YA – Once Upon A Broken Heart

Garber, Stephanie. Once Upon A Broken Heart. Hodder and Stoughton, 2021. 978-1-529-38044-6. 403 pg. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Evangeline believes in true love; however, life throws a wrench in her plans when the love of her life is going to marry someone else. In a desperate moment, Evangeline makes a deal with the Prince of Hearts; however, that does not go as planned! As she goes through with his deal she learns there is more to the Prince than meets the eye. She learns more about herself and what she wants out of life and love as she goes. This is set in the same world as Stephanie Garber’s Caraval series; however, the reader does not need to read that series to understand this one.

THOUGHTS: This was a delightful little book! This was a fun, fast-paced read that will leave the reader craving the next book.

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Evangeline Fox grew up in her father’s curiosity shop believing in magic, fairy tales, and true love. When her stepmother announces that her stepsister will marry the man Evangeline loves, she desperately tracks down the Prince of Hearts, Jacks, and asks him to stop the wedding. The price: Three kisses at the time of his choosing. Confident that she made the right choice, she discovers that Jacks turned the wedding party to stone. Feeling guilty, she volunteers to take their place. Luckily, her time as a statue is short lived, and through some miscommunication, she’s hailed a hero since no one, except for Jacks, knew that she was the cause of the disastrous wedding. When Evangeline is given the chance to journey to the north, she accepts and brings her stepsister, hoping it will make up for her ruined wedding and the rumor that she’s a cursed bride. When they arrive at the court of Prince Apollo, who is looking for a wife, Evangeline’s world is turned upside down when Jacks, who is at the ball as well, begins cashing in on their bargain. She fears that her secret will be revealed, realizes that making a bargain with a fate was a huge mistake, and starts to question if true love is worth fighting for after all.

THOUGHTS: Stephanie Garber’s fantastical world, first introduced to readers in Caraval, is filled with eccentric characters, unique fashions, whimsical parties, fairy tale castles, delectable sweets, and curiosities beyond our imaginations. The vivid descriptions will make readers wish they could fall into the pages to experience the magic and wonder for themselves.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Blackout

Clayton, Dhonielle, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon. Blackout.  Harper Collins, 2021. 978-0-063-08809-2. 256 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12

Blackout, a young adult novel for teens, is comprised of six interlinked stories that celebrate Black love and friendship during a citywide power outage. The citywide blackout causes the characters to go into a tailspin. Their friendships and relationships are tested and changed- and in some cases, begin anew. These six short stories are beautifully interconnected, and readers will fall in love with every character in the novel. The reader meets Jacorey (a gay athlete who has yet to come out), Tammi and Kareem (exes who run into each other at a job interview), Nella (who gets a boost of self-confidence from her Grandfather and a new acquaintance), Lana and Tristian (who are lost in the public library), Kayla (who already is in a relationship but may want something different), and Seymour and Grace (who share a ride through the city). All six stories celebrate young love and friendship and are written with authenticity and heart.  

THOUGHTS: What an anthology! Not only is the novel’s premise beautiful, but the characters are so well developed that their voices are shining through on every page. With the collaboration of six of the most influential women in current YA literature, the novel celebrates coming of age in one of the most vibrant cities in the world: New York City! Blackout is also available as an audiobook, which is just fantastic! The only downfall is that the anthology ended. It leaves the reader craving more stories from each of these characters. 

Short Stories          Marie Mengel, Reading SD
Realistic Fiction

A collection of short stories written by acclaimed authors are woven together as each story is set during a blackout during the summer in New York City. Some stories are not completed in one section, but bounce back and forth which could be challenging for some readers to comprehend. Although the flow of some stories isn’t constant, it helps connect all the stories and characters as experiencing something universal: love and a summer night in NYC when the lights are bizarrely out. All stories celebrate love in many diverse ways. The stories almost took on the feel of novellas, as some stories stretched a bit longer with characters that were easy to relate to or to cheer on from the sidelines. The details about New York City are highlighted artfully throughout each story that isn’t often seen in YA fiction. The book ends with bonus content from all six authors that provides further context into their work. 

THOUGHTS: If you already have YA short story collections like Let it Snow on your shelves (or always off your shelves), this is a great addition for high school libraries looking for fiction that tells stories of Black love and LGBTQ+ love without a focus of oppression. 

Short Stories          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD
Realistic Fiction

YA – Down Comes the Night

Saft, Allison. Down Comes the Night. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-62363-8. $18.99. 400 p. Grades 9-12.

Wren Southerland is a healer in the queen’s guard, but when she disobeys orders to heal a young man, she’s dismissed from the guard by her aunt, Queen Isabel. This also separates her from the best friend she’s in love with: Una. As a captain of the queen’s guard and Wren’s superior, Una cannot understand why Wren disobeyed orders, and returns to her post in the guard without her. When Wren receives a letter from Lord Lowry asking her to come to his home, Colwick Hall, to heal one of his servants of a mysterious illness, she decides to accept the position rather than head to the mines as the queen commanded. With the hope that this decision will get her back in the good graces of the queen, she travels to Colwick Hall only to discover that the ill servant is actually Hal Cavendish, the enemy of her kingdom. Known as the reaper, Hal has taken many lives, but like Wren, he’s at Colwick Hall looking for redemption, and together, they discover they may be able to stop the war and save both of their kingdoms from destruction.

THOUGHTS: Down Comes the Night is perfect for readers looking for a standalone fantasy. Saft’s tale is also a dark, gothic romance. Wren is grieving the loss of one relationship while discovering another, and even though Wren possesses the power to heal through magic, readers will still be able to connect with her as she struggles to please her aunt while staying true to herself as she discovers her place in the world.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Your Heart, My Sky

Engle, Margarita. Your Heart, My Sky. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 208 pp. 978-1-5344-64964 $18.99 Grades 9-12.

Engle focuses on a difficult time in Cuba’s history lived through by her own relatives. Euphemistically named by the government as “the special period in times of peace,” the 1990s are in reality a time of starvation. Strict rules keep Cubans from growing their own food; U.S. embargo limits trade; and most recently, Russia has dropped its promised support of the Communist nation, leaving commoners struggling for daily food and afraid to speak out, knowing that retribution comes in the form of limited opportunities, fewer rations, prison or death. Two young people, Liana and Amado, find their hunger gives them strength to defy the government-required summer volunteer work, even as they dread the consequences. Amado’s older brother is in prison for speaking out against the government. Liana is befriended by a ‘singing dog’ Paz who becomes her daily companion in search of food, and the dog brings her and Amado together. The two fall in love and consider their limited future options. Leave the island for the dangerous attempt to reach Miami? Or remain in their homeland to share and fight the deprivation with loved ones? Engle’s beautiful verse, and switching between Liana, Amado, and Paz’s voices, gives this novel depth and richness. 

THOUGHTS: Moving words bring to life this time of desperation.       

Historical Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry

Goffney, Joya. Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry. Harper Teen, 2021. 978-0-006-302479-3. 352 p. 17.99. Grades 9-12.

Quinn, a high school senior, keeps lists. Of EVERYTHING. Boys she’d like to kiss, movies with intense rewatchability, things people assume about her. It’s how she copes with life. The notebook in which she keeps her lists is her most treasured possession, and when it goes missing, she panics. Then it gets even worse. Someone posts one of the lists on Instagram, for the whole school to see, and blackmails Quinn into completing her list of fears, or the whole journal will be released. Hot guy Carter, who has decided he doesn’t like Quinn because she’s an oreo – Black on the outside but white on the inside, was the last person to have the journal; he offers to work with Quinn to complete her list and deduct who is holding the journal hostage. While the romance that ensues between the pair may be predictable, the book is about so much more. Quinn and Carter are two of a handful of Black students at a predominately white private school. Although they share some experiences, Carter is quick to point out that wealthy Quinn has a very different life than he does. The plot examines racial issues and stereotypes from a variety of perspectives, and focuses on the value of true friends, who just might be the people you would least expect. Besides facing her fears, Quinn also has to accept that her beloved grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease, and worries that her parents are headed for divorce. All the characters are well developed, and each story arc is satisfyingly wrapped up. This is a superbly well crafted book that is a delight to read.

THOUGHTS:  This will be a huge hit with romance fans, but hand to fans of realistic fiction as well.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Misfit in Love

Ali, S.K. Misfit in Love. Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44275-7. 320 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12. 

It’s two days before her older brother Muhammad marries Sarah, the love of his life, and Janna is looking forward to the arrival of Nuah, who she finally is ready to tell “yes, I like you back.” They’re at her father’s Mystic Lake, IN estate, though Janna has had her own strained relationship with her dad. Due to Sarah finishing her Master’s degree and her family throwing their own official reception next year, wedding plans have been left up to Dad and Muhammad which means Janna has been there helping for weeks. It’s been nice to spend time away from home, even with stepmother Linda and the laddoos, Muhammad and Janna’s half siblings. Janna is excited to see her mom again, however awkward this huge family event may be, but she didn’t count on an attraction to Sarah’s gorgeous cousin, her mother’s distraction with an old friend, and a brooding sad guy who seems to get Janna. Still, she’s determined to reconnect with Nuah who, despite Janna’s best efforts, seems distracted himself. As friends and family arrive for the celebration, Janna experiences a whirlwind of emotions.

THOUGHTS: With appearances by beloved characters from other Ali books, this is a must have addition to high school romance collections.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Rising college freshman Janna has sacrificed a summer internship to help her older brother, Muhammad, prepare for his big, fat Muslim wedding. What started off as a small nikah ceremony has morphed into a blue and gold monstrosity (especially since Sarah, the bride, wants tasteful matte grey and gold). But all of the stress will be worth it to spend time with Nuah, the boy whose friendship got Janna through the aftermath of being assaulted at the mosque last year (Saints and Misfits.) Now Janna is ready to return Nuah’s affection. Only nothing goes according to plan. Nuah seems distant, and keeps talking about a girl he met at college. Janna’s mom shows up for the wedding with an old “friend” with whom she seems very cozy. Muhammad seems determined to pair up Janna with Sarah’s hot cousin, Haytham, and then there’s dark, brooding Layth, who keeps storming in and out of the wedding festivities. What is a girl to do? Despite appearances, this book is more than a light-hearted romantic romp. While Janna’s divorced parents are both Muslim, her mother is Egyptian and her father Indian-American. When Janna confronts her father about his not-so-subtle attempts to caution her about getting involved with Nuah, who is Black, he defends his position by discussing the stress, potentially contributing to their divorce, on his relationship with Janna’s mother because of their culturally different backgrounds. Members of Sarah’s Syrian family constantly scorn Muhammad’s mixed heritage as not as “good” as being Syrian. The book explores various prejudices and racial tensions within what an outsider might consider a cohesive culture. Janna is angry and appalled at her beloved father’s attitudes and prejudices, but the book ends with the family planning to confront their biases and attend an anti-racism seminar. Adam and Zayneb, from Ali’s Love from A to Z make a cameo appearance at the wedding. All major characters are Muslim, of various ethnicities.

THOUGHTS: This romance, set in the American Muslin culture, highlights the varied shades of prejudice. Readers unfamiliar with Muslim customs should enjoy the introduction and may find themselves Googling pictures of burkinis to understand Janna’s embarrassment early in the book.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Love Is a Revolution

Watson, Renee. Love Is a Revolution. Bloomsbury YA, 2021. 978-1-547-60060-1. 304 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

Nala agrees to attend an open mic night with her cousin, not really expecting to find love. She meets Tye Brown, an activist and Nala is… not; Tye wants to spend his summer doing community service, and Nala wants to hang out and try new ice cream flavors. Nala makes the decision to tell a couple white lies to Tye, and that ends up spiraling into something she did not expect. Will Nala come clean to the guy of her dreams or keep the lies going? The best part about this novel is the body positivity and Nala’s friend group. While this is a YA romance, there is a larger message about being true to yourself and loving yourself for who you are.

THOUGHTS: I adored everything about this book and these characters. I loved the way Renee Watson develops her characters, and her writing style makes this book so easy to read. Highly recommended for any high school collection.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – The Gravity of Us

Stamper, Phil. The Gravity of Us. Bloomsbury YA, 2020. 978-1-547-60014-4. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Everyone’s lives are more visible to others than they used to be. Cal Lewis knows that best because he is always live streaming news and weekend updates from his homebase in Brooklyn. His life gets viewed from a different angle when his dad is selected as the final candidate for NASA’s Mars exploration project that is highly covered by a reality television company. From leaving his best friend at a critical time to meeting other AstroKids while continuing to cultivate media communication plans for his own content and others, this sweet story is representative and hits on woes of being a 21st century teen. Stamper does a fantastic job of illustrating why Mars exploration is an important endeavor, whether publicly or privately funded.

THOUGHTS: If you have room on your coming of age shelf, this is a great addition for your space nerds, LBGTQ+ community, and anyone who is looking for a fresh take on being a teen in the roaring 2020s.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Rossi, Veronica. Rebel Spy. Delacorte, 2020. 978-1-524-77122-5. 348 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

When Frannie Tasker’s abusive stepfather announces it is time for her to take her dead mother’s place in the household, she knows she has to escape her brutal life with him as a salvage diver on Grand Bahama Island. Fate intervenes by way of a fatal shipwreck, and a dead young woman who looks similar to Frannie. A quick change of clothes, (and a bout of “trauma-induced” mutism until she can polish her vocabulary and manners) and she becomes Emmeline Coates, wealthy British heiress on her way to America, during the height of the Revolution. She gradually adapts to her new life, family and friends, and even catches the eye of a handsome British officer. But a chance encounter with American rebel Asa Lane, who befriended Frannie on the voyage to New York and coached her in the ways of society women, shakes her out of her comfortable lifestyle. Utilizing her position in Loyalist society, Frannie begins spying for the Americans, passing along information she overhears during teas and dinner parties. But spying is a dangerous game,and Frannie is risking everything, including her new life and persona. Will Emmeline, or Frannie, survive? Based on the unknown identity of a member of the famous Revolutionary War Culper spy ring, Rossi creates a story for female agent 355. Meticulous research brings to life events of the war, many less familiar than those learned in history class, highlighting the little-emphasized contributions of women patriots.

THOUGHTS: A well-constructed combination of mystery, romance, and history featuring a strong, intelligent female main character, Rebel Spy is perfect for historical fiction fans, readers seeking an adventure story, or period romance readers.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Me & Mama

Cabrera, Cozbi A. Me & Mama. Denene Millner Books, 2020. $17.99. 978-1-534-45421-7. 32 p. Grades PreK-1. 

A young girl walks readers through an average day spent with her loving Mama. On the end paper, a series of mother/daughter still-life objects are presented: a large wooden spoon alongside a smaller version; a red bicycle and a tricycle; a knit winter cap next to one with fuzzy ears and pigtails. Through this series of objects, the reader gets a glimpse of the young girl’s admiration for her mother as she points out their similarities and differences in a distinctly wondrous and childlike way. Over breakfast she shares how Mama’s dainty tea cup “goes clink, clink, clink with a spoon” while her red sippy cup “goes duh, duh” yet together they sing like a chorus for their morning ritual. Later, she tells readers that Mama’s red rain boots are “bigger than my yellow ones” following up with an explanation that their dog, Max,“doesn’t wear boots.” After a day of errands and rain puddles, Mama reads a story and tucks in the girl and her brother, Luca. Although her brother seems to fall asleep immediately, the young narrator has just enough time to reflect on the day and familial love as she too drifts off. Stunning full-bleed acrylic illustrations feature detailed portraits of Mama, Luca, and the young girl with their beautiful varying shades of rich Brown skin and dark hair worn in a variety of styles throughout the day.

THOUGHTS: This lovely picture book immortalizes the precious mundane moments that make up a relationship between mother and daughter. Papa and brother Luca are also mentioned throughout, creating a snapshot day in the life of one happy family.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD