YA – Tin Man

Madson, Justin. Tin Man. Amulet Books, 2022. 978-1-419-75104-2. 219 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Solar is a senior but instead of feeling like her whole life is ahead of her, she feels scared and uncertain. The death of her grandmother, who was also her best friend and mentor, has shaken Solar to her core. Fenn, her little brother, is confused and saddened by her change in personality. The two of them used to work on building a rocket together, but now Solar has little interest in much of anything, especially if it involves Fenn. Campbell is a tin man, a woodsman who wants more in his life than just chopping down trees. Against his father’s wishes, Campbell receives a heart and leaves home to work through all of the feelings he suddenly has. Fenn, Solar, and Campbell become unlikely friends and together, they work through all of their difficult feelings to understand what life has to offer them.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is a heart-warming story of how friendship can help heal feelings of loss and confusion. Read closely to see other objects and symbols from The Wizard of Oz peppered throughout Tin Man. 

Graphic Novel                Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – In the Wild Light

Zentner, Jeff. In the Wild Light. Crown Publishers, 2021. 978-1-524-72024-7 429 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up.

Set in a small Tennessee town, two misfits from troubled families develop a strong bond after meeting at a Narateen meeting. Cash is struggling to come to terms with his mother’s death, the knowledge that his beloved grandfather is dying, and his fear that he has no special gift to offer anyone. Delaney is a brilliant, self-taught scientist who discovers a bacteria-destroying mold with potential medicinal benefits.  Because of this discovery, she is offered a full ride scholarship to an elite New England prep school and secures a spot for Cash as well.  Delaney is determined to start anew and pushes Cash to join her, though he believes he is not deserving of this opportunity and fears missing precious time with his grandfather. They both struggle to adjust to their new life so far removed from their roots but are fortunate to find a friendship with two other new students at Middleford Academy and to nurture their own interests and passions and the special bond between them.

THOUGHTS: A thoughtful, coming of age story with a strong focus on the value of friendship and family, with charming characters, beautiful descriptions, and some gorgeous poetry. Touching, emotional, and heartfelt, this book will be appreciated by fans of All the Bright Places and Looking for Alaska.

Realistic Fiction                Nancy Summers,   Abington SD

Elem. – Ten Beautiful Things

Griffin, Molly Beth. Ten Beautiful Things. Charlesbridge, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-580-89936-9. $16.99. Grades K-2.

Lily and her grandmother are driving to Iowa, which now will be the young girl’s home. As Lily sits in the back of the car watching the scenery, she feels an empty place and an anxious feeling in her stomach. Seeing her granddaughter’s sadness, Gram suggests they play a game and look for ten beautiful things during their journey.  Their trip begins in darkness and then suddenly an amazing sunrise comes into view and becomes the first beautiful thing. As they travel on, Gram and Lily find other marvelous things, like a windmill farm, a red-winged blackbird, the sound of a gurgling creek and the earthy smell of mud. When they are nearly at their destination, a powerful thunderstorm appears with lightning, winds, and heavy rain. Lily realizes that just as this storm seemed to fill up the whole world, the empty places within her are now filled by Gram and her new home. The downpour has stopped, the sun is shining, and all will be well. Lechuga’s digital illustrations are charming, and she skillfully depicts the young girl’s anxiety in the drawings.

THOUGHTS: Children experiencing a life changing event will find a connection with Lily. By not revealing the reasons, the author has created a touching story that will apply to a number of situations, such as death, deployment, imprisonment, abuse, or custody issues. Guidance counselors and caretakers will find this book a valuable tool to promote discussion. A worthwhile purchase for all elementary libraries.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

MG – Just Like That

Schmidt, Gary. Just Like That. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-0-544-08477-3. 387 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Meryl Lee, reeling from the tragic death of her best friend Holling, is struggling to find joy in anything. Her parents enroll her into a New England boarding school to help her find herself again (while also shielding her from the divorce process they are secretly going through). At St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, Meryl Lee feels like she has more in common with the young ladies who are employed there rather than the stuck-up girls who attend as students. Despite being told that it is “unbecoming” to mingle with the staff, Meryl Lee knows in her heart this is wrong. With the support of the headmistress, Dr. Nora MacKnockater, Meryl Lee works on healing her heart and finding her place in the world. At the same time, a boy named Matt Coffin is always on the move. Homeless and parent-less, he moves from place to place carrying his pillowcase full of money, intent on avoiding the scary people who are coming after him. His travels take him to New England and there, his world collides with Meryl Lee’s and Dr. MacKnockater’s. With their help, he confronts his past and starts planting permanent roots in one place.

THOUGHTS: Although these two characters are seemingly different, the struggles they are going through tie them together. The book takes place in 1968 but still feels very modern. The character’s struggles are definitely ones that middle grade readers will relate to (fitting in, divorce) combined with the global struggle of the Vietnam War in the background of the story makes it more complex than it seems on the surface. Gary Schmidt’s witty writing style will make middle grade readers laugh, cry, and think.

Historical Fiction           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

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