YA – A Million Quiet Revolutions

Gow, Robin. A Million Quiet Revolutions. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2022. 978-0-374-38841-6. 319 p. $18.99. Grades 11+.

A Million Quiet Revolutions is a novel in verse told from the perspectives of two young trans men, Aaron and Oliver, as they explore themselves, each other, and their relationship. In the first third of the book, Aaron moves away, and this causes a shift in their relationship as well as in Aaron’s life. The reader is not told explicitly; however, it is implied that the family moved due to a scandal involving Aaron’s older brother and the priest at the local church. Oliver has a fascination with history, and he decides that when Aaron moves away they should write letters to each other like soldiers did during the Revolutionary War. The novel in verse follows the two characters as they write letters and decide to meet up at a Revolutionary War reenactment and what that means for their relationship with each other, as well as their families. 

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful, hard hitting novel in verse that will move anyone who reads it. There are so many beautiful moments between these two characters, and there is so much growth with these them as well. Also, the plot of this book is Kutztown, PA which is fun to see local attractions mentioned throughout the story. This is a must have for any high school.

Realistic Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Great or Nothing

McCullough, Joy, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, Jessica Spotsword. Great or Nothing. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-37259-3. $18.88. 393 p. Grades 7-10.

Louisa May Alcott’s four March sisters have entered the 20th century, circa 1943. Beth has died, and the family struggles to cope with the overwhelming sadness of this loss. Marmee distracts her grief with committees and charitable works; Father, next-door neighbor, Theodore Laurence, and teacher John Brooks go off to fight the war; and the three young women are split apart. Four talented authors take on the personas of the classic characters, and each chapter recounts that character’s experiences against the backdrop of World War II. Beth’s voice in verse reflects her omniscient view of each of her sisters. Meg decides to stay close to home, dedicated to teaching at her former high school, but is so lonely, she concedes to pal around with an insipid but wealthy former classmate which results in revelatory consequences. After rebuffing Laurie’s unexpected marriage proposal, Jo goes off to Hartford, Connecticut, to work in a munitions factory and live in a boarding house with other female workers and pursue her writing. When she meets Charlie–Charlotte–a war journalist, Jo starts to come to terms with her sexual identity. Under the pretense of studying art in Montreal, Amy instead takes on a false identity and ships off with the Red Cross to minister to the morale of soldiers with coffee and doughnuts in London, England. There, she encounters prejudice and discrimination foreign to her upbringing, as well as the promise of true love. This contemporary spin on the classic Little Women is an easy read with touches of romance, LBGTQ+, and slang from the forties. Grab yourself a cuppa, curl up in your favorite chair, and hunker down to meet these Little Women.

THOUGHTS: Though four authors take on each of the March sisters, the writing flows smoothly and the writing is fairly even. Beth’s perspective voiced by Joy McCullough was my least favorite.  Reading the prose, characters were more well developed and satisfying. Though the story begins with the March sisters going their separate ways, it ends with the promise of them reuniting. Suggest this novel to lovers of the classic, but those who have never read Little Women will still understand the closeknit March family and the dynamic among the sisters.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Alice Austen Lived Here

Gino, Alex. Alice Austen Lived Here. Scholastic Books, 2022. 978-1-338-73389-1. 162 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

Seventh graders Sam and TJ are nonbinary students who come from supportive and loving homes on Staten Island. Sam lives in an apartment complex along with several other supportive friends and members of the LGBTQ community. Sam and TJ’s history teacher assigned them a project to nominate an individual in history that lived on Staten Island and contributed to the community. The winning entry will have a statue commissioned to face New York Harbor.  This is when the pair discovers Alice Austen who was a photographer and an important queer figure that lived and worked on Staten Island.

THOUGHTS: I read this book quickly and really enjoyed the character development. I love that Sam and TJ acted like middle schoolers. Their emotions and reactions felt genuine. I also enjoy reading about Alice Austen who was a new name to me.

Realistic Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Elem./MG – Classic Graphic Remix (Series Fiction)

Classic Graphic Remix. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019-2022. $45.62 (Set of 3), $12.25 (individual pbk. titles). 256 p. Grades 3-8.

Weir, Ivy Noelle. Anne of West Philly. A Modern Graphic Retelling of Anne of Green Gables. 2022. 978-0-316-45978-5.
Terciero, Rey. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Graphic Retelling of Little Women. 2019. 978-0-316-52286-1.
Weir, Ivy Noelle. The Secret Garden on 81st Street: A Modern Graphic Retelling of The Secret Garden. 2021. 978-0-316-45970-9. 

Fans of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic girl coming of age novel, Anne of Green Gables, will appreciate this 21st century graphic novel spin off set in West Philadelphia. Anne Shirley has brown skin paired with the characteristic red hair. The basic plot follows the original with brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, fostering teenage Anne. Like that book, Anne makes friends with Diana and Gilbert; Marilla accuses her of stealing her prized broach; Anne inadvertently gets Diana tipsy. Other parts of the story display the same unflagitable, optimistic Anne in modern times enthusiastically interested in science and robotics, experiencing a glimmer of first romance with another girl, and finding her place in the world. The mention of familiar places like Clark Park and the typical Victorian twins make this graphic retelling illustrated with appealing and colorful drawings a special treat for native Philadelphians in particular, but the urban setting is mostly generic. There is no in-depth story or involved character development here, but reluctant readers may grasp on to this oldie but goodie in its new packaging.

THOUGHTS: An attractive way to introduce students to the classic book, Anne of West Philly is a fun book that is part of a series of classic retellings in different American cities. One is Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy [Little Women] by Rey Terciero and The Secret Garden on 81st Street by Ivy Noelle Weir.

Graphic Novel          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Realistic Fiction

Elem. – Miguel’s Community Garden

Brown-Wood, JaNay. Miguel’s Community Garden. Illustrated by Samara Hardy. Peachtree Books, 2022. 978-1-682-63166-9. $16.99. Unpaged. Grades K-3.

It is a beautiful day in an urban neighborhood, and Miguel’s two dads take him to the community garden. A sign shows they are here for a community picnic with their friends, but first, Miguel wants to see the sunflowers. While searching for the cheerful plant, the little boy becomes acquainted with the different vegetables grown in the plot. Illustrator, Samara Hardy, generates the vibrant activity of a garden in the many double-page spreads awash in a palette of greens, browns, reds, and oranges. Her childlike style depicts chubby-faced children of all colors and abilities, brightly detailed garden animals and exaggerated close ups of various vegetables, some not as familiar to most young children. A bee cavorts from page to page leading the reader toward the sunflower. This teachable picture book focuses on the clearly outlined drawings and the simple, explanatory text describing how these food staples grow and how to recognize them: apricots, artichokes, cherries, mulberries, spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, celery, peppers. Author JaNay Brown-Wood holds a doctorate in Education with a specialty in Child Development. Her writing style evidences her expertise. Teachers of primary grades starting units on nutrition or community will find this pleasant read engaging for students. Beginning readers, too, will benefit from the repetition and pattern in the text.

THOUGHTS: Miguel’s Community Garden reminded me so much of DyAnne DiSalvo’s (Ryan) thirty-year old book, City Green in look and theme. Brown-Wood’s book, though, shows a deliberate use of metacognition. Both a pattern book and informative, young readers can build reading skills and learn valuable facts about food.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Join the Club, Maggie Diaz

Moreno, Nina. Join the Club, Maggie Diaz. Illustrated by Courtney Lovett. Scholastic, 2022. 978-1-338-83281-5. 229 p. $7.99 (pbk.). Grades 3-6.

Reminiscent of Frazzled by Booki Vivat, Join the Club, Maggie Diaz by Nina Moreno has as its protagonist a Cuban-American girl ready to start seventh grade in middle school whose friends seem to have found their niches while she is still searching for hers. As the short, sweetly illustrated novel opens, Maggie’s mother is finishing her accounting degree, the Diaz family has welcomed a new baby brother, and their grandmother has come to live with the family in Miami after their grandfather’s death. Until her tiny house is completed in the family’s backyard, Abuela has become Maggie’s roommate. She is not shy about providing Maggie with unsolicited direction and advice (in Spanish). Maggie’s aim to be independent and grown up is thwarted by her lack of a cell phone, her busy parents’ strict rules, and the overshadowing of her seemingly perfect older sister, Caro. Intertwined seamlessly in the plot is Caro’s LBGTQ+ relationship with her tutoring buddy, Alex, and Mrs. Diaz’s positive acceptance of their relationship. Pressured to appear like she is fitting in, Maggie tells little white lies and tries joining every club she can. The one catch to admission to a club, however, is good grades. Maggie finds herself overextended and in over her head and her grades are slipping. If that happens, her prize of a cell phone and more freedom go out the window. With humor and pathos, Maggie muddles through and finds strength in unexpected people. Young readers will identify with Maggie’s struggles to find her special thing and keep up with her schoolwork in an unfamiliar environment of both a new school and a new stage in life.

THOUGHTS: Fitting in and finding one’s place in middle school is not an easy task. Books that have characters failing and trying at the same thing can be encouraging. It helps that Join the Club, Maggie Diaz is a quick read. Maggie’s up and down relationship with her grandmother is also a connection with real life. A fun and relatable read, especially for reluctant or struggling readers.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG -Moonwalking

Elliott, Zetta, and Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Moonwalking. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2022. 978-0-374-31437-8. $16.99. 216 p. Grades 6-8.

The title of the verse novel, Moonwalking, refers not so much to Michael Jackson’s signature dance move, but to a certain time period–the 1980’s–when punk rock was popular, Ronald Reagan was president, the infamous air traffic controller strike raged, and Brooklyn neighborhoods were largely broken and poor. Two eighth-grade characters inhabit this book: John Joseph (JP) Pandowski whose family has to give up their house on Long Island because his father loses his job as one of those ill-fated air traffic controllers; and they move in with his Polish grandmother in a basement apartment in Greenpoint. Biracial Pie feels acutely the abandonment of his African father and the need to protect his mentally fragile Puerto Rican mother. The pair cannot be more different. JP is shy and has difficulty making friends; Pie knows the ins and outs of his neighborhood and is a creative tagger. Still, they share classes together and JP is drawn to the more confident Pie. One thing they have in common is the arts. JP yearns to learn how to play the guitar his father’s friend gave him. The kindly school art teacher takes Pie under her wing and exposes him to the art of Jean Michel Basquiat and encourages Pie to enter an art contest. Though JP lacks the words to forge a friendship with Pie, the latter shares a night of tagging with him and accepts him. While Pie is parentified and JP is ignored by their respective families, the boys are drawn to each other by their personal troubles and their artistic endeavors. The joint authors spare no words to describe the harsh and unfair rules of Reagan’s actions and include episodes that smack of blatant racism: the unfairness and harsh treatment Pie experiences at school and at the hands of the police. The conclusion of the novel is not tidy, but it is satisfactory giving a realistic view of boyhoods that come up short because of unfortunate family situations. The authors experiment with different types of poetry throughout, alternating between the two boys, making this novel a quick and compelling read for students who may opt for more believable tales.

THOUGHTS: Several threads run throughout this verse novel with some sections scripted almost like prose; some in shapes. First, the home lives of both boys is dismal but realistic and perhaps relatable to some readers. Frustrated and angry, JP’s father is verbally abusive to his son. Pie’s mother is mentally fragile. Second, the explanation of Reagan’s response contrasted with Lech Walesa’s leadership in the Solidarity movement reveals a period in history not known to many students. Last, the strong parallel of Pie’s life with the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat can be discussed and coupled with the picture book, Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe. Two incidentals: JP surprises his sister kissing her friend, Claire, but otherwise there are no other LBGTQ+ elements. The dust jacket states that JP is autistic, but this characterization is not distinct throughout the story.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – The Greatest Thing

Searle, Sarah Winifred. The Greatest Thing. First Second, 2022. 978-1-250-29722-8. 352 p. $25.99. Grades 7-10.

Winifred begins her sophomore year of high school feeling very alone after her two best friends transfer to a private school. She reconnects with an old friend, Mathilda “Tilly” Martel, and makes fast friends with April and Oscar, two students whose photography class overlaps with Win’s independent study period. The trio bonds over music, pop culture, and especially creating a limited edition zine together. Despite these positives, Win wrestles with deep anxiety, self-esteem and body image issues, and disordered eating. For example, she’s lactose intolerant but indulges in ice cream to punish herself for enjoying food. She also struggles with an emerging crush on Tilly … or maybe Oscar? … and wonders if “a relationship would fill the hole that ache[s] in my chest all the time.” When Win’s self-loathing spirals into self-harm, her guidance counselor steps in and recommends professional help. This thoughtful, sensitive graphic novel features softly shaded artwork (created in Clip Studio Paint) that complements Win’s moods and emotions. In particular, the red-tinted darkroom provides a safe space for Win, April, and Oscar to reveal their vulnerabilities.

THOUGHTS: There is so much to savor in The Greatest Thing. Readers will embrace Win’s exploration of her identity, her relationships, and her artwork. Potentially triggering content is handled with great care, and Sarah Winifred Searle includes a list of resources at the close of the book.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

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