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

MG – Rick; Wink; Prairie Lotus

Gino, Alex. Rick. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-04810-0. $17.99. 225 p. Grades 5-9.

Rick Ramsey doesn’t exactly know why he seems to feel different from other boys his age, especially his best friend Jeff. But he knows that he doesn’t enjoy talking about girls’ bodies, kissing, or even dating.  Jeff doesn’t notice Rick’s discomfort when he talks about these topics. Rick lets it go; Jeff can be kind of a jerk, but they’ve had some great times together and they’re best friends. They start middle school, and Rick becomes increasingly confused about his feelings and more uncomfortable with Jeff’s behaviors. He starts to wonder – perhaps the two of them became friends out of convenience. Rick’s grandfather gently pushes him to really think about his relationship with Jeff and whether it is worth holding on to. Rick finds comfort in spending time with his grandfather, the one person in his life who really understands him. When his grandfather reveals that he used to dress up as female characters for various sci-fi conventions, Rick begins to understand that sexuality and gender are complex – but that doesn’t change how he feels about his grandfather. Meanwhile, at school, Rick decides to attend The Rainbow Spectrum, a group of LGBTQ+ students, at first out of curiosity. He keeps this information from Jeff, who defaces the group’s posters with inappropriate drawings. However, as he makes new friends in the Rainbow Spectrum and becomes a participant rather than an observer, he makes some hard decisions and truly begins to understand himself. Fans of Gino’s novel George will be happy to check in with that book’s main character Melissa, who appears as one of Rick’s classmates.

THOUGHTS: Rick and his grandfather have a sweet relationship. Everyone can relate to having that one person in their lives that understands them on a deeper level. Many can also relate to making tough decisions about a friendship that has truly worn on too long. All students will benefit from reading about the complexity of sexuality told in a way that is appropriate for younger readers. This book is an important one to have in our libraries as we strive to represent all kinds of people on our shelves.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD


Harrell, Rob. Wink. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-984-81514-9. 320 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Ross Maloy would love to be just like any other middle school kid, but that just doesn’t seem possible. Since he was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer, he has faced treatments, hair loss, family troubles, bullying, and even the loss of a best friend who seems to be avoiding him. How to survive through this scary and unpredictable time? With laughter and music and friendship, which are sometimes found in unexpected places. For example, the radiation tech asks for Ross’ music preferences to help make the treatments more tolerable, and that leads to exploring new artists who connect with his inner emotions. In turn, this leads Ross to learning to play guitar and jamming with a band, even including his one time nemesis, Jimmy. Friendship comes in other unexpected forms, from his unshakeable rock Abby to an older, wise (and wisecracking) Jerry. Through it all, there are moments real and heartbreaking, hilarious and inspiring – much like the weird world of middle school can be for any kid! 

THOUGHTS: Along the lines of Wonder and other stories which teach tolerance and difference for school, Wink has plenty to discuss and perspectives to learn. The author writes from personal experience, having gone through the same treatments. He also includes comic strip bits from Batpig and inserted illustrations to inject humor and to express Ross’ feelings. Very worthwhile purchase for middle grade readers.

Realistic Fiction          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Park, Linda Sue. Prairie Lotus. Clarion Books, 2020. 978-1-328-78150-5. 261 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

It is 1880, and Hanna is a fourteen year old girl who is moving to the Dakota Territory with her father. Hanna has dreams of becoming a dressmaker like her deceased mother, but she faces some obstacles because she is half-Chinese and knows that white Americans do not always want to live with people of other ethnicities. As her father works on building the dress goods store, Hanna asks him if she can go to school for the first time. The townspeople do not want their children attending class with her and all but three remove them from school. After a few weeks, Hanna’s teacher accelerates her graduation and Hanna is happy to devote her time to getting the store in order and makes a dress to promote the store’s opening. While doing an errand, Hannah is attacked by two drunken men and is able to escape with bruises. However, some people in the community believe that Hanna encouraged the men and plan on boycotting the store, until some friends intervene. Park has blended her own life experiences facing prejudice as a Korean-American and her childhood love of the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder in writing this novel. In the not-to-be missed author’s note, Park acknowledges the problems with Wilder’s treatment of Native Americans and in this book presents a positive relationship in the friendship between Hanna and the Sioux women, as they share a meal and “Timpsina,” a prairie turnip.

THOUGHTS:  This novel is well-crafted, and Park has done a fabulous job in the development of her main character.  The reader can experience Hanna’s feelings as she is treated unfairly by the community, simply because she is Chinese.  Park has also drawn attention to the plight of the Native Americans who also faced discrimination and were forced into reservations. This is a first purchase for upper elementary and middle school libraries. A truly engaging story. 

Historical Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD

YA – The Midnight Lie; Yes No Maybe So; Tweet Cute; The Inheritance Games

Rutkowski, Marie. The Midnight Lie. Farrar, Strous and Giroux, 2020. 978-0-374-30638-0. 358 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Nirrim lives in the Ward, and life there is not fun or easy. You must follow the rules or you will be forced to face the ramifications of your actions. For Nirrim who is half-caste, her life is even harder as everything she does is policed and she is forced to live very simply. Early in her life, Nirrim was taken in by Raven who she looks up to as a mother figure, even though it’s clear to the reader that Raven isn’t a good person. Enter Sid, who causes Nirrim to think about things a different way. However, Nirrim has a secret, one that she keeps very closely guarded for if it were to get out, it would be disastrous.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing fantasy story with lush, lyrical language and a fantastic set of characters. There is a female/female romance which is wonderful to read and doesn’t take away from the rest of the story. This book is set in the world of Marie Rutkowski’s Winner’s trilogy, but you don’t need to read that series to find your way through this book. Overall, I’d highly recommend this book.

Fantasy          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy Charter


Albertalli, Becky, and Aisha Saeed. Yes No Maybe So. Balzer + Bray, 2020. 978-0-062-93704-9. 436 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehman were friends as 6-year olds but haven’t seen each other in a decade. Suddenly they find themselves tossed into canvassing for a local state senate candidate in suburban Atlanta. Neither teen is a natural fit for canvassing. Jamie, whose mom works for another state senator, is tongue-tied and awkward (see: topping a Target display of tangelos in the book’s opening pages). Maya, who is fasting for Ramadan and whose parents are going through a painful trial separation, is motivated by the promise of a car. A bumpy start to their civic engagement (complete with plenty of foot-in-mouth moments and some outright racism directed at Maya) transitions into a true partnership between friends with shared values … and huge crushes on each other. Plenty of absorbing subplots keep the pace hopping: Jamie’s grandmother and her viral “InstaGramm” account, Maya’s falling out with her college-bound BFF, and the specter of public speaking at the upcoming bat mitzvah for Jamie’s little sister. A proposed bill that would ban religious garments (like the hijab that Maya’s mother wears) raises their personal stakes in the election.

THOUGHTS: Yes No Maybe So is both woke and thoroughly adorable, and Jamie’s and Maya’s voices are equally strong and compelling. Readers will sigh swooningly at Jamie’s and Maya’s ultra-tentative romance, giggle at the supporting characters’ antics, perhaps be inspired to find their political voices, as the co-authors did following the 2016 election.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Lord, Emma. Tweet Cute. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-61867-2. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.

Debut author Emma Lord puts a fresh, Gen-Z spin on You’ve Got Mail in this ultra-cute contemporary romance! Four years ago, Pepper’s mom divorced her dad and moved them to New York City to focus on growing the family’s fast food chain, Big League Burger. A classic overachiever, Pepper has done her best to fit in at her fancy private school, but she still feels like a small-town fish out of water. Her mom coaxes Pepper to oversee the company’s social media presence, which Pepper reluctantly adds to her full itinerary of swim team, baking blog with sister Paige, mostly straight A’s, and not getting lost on the subway. Jack is a NYC native, less popular twin, and heir apparent to his family’s deli, Girl Cheesing. He’s also an ace app developer who has the whole school hooked on his anonymous chat platform, Weazel. As Wolf, he enjoys refreshingly candid exchanges with Bluebird (guess who?), but would she like him IRL? Speaking of IRL, Big League Burger has a new menu item that’s suspiciously identical to Girl Cheesing’s own Grandma’s Special, and a Twitter war between them goes viral. It sounds complicated, but Lord keeps all the plates spinning with aplomb.

THOUGHTS: A strong cast of supporting characters and well-timed plot turns prevent predictability in a read that’s both savory and sweet! Emma Lord, formerly a lifestyle editor at Bustle, clearly knows NYC’s foodie-verse inside and out. With so many mouthwatering sandwiches and sweet confections, Tweet Cute is just begging to be incorporated into a potluck book club meeting!

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Inheritance Games. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-1-368-05240-5. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Holy cannoli!  Jennifer Lynn Barnes is amazing! Avery Kylie Grambs lost her mother at the age of 15. Two years later she is whisked off to Texas to Tobias Hawthorne’s estate where she learns that this stranger has left her a multi-billion dollar inheritance. Leaving minimal inheritance to his children and grandchildren, Avery must live at Hawthorne House with the family for a year in order to inherit the estate. Soon Avery realizes that her inheritance is a game she must play with the Hawthorne grandsons: Nash, Grayson, Jameson, and Alexander. As clues are discovered by Avery, Grayson, and Jameson, mysteries of the past are also uncovered. Avery is determined to figure out why she was chosen by Tobias Hawthorne to inherit his estate instead of his family. Soon, Avery realizes that everything is a game and in order to stay alive, she must play and win. When the answer is revealed, Avery learns there is much more to the Hawthorne family and its past than meets the eye.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing mystery. Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a genius mystery writer. The story keeps readers mesmerized by the characters and then PUNCH right to the gut with a change this reader didn’t see coming. Words cannot express the awesomeness of The Inheritance Games and Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s ability to weave a story together flawlessly. The ending makes me need book two NOW!

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Jackpot; Last True Poets of the Sea; Wicked Fox; Red at the Bone; Hungry Hearts; Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens; One of Us Is Next; What We Buried; Opioid Crisis; #MeToo Movement; The Plastic Problem; Full Disclosure; All We Could Have Been; The Hand on the Wall

Stone, Nic. Jackpot: All Bets Are Off. Crown, 2019. 978-1-984-82962-7. $17.99 343 p. Grades 8+.

Rico Danger (yes that’s her name, pronounced) is a high school senior working at a convenience store to support her struggling family. She learns that a 100 million-dollar lottery ticket has been sold there on Christmas Eve while she was working and when no one steps up to claim it, she recalls a sweet older lady who visited that night. Believing that woman may be the holder of the winning ticket, Rico sets out on a quest to find her and hopefully get a tiny share of the payout. Rico finds an unlikely helper in her popular and super wealthy classmate, Zan. As they work together to try to find the lotto ticket holder, they realize they have a lot in common despite their family circumstances. Though the book does take on the serious topics of poverty, sacrifice, and family issues, it is overall a lighthearted read with a slowly building romance between opposites.

THOUGHTS: Nic Stone is another solid, up and coming African American author to follow. With popular titles in the last two years – Odd Man Out and the exceptional Dear Martin, Stone’s latest book should be popular with high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Drake, Julia. Last True Poets of the Sea. Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-04808-8. $17.99. 391 p. Grades 9 and up.

After her brother attempts suicide, Violet’s family is torn apart. Her parents retreat in their grief at home in New York City; her brother is in a treatment center; and Violet, a sixteen-year-old wild child, is sent off to live with her uncle in her mother’s hometown on the coast of Maine. While there she is determined to isolate herself, but she is sent to volunteer at the aquarium where she meets Orion, a local teen with a unique circle of friends. The story follows Violet as she faces her own trauma over her strained relationship with her brother and his mental illness. Woven in is her new quest to investigate her family’s strange history, including the mystery of the famous shipwreck that her great great grandmother survived. Another element is a love triangle that develops between Violet, Orion, and Liv. With parallels to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, this is a sweet and thoughtful novel with lovely prose, an enchanting setting, and vivid characters.

THOUGHTS: A lovely coming of age tale that addresses mental illness, family dynamics, sexual orientation, and first romance. Recommended for fans of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Cho, Kat. Wicked Fox. Putnam, 2019. 978-1-984-81234-6. 420 p. $18.99. Grades 8 and up. 

The gumiho, seductive foxes masquerading as women who eat the livers of men to survive are just myths, right? Jihoon has grown up hearing the stories of the gumiho from his grandmother, his halmeoni, but he knows that they are just scary stories, ones meant to keep children from the woods at night. That is until an otherworldly encounter in the forest brings all those stories to life. Miyoung, a gumiho, manages to save innocent bystander Jihoon when a dokkaebi, a goblin, attacks although she loses her fox bead in the process. Without the bead Miyoung is unable to hold the energy, the gi, she sucks from humans to survive, making it necessary to feed more often and making her more dangerous. But when their worlds collide in another life or death situation, Miyoung is faced with a choice she never thought possible: save herself or the life of a human.

THOUGHTS: Set in modern-day Seoul, this mythical love story paints a vivid picture of a world unseen, where monsters live alongside men and the stories that you grew up to discredit just may be the thing that saves your life.

Fantasy (Mythology)           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Woodson, Jacqueline. Red at the Bone. Riverhead Books, 2019. 978-0-525-53527-0. 208 p. $26.00. Grades 10+.

Woodson knows how to tug at your heartstrings. Whether you’re a mother or not, this book so sharply addresses the complicated relationship of mothers, daughters, and extended relatives. The novel is told in a back and forth, switching from the perspective of a mother at age sixteen and her sixteen year old daughter as she gets ready to participate in her debut to society. Each character was authentic in their own way, making the story relatable to most readers. Woodson touches on themes of race, legacy, social class, parenting, coming of age, and family dynamics. The narratives toggle back and forth between 2001 and 1985, when Iris and her daughter were both sixteen, respectively. The family history allows Woodson to mention historical events such as the race riots in the early part of the 20th century as well as the attacks on September 11, 2001.

THOUGHTS: There are some heavy topics covered in this title that some young and immature readers might not be able to digest on their own including teenage pregnancy, dysfunctional mother/daughter relationships, drug abuse, 9/11, and sexuality. This book should be on the shelves of all high school libraries for mature readers.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Chapman, Elsie. Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-42185-1. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

A true collaboration between best-selling authors that are interconnected by not only location, but by a few characters as well. The thirteen stories include various different genres and tackle topics that are easier to handle with a sweet confection or a magic soup dumpling. Not only is the collection diverse in genre types, but also with characters including nontraditional families, gang violence, bi-racial families, people of color, and a lot of the author’s #ownvoices. My favorite story in the collection is the final tale: “Panadería ~ Pastelería.” The protagonist shows up in many other stories with a unique and handcrafted pastry at moments when characters didn’t know they needed it more than anything in the world. This concluding story includes topics of generational differences and coming of age all while focusing on the moral of the story: do what’s right, and you get to choose what is right.

THOUGHTS: This anthology would be a good addition to high school libraries that supply content for contemporary fiction. This title can be recommended to reluctant readers to provide a feeling of accomplishment in finishing one or two tales, but can also serve as exposure to a variety of genres for readers who are looking to branch out.

Short Stories          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Boteju, Tanya. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-43065-5. 384 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Small town? Check. Bored teen? Check. Bi-racial queer protagonist? CHECK! Drag kings and queens and #ownvoices? Check! CHECK! CHECK! After spending time with her nerdy best friend at the town carnival, Nima stumbles into a drag show that leaves her with more questions than answers about herself and her world. Luckily, Deidre, a drag queen with flair, takes on Nima as a side project and not only serves as her mentor but another adult to trust when she isn’t even sure where her mom is. As Nima muddles through discovering secrets about her mom, working through a crush, and getting on stage to finally participate in a show, there are quite a few subplots with different characters including her hippie dad, a gay family friend, and even a childhood friend who isn’t sure of his place in the world. Written by a queer author who has knowledge about the drag community makes the story authentic and provides a true depiction for a reader who hasn’t had exposure to drag.

THOUGHTS: A great addition to any library that needs more diversity, a better LGBTQ+ representation, or an example of a novel written with attention to precise detail or pronoun usage and hope. The storyline is a bit jumbled, but tells a hopeful story with a cast of diverse characters.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


McManus, Karen. One of Us is Next. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-525-70796-7. 384 p. $19.99. Grade. 8-12.

The sequel to One of Us is Lying has the same thrill, but it’s missing some of the avant-garde pieces of the first book. Many of the main characters in the second book were featured in some manner during the debut. Mauve, Phoebe, and Knox take center stage in the newest mystery at Bayview High. Per McManus’ classic whodunit writing format, the mystery of who is behind the deadly game of truth or dare keeps readers on the edge of their seat. A game of truth or dare via text message has all of Bayview High constantly checking their phones for updates. Truths are escaping that confuse even the sluethy-est among the characters, and the dares are getting lethal. The pacing is perfect, and the ending will be sure to shock even the most astute readers.

THOUGHTS: A book that should sit right beside its counterpart on every high school shelf but can just as easily stand alone. This is another great answer for a psychological thriller on a school library shelf to fit the craving many teens have from some of the trending adult novels of the same genre.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

A year after the Bayview Four are exonerated in the death of Simon Kelleher, several copycats have appeared, but not until a viral game of Truth or Dare begins has anyone taken the copycats seriously. Now, students are choosing to complete a Dare or have a Truth about them revealed. But, not everyone wants to play. Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox are all targets of the game who refuse to participate, opening themselves up to a horrible Truth being revealed. As they dig into the chatroom used by Simon during his revenge plot, they meet Darkestmind and begin investigating who is behind the viral Truth or Dare. When tragedy strikes and a student ends up dead, their inquiry into Darkestmind becomes a full investigation into him (or her), their dead peer, and the past, individually and in relation to others. As more tragedy strikes Bayview, will Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox be able to uncover Darkestmind before it’s too late, or is revenge the new norm in Bayview?

THOUGHTS: Personally, I think One of Us is Lying is a fine stand-alone that didn’t need a sequel. That being said, One of Us is Next is in high demand. It lacks some mystery because it is more predictable than the first, and I found it difficult to keep all of the minor characters straight and their connections to the others. It felt like more of a realistic fiction read for the majority of the text over a mystery read. I did not like the connection in the end to the characters and story; it was both predictable and disjointed. This text felt forced in comparison to McManus’s previous two novels. It is still highly recommended, though, for YA collections.

Mystery        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Boorman, Kate. What We Buried. Henry Holt and Co., 2019. 978-1-250-19167-0. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.  

What We Buried is a twisty mystery that constantly had me second guessing myself and my ability to keep characters, timelines, and realistic events in order. Liv, a former child pageant star and reality TV star, doesn’t have a great track record with her brother, Jory. As a court case for emancipation nears a gritty end between Liv and her parents, Jory is sitting back and watching how the media and Liv’s followers react to the news. Before the hearing, their parents disappear, and Liv and Jory are left to find out what happened to them in the desert of Nevada. There is never a clear sense of time or perception as the narration toggles back and forth between Liv and Jory. The time the siblings are forced to spend together makes them travel back to places from their childhood to reconsider their life choices so far.

THOUGHTS: A must have for any high school library looking to add to their thriller collection with a young adult perspective. The characters are hard to like, but the tension and sense of confusion encourage curious readers to not put the book down. The unreliable narrator can be a challenging concept for some readers.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Hyde, Natalie. Opioid Crisis. Crabtree, 2019. 978-0-778-74973-8. 48 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

This six chapter book focuses on what a responsible citizen can do to understand, inform, and take action on the epidemic that has “affected every community, class, ethnic group, industry, and age group.” The first chapter defines the crisis and some of the key terms. In addition, there is a glossary in the back of the book. Although the second chapter uses the perspective of the opioid crisis to frame how to find quality and reliable information, most of the information could be applied to any general research project. Chapter three dives into the recreational and street use of opioids and how the crisis developed. Chapter four focuses on the effects the opioid epidemic has had on families, work society, and individuals. The last two chapters offer statistics on where the crisis stands and a look toward the future, including initiatives from the government. Each page includes color photographs, and there are many graphical representations and pop out text boxes.

THOUGHTS: Neatly packaged, this title should be in all middle and high school libraries to provide concise and accurate information on a very emotional and pervasive topic. Two chapters include valuable research and reliable information checks that can be helpful across topics.

362.29 Drugs          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Hudak, Heather. #MeToo Movement. Crabtree, 2019. 978-0-778-74971-4. 48 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

Organized in six chapters focusing on the definition and international issues of sexual harassment and abuse, #MeToo Movement covers the major points of the movement including a glossary and further reading suggestions. Each chapter ranges from four to twelve pages and many pages have multiple photographs, graphs, and other pop outs that make this current issue accessible to readers as middle grades. The history, including dates and information about the founder of the movement, Tarana Burke, provide context to readers who may be lucky enough to not have experienced sexual harassment or assault within their social circles. The last two chapters focus on the reader and provide ways to stay informed and ways to influence the future of the #MeToo movement.

THOUGHTS: This succinct nonfiction title should be on shelves in middle and high school libraries to provide resources on a topic that is current and pervasive across ages, races, and social economic classes. The inclusion of ways to encourage the reader to become active within the movement is particularly insightful as many students are not looking for resources just for an assignment, but to help shape their perspective and discover ways to make change.

Nonfiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Salt, Rachel. The Plastic Problem. Firefly Books, 2019. 978-0-228-10231-1. 80 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

Full of disturbing pictures and data on the plastic problem that is plaguing the globe. Each page has full color photos with enough text to get the information across to the reader, but not too much to make the work feel like a textbook or peer-reviewed journal article. Although it’s not arranged in chapters, there is a table of contents that provides the reader the opportunity to focus on a specific topic. There is also a glossary and index in the back of the book. The flow of The Plastic Problem begins with definitions and some foundational knowledge about plastic and the plastic industry, including how humans use plastic and where it ends up. It continues into problems at the micro and macro level of producing, using, and discarding too much plastic and ends with suggestions for solutions that can be accomplished on local, small levels.

THOUGHTS: This book doesn’t do a deep dive on any of the problems or solutions for the plastic problem, but provides enough information for a curious reader to get started. The title would be good for middle grade and possibly high school shelves, but should be accompanied by more in depth books to provide a more comprehensive study of a specific plastic problem.

363.72 Environment          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Garrett, Camryn. Full Disclosure. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-82996-2. 320 p. $21.99. Grades 10-12.

Not many contemporary novels take a full dive into the world of HIV-positive main characters, especially based in current day. Starting at new high school is daunting, but when you’re a teen who isn’t sure about her sexuality and is HIV-positive, the task is that much more daunting. Simone finds herself at home with the drama kids and two other friends and even becomes comfortable enough to start a relationship with someone, but now she has to decide whether or not to disclose her medical history with Miles. Her dads don’t make the potential for Simone to discuss it with her doctor any easier.

THOUGHTS: This book covers a lot of representation including LGBTQ+, HIV-positive, and African American (#ownvoice). It even hits on topics that most teens have to deal with like bullying and sexuality while layering on perspective and information about HIV that most teens might not remember from health class. This is a well-written debut novel that deserves space in a collection lacking diversity.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Carter,T. E. All We Could Have Been. Feiwel & Friends, 2019. 978-1-250-17296-9. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Lexie’s brother committed murder when he was 15 years old. Her brother has been locked away since the day of the murders. Despite having nothing to do with her brother’s actions, Lexie has been treated like a criminal ever since. She has standing appointments with her therapist and finds control in her life by wearing the same color each day of the week. At the fifth school since she was 12, Lexie finds comfort in a neighbor and a peer in the drama club. She decides to try and control a bit more of her life and her friendships, but the results have rippling effects and leave her questioning every aspect of her life so far.

THOUGHTS: Carter represents mental illness and even a bit of asexuality, but in a dark and twisty way that isn’t relatable to most readers. The lesson that is brought to life through the characters about not making assumptions about who someone is or believes is something that teens of all backgrounds can benefit from. Like much of her other work, this book is highly emotional and targets mature readers who have an understanding of grief, PTSD, and the uneasy terrain of high school gossip and drama (outside the actual drama club).

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Johnson, Maureen. The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious Book 3). Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-33811-2. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Following the death of Stevie’s mentor, Dr. Fenton, Stevie uses information from Dr. Fenton, along with the clues she has figured out, to solve the mystery of the Truly Devious letter from 1936 and the kidnapping of Iris and Alice Ellingham. But, unsure of the current climate at Ellingham and who she can and cannot trust, Stevie decides to maintain secrecy about what she has learned and continue her investigation before revealing her findings. As a blizzard approaches, Ellingham is shut down and students are sent home, but for the students of Minerva, who follow the bright-idea of David and hide in order to remain behind. As David convinces them to investigate his father, Senator King, Stevie continues her own Ellingham investigation and soon learns of secrets hidden in the walls that confirm her initial discoveries and unveil the truth behind Truly Devious and the Ellingham murders of 1936.

THOUGHTS: Johnson masterfully concludes this trilogy with an ending that keeps readers on edge. Her intersection of present mystery with the 1930s Ellingham mystery keeps the reader rooted in each mystery and the connection between the two. This is a must-read trilogy for mystery lovers.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD