-4814-1675-7. 248p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

In this easy to read memoir, Arin, a female-born, transgender teen, details his journey thus far.   Growing up, Arin always considered himself more of a tomboy and resisted his mother’s attempts to get him to wear dresses or compete in beauty pageants.  At first, Arin thinks he might be gay, and has his first romantic relationship with a girl in his dance class.  As he explores online the notions of gender and sexuality, Arin comes to the realization that he is transgender.  As with many LGBT youth, Arin struggles with peer bullying, depression and thoughts of suicide (all of which he openly recounts).  While his mother is initially upset and resistant, after a period of time, she supports her son.  Also key to strengthening their relationship during this time are regular appointments with a therapist and attending LGBT support group meetings.  Arin is very open in the memoir about his transition process and addresses issues such a surgical options and testosterone shots.  An appendix at the end includes resources ranging from books, movies and websites.

921; Biography       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS




Sutcliffe, Jane. The White House is Burning: August 24, 1814. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2014. 978-1-58089-656-6. 120p. $19.99. Gr. 5-8.

Through the use of numerous primary source accounts, Sutcliffe re-creates a notorious date in American history—August 24, 1814.  It was on this date during the War of 1812 that British troops invaded Washington, D.C. after defeating American troops outside of town.  Finding the nation’s capital abandoned by the government (and many citizens), the British burned several government buildings, including the Capitol and the White House.  Sutcliffe takes readers nearly hour by hour through the day, introducing the prominent players on both sides and explaining military tactics of the time.  Firsthand accounts from a cross-section of Washingtonians (from First Lady Dolley Madison, to businessmen, a female young tourist, and slaves) help to make the story come alive and show how the invasion impacted all in the capital city.  The text is supplemented by numerous illustrations, paintings and maps.  A nice addition for American history research or for casual reader with an interest in history.

974; History  Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS




Walker, Sally M. Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line settled a family feud & divided a nation. Sommerville, MA: Candlewick, 2014. 978-0-7636-5612-6. 202p. $24.99. Gr. 8 and up.
While most tend to associate the Mason-Dixon Line with the Civil War era and the separation of North and South, its history actually extends back to the earliest days of colonial America.  In this comprehensive history, Walker first introduces readers to the Calvert (Maryland) and Penn (Pennsylvania) families, who were granted charters to start colonies in the New World.  Due to conflicting language in their land grants, boundary disputes soon arose between the two colonies.  In an effort to settle the matter, two astronomers, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, were hired to conduct a land survey.  The majority of Boundaries describes the arduous surveying task undertaken by the Mason and Dixon.  They not only had to conduct astronomical observations using the tools available at the time, they had to perform complex mathematical computations, and supervise a large crew of men who assisted them, blazed trails and set markers to mark the boundary.  Walker presents and explains the astronomical concepts and mathematical methods used by the two men during the survey process.  The book concludes with a look at the Line’s role in the pre-Civil War era as slaves crossed the line northward into freedom, perused by their owners or slave catchers.  The text incorporates numerous primary source accounts as well as pictures, maps, drawings and diagrams.

974; History                                                   Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS


As a native Pennsylvanian (and history buff), I found this an intriguing read.  Walker not only presented historical information regarding colonial politics and the need for the Mason-Dixon Line, she also did an admirable job of explaining the surveying process and the mathematics behind it (not easy concepts to make understandable to a layperson!).  If you don’t live far from the Mason-Dixon Line, this book might just inspire you to check it out.  I was able to locate a Line marker only 20 miles from my home.  A recommended purchase for schools not only near the Mason-Dixon Line, but schools that have a strong curriculum in Pennsylvania history.

Everything Leads to You

LaCour, Nina. Everything Leads to You. New York: Dutton, 2014. 978-0-525-42588-5. 307p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.
18-year-old Emi is an aspiring production designer living in L.A. and trying to get over her first love.  When she attends the estate sale of a deceased movie star in search of props, she and her best friend, Charlotte, come across a letter written by the famous star.  They decide to track down the intended recipient of the letter.  This is how they meet Ava, and it doesn’t take long for Emi to develop a crush on her.  As Emi and Ava spend more time together, Emi’s heart begins to heal.  She soon learns that life is not a Hollywood fairy tale, but she wouldn’t want it any other way.  People are lovable in spite of their flaws, and heartbreak and hurt simply make the joys and triumphs of life even more beautiful.  This is a beautiful love story with a message that we all need to remember.
Realistic Fiction   Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area HS
Because the main protagonist of the story is a lesbian, this would be a great addition to LGBT collections.  In addition, the behind-the-scenes look at how movies are made will appeal to fans of Amy Finnegan’s Not in the Script and Lauren Conrad’s L.A. Candy series.  This would also be a great title to hand to anyone who is simply looking for a well-written, realistic love story.