YA – Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders

Miles, Kathryn. Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders. Algonquin Books, 2022. 978-1-616-20909-4. 320 p. $28.95. Grades 10+.

In May of 1996, Julianne Williams and Laura Winans were murdered in Shenandoah National Park. The remains of “Julie” and “Lollie,” who were in a romantic relationship, were found near their backcountry campsite, off an overgrown and little-used trail. Their killer disappeared without leaving a discernible trace, and their deaths have remained an open, unsolved case. In 2001, author Kathryn Miles began teaching at Maine’s Unity College (where Lollie was enrolled at the time of her death) and learned about the unsolved murders. An avid backcountry backpacker herself, Miles felt a deep connection to the twenty-something women. Years later, Miles began researching the Williams/Winans case for an Outside magazine article. Her dogged reporting led her to uncover truths about the crime scene, forensics, and investigator assumptions. In Trailed, Miles explores Julie’s and Lollie’s personalities, traumas, accomplishments, and impact on those left behind to mourn their loss. She painstakingly unpacks the case against Darryl Rice (the main suspect in their murders) and compiles clues that point to a different suspect altogether. She also digs into thorny questions about crime and safety along America’s scenic trails.

THOUGHTS: This excellent true crime volume falls somewhere between Wild by Cheryl Strayed and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, and will be of strong interest to older teen readers who gravitate to the genre.

364 True Crime          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Chef’s Kiss

Melendez, Jarrett, and Danica Brine, illustrator. Chef’s Kiss. Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group, 2022. 978-1-620-10904-5. 160 p. $14.99. Grades 10+.

Ben Cook is a recent college graduate who longs for a job connected to his English major. He goes on over a dozen interviews, but lacks the experience needed to land a job that will allow him to gain experience. Luckily, a local restaurant is hiring, with NO experience required (plus a very dreamy sous chef, Liam). Now Ben must excel at Chef Davis’s series of challenges, mastering recipes both classic and original. He also has to please Watson, Le Cochon Doré’s official taste-tester; Watson is a pig, an adorably affectionate one. “Cook the cook” really takes to the restaurant gig, especially the camaraderie that’s forged in the kitchen, but his roommate and longtime bestie, Liz, feels that Ben has given up on writing too easily. This upbeat graphic novel (with abundant character diversity) joyfully depicts the life-changing moments that happen when your life’s prescribed path opens up to a world of possibilities.

THOUGHTS: With incredible culinary sequences, a slow burn romance, and a dash of early-twenties angst, it’s just, yes, chef’s kiss.

Graphic Novel (Crossover)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – All That’s Left in the World

Brown, Erik J. All That’s Left in the World. Balzer + Bray, 2022. 978-0-063-05497-4. 338 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

When 78% of the world’s population has been decimated due to a superflu, and the world has headed in post-apocalyptic terrority, survival takes center stage in the lives of those remaining. Andrew decides that he needs to leave Connecticut on foot in order to settle a debt. He becomes injured and stumbles onto a remote cabin in the Pennsylvanian woods. This is where he meets Jamie. Jamie has been surviving on his own for many months, and he has not made contact with another human during this time. The two form a friendship, and their daily lives fall into a comfortable pattern until their sanctuary is threatened and the two must escape. They spend the next few months discovering just what has happened to the rest of the country.

THOUGHTS: This was a fast read. I thoroughly enjoyed the strong character development of both Jamie and Andrew as they discover their strengths and weaknesses as they fall in love in this broken world.

Science Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

MG – Answers in the Pages

Levithan, David. Answers in the Pages. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2022. 176 p. 978-0-593-48468-5. Grades 4-8. $17.99.

“At that moment Rick knew just how deeply he loved Oliver, and Oliver knew just how deeply he loved Rick…” One’s interpretation of a single statement can make all the difference. The statement itself might be less noticeable depending on where it is seen or heard and the surrounding context. When the The Adventurers, a book being read by Donovan’s fifth grade class, is picked up at home by his mother, she decides it is inappropriate for him to read. It doesn’t take her long to get on the phone with Donovan’s friends’ moms either and schedule a meeting with the school. Donovan only read the first few pages in class but can’t see what his mom would think is wrong about a book where kids go on adventures. Before he returns to class without his copy of The Adventurers (because his mom hasn’t returned it), Donovan stops by the school library to get a copy so he can see what’s “so bad.” Because his mom drew so much attention to the book, several classmates have finished reading and the kids have honest, open discussions with each other and their teacher Mr. Howe who is openly gay. Told in short, alternating chapters, Donovan’s story unfolds; alongside Gideon’s, another elementary school-aged boy; and Rick and Oliver’s, the characters from the book being challenged. Readers will see what happens when a book’s content is challenged – how it impacts the teacher, the students, and families who may not agree with each other.

THOUGHTS: Timely and full of heart, Answers in the Pages is a book that should be in every upper elementary and middle school library! Highly recommended for readers who will be able to follow three separate narratives.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Donovan really enjoys his English class, mostly because of his teacher. When his teacher assigns a book called The Adventurers, Donovan is looking forward to reading it. However, after leaving it out on the kitchen counter one day, he discovers that his mother has read the book – and decides to launch a book challenge. Donovan’s mother interprets the last line of the book to mean that the two male main characters are gay, and she takes issue with this. Donovan finds himself in the middle of a fight that polarizes the school community and pits him against both his favorite English teacher and his mother. Donovan has to examine his own beliefs and decide what he thinks is right, even if it means upsetting someone he cares about. Aside from the main thread of this story, there are two other stories interwoven throughout the book. One is of Gideon and Roberto who are paired up for a school project and develop feelings for each other; the other is about Rick and Oliver, the main characters in the very book Donovan’s mom is challenging. All three stories connect together at the end.

THOUGHTS: With curricular book challenges at an all-time high, Leviathan’s timely book provides a window for students who might be facing the same complicated situations in their own homes.  Leviathan writes from experience as many of his own books have been challenged in schools across the country. All librarians, teachers, parents, politicians, and school board members should read this book. Answers in the Pages is a must-buy for all middle grade libraries.

Realistic Fiction           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – At the End of Everything

Nijkamp, Marieke. At the End of Everything. Sourcebooks Fire, 2022. 978-1-492-67315-6. $18.99. 400 p. Grades 9-12.

Hope Juvenile Treatment Center is a misnomer; there is no hope in this juvenile detention center. When the guards start acting odd and then its residents wake up to no supervision, the teens feel a little celebratory. Though they’ve grown accustomed to living by strict schedules and demands, now they get to make all of the decisions. And one of the first choices is do we leave to find out what’s going on, or do we stay with what we know? The answer splits Hope’s residents in half, only to have the group who leaves discover that a deadly, highly contagious disease is spreading outside of the boundary fence. Armed guards, in fact, are stationed at the gate to keep them in, and they have no words of advice or comfort. When illness breaks out at Hope, the teens must join together to survive. But getting close to and helping others goes against everything they’re used to and puts them at a greater risk of becoming sick. As more people become ill and supplies dwindle, leaders step up to help. But with no rescue or aid in sight, will these teens make it out alive or will the infectious disease take over?

THOUGHTS: Written during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Nijkamp will captivate readers with this sci-fi thriller. Narrated by a diverse group of teens, readers will root for their survival and be amazed at what limits they push themselves to in order to make it out alive. Recommended for high school collections.

Science Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Adventures with My Daddies

Peter, Gareth. Adventures with My Daddies. Illustrated by Garry Parsons. Peachtree, 2021. 978-1-682-63281-9. Unpaged. $16.99. Grades PreK-3.

An unnamed child shares why her daddies are amazing in this sweet picture book. When they read stories together “exciting journeys start” – battling dragons, hunting dinosaurs, and exploring the moon and secret islands are just some of their fun adventures. But their favorite story is their adoption story which brought them together. The narrator talks about different types of families: “Some children have two mommies, and some a mom and a dad.” before explaining why she’s “SO glad” her “SUPER daddies” chose her. Even if they’re “not the best at everything” she knows “they’re always there.” A diverse cast of characters are featured by beautiful acrylic and pencil illustrations in this sweet, rhyming picture book.

THOUGHTS: This beautiful story will show children that all families have unique characteristics. Highly recommended for elementary schools looking to add family stories and LGBTQ representation to their picture book collections.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – A Dark and Starless Forest

Hollowell, Sarah. A Dark and Starless Forest. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-0358424413. $19.99. 368 p. Grades 9-12.

“The flowers that grow from my magic are usually indistinct little things, but those flowers – I knew those flowers. They were mandrake flowers. In legend, mandrakes grow where the blood falls under a gallows.” Derry and her adopted siblings all have one thing in common: they all have magical abilities. Abandoned by their families, the girls live with their caretaker, Frank. In addition to caring for the girls, he teaches them to use their magic and protects them from the dangers of the outside world. He prefers to call them alchemists rather than witches, and over the years, the girls have bonded and consider themselves a family. When Jane, the oldest, disappears, Derry knows she didn’t run away. Desperate to find her, Derry ventures into the dark forest that surrounds their isolated cabin looking for answers. Each night, she’s drawn to the forest, and while her magic begins to grow, darkness takes root within her and she soon discovers that nothing is what it seems. As more of her sisters go missing, protecting her family becomes her most important priority, and she soon realizes that the forest may not be the dangerous presence lurking in the shadows of her life.

THOUGHTS: This is a fantasy novel unlike any that I’ve read before, and by the end, it felt a bit like a horror movie. One of the book’s best features is the diversity and representation among the main characters including sexual orientation, gender identities, race, mental health, body image, and even deafness. Although the book is fantasy, it covers a lot of real world issues like abuse, neglect, and grooming but leaves romance out of the plot. The mystery of the forest and the disappearance of the girls will keep readers hooked and intrigued until the very end.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Lo, Malinda. Last Night at the Telegraph Club. Dutton Books, 2021. 978-0-525-55525-4. 409 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Lily Hu has always been the ideal Chinese-American girl: She does well in school, she has nice Chinese-American friends, and she never disobeys her parents. She never stands out except that she wants a career in space – not appropriate for a young lady in the 1950s. And lately, there is something else stirring inside her that Lily can’t quite put her finger on, but she knows it will not please her parents. At school, Lily starts hanging out with Kath, a fellow aviation enthusiast. After seeing an enticing ad in the newspaper, Lily desperately wants to go to the Telegraph Club, a nightclub in San Francisco that features a singer by the name of Tommy Andrews. Tommy is a female performer who impersonates a man on stage, and while Lily doesn’t quite understand what this means, she is intrigued. Kath has visited the nightclub before, so she and Lily sneak out to watch Tommy perform at the Telegraph. After a few late night visits, her relationship with Kath grows much deeper. Lily realizes what was stirring in her all along: She is a lesbian, and she loves Kath. Lily does not want to hide who she is, but she must figure out how her new, true identity coincides with the identity her parents have wanted for her since birth. 

THOUGHTS: Malinda Lo’s novel has many intricate layers to it. In the 1950s, many Chinese-Americans were forced to denounce Communism or risk deportation. At the same time, many young ladies were trying to figure out if there was more to life after high school than marriage and children. These events are happening in the background of Lily’s story along with the discovery of her LGBTQ identity, a taboo topic in the 50s. The events in this novel circle around the stigma of bucking against conventional society, and this still rings true even 70 years later. A must-have for high school libraries.

Historical Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

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.