Elem. – Love From Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever

McNiff, Dawn. Love From Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-684-64027-0. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades PreK-2.

Written as a series of letters between a deceased dog and its former owner (Izzy), this story details Alfie’s new life in dog heaven. Although Alfie misses Izzy, he describes heaven as a place where he can chase postmen, eat burgers and ice cream, chew on shoes, and more–all without any punishment. A tender and somewhat humorous look at the loss of a pet, this story will encourage readers to creatively express their thoughts and feelings about death.

THOUGHTS: I actually read this story to my five-year-old daughter shortly after we lost our cat, and the first thing she wanted to do after reading it was to write a letter to our cat in heaven. Therefore, I love how this book inspires children to acknowledge their grief and make sense of death through the therapeutic act of letter writing. Pair this with Brian Lies’s The Rough Patch (2018) to spark important discussions with young children who have recently experienced loss.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

YA – Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir

Feder, Tyler. Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir. Dial Books. 2020. 978-0-525-55302-1. 201 p. $18.99. Grades 7+.

During the summer after her freshman year at college, Tyler Feder’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. By spring break of her sophomore year, Rhonda had died. Tyler understandably felt rudderless, “like I was on an iceberg out to sea.” Her mom was gone … now what? Chapters tenderly portray the diagnosis, the death, “making arrangements,” sitting shiva, and navigating a new normal. Dancing at the Pity Party is every bit as heartbreaking as it sounds, but it is also a little bit celebratory (as the title suggests). Readers will come to know and care for Tyler’s mom, because her loving personality is so vividly present on every page, even in her absence.

THOUGHTS: This is a must-read for teens who have experienced a loss, who want to support a grieving friend, or who are struggling and just want to know that someone out there gets it. Readers of Lucy Knisley’s introspective graphic memoirs will love this one, too.

Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Not only does Tyler Feder tell the raw truth about dealing with her mother’s death from cancer, but Dancing at the Pity Party offers a guide to grieving for those who might be caring or friends with someone who is grieving. The memoir struck awkward cords and candid cords and will likely have you giggling along with Maw’s obsession with perfect eyebrows. Feder also offers a glimpse into the Jewish traditions that follow the death of a loved one and provides explanations and definitions for each step of shiva, and beyond. Both insightful and poignant, Dancing at the Pity Party captures the before, during, and after of coping with a family illness and comfort in knowing others have similar experiences.

THOUGHTS: This genuine work of art that was born of the ashes Feder had to pile together and work with in the aftermath of losing her mother at a young age. This graphic novel should be in every middle and high school library, even if it’s just a go-to guide in times of need.

Graphic Novel          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA FIC – Before I Let Go; Rules of Rain; Moxie; The Librarian of Auschwitz

Nijkamp, Marieke. Before I Let Go. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018. 978-1-492-64228-2. 368 p. $17.15. Gr. 10 and up.

Returning to Lost Creek, Alaska, for her best friend’s funeral after moving away several months ago, Corey is devastated. She never found the words to tell Kyra that there was a great big world outside of Lost, and now she’ll never have the opportunity. Guilt-ridden over never responding to Kyra’s letters, Corey doesn’t know what to expect in Lost. Lost isn’t what she remembers, and neither are the people that live there. The town that she once loved and that loved her seems like it’s hiding something. Determined to uncover the truth about Kyra’s death, Corey sets out on her own. Desperate to find answers before her return to Winnipeg and terrified for her safety, Corey races against the clock before her flight departs. Told in present tense, letters sent and unsent, and flashback narratives written in play format, Corey’s and Kyra’s stories unfold as Lost fights to keep its secrets.  THOUGHTS: The remote Alaskan wilderness amps up the creepy factor in this mystery. Through the emphasis on Kyra’s storytelling, readers will be compelled to learn what actually happened to her, but they may not feel fully invested in the novel, as the characters lack depth. Though identity and mental health issues are addressed, they are not at the center of the story. Before I Let Go is a good read for mystery fans and those interested in exploring the ways mental illness affects one’s life and experiences.

Mystery; Realistic Fiction    Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Scheier, Leah. Rules of Rain. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1-492-65426-1. 384 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up.

The connection between twins can be unique. Add into the mix one twin has autism, and the dynamics are even more complicated. Rain’s entire life has revolved around her brother and helping him navigate the world. She has been Ethan’s voice and rock for so long that she knows no different.  Now teenagers, Rain and Ethan are beginning to grow into themselves and somewhat apart from each other. She is interested in cooking and blogging about obscure recipes, while he is fascinated by the inner workings of the human body. Rain and Ethan experience many firsts and learn a lot about each other and themselves. While Ethan seems to be thriving in his independence, it is Rain who begins to unravel. THOUGHTS: This is more than a coming of age story, and there are a lot of issues involved. At the heart of the novel twins are learning as much from each other as the world around them. Their twin/sibling relationship, autism, family dynamics/relationships, parent/child roles, divorce, bullying, underage drinking, as well as teen relationships (friendship and romantic). While other issues are present, to say more would spoil the surprise. Teens with complicated home lives and/or challenging sibling dynamics will like this character-driven novel. Some mature content makes this book more suited for high school readers.  

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Mathieu, Jennifer.  Moxie.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017.  978-1-62672-635-2. 330 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Unlike her mother, who was a rebellious teenager, Vivian Carter has always kept to herself and followed the rules.  However, after witnessing incident after incident of sexism in her conservative Texas high school, none of which are corrected by the administration, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl zines of the nineties, Vivian creates and distributes an anonymous zine around her school, calling for all girls to take action in protest.  The movement gradually grows, with more and more girls participating in each new protest and some girls even taking their own actions to improve the misogynistic environment.  Inspiring and empowering, readers will keep turning pages in order to find out what the Moxie girls are going to do next–and whether or not they will be successful in changing their school’s culture. THOUGHTS: Because of its strong emphasis on feminism, I would recommend this book to teenage girls and/or those who enjoy reading fiction with strong female protagonists.  The novel would also be an excellent supplement for a social studies unit on women’s history, women’s rights, and/or social activism.  It would be sure to spark discussion and may even inspire students to conduct further research on the Riot Grrrl movement of the nineties.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Iturbe, Antonio. The Librarian of Auschwitz. Translated by Lilit Thwaites. Henry Holt and Company, 2017. 978-1627796187. 432 p. $19.99. Gr. 9-12.

Spanish author Antonia Iturbe tells a fictionalized story of the little-known “Librarian of Auschwitz,” a young girl whose task it was to protect the few books in the possession of Jews in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Dita Kraus arrives at Auschwitz after living in the Terezin Ghetto, and is “lucky” enough to be sent to the family camp instead of directly to the gas chambers. In this part of the camp, there is a school run by Freddy Hirsch, who sees in Dita a strong young woman willing to protect their beloved texts. The story moves back and forth between Dita’s life in the ghetto, the lives of other prisoners and Jews, and the backstory of the enigmatic Hirsch. The novel starts out slow and on occasion the language seems a bit stunted (which might be a result of reading it as a translation). However, the story and characters do shine through, and the reader becomes engrossed in this story of both the cultural and physical survival of a people. THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for high schools, especially to complement memoirs and other readings about the Holocaust.

Historical Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy

Upper Elem. FIC – According to Aggie; Evil Emperor Penguin; Danger Gang…; Smarty Marty…

Beaumont, Mary Richards et al. According to Aggie. American Girl Publishing, 2017.  9781683370109. 115 p. $9.99. Gr. 3-5.

This graphic novel tells the story of Aggie Winters Frye, who deals with friendship issues in an elementary school setting.  The story is relevant to any girl who finds that her relationship with a childhood friend is changing.  Aggie’s friend Fiona begins avoiding Aggie and no longer wishes to join her on Friday Fun Day after school or go to the Ice-stravaganza.  At first, Aggie believes that she will be “unfriendable”, but she eventually becomes friends with a new student.  This is not a new story, but one that is meaningful to the intended audience who will easily relate to Aggie’s story. The graphic novel format is very appealing and the characters are from diverse backgrounds.  A short holiday story is included as well and readers can read more about Aggie in the American Girl magazine.  THOUGHTS: While this book is slight, the storyline and format will appeal to elementary students.

Graphic Novel; Realistic Fiction       Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

Anderson, Laura Ellen. Evil Emperor Penguin. David Fickling Books, 2017. 978-1-338-13274-8. 64 pp. $8.99. Gr. 2-5.

Evil Emperor Penguin, or EEP for short, is determined to rule the world.  With his sidekick, Number 8, and his minion, Eugene, he quests for world domination, but nothing ever seems to go quite right.  From “freezing” world leaders (but instead knitting them sweaters) to fear gas (that brings EEP images of his mother), nothing goes quite as planned, and everything goes awry when Evil Cat, EEP’s archnemesis arrives.  THOUGHTS:  This first book in a new graphic novel series is an elementary crowd pleaser.  Reminiscent of Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb, EEP is hilarious in his desire for world domination.  This is a fabulous addition to elementary graphic novel collections.

Graphic Novel     Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

 

Bramucci, Stephen. The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo. Bloomsbury, 2017. 978-1-61963-692-7.  375p. $16.99.  Gr. 4 and up.

Ronald Zupan is a master adventurer, the son of the famous Helen and Francisco Zupan. The only problem is that his parents have not let him come on any of their adventures. On the morning of his 12th birthday, his parents do not appear, and Ronald knows they are in trouble. He teams up with the family butler, the girl who beat him in a fencing tournament, and a pet boa constrictor, to go find them in Borneo. Much adventure ensues.  THOUGHTS: Written mostly in Ronald’s bold and exaggerated voice, interspersed with more realistic details from the butler, this tale is quite funny. It seems like it could be an annoying children’s book, but all three main characters grow and learn from their experiences. This would be a good book for 4th graders on up who like action, adventure, or funny stories

Action/Adventure; Humor     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Gutierrez, Amy. Smarty Marty Steps up Her Game. Cameron Kids, 2017. 978-1944903084. $13.95. Gr. 2-4.

Marty, who loves baseball, is the score-keeper for her younger brother’s little-league team. Having taught him all she knows (which is more than most grown-ups) about her favorite sport, Marty is there to cheer him on! At one game the announcer doesn’t show up, and Marty has the chance to make her announcing dream come true. Some people don’t like the fact that a girl is announcing the game.  What will Marty do? THOUGHTS: This book is written by The San Francisco Giants in-game reporter Amy Gutierrez. The author knows what she’s talking about both in terms of baseball lingo, and what it’s like to be a woman expert in a male-dominated sport.

Sports              Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

 

YA Mystery – Genuine Fraud; Little Monsters; Bonfire; Truly Devious

Lockhart, e. Genuine Fraud. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-0-385-74477-5. 262pp. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

In her follow-up to We Were Liars, e. Lockhart masterfully creates a world of lies and deceit.  Told from the end backward, readers are introduced to Jule West Williams, a young woman living a life of luxury after the death of her best friend Imogen Sokoloff.  Imogen left Jule her trust fund after killing herself in London.  She also left Jule a mess to clean up, a flat, and an ex-boyfriend who wants answers.  As Jule explores her relationship with Imogen and her own existence, more questions about the truth arise.  What was the truth behind Jule’s and Imogen’s friendship?  What happened to Jule’s family?  How did Jule infiltrate Imogen’s life?  Is Imogen actually dead?  It’s hard to decipher the truth amongst all of the lies.  THOUGHTS:  Once again, e. Lockhart has created a masterpiece.  Her storytelling and writing is beyond match.  The use of the third-person limited narrator keeps the reader guessing as to the truth behind the lies. I couldn’t put this one down.  Lockhart certainly earned her many starred reviews with this one.

Mystery       Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

 

Imogen leads the charmed life, but it doesn’t always feel so charming. She’s decided to leave it behind and live off her trust fund, traveling wherever she pleases for a while. Jule works hard and fights to fit in – to be what people want her to be. Connecting with Imogen and being invited to go along on her travels seems like the break she deserves. Jule isn’t what she seems, though, and together she and Imogen have a toxic friendship. Jule is willing to go great lengths to protect her friendship with Imogen, even if it means not playing nicely. With her suitcase tightly in her grip, and several wigs and passports at the ready, Jule is on the run, but from whom or what readers won’t know until the end.   THOUGHTS: Beginning at chapter 18 and told in reverse order then ending with chapter 19, Genuine Fraud is an intricately woven tale. Readers will rely on this unreliable narrator to figure out the details. Profoundly confusing and fast-paced at the start, readers will page through this story, determined to learn its beginning. Fans of Lockhart’s We Were Liars might also like this story. Violence and mature content make this novel suitable to older readers.       

Realistic Fiction, Mystery   Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Thomas, Kara. Little Monsters. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-0-553-52149-8. 322pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Kacey Young recently moved to Wisconsin to live with her father, step-mother, step-brother, and half-sister, all people she didn’t know until last year.  Now a senior in high school, Kacey has a “normal” life, a job, friends, and a decent chance at art school.  That is until Bailey, one of Kacey’s best friends, goes missing after a midnight visit to the Leed’s barn, a haunted site in Broken Falls, and Kacey becomes a prime suspect in her disappearance.  As Jade, Kacey’s other best friend, and Lauren, Kacey’s half-sister, both of which were at the Leed’s barn too, begin to become distant, Kacey is determined to figure out what happened to Bailey and clear her own name while fighting her own demons, the same demons that brought her to Broken Falls in the first place.  THOUGHTS: Kara Thomas does it again with a suspenseful mystery that looks deep into the raw emotions of humans and the breakdown of the human psyche.  Little Monsters is an excellent follow-up to The Darkest Corners.  Although there are some holes in the text, leaving readers wondering a bit about Kacey’s family, this novel doesn’t disappoint.  Recommend to mystery/suspense lovers who enjoy the criminal mind over the action-packed mystery.

Mystery      Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

 

Ritter, Krysten. Bonfire. Crown Books, 2017. 978-1524759841. 277 pp. $26.00. Gr. 10 and up.

Erin Brokovich meets All the Missing Girls in this debut novel of psychological suspense from actress Krysten Ritter. Ten years after graduating from high school and ditching her small-town past, Abby Williams is back in her hometown of Barrens, Indiana. Now a lawyer with the Center for Environmental Advocacy Work, Abby is leading an investigation into water pollution and illegal waste disposal by Optimal Plastics. As the team uncovers a trail of corruption and cover-ups, Abby is pulled back into a decade-old mystery: the unusual illness and subsequent disappearance of her one-time friend, Kaycee Mitchell. Now Abby herself is experiencing mysterious symptoms. In Ritter’s deft hands all of the old rivalries, romances, and cruel games from the past repeat themselves on a collision course with the present. Readers will enjoy some truly harrowing moments along the way.  THOUGHTS: Teen readers who are familiar with Krysten Ritter from her starring role on the Netflix series Marvel’s Jessica Jones will be thrilled to discover her talents as an author!

Mystery/Thriller; Crossover     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

Johnson, Maureen. Truly Devious. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. 978-0-062-33805-1. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Private school Ellingham Academy is tucked into a remote Vermont mountainside. The school is known for encouraging some of the greatest minds – both academic and creative. Founded in the mid-1930s by wealthy philanthropist Albert Ellingham, a man fond of riddles and games, the school is free for those who attend, and the resources available to them are endless. Ellingham, his wife, and their young daughter live in the main house at the center of the school’s campus. When Mrs. Ellingham and Alice go out on a drive and  disappear, the only clue is a gruesome letter signed Truly Devious. Ransom calls come in, and Ellingham desperately does everything he can to rescue them to.  Nearly a century later, true-crime fan Stevie Bell is moving into Ellingham Academy, determined to succeed where all others have failed. Stevie feels like she has something to prove, though. While everyone else at school seems to have some incredible talent or skill, Stevie’s fascination with crime-solving, specifically her obsession over the unsolved Ellingham case, is what she was admitted on. When past and present collide, it seems Truly Devious may be closer than Stevie thinks.  THOUGHTS: Mystery fiction fans will love the blending of two stories, and be desperate to puzzle the clues together. While Stevie deals with being away from home; the pressures of a new, competitive school; and her anxiety, readers will watch her grow and come into her own. Underage drinking takes place, but consequences are also discussed. Initially, I was disappointed not to have all of the answers in book one, but I will anxiously await them in books two and three!

Mystery Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA FIC – Wild Beauty; Language of Thorns; Optimists Die First; The List

McLemore, Anna-Marie. Wild Beauty. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2017. 978-1-250-122455-5. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Anna Marie-McLemore has become the undisputed queen of Magical Realism.  Her third book in as many years, Wild Beauty, is even more nuanced, sophisticated, and breathtakingly beautiful than her first two novels, and that is saying quite a lot.  Wild Beauty describes this story perfectly; it is a story about a family of women who have the ability – a compulsion, really – to grow flowers simply by reaching into the soil and willing them into existence.  As with all good stories, however, it is much more complex. Up until about a century ago, the Nomeolvides women had been persecuted, hunted, shunned, or killed because of their gifts. When they are offered sanctuary at La Pradera on the estate of the wealthy Briar family, they take it gratefully. It comes with a price, of course: the Nomeolvides women can never leave; if they try to escape, or outrun their destiny, they will die. La Pradera also takes their lovers; if a Nomeolvides woman loves someone too hard, they disappear. The current generation of cousins, Estrella, Azalea, Gloria, Calla, and Dalia, are all in love with the same girl, Bay Briar, and they are determined to keep her from disappearing. When they make a sacrifice to the land, the land gives them back a boy, a boy who can’t remember how he got there, where he came from, or who he is. This is a story of love, betrayal, heartbreak, jealousy, but above all, family, and the lengths one will go to to protect those she loves. Thoughts: Every page of Wild Beauty is a sensuous, tactile, graceful dance, and while the steps can be challenging, it is absolutely well worth the effort.

Magical Realism      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Bardugo, Leigh. The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. New York: Macmillan, 2017. 978-1250122520. 288 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Leigh Bardugo reimagines classic tales in her newest collection of stories, The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. Each of the six stories are set in Bardugo’s Grishaverse, but readers don’t have to be familiar with that world in order to understand or appreciate them.  There is something warm and familiar about each, but with a dark, and often subversive, twist to them; these are stories meant to be read aloud around a roaring fire on a blustery evening; the lovely and whimsical illustrations by Sara Kipin add to the magic, as well. Every story here is a gem, but there are two standouts.  “Amaya and the Thorn Wood” is a spin on the Minotaur myth, with a hint of “Beauty and the Beast.” Bardugo does a wonderful job playing with rhythm, repetition, and pacing; as it’s a story about a storyteller, it’s cleverly done. It is a story of two outcasts, both of whom are ostracized because of their looks, and both of whom are second-fiddle to their more attractive, more talented siblings. Through a shared love of stories, they redefine the idea of a “happy ending.” “The Witch of Duva,” a take on “Hansel and Gretel,” challenges the tropes of the evil stepmother, and the child-snatching witch, and explores the ways in which women mistrust each other; it is richly told, and Bardugo once again utilizes repetition to great effect. The ending is exceedingly disturbing, but will hopefully imbue a sense of caution to any young person who reads it; at the very least, it will leave a lasting impression. A common thread throughout the book is the complexity and diversity of women; each tale forces the reader to confront their own preconceived notions of how women should behave. Thoughts: Give this to lovers of fairy tales, self-proclaimed feminists, and anyone who needs a wake-up call about a woman’s place in society.

Fantasy     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Nielsen, Susin. Optimists Die First. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2017. 978-0-553-49690-1. 240 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Petula is scared of everything and spends her days thinking of the myriad ways in which people can be killed. Before the accident that killed her little sister, Petula was an average adolescent girl with a passion for crafting.  Petula, however, has never stopped blaming herself for what happened, and she has cut herself off from everything that reminds her of that time, including crafting, and her best friend. When Petula meets Jacob, a new boy with a prosthetic arm, a warm and open demeanor, and a tragic past of his own, her life slowly starts to knit back together. Jacob, however, is keeping a huge secret, and when Petula inevitably finds out, it completely alters the way she views him.  Nielsen does a wonderful job getting into Petula’s psyche; the way her grief and guilt manifests will hit home to a lot of people.  Petula is constantly hounded by that little voice going “If only…,” a voice that beleaguers everyone at some point in their lives.  Jacob’s prosthetic is sensitively portrayed, and is only one small part of him; it does not define who he is.  THOUGHTS:  While the heavy emphasis on crafting may turn some people off, at its heart, it is a story about two lost, grieving souls finding each other, and finding joy.

Realistic Fiction    Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Forde, Patricia. The List. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017. 978-1-4926-4796-6 353p. $16.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

The Melting (of the icebergs) has happened and much of life as we know it has disappeared.  John Noa has set up a settlement he calls “Ark” where he tries to make sure humans survive by not making the same mistakes.  He thinks one of those is language, so he limits what people in Ark are allowed to say, by approving a “list” of words.  Letta, the wordsmith’s  apprentice, is overwhelmed by the order to take more and more words off of the list.  At the same time, she is trying to preserve old wordsn her master disappears, leaving Letta to become the wordsmith.  She meets a boy who speaks more eloquently than the list will allow and Letta discovers much about the artists and others who are forced to live outside of Ark.   Letta has to make a lot of decisions that she never thought she would have to, much bigger than what words to take away from the citizens of Ark.  THOUGHTS: A book that will make everyone think about the importance of words, and of language, this would be a great purchase for libraries with lovers of fantasy, especially dystopian stories.

Dystopian     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Forde, Patricia. The List. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017. 978-1-492-64796-6. 368 p. $16.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Ark is a gated post-apocalyptic community that only survives because of the extreme planning and strict rationing of John Noah, Ark’s founding leader. With food, water, and even words strictly limited to only what is essential, life is not always easy. Sentences like “We ready now.” and “I no wait.” are considered speaking in List and take some getting used to. Reading List sometimes requires more than one glance. Letta lives in Ark and is the apprentice to the Wordsmith, a highly respected job. Almost immediately, her master Benjamin, the Wordsmith, heads out on a journey for a few days to hunt for new words to be preserved. This is considered a typical task of the Wordsmith. Letta is left behind to run the shop, where she transcribes boxes of List words for the Ark teacher, and creates special request List words for various trades.  Shortly after Benjamin leaves, an injured boy enters the shop, requesting a box of List words. Though she does not recognize him, Letta is intrigued by Marlo, and without thinking she quickly hides him before the gavvers (police or military equivalent) arrive. As she attempts to nurse Marlo back to health, Letta learns information about life outside of Ark, and she begins to question all she’s ever known. Thus begins Letta’s dissent from Ark.  THOUGHTS: As a former English teacher, my mind was racing with fun activities for using this book in the classroom: What words would be on your list? Could you figure out all of the words on Ark’s list? Would you eliminate/add any words to Ark’s list? The focus on the importance of words can lead to many great discussions, regardless of age. Though this book is marketed as middle grade, I could absolutely see using it in a high school classroom.

Dystopian   Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

YA Realistic Fiction – Windfall; The Whole Thing Together; Bang

Smith, Jennifer E. Windfall. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-0-399-55937-2. 414 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Alice, Teddy, and Leo have been together through a lot, and luck did not bring them together. Alice moved across the country at age 9 to live with her cousin Leo and his family after both of her parents died a year apart from each other. Teddy’s dad disappeared after losing his family’s apartment as a result of gambling debts. Nine years later they’re the best of friends, and their luck seems like it’s about to change. The lottery ticket Alice gives Teddy for his 18th birthday is a winner, a $140 million winner to be exact. What Teddy sees as a blessing, Alice sees as a curse; she’s had more than enough change for one lifetime. With delicate ease, Smith demonstrates how fears can hold us back and how difficult change can be. Windfall approaches many topics like loss, grief, gambling, graduating, families, and relationships while asking what would you do if you won the lottery, and would it change you for the better?  

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Brashares, Ann. The Whole Thing Together. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-0-385-73689-3. 304 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Though they share a bedroom on opposite weeks at their families’ beach house on Long Island, Ray and Sasha have never met. Family is a complicated term for these two teens who share three older half sisters (Ray with his mom and Sasha with her dad). From mutual childhood toys to books with notes written in the margins, Ray and Sasha’s lives are more intertwined than one would expect, considering they’ve never met. They’re like siblings, and something about sharing a space has become almost intimate. Not everything is sunshine and summery as one may expect of a book set at the beach. The carefully constructed modern day blended family dynamics show just how complex relationships can be. Told through multiple points of view, Brashares’s The Whole Thing Together will charm readers with it’s idealistic setting and family drama.

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Lyga, Barry. Bang. Little, Brown Books, 2017. 978-0-316-31550-0. 304 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Sebastian is 14, and 10 years ago he did something so unspeakable, so unthinkable, so unintentional: he shot and killed his infant sister. Though he has no recollection of the tragic moment, Sebastian has lived his life full of guilt. Now he’s ready for some relief. Bang approaches so many “headline” issues – gun violence, broken families, lack of communication, depression, suicide, Islamophobia, and more – with a gentle yet compelling voice. Readers will root for Sebastian to find some peace in life, and he will stay with them long after the last page.  THOUGHTS:  I’m truly at a loss for words after finishing Bang. To put things simply, this book is incredible, and it is a must read!

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

YA Realistic Fiction – Coming Up for Air; Seven Days of You; After the Fall

Kenneally, Miranda. Coming Up for Air. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1492630111. 304 pp. $10.00. Gr. 10 and up.

Miranda Kenneally returns to the world of Tennessee’s Hundred Oaks High School with Coming Up for Air, a mature-YA sports romance centered on swimming. Maggie King has never had time for boys; she’s totally focused on securing a spot on a top-tier college team, and maybe even snagging an Olympic trial cut, too. While on a visit to Berkeley, she realizes that heading off to college with a total lack of romantic experience might be a mistake. Who better to teach her the lessons of “hooking up” than her best friend and fellow swimming star, Levi? Unsurprisingly, things get complicated when their electric chemistry threatens both their friendship and their focus on training and competing. Throw in bad-girl Roxy, Maggie’s rival in the pool who suddenly shows an interest in Levi, and sit back to watch the drama unfold on every page. THOUGHTS: This sweet-and-steamy romance is so much fun you will want to join Maggie, Levi, and the gang at Jiffy Burger for fries on Friday just to see what happens next! Another excellent novel that focuses on swimming and romance between friends is Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner.

Realistic Fiction, Sports Romance      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

High school senior Maggie is always poolside or working out to do better in the pool, trying to earn an Olympic cut. With three friends who understand the lifestyle of a competitive athlete (one a swimmer, one a gymnast turned cheerleader, and one a baseball player), Friday night dinners at Jiffy Burger have been the glue that holds them together. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with this group?   On her college visit to one of the best swimming schools in the country, Maggie is quickly distracted by swimming rival Roxy and the fact that Maggie hasn’t had time for boys and doesn’t know how to be more than just friends. Upon her return home, Maggie makes a plan and enlists the help of her best friend and swimming male counterpart Levi. Levi is an expert in keeping things casual, and he will show Maggie the ropes. She trusts him, they’ve been best friends since middle school, and they understand each other, so what could go wrong? Neither of them predicted what is in store in this hot and heavy romance.  THOUGHTS: This was my first Kenneally book, but I can see why the high school girls devour them. The friendships and banter between characters are compelling. Plus, readers will want to know what the outcome is. With descriptions of casual sex and drinking, it may be for more mature readers.

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Vinesse, Cecilia. Seven Days of You. Little, Brown Books, 2017. 978-0-316-39111-5. 336 p. Gr. 10 and up.

Sophia dreads leaving Tokyo, and she has only one week to come to terms with leaving her home –  the only place that’s ever felt like home, her friends, and her school behind. Just when things can’t seem to be any worse for Sophia, Jamie comes back to Tokyo. Having left on bad terms for boarding school in the states years ago, Sophia wants nothing more than to wish Jamie’s return away. The connection she feels immediately, however, is strong. Within the seven days, only a few of them actually involve Jaime, so the title may seem slightly misleading. Really, Sophia’s seven days are about her sadness over leaving Tokyo.  THOUGHTS: Assuming the descriptions are realistic, this book is a whirlwind, one week trip around Tokyo. The teenagers freely come and go, but maybe that is part of the international school lifestyle. Though there is some language, drinking, and non-explicit descriptions of sex, this book will be a hit where first love (with an international flair) is popular. For fans of Stephanie Perkins, Jennifer E. Smith, and many other YA romance writers!

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Hart, Kate. After the Fall. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017. 978-0-374-30269-6. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Raychel has a lot going on in her life; she has a promiscuous reputation around school; she and her mom struggle financially, and she is sort of part of her best friend Matt’s family. Unbeknownst to Raychel, though how I’m unsure since it’s obvious to everyone else, Matt is in love with her. The alternating chapters set a nice pace and allow readers to experience the emotions and events from both teen perspectives. The mess of Raychel’s life is built up throughout Part I, however, the backstory is necessary to emphasize the sheer loss experienced during Part II. Readers will appreciate the honest portrayal of small, college town teens and the desire to fit in with friends and family. Feeling left behind with friends off in college, animosity between parent and child, sexual assault, sibling rivalry, poverty, and grief are all topics covered. Ultimately, Raychel learns that secrets don’t help your situation, and facing one’s fears (even if it is a daily struggle) is the way to move forward.

Realistic Fiction     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

YA Realistic Fiction – Cresswell Plot; W/o Annette; Sun is Also a Star; Phantom Limbs

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Wass, Eliza. The Cresswell Plot. Los Angeles: Disney Hyperion, 2016. 9781484730430. 262pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

The six Cresswell siblings live with their parents in a run down house in the woods and make their living trash picking junk to fix up and sell at local flea markets. Homeschooled by their fanatically religious parents, the siblings live an isolated and cloistered life. Their father tells them they are the only “pure” humans left on earth, expected to marry each other to preserve their bloodline.  After an accident causes the  authorities to check on the welfare of the children, they begin attending public school. Their unusual lifestyle keeps them separate from their peers, and they are viewed as freaks. When 17 year-old Castellla (Castley) begins her junior year, she meets a boy in her drama class who reaches out to her. Being with George opens her up to friendship and romance and to the possibility of a normal life.  She and her siblings start questioning what they have always believed to be the absolute truth and to test the rules and demands their father has placed on them. But, their father holds the family in the grip of fear and religious fervor, and Castley worries they may never be able to break free.   THOUGHTS: A disturbing and creepy thriller for older teens who appreciate edgier reading .

Realistic Fiction    Nancy Summers, Abington SHS

 

withoutannette

Mason, Jane B. Without Annette. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016. 978-0545819954. 336 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

This is the first young adult book I have read with a lesbian couple as the main protagonists, and Jane B. Mason did a fine job of describing the lives of these young girls and the unique challenges they face as lovers in the world of teenagers. Josie, the narrator, and her best friend and girlfriend, Annette, receive scholarships to attend an exclusive boarding school. Josie sees it as a way to help Annette escape from her alcoholic and abusive mother. From the beginning, Annette seems to fit right in while Josie flounders in her classes and in the social scene. She literally stumbles into a friendship with classmate Penn, and joins him and his crew in exploring the tunnels that snake underground all over campus. Josie and Annette try to keep their relationship a secret, yet Josie watches helplessly as Annette is drawn into a world of drinking and binging, egged on by her roommate. The characters are authentic and the story is unique but can be slow at times and Josie is not the most reliable narrator. I would have liked to hear the perspectives of others in the school and especially Annette, but it is a powerful story of realizing who you are or want to be,  and how this can affect your life and relationships. THOUGHTS: This title is a necessary addition to any high school collection for LGTBQ youth.

Realistic Fiction      Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

This is an interesting title, and one that will appeal to students struggling with defining themselves in the world of adolescents. I do look forward to future titles from this author, as she does bring a unique perspective to the YA world.

 

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Yoon, Nicola. The Sun is Also a Star. New York: Delacourte Press, 2016. 978-0553496680. 384 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Nicola Yoon impressed me with her first novel, Everything, Everything, and has truly knocked it out of the park with her most recent publication for young adults, The Sun is Also a Star. The story tells a day in the life of two characters, but Yoon incorporates other perspectives and stories throughout the novel, and this enables the story to rise above the general YA novels that highlight the give and take between two young people falling in love. The story begins with Natasha, whose family is to be deported to Jamaica after being caught as undocumented immigrants. Natasha, a lover of science, facts, and figures, is determined to do all she can to stay in the home she has known since arriving in the States 8 years ago. The second protagonist is Daniel, who yearns to be a poet, but whose Korean-immigrant parents insist that he become a doctor. He is on his way to interview with a Yale alumni when he sees Natasha walking down the street. The two end up spending the day together and trying to navigate their different worlds and Natasha’s impending deportation. Again, the perspectives and asides that Yoon includes, ranging from a chapter about a lonely security card to a short history of black hair, force the reader to acknowledge the silent stories and history going on all around as we live our own separate lives. THOUGHTS: This should be in all high school libraries, and would be an excellent choice for summer reading or book club discussions.

Realistic Fiction      Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

I absolutely LOVED this book, and will be recommending it to every student I can in the coming weeks and months. The variety of perspectives, the beautiful writing, and the well-drawn characters make it a novel to savor and read again and again. The plot touches upon many current issues in our society, and encourages the development and understanding of empathy in teens, and, really, anyone who reads it. I am going to suggest it as a summer reading title for next year, and cannot wait to discuss it with a group of adolescents.

 

phantomlimbs

Garner, Paula. Phantom Limbs. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2016. 978-0-7636-8205-7. 352 pp. $16.99. Gr. 9 and up.

“There was life before you, and then life with you. There wasn’t supposed to be life after you.” This haunting sentiment is at the emotional core of Paula Garner’s outstanding debut, Phantom Limbs. Sixteen-year old Otis Mueller has had to say his share of tough goodbyes. His beloved younger brother, Mason, passed away several years ago at the young age of three, and Otis has shielded himself from the painful details ever since. His first love, the girl-next-door Meg (in whose room Mason was napping at the time of his death), moved away and out of Otis’ life soon after. Otis found an outlet for his grief and loneliness in competitive swimming. He also found a coach and big sister figure in Dara, an amputee whose phantom limb pains and thwarted swimming career haunt her daily. But just as Dara is ramping up Otis’ training regimen for a run at the Olympic trials, Meg contacts him to say she’s coming home for a three-week visit. Oh, and her new boyfriend will be joining her for a long weekend with Otis and his parents at the Mueller family lake house. The trip is a-w-k-w-a-r-d, and also a catalyst for Otis to acknowledge his true loyalties and for Meg to reveal her secret pain. THOUGHTS: Phantom Limbs hits all the right coming-of-age notes with humor, heart, indelible moments, and a realistically imperfect protagonist.

Realistic Fiction      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library

 

YA Realistic Fiction…Every Last Promise; The Start of You and Me; Charlie, Presumed Dead

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Halbrook, Kristin. Every Last Promise. New York: HarperTeen, 2015. 978-0-06212128-8. 272p. $9.99. Gr. 9-12.

“Killer Kayla”–it’s the whisper Kayla hears in the school hallway and on the streets of her small hometown of Winbrooke, MO. Home after a summer of exile in Kansas City, Kayla is dealing with the aftermath of a spring car wreck in which she was at the the wheel, leaving her best friend’s twin brother injured and another classmate killed. But while everyone blames Kayla, they don’t know the real reason she was in the driver’s seat that night.  Kayla has claimed she can’t remember the details surrounding the accident, but that’s not the truth.  The truth is that Kayla witnessed one of her friends being sexually assaulted at a party shortly before the car crash.  Now Kayla finds herself torn; should she reveal the truth about the crash and the assault? Doing so (and naming the perpetrator, the start football quarterback, who also happens to be her friend’s twin brother who was injured in the car crash) will further ostracize her from the beloved hometown where she had imagined herself living forever.  Can she live with herself if she continues to remain silent?  THOUGHTS:  Halbrook effectively uses alternating chapters (set during the spring prior to the car crash and the autumn following the crash) to build tension and suspense that keeps the reader engaged until the actual events surrounding the car crash are revealed.  The effects of peer/community pressure are also realistically portrayed as Kayla struggles with the pressure put on her by friends, classmates and others to keep silent.

Realistic Fiction   Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

 

startofyoume

Lord, Emery. The Start of You and Me. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-1-61963-359-9. 373p. $17.99. Gr. 8-12.

For the past year, Paige Hancock’s life has been defined by one event–the drowning death of her first boyfriend, Aaron. Seemingly everywhere she goes, she is the focus of pitying looks from her friends and neighbors. She feels guilty when she has a good time.  As her junior year gets underway, Paige is resolved to move on and make some changes in her life.  On her to-do list are things like joining a club at school and dating again; maybe her former crush Ryan Chase is available.  When Paige joins the high school quiz bowl team, however, it’s Ryan’s cousin Max she finds herself connecting with and falling for.  Paige must break through her fear of loss in order to enter into a relationship and begin living again.  THOUGHTS: This sensitive portrayal of life, love and loss will appeal to readers of Sarah Dessen, Morgan Matson, Deb Caletti and Susane Colasanti.

Realistic Fiction   Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

charliedead

Heltzel, Anne. Charlie, Presumed Dead. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015. Print. 978-0544388499. 272 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

While not the best book I read over the summer, this title is sure to engage students who appreciate a fast-paced read with a mysterious element. Presumably, Charlie Price has died in an explosion while piloting a plane. Upon attending the funeral of her boyfriend in Paris, American, Aubrey Boroughs realizes that not only did Charlie not tell his family about her, but he had a steady girlfriend of three years, Lena Whitney. Lena and Aubrey meet, and Lena shares her suspicions that Charlie is not actually dead. Aubrey is intrigued (why so intrigued, we learn later on), and reluctantly agrees to go with Lena on a trip to various locations to find out more about Charlie’s supposed “death.” They end up flying halfway around the world to India to begin their quest. As they come closer and closer to solving the mystery, they learn about each other as well as their own wants and needs. They both had a complicated relationship with the enigmatic young Charlie, who seems to have enjoyed being a different person around each girl. Against all reason, the girls themselves become close throughout the course of their adventure. Reminiscent of Gayle Forman’s novel Just One Day, this novel takes readers on an adventure to exotic locales but lacks the depth and character development that Forman includes so easily in her stories. Nevertheless, readers will still want to learn what happened to Charlie, and will eagerly await the sequel.

Realistic Fiction, Mystery   Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

Against my better judgement, I did find myself quickly turning the pages in this book. The characters are interesting, and the plot is one that keeps the reader on the edge of her seat the entire time. Similar to other YA novels, this one lacks any sort of adult presence, and an adult reader such as myself had to have a lot of willing suspension of disbelief to believe that any parent would let their 18 year old daughter go on weekend vacations with a boy such as Aubrey did, or allow a daughter to travel around the world as she pleases, as Lena’s parents are wont to do. Yet, this was a fun read, and I will be recommending it to many students who enjoy mysteries!