YA – Zara Hossain Is Here

Khan, Sabina. Zara Hossain Is Here. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-58087-7. 256 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Moving through Tae Kwon Do patterns is the calm after the storm Zara can’t seem to find anywhere else in her life. Constant microaggressions leave her feeling frustrated and alone. Despite living in Corpus Christi, Texas since she was a baby, Zara is the only Muslim girl in her private Catholic school. Though her father is a respected physician, Islamaphobia isn’t anything new to Zara. Her family still is waiting for their green card approval (nine years later), so she tries to remain under the radar. While presenting her US history paper (on the inequities and indignities of the US immigration system), Zara faces questions from her classmates like “why do we have to take care of everyone else in the world?” and “What about all the illegals that are flooding our country?” Zara actually was talking about legal immigration – like her own family’s – but no one seems to care. When things go too far, and Zara’s dad reacts to defend their family, the Hossain’s immigration status is put in jeopardy. Zara’s family is ready to move back to Pakistan but recognizes that Zara, who really doesn’t remember their home country, will not have the same educational and life opportunities. And Zara may face just as much prejudice in Pakistan, since she identifies as a bisexual female.

THOUGHTS: In Zara, Khan presents a character who is sick of accepting the ignorance of others and who fights for what she believes. Readers will adore and root for Zara and her family. A must have for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, SD

YA – A Sitting in St. James

Williams-Garcia, Rita. A Sitting in St. James. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-062-36729-7. $17.99. 460 p. Grades 10 and up.

Madame Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert relishes her past in the French Court, but with the fall of the court, so too fell Madame Sylvie, forced to marry Bayard Guilbert and move first to Saint-Domingue and then to St. James Parrish, Louisiana. Now, over 60 years later, she still relishes in her connection to the dead French queen and the need to maintain her appearances throughout St. James. Thus, she rules Le Petit Cottage, the Guilbert plantation, as though nothing has changed since her husband’s death 30 years ago. But, it’s 1860, and the United States, and Louisiana, are changing. Mixed-races are thriving throughout Louisiana; plantations are being sold; Abraham Lincoln has been elected president, and yet, Madame Sylvie cannot let go of the past. When she learns that a descendant of the French court’s portrait artist, Le Brun, is in Louisiana, she forces her son Lucien to bring him to Le Petit Cottage for a sitting. Although out of style and unaffordable due to the debt Lucien has brought upon the plantation, Madame Sylvie insists on the sitting and the importance of it to the French and her future family’s legacy and memory. But, what legacy can she provide when everything is lost?  

THOUGHTS: Told through the eyes of a white, plantation madame, A Sitting in St. James approaches the antebellum period through a new lens. Williams-Garcia still tells the story of slavery in the antebellum South, but not the strength in it; instead she looks at the downfall of the Guilbert plantation because of the resistance to change and an inane desire to have what doesn’t exist anymore from Bayard’s marriage to Sylvie to Sylvie’s desire still to be a part of the French Court even though it does not exist. Additionally, Williams-Garcia addresses the need for children and grandchildren to sustain a plantation throughout the novel through the deaths of Sylvie’s children, except for Lucien, and the homosexual relationship between her grandson, Byron, and Robinson Pearce. She also addresses gender inequality through the female characters of Eugenie, Jane, and Rosalie because they must find husbands to support them and the plantation. This is a welcomed addition to antebellum historical fiction and another fabulous novel by Rita Williams-Garcia; it does, though, include some descriptive and graphic sex scenes and rape of slaves.

MG – Too Bright to See

Lukoff, Kyle. Too Bright to See. Penguin Random House, 2021. 978-0-593-11115-4. $16.99. 188 p. Grades 4-7.

Set in the summer before middle school starts in rural Vermont, Bug and her friend Mo, who now wants to be called Moira, are preparing themselves for the start of something new. Moira takes it upon herself to plan makeovers and make as many new friends as she can before school starts, but all of this makes Bug feel not right. Bug’s uncle, who moved to Vermont with Bug and her mom after her father passed away when Bug was an infant, just passed away leaving them to figure out how to move on. Their old creaky house has always been filled with ghosts, but now the ghost game has stepped up, and Bug is trying to figure out who this ghost is and what it is trying to say! As Bug uncovers the mystery of the ghost and what it is trying to say, Bug makes a huge discovery – he is transgender.   

THOUGHTS: This book was scarier than I thought it would be! The ghosts in Bug’s house are pretty aggressive at times, so this would appeal to horror readers. The author is transgender, and you can’t help but think that this authentic story may be semi-autobiographical. Bug’s friends’ acceptance of his identity gives you faith that kids are way more accepting than adults in these matters.

Mystery         Krista Fitzpatrick, Abington SD

YA – Be Dazzled

La Sala, Ryan. Be Dazzled. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-492-68269-1. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.

If ever there was a meet-cute, Raffy and Luca are it. They meet in the gem aisle of Craft Club, the local craft megastore, both boys zeroing in on Sea Foam Dream #6 gems. Dark-haired, dark-eyed Raffy is a supremely talented cosplay crafter/video streamer, with a devoted internet following; Luca, a smokin’ hot Italian American soccer player. Raffy can’t believe Luca was (he was, wasn’t he?) flirting with him. Raffy introduces Luca into the nerdom of cosplay and conventions. Luca introduces Raffy to fun. Raffy, 17 year old, is so focused on impressing the judges at the various Cons he attends, hoping to gain sponsorship for his crafting, and scholarships to art school, that he has lost the joy of crafting. Teaching Luca brings back the fun. But when Raffy’s maniacal intensity collides with Luca’s laissez faire approach, the inevitable breakup occurs. Yet now Raffy’s success at Controverse depends on working with the boy who broke his heart. Adding to the storyline is Luca’s inability to tell his family he is bisexual, as well as coming out as a closet nerd, and Raffy’s intense, “ARTIST” mother, who scorns sequins, satin and sewing. When all the worlds collide, will Raffy and Luca be able to survive, the second time around? This dazzling nerd romance is heart-meltingly cute. The behind-the-scenes look at cosplay crafting is fascinating, and Raffy is an expert guide to the design and creation of costumes. Both boys have loyal friends to support them, and while family issues are resolved quickly and neatly, it makes for a satisfying conclusion to a fun read.

THOUGHTS: There is nothing not to love about this bedazzling nerd romance with a happy ending.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Mr. Watson’s Chickens

Dapier, Jarrett, and Andrea Tsurumi, illustrator. Mr. Watson’s Chickens. Chronicle Books, 2021. 9781452177144. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Mr. Watson and Mr. Nelson live in a big house with a small yard that’s home to two dogs, three cats, and a handful of chickens. Mr. Watson loves his chickens, but when their numbers grow to 456 even he must admit that things are getting out of hand. One, Aunt Agnes, even has her own song and warbles it nonstop! The pair packs up and heads for the county fair to find loving homes for their chicks, but not before further hijinks ensue. One action-packed illustration offers a fun Where’s Waldo vibe as readers hunt for Aunt Agnes on the fair’s bandstand. 

THOUGHTS: This wonderfully inclusive picture book will delight young readers with the chickens’ escapades and bright colors! Mr. Watson’s Chickens also could serve as a gentle introduction to a life cycle or animal care unit.

Picture Book          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Afterlove

Byrne, Tanya. Afterlove. Hodder Children’s Books, 2021. 978-1-444-95595-8. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

The last thing that Ash hears is breaking glass, followed by confusion. Is she still alive? Is she dead? She is met by a group of girls who tell her she has been chosen to be a Reaper, and she has to start over with this new “life.” However, all Ash wants is to see her girlfriend Poppy again no matter what. This is a unique LGBTQIA+ story, with a splash of paranormal thrown in.

THOUGHTS: The characters felt very unique and relatable, and the plot was extremely well crafted and thought out. The ending was gut wrenching but felt true to the plot and didn’t feel rushed at all. I would highly recommend this book for every high school and public library. 

Romance          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Squad

Tokuda-Hall, Maggie, and Lisa Sterle. Squad. Greenwillow Books, 2021. 978-0-06-294314-9. 224 pp. $14.99. Grades 9-12.

Becca’s single mom recently moved to Piedmont, California, so Becca could graduate from an outstanding high school and enjoy a safe, upper-class community. To her own surprise, Becca is befriended by Piedmont High’s most elite “squad” of girls, led by ultra-rich Arianna. But these girls have a secret, alluded to in the graphic novel’s vibrant cover art: they are werewolves. Becca loves belonging to a tight clique, but their collective hunger has a price. On the full moon they must feed, usually on the overly aggressive boys they meet at parties. When Becca accidentally kills one of Piedmont’s own (Arianna’s unfaithful boyfriend Thatcher) the squad risks exposure, and everyone’s loyalty is put to the test. Squad features ethnically diverse characters (Becca is depicted as Asian American, fellow squad member Mandy is Black), a healthy dose of camp, and delightful snark. Arianna helpfully informs Becca, for example, “You’re way too pretty to be dressing like a Santa Monica basic.” Comparisons to Heathers, Teen Wolf, and Riverdale are all well-earned!

THOUGHTS: Beneath Lisa Sterle’s fabulous jewel-toned artwork readers will discover powerful messages about consent and the perils of following the pack.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – The Dead and the Dark

Gould, Courtney. The Dead and the Dark. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-76201-6. 371 pp. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

What could possibly go wrong in a town called Snakebite? That’s what celebrity TV ghost-hunters Brandon and Alejo are back in their hometown to discover, with their daughter Logan in tow. Unfortunately, Brandon’s recent arrival for location scouting coincided with the disappearance of local teen Tristan, and many in Snakebite suspect his involvement. Hoping to resolve the town’s suspicion about her dads, Logan teams up with local girl Ashley (Tristan’s girlfriend). Not everything in Ashley and Tristan’s relationship was quite as it seemed from the outside looking in, and there are clues that her partnership with Logan (who is gay) may become something more. Meanwhile, their investigation leads them to an abandoned cabin in the woods, where Ashley receives vivid visions of both Tristan and Brandon. Someone, or something, is hunting the teens in this remote Oregon town, and the race to solve this chilling situation is on. So are the ghost-detecting gadgets, which provide both important clues and light-hearted satire of programs such as Ghost Adventures

THOUGHTS: Intergenerational, small-town secrets abound in this supernatural horror novel. Debut author Courtney Gould is a writer that horror fans will want to follow; she’s delivered a compelling brew of elements for spooky book season!

Horror          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – The Lucky List

Lippincott, Rachael. The Lucky List. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-534-46853-5. $18.99. 294 p. Grades 7-12.

Shunned by her high school peers for boldly kissing an underclassman at the junior prom in full view of her well-liked boyfriend, Matt, Emily Clark faces a lonely summer in Huckabee, her small Pennsylvania town. Her best friend, Kiera, is working as a counselor at a sleep away camp; Matt is kind but confused at her actions; her dad is as distracted by work as ever leaving Emily to pack up her deceased mother’s belongings. Still nursing her grief over her mother’s passing three years prior from cancer, Emily finds a bucket list her mother penned her senior year of high school. When her parents’ best friend, Johnny Carter, moves to Huckabee from Hawaii with his daughter, Blake, the two girls spend a special summer together. Both motherless, they bond easily, and Blake is supportive when the diffident, cautious Emily challenges herself to check off the twelve points on her mother’s list. Convinced this accomplishment will reveal the new and improved Emily, she finds herself—with Blake’s encouragement and help—jumping off cliffs, sleeping under the stars, fending off others to steal forbidden apples, picking a four-leaf clover, etc. until ultimately, she is faced with the final task: kissing Matt. Rachael Lippincott’s The Lucky List is a cozy coming-of-age novel with a LBGTQ+ theme. Narrator Emily relates the questioning, the fears, the missteps of discovering whom one really is authentically and satisfyingly. The relationship between Emily and Blake is gradual and fun; the soul-searching Emily is relatable. A pleasant read for any teen, but may strike a particular chord with those grappling with their sexual identity. 

THOUGHTS: The Lucky List is a light read, heavy on friendship and caring rather than sex. The awakening of a person to her sexual identity may be helpful addition on school library shelves.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke  School District of Philadelphia

MG – Frankie & Bug

Forman, Gayle. Frankie & Bug. Aladdin, 2021. 978-1-534-48253-1. 288 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Tired of experiencing life in 2021? Jump back to the summer of 1987, before social media, cell phones, and when summer break meant kids had an opportunity to get bored. Bug was all ready to go to the beach every day with her brother, but he was too cool for that now. While she was moping about, her upstairs neighbor informed her that his nephew would be coming to stay for the summer. Though they don’t hit it off at first, Frankie and Bug cover a lot of ground as ten and eleven year olds in Venice Beach. From sleuthing to try uncover the midnight marauder to a lesson or two in self identity, Frankie and Bug discover the importance of being true to yourself and family is who you surround yourself with.

THOUGHTS: A fantastic addition to middle level libraries. It’s a relief to read a story without the burden of current times, but one that still hits a lot of major themes. The story includes LGBTQ+ and Hispanic representation in an age appropriate manner.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD