YA FIC – Beartown; The Closest I’ve Come; Perfect Mexican Daughter; Dark Breaks the Dawn

Backman, Fredrick. Beartown. Atria Books, 2017. 978-1501160769. 432 p. $26.99. Gr. 10 and up.

I am not an avid sports fan, but Fredrick Backman’s latest novel is about so much more than just a little hockey town in Sweden and the goal of having their club win the junior championship. Though not marketed necessarily to teens, it would be an engrossing read for young men and women alike as it touches on many different issues that they face as young adults. The main plot centers on the relationships between the players, the coaches, the general manager and his family, various sponsors and other community members. The town’s devotion to the local hockey club borders on the fanatical, and some begin to question their allegiance once a violent act takes place and becomes known to the town. Thus, there are multiple characters, but each is so unique that the reader does not have trouble navigating through their various lives.  Backman is a masterful storyteller.  The novel surprises the reader constantly, especially after starting out a bit predictable. The themes are strung together and fall perfectly throughout the plot, as the characters and their actions keep you engrossed until the end. THOUGHTS: I highly recommend this title to mature teens who will take time to contemplate the various actions of the characters. There is drinking, sex, and some violence, so make certain that you are sharing it with the appropriate audience.

Sports      Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy

 

Aceves, Fred.  The Closest I’ve Come. Harper Teen, 2017.  978-0-06-248853-4. 310 p. $15.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Marcus Rivera is growing up in a dysfunctional home in Tampa with his distant mother and her abusive boyfriend.  The family is barely getting by, and Marcos is not getting most of his basic needs met at home.  Though he has his crew of friends who have his back at school and in the rough neighborhood where they live, he still feels lonely and disconnected.  When Marcos is selected to join a support group for troubled kids with potential, he meets some new friends who open up new perspectives to him. The Closet I’ve Come is a thoughtful and moving story about resilience, friendship and the search for belonging.  It touches on the some dark topics including abuse, poverty and the appeal of drugs that trouble the rough neighborhood of Maesta.  Marcus’ ruminations about these realities are enlightening , but also humorous at times and readers will be rooting for Marcos to realize his potential.  THOUGHTS: A positive novel about overcoming difficult circumstances that would appeal to fans of Walter Dean Myers,  Jason Reynolds and Matt DeLa Pena.

Realistic Fiction         Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Sanchez, Erika L. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 978-1-52-470048-5. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Julia is outspoken, impulsive, and confrontational. More than anything, she wants to move out of her parents house, go to college in New York City, and become a famous writer. Her parents, who immigrated from Mexico, do not understand why Julia isn’t more like her older sister Olga. Olga attends a local community college, lives at home, and comes home every night to help her mother and father around the house. Julia can’t help who she is, and can’t do anything to show her parents that she will never be a perfect daughter like Olga. When Olga is hit and killed by a bus, the thin string holding the family together is completely broken. Julia’s mother spends days in bed, her father refuses to speak, and Julia is left picking up the pieces of her broken family. But Julia is deeply affected by her sister’s death too, and sadness spirals into deep depression. When Julia can’t sleep, she sneaks into Olga’s room and discovers a few items that reveal Olga might have been hiding a secret before her death, and Julia focuses her limited energy on discovering who her sister was – and why she was hiding it from her family. THOUGHTS: This book expertly explores many tough issues like abuse, immigration, suicide, and gang violence in an authentic teen voice. Julia’s story, while difficult, is one that belongs on your YA shelves.

Contemporary     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Larson, Sara B.. Dark Breaks the Dawn. Scholastic, 2017. 978-1-3380-6869-6. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Sara B. Larson’s Dark Breaks the Dawn is a fast-paced, dark YA romance based on the story of Swan Lake. In order to save Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom from King Bain, the nefarious and ruthless ruler of Dorjhalon, the Dark Kingdom, newly crowned Queen Evelayn must do what her parents could not – end the war between the kingdoms. In both kingdoms, children come into their full magical abilities at age eighteen – those in Eadrolan can harness the power of light, and are at full strength at the summer solstice; those in Darjhalon can harness the dark, and are at their full strength during the winter solstice. Evelayn is not only new to her powers, but also new to ruling a kingdom. With the help of her advisors, and her too-good-to-be-true love interest, Lord Tanvir, she concocts a plan to trap King Bain and kill him. Meanwhile, over in Dorjhalon, Bain’s son, Lorcan, raised in the shadows of his father’s wrath and cruelty, seems to have plans of his own. THOUGHTS: There is very little character development here (the good guys are really good, the bad guys are really bad), and there are some gaping plot holes (for example, if Bain is truly 300 years old, why wait until now to make war against Eadrolan?), but readers probably won’t care, because this action-packed, slim novel will suck them in, and the ending will leave them begging for the next installment. Hand this to fans of Sarah J. Mass and Leigh Bardugo.

Fantasy      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

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

YA FIC – I Never; The Way It Hurts

Hopper, Laura. I Never. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-328-66378-8. 304 p. Gr. 10 and up.

When Janey’s parents announce their divorce while on a fabulous vacation, her world is rocked. She used to know who she was, but now she’s not so sure. Add in golden boy Luke Hallstrom, and Janey realizes she has a lot to learn. Self-confidence becomes an issue Janey never realized she had as she experiences many firsts. Navigating uncharted territories (for her), Janey learns how to be who she wants with her family, her friends, and her boyfriend.   THOUGHTS: As an adult who works in a high school, I was uncomfortable at times while reading this book. I’m not saying I’m totally naive about what goes on, but I don’t necessarily want to read the details. Saying this book doesn’t shy away from the details is an understatement. Though I’ve never read it, Judy Blume’s Forever has stood the test of time as a challenged modern classic. I recommend you read I Never and gauge your audience before adding it to your school library. Descriptions of casual sex make this more suited for mature readers.  

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Blount, Patty. The Way It Hurts. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1-492-63278-8. 352 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Dual narrators Eli and Kristen could not be more opposite. Eli is trying to jumpstart his rock career in a band while Kristen stars in her high school musical. Together they take center stage in the back and forth banter of social media misunderstanding.  Off the stage, both teens are dealing with issues in their own lives.  Eli is a protective brother to his autistic sister, while Kristen is navigating some issues with her family. When Kristen tries to diversify her musical resume by joining Eli’s band, sparks fly but not always in a good way.  THOUGHTS: I have enjoyed several of Blount’s character-driven books. Readers looking for a little music, a few family issues, and some social media drama will enjoy this one. As Eli and Kristen navigate their new fame and friendship, they each have some growing up to do and some big decisions to make about the future.   

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District