YA – Summer of Everything

Winters, Julian. Summer of Everything. Interlude Press, 2020. 978-1-945-05391-7. $17.99. 293 p. Grades 9 and up. 

Wesley Hudson (named after Wesley Crusher from Star Trek) has just returned from spending the first part of his summer in Italy with his parents. His dad, Calvin, is a world-class chef and his mom, Savannah, is a best-selling novelist of Horrmance, which Wes describes as “books about werewolves fighting a blood feud while trying to find a date to the prom.” He’s not exactly a fan of her books. He is a fan of comic books though, and aside from his parents and his friends, one of the things he loves most in this world is Once Upon a Page, the bookstore where he works just a few steps away from the Santa Monica pier. Wes knows that he should enjoy this last summer before college just working at Once Upon a Page and hanging out with his friends, but he also knows he has a LOT going on. For starters, he must figure out what to study at UCLA. His brother, with whom he has a somewhat strained relationship, is getting married. He also needs to come up with a plan to finally do something about the crush he’s had on his best friend Nico since sophomore year. At first, Wes’s approach is just to sit back and assume it’ll all work out at some point because in his eyes, “Life owes [him] so hard for giving him nerdy genes, a pain-in-the-ass older brother, uncooperative curly hair, and the inability to skateboard.” But then Wes and his friends discover that Once Upon a Page is in trouble of being sold, and he can no longer just sit back and wait for things to happen. 

THOUGHTS: Wes and his loveable, geeky friends come from various racial and ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations making this a story where many readers can see themselves represented. It’s also full of nerdy comic book and 90’s music references. His relationship with Mrs. Rossi, the older owner of Once Upon a Page, is particularly endearing. Quite a bit of cursing, discussions about sex, and instances of underage drinking do make appearances in this book which may be worth warning sensitive readers. Ultimately though, The Summer of Everything is a look at a queer black young man’s coming of age as he starts to figure out his future and take on adult responsibilities. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – The Boy in the Red Dress

Lambert, Kristin. The Boy in the Red Dress. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11368-4. $18.99. 362 p. Grades 9 and up. 

It’s New Year’s Eve, 1929 in the French Quarter, and Millie is running her Aunt Cal’s speakeasy, the Cloak and Dagger, while she’s out of town. Running a speakeasy during prohibition is dangerous enough, but the Cloak and Dagger’s entertainment includes drag shows, and the patrons are primarily from the LGBTQ community, making it doubly scandalous by 1929’s standards. The employees and patrons take care of each other though, and Millie, who is bisexual herself, would love nothing more than if her Aunt would let her quit school and help her run the place. This New Year’s Eve, she thinks, might be her chance to prove herself. But then a group of high-society newbies show up to the Cloak and Dagger, and one of them starts looking for a boy from her past she’s showing in a photograph, a boy who looks an awful lot like Millie’s best friend, who now goes by Marion and is the “undisputed queen of the Cloak and Dagger.” After Marion’s big performance at midnight, the girl – Arimentha – is found dead in the alley, apparently pushed off the balcony near Marion’s dressing room, and all the evidence points to Marion as the murderer when details emerge about their past. Millie knows her best friend is not a murderer; she just has to prove it to everyone else. As if solving a murder mystery isn’t complicated enough, Millie’s mostly-absent mother reappears forcing her to deal with some repressed feelings, and throughout her quest to clear Marion’s name, she also finds herself romantically interested in both Bennie – the son of one of their bootlegged alcohol suppliers – and Olive – a waitress at the Cloak and Dagger.

THOUGHTS: This is a fun, different kind of LGBTQ tale given the time period. Though primarily a mystery, the novel has lots of layers including a love triangle that is good but very much a sub-plot that doesn’t take over the primary storyline. Touches on the history of the time period, but at its heart, this murder mystery is just plain entertaining with a likeable cast of outcast characters, even Millie’s flawed mother. Highly recommended for collections where patrons can’t get enough LGBTQ.

Mystery          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – Late to the Party

Quindlen, Kelly. Late to the Party. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-250-20913-9. 297 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Codi is comfortable in her bubble, content to do her own thing with the same friends she’s had since elementary school, Maritza and JaKory. That is until her little brother almost has his first kiss before she does. Realizing that she is already seventeen and about to enter her senior year of high school, Codi fears her chance to be a ‘normal’ teenager is slipping away. Hesitant at first, she begins to break out of her comfort zone little by little, meeting new friends, going new places, and even experiencing her first party. All the while tensions with Maritza and JaKory continue to rise. Can Codi be the friend she once was while still discovering new things? Can she be two people, the quiet artistic girl and the social teenager, at once? Will there be room enough in her life for life?

THOUGHTS: Late to the Party is a satisfying exploration of what it means for interests and relationships to grow as you get older, a reflection of an utterly relatable internal conflict.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

MG – Being LGBTQ in America (Series NF)

Being LGBTQ  in America. Abdo Publishing, 2020. $25.95 ea. $155.70, set of 6. 112 pp. Grades 6-8.

Harris, Duchess, J.D., Ph.D. with Rebecca Rowell. Growing Up LGBTQ.  978-1-532-11904-0.
Harris, Duchess, JD, PhD. with Kristin Marciniak. Being Transgender in America. 978-1-532-11903-3.
Harris, Duchess, JD, Ph.D. with Kristin Marciniak. LGBTQ Discrimination in America.978-1-532-11905-7.
Harris, Duchess, JD, Ph.D. with Martha Lundin. LGBTQ Rights and the Law.   978-1-532-11906-4.
Harris, Duchess, JD, Ph.D. with Jill C. Wheeler. LGBTQ Service in the Armed Forces.  978-1-532-11907-1.
Harris, Duchess, JD, Ph.D. with Martha Lundin. LGBTQ Social Movements in America.  978-1-532-11908-8.

This well-researched series provides an easily understandable, comprehensive exposition of the LGBTQ community, its difficulties, and its successes. In Growing Up LGBTQ, by Dr. Duchess Harris with Rebecca Rowell, the authors focus on LGBTQ teens navigating their gender identity with compelling language and plentiful real-life explanations. The book acts as a primer with each chapter covering a different issue facing LBGTQ and ending with brief list of discussion questions. An interesting topic is a description of stores that engage in “gendering materials,” separation of traditional boy and girl products like clothing and toy and heightened prices for “girl” toys. The authors list the various ways LBGTQ* teens suffer from discrimination in the health care field, among law enforcement, in the homeless community, and in prisons. This particular book reinforces the need for LBGTQ teens to feel the support of family and school in order to find their voices. It concludes with with a discussion of the protests and the consequences around Title IX, its advances and its demise under the Trump-deVose administration. Complementary photographs and informative textboxes interspersed touch on topics like microaggressions, same-sex marriage, and more. Though the slim volume doesn’t go in-depth on any topic, it does give a lively, simple overview of being a LGBTQ teen. Includes a glossary, suggested resources, and an index.

THOUGHTS: Middle-school students as well as reluctant high school readers doing research papers or projects will make good use of these short, information-packed books. They also will benefit gender-curious youth because the authors don’t seem to have missed any issue. Being LGBTQ+ and a person of color and asexuality are also briefly addressed. I wonder if the title will be revised to read LGBTQ+.

306.76 Social Sciences          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – The List of Things that Will Not Change

Staed, Rebecca. The List of Things that Will Not Change. Wendy Lamb Books, 2020. 978-1-101-93810-2. 218 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Bea was eight when her parents divorced and gave her a green notebook with a list of “Things that will not change” written into it.  The first two items on the list are that her mom and dad will always love her and each other. Bea has been adding to that list ever since getting her notebook. The thing is, lots of things in Bea’s life are changing, and being the worrier that she is, it’s not always easy to adjust. Seeing her therapist helps, as does having both parents love and support her. When her dad tells her that he and his boyfriend are getting married, Bea is filled with excitement, for her father and his boyfriend, and for herself as Jesse has a daughter that is her age.  Bea has always wanted a sister, but things aren’t as easy as Bea wishes. As the wedding gets closer, Bea comes to terms with her past secrets and the fact that things don’t always have to be perfect to be perfect for her.

THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection.

Realistic Fiction                   Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

YA – Heartstopper #1

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper # 1. Graphix, 2020. 978-1-338-61743-6. 288 p. $14.99. Grades 8-12.

Fans of romance and coming of age stories, go no further. Oseman’s volume one of the Heartstopper series will do just that: stop your heart. This light take on a young man coming out to his school before he was really ready, dives into male friendships and more within a school setting. The story is set in England and revolves around a rugby team so there is slang that might be lost on some readers. This is a great story of male friendship that broadens into something more. Although school isn’t always a safe place, Oseman reminds us that there are people to be safe with. It’s important to note that this is a story revolving around gay high school students and that includes the abuse, both physical and verbal that still occurs, especially for individuals who are trying to figure themselves out. Oseman leaves the reader hanging and ready for volume two.

THOUGHTS: This is a great addition to high school libraries who are looking to make their graphic novel collection more realistic. In addition, this is a great mirror into the thoughts and feelings adolescents may have while discovering their sexual preferences and navigating the rough seas of high school.

Graphic Novel          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Bookish and the Beast

Poston, Ashley. Bookish and the Beast. Quirk, 2020. 978-6-836-9193-8. 283 p. $18.99. Grades 6-10. 

Poston continues her delightful, fairy tale based Once Upon a Con series with a reworking of Beauty and the Beast to which Belle would give her stamp of approval. In the “no good deed goes unpunished” category, high school senior Rosie Thorne attempts to return a run-away dog with disastrous results. Following the dog into an apparently vacant house, she discovers a swoon–worthy library, filled with the books of the Starfield space saga universe, the very books her recently deceased mother read to her growing up. When Rosie is startled by another individual in the house she attempts to flee, accidentally dropping a rare first-edition in the pool. Sopping wet, Rosie learns the house is currently occupied by Starfield bad-boy actor Vance Reigns, serving a parental imposed timeout from his celebrity antics. She is now on the hook to organize the library, with the assistance of the self-absorbed star, to work off her debt. As if Vance Reigns would deign to dirty his hands working with books. But as any bibliophile knows, books have a magic all their own, and surely some magic will happen between the book-loving beauty with the mousy brown hair and the gorgeous guy hiding behind a beastly bad-boy persona. The book is populated with an appealing supporting cast of diverse characters, including Rosie’s bisexual librarian father and a gender-fluid best friend, and in a sop to series fans, Poston offers a few brief appearances by characters from the previous two novels. The Gaston plotline does double duty emphasizing that in the relationship world No should always mean No. While the plot is grounded in the Starfield Excelsi-Con world of the previous two books, the Con plays only a minor role this time, which should open the book to a wider romance audience.

THOUGHTS:  A thoroughly delightfully romp through Beauty and the Beast. Rosie is independent, feisty, and sweet, and while she deserves her happily-ever-after, she would have been OK without it. A solid purchase for collections where romance and fairy tale rewrites are popular, as well as an addition to LGBTQ+ collections.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Blood Countess

Popovic, Lana. Blood Countess. ABRAMS, 2020. 978-1-419-73886-9. $14.99. 304 p. Grades 8-12.

Anna Darvulia is the daughter of a cruel father and gentle midwife and healer. Her mother has taught her well, and although she’s only sixteen, when she’s summoned by Countess Elizabeth Bathory, Anna is able to save her son from death. Days later, the countess summons her again, this time to be one of her chambermaids. At first her father refuses the offer, but after his death, she accepts the position to help support her family. The Countess allows her into the household, but as a lowly scullery maid due to her belated acceptance of the position. Anna’s curiosity about the countess grows during her stay in the castle. According to the rumors, she’s wicked and cruel, but in Anna’s presence, she’s always shown mercy and kindness. Anna’s knowledge of healing herbs and medicines eventually land her as a chambermaid to the countess, and it doesn’t take long for the two to become close. As Elizabeth’s lover, Anna begins to enjoy a life of luxury, but although Elizabeth is kind to Anna, she’s terrible to others. Convinced that Elizabeth’s cruel behavior is a result of the abuse she receives from her husband, Anna tries to bring out her gentle side and shows her cruelty doesn’t have to be the answer. As Elizabeth’s behavior crosses into madness, Anna must decide whether to stay with the woman she thought she knew, or escape the castle before she becomes the next victim.

THOUGHTS:  Blood Countess, book one in the Lady Slayers series, is a fictional account of the real historical figure, Countess Elizabeth Bathory. After finishing the story, readers will most likely find themselves researching the facts and legends of this terrifying historical figure. Popovic spins a both sympathetic and horrific narrative for the countess, and readers will see Anna fall into a toxic relationship with someone that she believes loves her in return. Both Elizabeth and Anna are victims of the patriarchy of their world, and this shared circumstance is what ultimately brings them together. “For all the gold and silver of her coffers, in some ways the countess is just like me. A woman, with a man’s cruel hand around her wrist.” In the end, Anna is able to see Elizabeth for who she truly is, and ultimately makes the choice to do what is right. Readers looking for both thrill and romance will enjoy this dark and chilling tale, and it’s the perfect book to read during the month of October if promoting books that fall into the genre of horror or themes of Halloween.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – The Lost Book of the White

Clare, Cassandra, and Wesley Chu. The Lost Book of the White. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-481-49512-7. $24.99. 365 p. Grades 9-12.

The Dark War has ended, and Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane are trying to live a normal life with their adopted son, Max, in New York City, but when you’re a shadowhunter and warlock, attempting to raise a warlock child, life is never really normal. When old and new enemies show up at their apartment to steal The Book of the White and stab Magnus with a magical weapon, they must go to Shanghai to retrieve the book, find a cure to Magnus’s wound, and attempt to save a dear friend. However, they won’t be traveling alone. Jace Herondale, Clary Fairchild, Isabelle Lightwood, and Simon Lovelace accompany the couple to Shanghai where they meet Tian of the Shanghai institute and reconnect with Jem Carstairs. The group faces many challenges on their quest and eventually end up in the demon realm of Diyu. Alec and Magnus must trust each other, and the rest of their friends, if they plan to make it out alive, and all of the characters must grapple with tough choices and decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice to save the ones they love.

THOUGHTS:  The Lost Book of the White is the second book in The Eldest Curses, and while the first book focused mainly on Alec and Magnus’s relationship with each other, this book focuses on their new responsibilities as parents and the relationships they have with their friends and family. As a couple, Magnus and Alec have faced many hardships, and although this is a fantasy novel, their struggle for acceptance among their peers is a topic that many readers will also relate to. One of my favorite things about Clare is the diversity among her characters, and the way she strives to tell all of their stories with the help of fellow authors, like Chu. Fans of Clare’s The Infernal Devices and The Mortal Instruments will be delighted to read more about these beloved characters and what becomes of their lives after the events of The Dark War.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Cinderella is Dead

Bayron, Kalynn. Cinderella is Dead. Bloomsbury, 2020. 978-1-547-60387-9. $16.99. 400 p. Grades 9-12.

Once upon a time, a fairy godmother gave Cinderella the opportunity to attend the royal ball, dressed in a beautiful gown with glass slippers, where she met Prince Charming. They fell in love, and she moved into the castle, escaping her evil step sisters and wicked stepmother. 200 years later, the kingdom honors Cinderella’s story by hosting an annual ball. Every girl in the kingdom is required to attend, dressed in their finest attire, where they hope to be noticed and chosen as a wife. If they are not chosen, they become outcasts. If they are chosen, they belong to their new husbands, losing what little independence they had with their families. Sixteen year old Sophia is preparing to attend her first ball, and while her parents do their best to make sure she’s noticed by a man, she’d rather run away and marry her best friend, Erin. On the night of the ball, things go horribly wrong for Sophia. Desperate for an escape, she flees and meets Constance, the last living descendant of Cinderella’s family. With Constance, Sophia feels more like herself than she ever has, and quickly discovers there is more to Cinderella’s story than the fairy tale she’s memorized. Together with Constance, Sophia decides it’s time to fight back, and they set out to destroy the patriarchy once and for all.

THOUGHTS:  Cinderella is Dead puts a new and unique twist on the classic Cinderella story. I’m a big fan of fairy tales and fractured fairy tales, and I really enjoyed reading this book. Parts of the book felt like it went really fast, but the story did wrap up nicely at the end, and I loved the many plot twists and the mystery surrounding Cinderella’s history (herstory, in this case!). This book is full of strong female characters who remind readers that it’s okay to take control of their life: Do not be silent. Raise your voice. Be a light in the dark.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD