YA – Who I Was With Her

Tyndall, Nita. Who I Was With Her. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-97838-7. $17.99. 385 p. Grades 9 and up.

Corrine Parker arrives at school one morning to overhear her cross country teammates talking about how their rival school’s team captain, Maggie – who happens to be Corrine’s girlfriend – died the previous night in a car accident. This is tragic enough on its own. But Corrine is not out, and she and Maggie were dating in secret. This means Corrine can’t even genuinely express her grief when she hears the news or talk to anyone about it. Living in a conservative area of North Carolina, Corrine never felt ready to come out to anyone, so she feels she can’t talk to her divorced parents – especially her alcoholic mother – or her best friend Julia. The only person she can talk to is Dylan, Maggie’s older brother and the only other person who knew the two were dating. And even Dylan is not an optimal confidant – he and Corrine had a rocky relationship while she was dating his sister. What Dylan does do for Maggie is introduce her to someone else to talk to: Elissa, Maggie’s ex-girlfriend who she dated prior to Corrine. It’s complicated even to talk to Elissa, though. Why hadn’t Maggie ever mentioned her? Why did Dylan have a good relationship with Elissa and not her? And why does she find herself starting to feel an attraction to Elissa?

THOUGHTS: This is not a typical coming out story given the circumstances. The complexities of Corrine and Maggie’s secret relationship and Corrine’s struggles to deal in the aftermath of Maggie’s death are told in an alternating timeline format back and forth from their year-long relationship prior to the accident to the present months following her death. It’s also a very unique grief story as Corrine struggles with it primarily on her own, so it understandably gets messy at times. The novel also touches on addiction, college admissions pressures, and asexuality through subplots and supporting characters. Overall, recommended addition to collections where the demand for LGBTQIA+ literature, particularly bisexual protagonists, is high.

Realistic Fiction                              Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – You Should See Me in a Crown

Johnson, Leah. You Should See Me in a Crown. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-50326-5. $17.99. 324 p. Grades 9 and up.

This is not your average prom court story. From Liz Lighty’s motivation to run for queen to her underdog status and even the hype surrounding this rural Indiana town’s epic prom season traditions, this prom plot is anything but trite. When Liz finds out she did not get the scholarship she needs to afford Pennington College, the school of her dreams, she does the only thing she can think of that could quickly replace that money, and it’s the last thing she ever imagined herself doing. Prom in Campbell County, Indiana is an institution, and the king and queen win $10,000 scholarships – exactly the amount of money she needs to make Pennington happen. Now, Liz – who has purposely stayed under the radar her entire high school career – throws herself into the month-long campaign for a spot on the prom court by doing volunteer work and getting as much positive attention as she can on the school’s gossipy social media app: Campbell Confidential. Being an outsider – an unpopular band kid who is one of only a few Black girls at her school – is just one of many hurdles she’ll have to overcome if she wants that crown and scholarship. Aside from her few close friends, no one at school knows that Liz is queer. When a new girl unexpectedly shows up at the first prom campaign meeting, Liz finds herself immediately crushing on this skateboard-riding underdog. Dating Mack – who is also now her competition –  is exactly the type of publicity Liz does NOT want if she’s going to win that scholarship in this very conservative town, forcing her to choose which to listen to: her head or her heart.

THOUGHTS: Leah Johson’s debut novel is laugh-out-loud funny and gosh darn adorable. Novels that tackle serious issues faced by BIPOC/LGBTQ characters are extremely important, but it’s also important to see these characters experience joy in their everyday lives. That’s not to say this book lacks serious moments because it does have them. (Liz’s brother’s health and close-minded faculty/students, for example, make for some weighty scenes). It is a feel-good story overall though with a romance full of “aww”-worthy moments, an amazing supporting cast of friends and family (Liz’s grandparents and her friend Stone are particularly fun), and it is definitely a great addition to any teen collection.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Liz Lighty dreams of leaving the small town of Campbell, Indiana behind to attend her mother’s alma mater Pennington College and become a doctor. Liz has worked hard to secure financial aid and is devastated to learn that she isn’t getting it. An excellent student and musician, Liz refuses to give up on her dream and put her grandparents into financial troubles. Liz is determined to find another way to Pennington when she is reminded of the annual prom court competition (and $10,000 scholarship for the king and queen). Terrified of the added attention (Liz has anxiety), Liz decides prom court is her best opportunity. Liz isn’t openly out which has never been a problem for her close friends, but Campbell has strict rules for potential prom court members that are steeped in tradition. Adding all of the expected volunteer events to her busy schedule isn’t easy, but spending time with new girl – and fellow prom court competition – Mack is worth it. With the help of her friends, Liz is slowly climbing the Campbell Confidential (social media app) prom court rankings and might actually stand a chance. But falling for Mack might jeopardize everything Liz has worked hard to achieve. Liz knows she’ll find her place at Pennington if she can earn this scholarship, but is getting to Pennington worth not being true to herself?

THOUGHTS: This debut tackles tough topics in a way that will appeal widely to high school readers. Liz has been through a lot in her life, and readers will root for her from the beginning. Highly recommended, this one is a must have for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA 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 Sci-Fi/Fantasy – Meant to Be; Girls Made of Snow & Glass; Jane Unlimited

Halpern, Julie. Meant to Be. Feiwel & Friends, 2017. 978-1-250-09498-8. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

When it comes to love, Agatha Abrams is disenchanted. Her parents’ relationship didn’t survive the MTBs (meant to be), and she firmly believes in free will and choices. Instead of jumping for joy and spending a lot of money to locate her meant to be (or even conducting an online search for him), Aggy rebels against the system. She is determined to fall in love on her own terms – when, where, and with whom she wants. Who more appropriate than Luke, they boy she’s been crushing on for the past few years at her summer amusement park job.  Meanwhile, Aggy’s best friend Lish has found her meant to be and fallen head over heels in love, and she’s moving way too fast for Aggy! Aggy is begins to question the future she planned and wonders if anyone else feels the way she does.  THOUGHTS: Aggy isn’t sure college is for her, and she fights against the norms of society, much like teenagers often do. I really wanted to like this book. I loved the idea of MTBs and a teen girl rebelling against society’s new norm of finding one’s soul mate; however, I wanted more. How could the “meant to be” phenomenon exist for years without more of an uprising? Many pre-existing relationships in the society crumble…did no one fight for the love they had? I wanted more answers. That said, I sometimes loved Aggie and her best friend complemented each other. Without giving too much away, I could have read a whole novel that started with the last few weeks in the book and skipped the whole summer fling. This book is definitely for a more mature audience, as the summer fling had casual, unsatisfying sex, fairly graphically described.

Romance/Science Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Bashardoust. Melissa. Girls Made of Snow and Glass. Flatiron Books, 2017.  978-1-250-07773-8. 375p. $18.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

Linet and Mina are both unusual girls who grew up without their biological mothers.  Their lives are intertwined in what could be a fight for a kingdom.  Told in alternating perspectives between Mina and Linet, the chapters are not chronological at first.  It took me some time to affirm my suspicion that this is a retold fairytale. Full of intrigue, secrets, lies, and magic, this story will keep the reader’s interest.  It also explores the larger issues of family and the ability to love.  THOUGHTS:  This is Bashardoust’s first novel.  I look forward to reading more of her work.  There is a same-sex romance where the only concern is that the love interest is a commoner.  For my liberal school, this is a great step forward.  

Fantasy (Fractured Fairytale)     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Cashore, Kristin. Jane Unlimited. Kathy Dawson Books, 2017. 978-0803741492. 464 p.  Grades 9 and up.

Devoted fans of Cashore’s Graceling trilogy have eagerly awaited this new book.  Jane Unlimited is a marked departure from Cashore’s successful series and is an ambitious and bizarre tale that presents the possibility of multi-verses and alternate realities.  Jane is a quiet, orphaned girl who recently lost her beloved Aunt Magnolia and is overcome with grief and indecision. When her former tutor, Kiran, invites Jane to travel with her to her family’s fabulous island estate, Jane follows her aunt’s advice: visit the Thrash estate, Tu Reviens, if she is ever given the chance. So off Jane goes, and there she meets a quirky cast of characters, among them Kiran’s art collecting twin brother Ravi, family servants Patrick and Ivy, Lucy, the art theft investigator, a bloodhound named Jasper and several others. The story is retold in six possible realities which are presented in separate long chapters which begin as Jane makes a simple decision to follow one or another of the other people at the estate. Jane confronts alternate versions of the intrigues on the island which include art thievery, kidnapping, international espionage, and romance. Each chapter has a distinct style that ranges from mystery to thriller to sci-fi to fantasy and each chapter is more bizarre than the last.  THOUGHTS:  Jane, Unlimited is a challenging read with a creative and promising premise.  A few of the chapters are wonderfully realized, but some fall short with confusing details that make it difficult to suspend disbelief.  Recommended for more dedicated and intrepid readers, but it could be too confusing and circular for many students.

Fantasy       Nancy Summers, Abington School District

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

lastpromise

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!