YA – Who I Was With Her

Tyndall, Nita. Who I Was With Her. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-97838-7. $17.99. 385 p. Grades 9 and up.

Corrine Parker arrives at school one morning to overhear her cross country teammates talking about how their rival school’s team captain, Maggie – who happens to be Corrine’s girlfriend – died the previous night in a car accident. This is tragic enough on its own. But Corrine is not out, and she and Maggie were dating in secret. This means Corrine can’t even genuinely express her grief when she hears the news or talk to anyone about it. Living in a conservative area of North Carolina, Corrine never felt ready to come out to anyone, so she feels she can’t talk to her divorced parents – especially her alcoholic mother – or her best friend Julia. The only person she can talk to is Dylan, Maggie’s older brother and the only other person who knew the two were dating. And even Dylan is not an optimal confidant – he and Corrine had a rocky relationship while she was dating his sister. What Dylan does do for Maggie is introduce her to someone else to talk to: Elissa, Maggie’s ex-girlfriend who she dated prior to Corrine. It’s complicated even to talk to Elissa, though. Why hadn’t Maggie ever mentioned her? Why did Dylan have a good relationship with Elissa and not her? And why does she find herself starting to feel an attraction to Elissa?

THOUGHTS: This is not a typical coming out story given the circumstances. The complexities of Corrine and Maggie’s secret relationship and Corrine’s struggles to deal in the aftermath of Maggie’s death are told in an alternating timeline format back and forth from their year-long relationship prior to the accident to the present months following her death. It’s also a very unique grief story as Corrine struggles with it primarily on her own, so it understandably gets messy at times. The novel also touches on addiction, college admissions pressures, and asexuality through subplots and supporting characters. Overall, recommended addition to collections where the demand for LGBTQIA+ literature, particularly bisexual protagonists, is high.

Realistic Fiction                              Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

MG – Finish the Fight!

Chambers, Veronica and The Staff of the New York Times. Finish the Fight! Versify, 2020. 978-0-358-40830-7. 144 p. $18.99. Grades 3-8. 

Finish the Fight! is not your momma’s suffrage book! Preceding the introduction, eight playing card style portraits feature commonly known suffragists such as Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton neatly arranged into a two page spread. The page turn reveals a single sentence: “We wanted to tell more of the story” surrounded by numerous, overlapping diverse suffragette playing cards featuring previously unsung heroines and disrupting  the notion of suffrage as a stagnant piece of history. The playing cards speak volumes with bright colors, confident poses, and knowing smiles emphasizing each woman as a force to be reckoned with in her own right. Over 117 years of the Women’s Rights movement are covered beginning with the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, beyond ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, and through the Equal Rights Voting Act of 1965. Brief chapters filled with accessible text for an elementary to middle grade audience introduce young readers to marginalized aspects of the suffrage movement. Readers will learn about the influence of Native American women including leaders of Haudenosaunee, Omaha, and Dakota-Sioux cultures. Another chapter explains how Juno Frankie Pierce encouraged 2,500 Black women to register for the vote allowing suffragists the numbers they needed to secure ratification of the 19th Amendment in Tennessee. One chapter is dedicated to the nearly disastrous effects of bias within the movement while another focuses specifically on queer leaders and their fight for equality. Primary source documents including posters, photographs, historical documents, and memorabilia are digitally enhanced and positioned throughout the pages with captions. Everything about this book is visually stunning. Portraiture credit is given to eleven artists whose unique styles pay homage to each highlighted woman in preface to her chapter, stunningly capturing her style, time period, and personality. Jovita Idar,  Mexican American journalist/activist and League of Mexican woman founder, is surrounded with southwestern flora and the scales of justice. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, a sixteen year old Chinese immigrant known for leading one of the biggest suffrage parades in New York history is depicted wearing a sash seated atop a white horse against a backdrop reminiscent of mid-Manhattan’s “Chinatown” neighborhood. Women with a chapter featuring her contribution to the fight include: Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Elizabeth Piper Ensley, Mary Church Terrell, Angelina Weld Grimke, Mary Burrill, Ida Wells-Burnett, Susette La Flesche Tibbles, and Zitkala-Sa. Dozens of others are mentioned throughout the text. The trading cards appear again in the backmatter along with succinct biographies of each featured lady.

THOUGHTS: This book is a celebration of the unsung heroines of the suffrage movement, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Finish the Fight! is quite possibly the most comprehensive, approachable, inclusive look at the radical fight to secure votes for women. Women’s history is inextricably tangled up with equality and human rights on all fronts. Rarely are the stories of those who worked in parallel to obtain rights for BIPOC and LGBTQ folx woven into history books for children. This book is a much needed addition to any elementary or middle grade library collection. Primary source material mixed with modern art and plain text opens the door to use this book in a myriad of ways for research, history, and social studies lessons.

324.6 Voting Rights          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

YA – B*Witch

Ohlin, Nancy, and Paige McKenzie. B*Witch. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-368-02876-9. 336. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

All Iris wants is to get through the first day of school without a panic attack and to keep her magical abilities hidden. After all, being a witch in contemporary society is not easy due to the President’s resolve to prosecute all witches and a new bigot gang, Antima, who search for witches all across the United States. Used to hiding her witch identity, Iris is thrilled when she is befriended by Greta who is a coven leader and a witch like her. When Greta’s coven is sent a mysterious magical shadow message, they, and rival coven The Triad, must work together to protect themselves and solve a murder.

THOUGHTS: Lovers of fantasy will enjoy this mysterious novel about magic and friendship told in multiple perspectives. There are plenty of surprises and contemporary references which create excitement and leave the reader eager for a sequel.

Fantasy (Paranormal)    Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – All Boys Aren’t Blue

Johnson, George M. All Boys Aren’t Blue. Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-374-31271-8. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

George Matthew Johnson’s first memory is having his teeth kicked out by a white boy, seemingly for no reason other than his race. His first identity crisis happens in elementary school when he learns that his first name was actually George, not Matthew. From that point on, the author struggles with his identity and how he fits into a world that did not accept Black people or queer people and definitely not a young boy who was both. Johnson realizes at a young age that boys are supposed to be masculine, which means being tough, playing football, and conforming to these ideas without question. But he prefers to jump Double Dutch with the girls and wear cowboy boots to Disneyland. For his own mental and physical survival, he learns to code-switch in elementary school – he can impress the boys with his athletic ability when necessary but also gossip with the girls. While Johnson has a fantastic support system in his family, he knows that not all Black queer teens do – and so he wrote this book to serve as guidance. Each chapter is entwined with the lessons Johnson learned along the way in the hopes that Black queer teens will not have to figure them out the hard way.

THOUGHTS: This memoir manifesto is incredibly timely in light of current events. Johnson’s experiences in his life have made him extremely insightful about society, and his insights should (and do) make the reader think about what behaviors are expected of boys practically from birth. This memoir is a critically essential book to have in a high school library as it can provide two things: a window in which to see how those who are different struggle to find acceptance and a mirror for teenagers who are struggling under the weight of the labels society forces upon them.

306.76 Memoir          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

YA – In Focus (Series Nonfiction)

In Focus. BrightPoint Press, 2020. $31.05 ea. $155.25 set of 5. 80 p. Grades 7-12.

Barton, Jen. School Shootings. 978-1-68282-721-5.
Cornell, Kari A. Fake News. 978-1-68282-715-4.
Erikson, Marty. The #MeToo Movement.  978-1-68282-717-8.
—. Refugees. 978-1-68282-719-2.
—. Transgender Rights. 978-1-68282-723-9.

The publisher declares this imprint as young adult nonfiction for struggling and ELL readers. The packaging works for young adults, who will find the physical packaging to visually blend with other on-level resources and may need to be encouraged to use these resources (if they have come to believe they cannot tackle typical young adult nonfiction).  Examples shared in the books cover current issues from worldwide perspectives. The monotony of the writing (subject-verb-complement) to suit the 4th grade reading level stunts the text and at times even deadens or disjoints the issue. For example, “Some colonists wanted to overthrow British rule. They wanted to be independent. This led to the Revolutionary War. Some colonists wrote exaggerated stories. These stories spread rumors about the government. John and Samuel Adams were cousins. They lived in Massachusetts. They wrote anti-government stories” (20). The most helpful chapters come at the end of the books, where tips to see through fake news, or how to support the #MeToo Movement, are shared.  Additional resources are few but useful.

THOUGHTS: Useful where there is a definite need for hi-lo nonfiction for young adults. (Titles reviewed were: Fake News and The #MeToo Movement.)

300s: Social Issues                Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – When You Trap a Tiger

Keller, Tae. When You Trap a Tiger. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-524-71570-0. 287 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Lily, known as Lily Bean to her mom, and Eggi in her Halmoni’s stories, and her family suddenly pack up and move to Washington one rain soaked evening. They are moving in with her Halmoni, a storyteller, and the story she shares with Lily from many years ago is about how she stole the stars from the sky and bottled up the bad stories which angered a tiger. Lily is intrigued by her story, and when a tiger suddenly appears in the middle of the road one rainy night, Lily is convinced everything is real. But time is of the essence, as Halmoni is showing signs of illness – could it be a consequence of her stealing the stars? With the help of Ricky, a boy Lily meets at the library across the street, the two devise a “hypothetical” tiger trap. Little did Lily know that the Tiger would make her an offer that can help her Halmoni, but with consequences. Lily wants answers and to find a way to help her Halmoni before it’s too late. But can a QAG, short for quiet Asian girl, really find the truth? Can she rescue her family before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will not be disappointed with the characters in this book – they are full of heart, determination, love, and curiosity, even if one of them is a tiger. This title is perfect to add to your collection of diverse books, as it shows the struggle of an Asian family and how their history and heritage affect their lives today. I truly enjoyed reading this story and believe it is the perfect story to capture how storytelling and reading books can truly be art.

Fantasy          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Change is happening in Lily’s life. With little notice, her mother has uprooted her daughters from their California home to their halmoni’s (grandmother’s) home in Sunbeam, Washington. Lily does her best to be the invisible, accommodating, “QAG” (quiet Asian girl) while her older sister, Sam, finds every reason to voice her displeasure to their mother and often rebukes Lily. Lily both chafes under and finds comfort in her invisibility. Lily’s many worries worsen when she (and only she) sees a tiger in the road as they approach their halmoni’s home. Her grandmother has shared countless Korean folktales with Lily and Sam, often with a dangerous tiger involved. When Lily discovers that her grandmother is ill and facing death, she’s determined to convince the tiger to use its magic to cure her grandmother, despite admonitions from her mother and sister that dissuade her from believing the “silly” stories have any power in their lives. The library across the street provides hope and friendship for Lily, who teams up with Ricky to build a tiger trap in her grandmother’s basement. Can she convince the tiger to help, and can she convince her family that the stories are real and useful?  Will the stories save her grandmother and her family?

THOUGHTS: This is a tale of a young girl growing up and deciding who she will be, while she comes to terms with death. The targeted age level seems to increase through the story as Lily matures, and this may not quite work for readers. The grief, anger at moving, and the sister difficulties between Lily and Sam smooth a bit too perfectly by the story’s end. I found myself wishing for more scenes with the interesting, enigmatic tiger.

Magical Realism          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Korean Folktales

MG – A Song Only I Can Hear

Jonsberg, Barry. A Song Only I Can Hear. Simon and Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-44252-8. 293 p. $17.99. Grades 6-8.

Rob is shy and prone to panic attacks, but otherwise is content with life. When gorgeous Destry transfers to the school; however, Rob discovers love. But how does an extraordinarily shy person get noticed? Rob’s beloved blankety-blank foul-mouthed grandfather (and best friend) provides some assistance early on, encouraging non-athletic Rob to play in the high-school’s annual soccer game against their arch-rival school. Surprising everyone, Rob shines at goalie; unfortunately, Destry misses the game. Soon after, Rob begins receiving texts from an unknown individual containing challenges designed to overcome shyness and bolster Rob’s confidence. This sweet story, however, is only one layer of a more complex issue. Astute readers may pick up on clues throughout the story (Rob mentions having to work out a problem with the school uniform, will not use public restrooms, and has image issues.), but most will be surprised that Rob, born Roberta, is a transgender male. (Readers who happen to read the Author’s Note first also will be clued into the big reveal). This thoughtful, quiet book, with its unique approach, is an outstanding entrant in the LGBTQ market. Readers accept Rob as a boy from the opening page and are rooting for this sweet, intelligent, quirky youth to succeed in overcoming his shyness. By the time of Rob’s announcement, readers are squarely on his side. An ingenious denouement allows readers to backtrack through the story with Rob and appreciate the full impact of his actions and the precipitating events.

THOUGHTS: This book deserves to be in all middle school libraries. Nowhere in the book is Rob’s gender debated or questioned, helping readers understand that Rob’s perception of himself is the perception that matters. As Rob says, “I don’t have problems with my identity…It’s other people who have that.” Hopefully, A Song Only I Can Hear will show readers the truth, and heart, of that statement.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – You Should See Me in a Crown

Johnson, Leah. You Should See Me in a Crown. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-50326-5. $17.99. 324 p. Grades 9 and up.

This is not your average prom court story. From Liz Lighty’s motivation to run for queen to her underdog status and even the hype surrounding this rural Indiana town’s epic prom season traditions, this prom plot is anything but trite. When Liz finds out she did not get the scholarship she needs to afford Pennington College, the school of her dreams, she does the only thing she can think of that could quickly replace that money, and it’s the last thing she ever imagined herself doing. Prom in Campbell County, Indiana is an institution, and the king and queen win $10,000 scholarships – exactly the amount of money she needs to make Pennington happen. Now, Liz – who has purposely stayed under the radar her entire high school career – throws herself into the month-long campaign for a spot on the prom court by doing volunteer work and getting as much positive attention as she can on the school’s gossipy social media app: Campbell Confidential. Being an outsider – an unpopular band kid who is one of only a few Black girls at her school – is just one of many hurdles she’ll have to overcome if she wants that crown and scholarship. Aside from her few close friends, no one at school knows that Liz is queer. When a new girl unexpectedly shows up at the first prom campaign meeting, Liz finds herself immediately crushing on this skateboard-riding underdog. Dating Mack – who is also now her competition –  is exactly the type of publicity Liz does NOT want if she’s going to win that scholarship in this very conservative town, forcing her to choose which to listen to: her head or her heart.

THOUGHTS: Leah Johson’s debut novel is laugh-out-loud funny and gosh darn adorable. Novels that tackle serious issues faced by BIPOC/LGBTQ characters are extremely important, but it’s also important to see these characters experience joy in their everyday lives. That’s not to say this book lacks serious moments because it does have them. (Liz’s brother’s health and close-minded faculty/students, for example, make for some weighty scenes). It is a feel-good story overall though with a romance full of “aww”-worthy moments, an amazing supporting cast of friends and family (Liz’s grandparents and her friend Stone are particularly fun), and it is definitely a great addition to any teen collection.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Liz Lighty dreams of leaving the small town of Campbell, Indiana behind to attend her mother’s alma mater Pennington College and become a doctor. Liz has worked hard to secure financial aid and is devastated to learn that she isn’t getting it. An excellent student and musician, Liz refuses to give up on her dream and put her grandparents into financial troubles. Liz is determined to find another way to Pennington when she is reminded of the annual prom court competition (and $10,000 scholarship for the king and queen). Terrified of the added attention (Liz has anxiety), Liz decides prom court is her best opportunity. Liz isn’t openly out which has never been a problem for her close friends, but Campbell has strict rules for potential prom court members that are steeped in tradition. Adding all of the expected volunteer events to her busy schedule isn’t easy, but spending time with new girl – and fellow prom court competition – Mack is worth it. With the help of her friends, Liz is slowly climbing the Campbell Confidential (social media app) prom court rankings and might actually stand a chance. But falling for Mack might jeopardize everything Liz has worked hard to achieve. Liz knows she’ll find her place at Pennington if she can earn this scholarship, but is getting to Pennington worth not being true to herself?

THOUGHTS: This debut tackles tough topics in a way that will appeal widely to high school readers. Liz has been through a lot in her life, and readers will root for her from the beginning. Highly recommended, this one is a must have for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Felix Ever After

Calendar, Kacen. Felix Ever After. Balzer + Bray, 2020. 978-0-062-82025-9. $18.99. 354 p. Grades 9 and up.

In the summer before his senior year of high school, it seems like everyone around Felix Love is falling in love… except him. Ironic, isn’t it?  Even though he desperately wants it, Felix has a complicated relationship with love. Felix’s mom left when he was a kid and hasn’t spoken to him since. When he was 12, he realized he is a guy, not female, the gender assigned to him at birth. Though his dad has helped him with his transition, he still does not call Felix by his name, simply referring to him as “kid.” Now, Felix continues to question his identity, a feeling he describes as a “niggling” that just isn’t quite right. While at a summer program at his New York City art school, someone displays stolen photos of Felix before his transition along with his deadname in the school gallery, something he has kept secret from his classmates and did not plan to reveal. In the aftermath of the gallery, an internet troll sends transphobic messages to his Instagram account. With all that is happening in his life, how can Felix Love fall in love when he doesn’t feel he deserves it? The quest to find the person who bullied Felix becomes more than just that; as Felix and his best friend Ezra seek out revenge, Felix forges unexpected friendships, finds himself in the middle of a love triangle, and learns more about himself. This raw, emotional YA contemporary explores a plethora of race and LGBTQ issues and teaches readers that age-old lesson that in order to fall in love, you first need to learn to love yourself.

THOUGHTS: Kacen Callender has written a primer on transgender youth and the issues they face in their second YA novel. Seeing the world through Felix’s eyes provides awareness and empathy. I would recommend this novel to any student of any background, whether they are looking for a protagonist they can relate to or they want to be a better ally. Sensitive readers may appreciate a warning that there is a lot of inappropriate language in the novel, but that shouldn’t detract from this powerful and important novel full of loveable, imperfect teen characters. Highly recommended for all collections.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

MG – Summer and July

Moiser, Paul. Summer and July. Harper, 2020. 978-0-062-84936-6. 320 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

12 year old Julliet is afraid. She is afraid of turbulence on the airplane ride to LA, afraid of the premonitions given by a fortune teller back home, and afraid of telling the truth about why she missed her piano recital. While in Ocean View, where she and her mom are staying for a month, Julliet meets Summer, a free spirited surfer, who teaches her to live beyond her fears. As summer days filled with ice cream and “ignoring alien orders” pass by, Julliet realizes that Summer is hiding a difficult reality in her own life. With Summer’s help she is not only able to confront many of her physical fears, but Julliet is also able to share how her parent’s divorce has contributed to her fears. As feelings grow and summer comes to an end, Julliet helps Summer find joy after a family tragedy and she becomes the strong, fearless surfer girl she is meant to be.

THOUGHTS: This sweet novel set in an ocean town will be a perfect middle grade read for students nostalgic for summer. Students who are struggling with divorce or feelings related to LGBTQ+ identity will appreciate and connect with these characters.

Realistic Fiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD