YA – What’s Not to Love

Wibberley, Emily, and Austin Siegemund-Broka. What’s Not to Love. Viking, 2021. 978-1-984-83586-4. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Straight-laced, straight-A student Alison competes for everything in high school – top grades, club and activity leadership, and even community service. As senior year comes to an end, Alison begins to realize she hasn’t really taken the time to enjoy anything, but it all is a means to her end goal: acceptance into Harvard. Pushing her at everything is fellow valedictorian competition Ethan Molloy. Alison and Ethan have a toxic competition, always checking to see who scores the highest grade and having crazy competitions called “blitzes” to see who finishes a test first. Then the principal assigns these top two the task of co-planning a previous class’s 10-year reunion and dangles a Harvard recommendation if they can pull off the reunion. Competition reaches a new high, and despite being completely annoyed at times, Alison realizes she might kind of like Ethan as more than a competitor and maybe even as more than and friend. But where does that leave their competition, and who will get the Harvard recommendation?

THOUGHTS: Written by husband and wife YA romance duo, readers will enjoy the banter of Alison and Ethan even if they can’t completely relate. Fans of opposites attract or enemies to lovers stories will enjoy this competitive, steamy romance. A purchase for high school libraries where realistic romance or other titles by these authors are popular.

Romance           Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Fuzzy, Inside & Out: A Story about Small Acts of Kindness and Big Hair

Ohora, Zachariah. Fuzzy, Inside & Out: A Story about Small Acts of Kindness and Big Hair. Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-75190-5 p. 40. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Fuzzy Haskins is the best kind of friend. He has a huge heart and spreads cheer and goodwill everywhere he goes in his neighborhood. His community counts on him, and he is loved and adored by his neighbors. Fuzzy is active and fast-thinking, but his one challenge is his unruly hair! It takes two blow dryers to dry completely, and the humidity is most definitely his enemy! Author Zachariah Ohora depicts Fuzzy as the excellent character he is, both inside and out, in his picture book Fuzzy, Inside & Out. When Fuzzy gets into a dilemma of his own, it’s up to the community that relies on him to come through and help him out of his own predicament. As they say, “it takes a village,” and Fuzzy’s village is full of heart and resilience too. 

THOUGHTS: It is always a gem when a story oozes love and big-hearted acts of kindness, but it is even more delicious when the characters exude coolness and confidence. Fuzzy may have excessive hair that gets in the way, but it works for him, as does his everyday acts of generosity towards his friends and community. This adorable picture book is enjoyable to read!  Readers will want a friend like Fuzzy or be inspired to BE a friend like Fuzzy! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

YA – Never Saw You Coming

Hahn, Erin. Never Saw You Coming. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-76124-8. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

Upon learning that she’s been lied to her entire life, eighteen-year-old Meg flees her hometown to find herself in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While Meg tries to process her feelings and question her beliefs, she meets Micah who has his own reasons to question his faith as well. Meg, a former church youth group leader and church camp counselor, struggles to accept the strict Christian way her mom raised her when it comes out that her mom’s own teen years were not so pure. Even with the church’s conservative views on modesty, purity, abstinence education, and homosexuality, Meg still strongly values her faith and belief in God. And she has to reconcile her feelings. Micah, who idolized his father before he was caught in a sexual misconduct and embezzling scandal, has shunned his beliefs and struggles to find forgiveness for his father’s mistakes. Life in the church community his dad demolished hasn’t been easy for Micah. Both feeling wronged by the families they trusted, Meg and Micah become fast friends then more than friends, and their relationship gives them the space to process their hurt feelings, questioned beliefs, and church teachings. Told in alternating narratives, teen readers will love this sweet romance that addresses the core of one’s beliefs and values.

THOUGHTS: This story is a personal one for Hahn, and she well represents the struggles that teens of faith may face. With honesty and care for the topics, Hahn addresses the church’s hypocrisy in a way that will help teens consider their own feelings. Highly recommended for high school collections.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, SD

YA – 10 Truths and a Dare

Elston, Ashley. 10 Truths and a Dare. Disney-Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-368-06238-1. 291 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.

Olivia is a focused and ambitious top student, selected to be her class salutatorian. In order to take all of those extra AP classes to earn that spot, she opted to take a golf class outside of school, figuring it was a quick and easy “A”. Now it is the week before graduation, the traditional themed parties for graduation are gearing up, and Olivia and her classmates are looking forward to all of the celebrations. That is when she gets the surprising news that her golf instructor is refusing to sign off on her PE credit, because she rarely attended or participated in classes. She strikes a  deal with him to earn that credit by working all graduation week at the college recruiting tournament for high school athletes. She has to hide this looming disaster from her large Italian family and her classmates at school and with the help of her cousins and friends she is able to. Her week of hard work, over-commitment, and exhaustion brings her an understanding of the value of family, friendship, integrity, and honesty, and also the possibility of romance with an unlikely partner.  

THOUGHTS: A second title by the author of 10 Blind Dates, recommend this for students looking for a light-hearted, PG read.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Elem. – Norman Didn’t Do It!

Higgins, Ryan T. Norman Didn’t Do it! DisneyHyperion, 2021. 978-136802623-9 p. 48. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Norman! Adorable, wide-eyed, prickly Norman is a porcupine with a tree as a best friend. Mildred is the best kind of friend that Norman could ever hope for in a tree. They have a shared history, and their friendship is a fun adventure, each day filled with love and companionship. However, Norman’s friendship with Mildred feels threatened when someone new enters their world. Norman experiences an array of big emotions such as anxiety, jealousy, impulsiveness, and fear. These big emotions lead to a reaction that Norman is not proud to admit; however, his unconditional love for his best friend may help to change his perspective about his friendship. Is it possible that Norman will be able to understand his big emotions? Will he be able to find a way to expand his friendship circle and allow more love into his life? Grab this picture book and find out! 

THOUGHTS: Norman Didn’t Do It! is exactly what you would expect from a Ryan T. Higgins picture book: belly laughs and wit. Readers will understand what Norman is experiencing with the relatable storyline and perfect illustrations. Friendships are not easy, especially when there are unexpected influences from others. Remarkably, readers witness Norman make a mistake but take proactive steps to make it right. Norman Didn’t Do It by Ryan T Higgins is a gem! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

YA – The Queen Will Betray You

Henning, Sarah. The Queen Will Betray You. Tor Teen, 2021. 978-1-250-23746-0. $17.99. 368 p. Grades 8-12.

Princess Amarande and her true love, Luca, have finally been reunited. However, in order to save the Kingdoms, they must part. Luca, no mere stable boy anymore, must fulfill his role and lead a rebellion against the tyrant war lord. Meanwhile, Amarande returns to her kingdom to find that her mother, the runaway queen, has taken control through her brother, the newly crowned King Ferdinand. Desperate, Amarande unwillingly accepts the help of her enemy, Prince Tallifer, in order to escape her mother and defy the queen’s plotting for control over the kingdoms. Her love for Luca and for her people motivate her to keep going, even when all seems lost and betrayal lurks around every corner.

THOUGHTS: The Queen will betray you, but which queen? This was an immensely enjoyable and action packed follow up to The Princess Will Save You, loosely based upon The Princess Bride, and the story does not end here! The cliff hanger will leave readers impatiently waiting for the release of The King Will Kill You to find out the fate of the Kingdoms of Sand and Sky and if true love really does prevail.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – Home Is…

Barnaby, Hannah. Home Is… Beach Lane Books. 2021. 978-1-5344-2176-9. $17.99. Gr. PreK-3.

Home is many things to many different people and creatures. Home can be small or big, above or below, cold or warm. Home can be any place one calls its own. With beginning lyrical text, this picture book shows young readers how home is where a person (or animal) loves to be and how that is different for all creatures.

THOUGHTS: This book contains detailed pictures to share how homes are different for all creatures. With simple text, this book can provide instructors with a simple resource to discuss home, nature, environment, or a variety of topics within a curriculum.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

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