YA – 10 Blind Dates; Brave Face; The Institute; Let Me Hear a Rhyme; Lucky Caller

Elston, Ashley. 10 Blind Dates. Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-02749-6. 327 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.

With the Christmas holiday fast approaching, Louisiana senior Sophie finds herself unexpectedly (and unhappily) single after her boyfriend, Griffin, breaks up with her. Her parents are away, tending to Sophie’s very pregnant older sister, so she heads to Shreveport to nurse her broken heart in the company of her grandparents and large, boisterous extended family. Nonna decides to cheer up her granddaughter by organizing family members to set Sophie up on ten blind dates. Each chapter in this delightful rom-com covers a day and a date; they range from sweet (a Festival of Lights) to embarrassing (a Nativity scene with Sophie and her date in the roles of Mary and Joseph) to very public (a Kiss Cam!) as Sophie navigates ten days and ten dudes. In the meantime, Sophie’s sister delivers her baby prematurely, Griffin wants her back, and Sophie realizes that the one date she really wants is the one she will never have … or will she? With plenty of holiday cheer and a loving, eccentric family that always provides a soft place to fall, this ultra-fresh romance will look perfect under the tree!

THOUGHTS: I fell head over heels for Ashley Elston’s remarkable (and under-rated) The Lying Woods, and I highly recommend a date with her newest novel!

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Hutchinson, Shaun David. Brave Face: A Memoir. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-43151-5. 356 p. $18.99. Grades 9+.

In his compelling memoir, Brave Face, prolific young adult author Shaun David Hutchinson recounts his teenage years and his experiences with identifying as queer, coming out, and depression. Growing up in Florida in the 1990s, Hutchinson internalized many of the stereotypes and misconceptions about gay people that were common at the time. He despised and dreaded every future he could envision for himself, all involving a terrifying combination of risky sex, AIDS, drugs, hate crimes, and a flamboyant persona. In his own words, “I was trying to see a future for myself where I could be gay without being a fag.” Lonely, frustrated, and angry, he punched walls, cut, and burned himself to vent his pain as his depression deepened, accompanied by a sharp fear of abandonment by his friends and family and he began to come out to them. As his depression whispered that this bleak existence was the one he deserved, he became suicidal. Brave Face is, indeed, a brave book. Hutchinson openly reveals the “shape and texture” of his pain. It’s also a great time capsule of a 1990s adolescence: Tori Amos CDs, dial-up, and a part-time job at Waldenbooks in the mall. 

THOUGHTS: The author deftly meshes journal entries, a frank depiction of his self-hatred, and his sly sense of humor with his vantage point “from the light at the other end of the tunnel” to create a most worthwhile read.

Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


King, Stephen. The Institute. Scribner, 2019. 978-1-982-11056-7. 561 p. $30.00. Grades 10+.

Luke Ellis is a smart kid, a really smart kid. The 12-year old student at the Broderick School for Exceptional Children in Minneapolis is ready to start two college programs … and he can move objects with his mind. This telekinetic ability brings him, through a violent turn of events, to the Institute in rural Maine, where special children like Luke are subjected to weeks of tests in Front Half before being moved to Back Half. There a mysterious but dire fate awaits the residents. No one has ever escaped the Institute; no one is quite as smart as Luke, either. Stephen King’s harrowing depiction of Luke’s and his fellow captives’ experiences, complete with sadistic medical treatments, taps into a classic horror vein. The parallel story of erstwhile police officer Tim Jamieson and his arrival in DuPray, South Carolina, eventually intertwines with Luke’s, leading to a literally ground-shaking showdown between the forces of good and evil (or so they seem).

THOUGHTS: What could make a Stephen King book even more appealing to young adults? A cast of characters made up mostly of pre-teens and adolescents! With plenty of Stephen King’s trademark self-referential Easter eggs, The Institute is a great read for budding horror fans of all ages who have the patience for a slow but highly satisfying boil.

Fiction (Crossover / Horror)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley


Jackson, Tiffany D. Let Me Hear a Rhyme. Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-84032-5. 376 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.

Late 1990s. Bed-Stuy, Brooklynn, New York. Tupac is dead. Biggie Smalls is dead. Stephon Davis is dead. After the murder of their best friend, Quadir and Jarrell are determined to immortalize Steph through his music. With the help of Steph’s sister, Jasmine, the three create a rap album to promote Steph’s previously recorded songs. When a major record label contacts “The Architect,” Steph’s rap name, to set up a meeting, Quadir and Jarrell formulate a plan to promote Steph’s music without him or Jasmine. As their lies and deceit grow bigger and bigger, the two friends must face the truth and the possibility that fighting to immortalize Steph might just be what kills him again. With the continued secrets and lies, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine must face their own stories and come to terms with the Steph’s murder and their possible involvement. 

THOUGHTS: Tiffany D. Jackson once again crafts a beautiful novel of friendship, love, and what-ifs.  Each friend must grapple with their own actions and interactions that led to Steph’s death while trying to come to terms with his murder and their need for their friend. This is a must-have for all high school collections as are all of Jackson’s novels.  

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Mills, Emma. Lucky Caller. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-17965-4. $17.99. 336 p. Grades 8+. 

Nina took the radio broadcasting class for a fun “A” in her final semester at her Indianapolis-area high school. Whether she consciously realizes it or not, she is going to need something positive to keep her mind off her changing family dynamics – her mom is getting remarried, and as a result, she and her sisters will probably move to a new house with their mom and future stepdad, Dan the dentist (who they jokingly call “the Dantist”). But when childhood family friend Jamie ends up in the radio broadcasting class as well, he turns what was supposed to be a fun class into a complicated minefield of awkward interactions and bittersweet memories resurfacing. And that does not even take into consideration their group’s squabbling over everything from their show’s format to its name and their individual roles. In a desperate attempt to solve their problems and increase their listeners – and thus their grades – the group hatches a brilliant plan that involves Nina and her sort-of famous DJ dad out on the west coast. He’ll have to actually follow through for a change in order for it to work. 

THOUGHTS: When it comes to YA contemporary, Emma Mills never fails. Lucky Caller tackles all the typical coming-of-age themes and does it while evoking both emotional tears and knee-slapping laughter. Her narrator’s voice is authentic and contains the biting sometimes dark wit her readers know and love. Mills’ novels always do justice to intimate teen friendships, and this one in particular is full of nostalgia that will take readers back to their tween years when it was still ok to play and imagine, yet it also explores how difficult it is to navigate changing relationships as one moves into high school and eventual adulthood. And the 90’s music is the icing on the cake.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

MG – Wildheart; Soaring Earth; A Circle of Elephants; Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse; Lizzy Legend; The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA; Searching for Lottie

Bertagna, Julie, and William Goldsmith, Illustrator. Wildheart: The Daring Adventures of John Muir. Yosemite Conservancy, 2019. 978-1-930-23893-0. 128 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

As a boy in Dunbar, Scotland, John Muir was sent to school in 1841 when he was just three years old, but he longed to be outside, playing and learning amongst the wild things that he loved. Years later, after a family move to Wisconsin, an eye injury nearly robbed John of his sight but inspired his true calling: exploring and preserving nature. As part of his campaign to protect America’s forests and natural features, he co-founded the Sierra Club and helped to create our National Parks. He also went camping with President Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite for four days in 1903, inspiring “Teddy” to preserve 148 million acres of land! William Goldsmith’s rough, energetic sketches are appropriately tinted in natural shades of rust, moss green, berry, and ice-blue. The characters’ body postures imply the mood and action more distinctly than any detailed facial expressions (which are generally lacking). A handful of Scottish expressions may confuse readers (e.g., “Ta” for thanks) but ample context clues and a helpful Glossary will assist in deciphering them. 

THOUGHTS: This middle-grade graphic biography of the first modern environmentalist, told in a first-person voice, will inspire readers to cherish our precious planet, and to take action to protect it! John Muir’s legacy is a treasured reminder that “We are part of nature, and its wild heart is part of us.” Additional information for interested readers is available at the webpage for the John Muir National Historic Site

Graphic Novel / Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Engle, Margarita. Soaring Earth. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-42953-6. $18.99. 192 p. Grades 7+.

Margarita’s idealism and longing to see the world are described beautifully in verse in this companion memoir to Enchanted Air. In this book Margarita is now a young adult in high school and beyond. It is set during the tumultuous Vietnam War Era, and the war and protests, Civil Rights movement, moon landing, and the Grape boycott and strike are described. Although younger readers might not have the knowledge to fully appreciate those historic events, Margarita’s struggle with fitting in and finding out who she is will resonate with everyone. Margarita finds herself at ground-zero of the hippie/free speech movement when she enrolls at UC Berkeley for college. She struggles with her fears of not being perfect, especially with her writing, and she finds out that the prestigious university turns out not to be a great fit for her which leads to her dropping out and drifting around CA and NY on a path of self-discovery. Her longing to travel the world, especially her beloved Cuba, which has been closed to her due to the Cold War, and the prejudices she experiences due to her Cuban heritage are also examined. Margarita Engle is the 2017-2019 Young People’s Poet Laureate.

THOUGHTS: It isn’t necessary to have read Enchanted Air to appreciate this beautifully written novel in verse. It would be perfect to use for a social studies book club during a 1960s unit.

Memoir; Verse          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Dinerstein, Eric. A Circle of Elephants. Disney Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-01658-2. $16.99. 260 p. Grades 4-8.

13-year old Nandu, a Tibetan, was found as a two-year old orphaned in the jungle being guarded by a pack of dhole (a type of wild dog). He was adopted by Subba-Sahib, the good man who runs the Royal Elephant Breeding Center at the edge of the Borderlands in Nepal. Nandu has a special relationship and empathy with the animals of the jungle but he considers the tusker, Hira Prishad, the bull elephant he oversees, his brother. The story of Nandu and the horrors of the Ivory Trade is described in such a beautiful and realistic way that it is easy to forget that this is a work of fiction. The earthquake at the beginning of the book is a bad omen: the harbinger of drought and the return of Maroons (poachers) who are looking for ivory in the tusks and horns of the elephants and rhinos. In addition to the mutilation of animals for their ivory, there is a side story about young girls being sold into slavery (it is not explicit sex slavery, but it is implied) which may be difficult for younger middle grade readers. The book examines the relationship between humans and other animals and as Nandu believes “that our purpose in life is to look out for each other.”

THOUGHTS: This book will enlighten the reader about the evils of poaching and how it is possible for people to have meaningful relationships with animals, especially elephants. A Circle of Elephants is the sequel to What Elephants Know but it wasn’t necessary to have read that story to enjoy this book. This beautifully written story would be a great addition to any library.

Realistic Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Vaught, Susan.  Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-42501-9. 309 p. $17.99. Grades 5 and up.

Jesse is not like the other kids in her middle school – she’s extremely temperamental, with a proclivity towards hitting people she dislikes; she doesn’t always bathe on a regular basis; she’s “on the spectrum”; and her mother is a Master Sergeant stationed overseas in Iraq. Needless to say, she’s not the most popular girl in school, which doesn’t bother her in the least. What does bother her, however, is the group of bullies – Rykyer (aka: Jerkface), Chris, and Trisha (aka: the cockroaches) – who harass her on a daily basis and never seem to get in trouble for it. When Jesse’s father, a teacher at the high school, is arrested and accused of stealing money for the library fund, Jesse, along with new kid, Springer, take it upon themselves to investigate. Springer is Jesse’s foil – a big, non-confrontational, soft-spoken boy who doesn’t believe in violence. They share a love of puzzles, outside the box thinking, and Sam-Sam, Jesse’s beloved Pomeranian. Jesse pushes Springer to fight for what he believes in, and Springer grounds Jesse when she goes into a panic spiral; in fact, he’s one of the only people in her life that truly seems to accept her exactly as she is. Vaught has created two very different, yet equally compelling, protagonists; it is easy to feel Jesse’s anger and frustration towards her bullies, as well as Springer’s kindness and compassion when he stands up for Jesse. Equally well-drawn are Jesse’s mother, who instills in Jesse a deep well of inner strength, and Jesse’s great-aunt Gus, who spends the majority of the book exasperating Jesse’s father. Though Jesse’s bullies come off more as caricatures than three-dimensional characters, and their antics become disturbingly malevolent in tone and action, they serve to further Jesse and Springer’s resolve, as well as their bond; their friendship is truly the grounding force in this middle-grade novel, and readers will find themselves rooting heartily for both of them.

THOUGHTS: A perfect novel for outside the box thinkers, lovers of mysteries, and literally kick-butt female protagonists. With absolutely no romance, and a beautifully crafted platonic friendship between members of the opposite sex, this is a book that you can comfortably hand to a 9 year old, as well as a 14 year old.

Realistic Fiction         Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Smith, Matthew Ross. Lizzy Legend. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-42024-3. 236 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

13-year-old Lizzy Trudeaux loves basketball and spends hours each day practicing her ball-handling and shooting skills. One day, she receives a mysterious phone call from a robot asking her what her wish is, and she wishes to never miss another shot. When this dream surprisingly comes true, she finds herself signing a contract to play for the Philadelphia Bells, a nearby professional basketball team. It’s not long before she becomes a media sensation. Will she, however, be able to continue her dominant performance when her wish is reversed? A fast-paced sports fantasy, this title will resonate particularly with young female athletes.

THOUGHTS: While the premise of this story is a bit unbelievable, the relatable characters, encouraging message, and fast pace of the story make this a solid selection for middle school collections. Lizzy may have gotten to where she is with a little help from her wish, but she is an extremely hard worker regardless. She’s also tough and courageous, putting her heart and soul out on the court even after her wish is reversed. Lizzy is definitely a role model for young girls, showing that with a little hard work and determination, they can do anything they set their minds to. The short chapters are broken up by interviews and imaginative social media posts throughout the story, making the book very accessible to young readers.

Fantasy Fiction (Sports)           Julie Ritter, PSLA


Woods, Brenda. The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019. 978-1-524-73709-2. 194 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Twelve-year-old Gabriel Haberlin, white resident of the small, post-WWII town of Birdsong, South Carolina, is ecstatic when he receives a brand new Schwinn bicycle for his birthday. On his very first ride, however, he runs a red light and is nearly struck by a car and killed. Luckily, Meriwether Hunter, an African American veteran, pushes him out of the way just in time. Feeling indebted to Meriwether, Gabriel convinces his father to offer Meriwether a job at his auto shop. The two soon become friends, and Meriwether teaches Gabriel to view the world through the eyes of others.  In doing so, Gabriel witnesses the unfairness and powerlessness experienced by African Americans living under Jim Crow laws in the segregated South, and for the first time in his life, he begins to question the way of the world. A realistic and thought-provoking coming-of-age story, this book has a lot to teach young readers about the post-WWII South.

THOUGHTS: Use this book in a history class to reinforce topics like segregation,  Jim Crow laws, the 761st Tank Battalion, and the KKK. History buffs will also enjoy simply comparing post-WWII life to life today, as there are plenty of references to prized possessions of the past, including a Buick Roadmaster and a Kodak camera with film. Additionally, this story will appeal to fans of Rita Williams-Garcia. Definitely consider purchasing this authentic, eye-opening work of historical fiction.

Historical Fiction          Julie Ritter, PSLA


Ross, Susan L. Searching for Lottie. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-44166-2. 170 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

When twelve-year-old Charlie must research a family member for a school project, she decides to focus on her namesake, her great aunt Lottie (short for Charlotte). Lottie disappeared during the Holocaust, and because she was Jewish, her family presumes that she was killed. Through her research, Charlie discovers that she and Lottie have a lot in common. They are both sensational violin players, and they could both be described as brave and determined. The more she learns, the more adamant she is to figure out what exactly happened to Lottie. Did she perish during the Holocaust as her family always thought, or did she miraculously survive? Readers will be just as curious as Charlie to solve this puzzle and won’t be able to stop turning the pages until all of their questions are answered.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful selection for middle school readers.  Charlie is an extremely relatable character who experiences many young adolescent norms throughout the story, including sibling rivalry, close friendships, a crush on a boy, and nerves during a musical audition. This would be a great complement to any Holocaust unit, or it could be used to introduce a project on genealogical research. References to Jewish culture present even more opportunities for learning. The short chapters and fast-moving narrative make it easily accessible, and the level of suspense will most certainly make readers want to finish the book. Give this to mystery lovers, history buffs, or students who want to learn more about genealogical research or Jewish culture.

Historical Fiction          Julie Ritter, PSLA

YA – Hot Dog Girl; Every Moment After; Like a Love Story; Bloom; The River; Rough Magic; Between the Water and the Woods; Cyber Nation; The Raven’s Tale; Tell Me Everything; You Must Not Miss; Never Caught; You Owe Me a Murder; Love from A to Z; Serious Moonlight

Dugan, Jennifer. Hot Dog Girl. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. 978-0-525-51625-5. $18.99. 320 p. Grades 8 and up.

The summer before senior year should be carefree and fun-filled, but Elouise (Lou) Parker’s summer is off to an awful start. Magic Castle, the amusement park she has frequented since childhood and has worked at since last year, has announced this summer will be its last. To add insult to injury, Lou gets stuck with one of the worst jobs in the park. Again. She’ll play the role of the dancing Hot Dog Girl in the food court. The unflattering, hot, vomit-inducing costume is yet another reminder that she is just not crush-worthy. Her feelings for her crush Nick – the Pirate Diver in one of the park’s shows – will never be reciprocated, especially not when he’s dating Jessa, the girl who plays the princess at Magic Castle. Lou decides to revive her summer by secretly scheming to save Magic Castle via some questionable methods and rejuvenating her best friend Seeley’s love life by fixing her up on a date with the perfect girl. Lou’s scheming goes a little far, though, when she involves Seeley in her quest to break up Nick and Jessa. Subplots with family conflicts give the plot a little more substance, as well, but ultimately, this is a solid coming-of-age tale about love and facing inevitable change.

THOUGHTS: Laugh-out-loud funny at times and written in an authentic first-person teen voice, this book will appeal primarily to female readers looking for a fun summer read. The-dying-old-business-that-holds-so-many-childhood-memories-it-must-be-saved plot feels a bit stale, but the complex relationships are what make this book a good addition to teen collections, especially where there is a high demand for LGBTQ titles. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Moldover, Joseph. Every Moment After. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-1-328-54727-9. $17.99. 362 p. Grades 9 and up.

Cole Hewitt and Matt Simpson are well-known in their suburban New Jersey town, but it’s because they are some of just a few survivors of a tragic school shooting that happened in their first grade classroom when 18 of their classmates were killed. And that depends on one’s definition of “survivor;” the only reason – in Matt’s mind – that he survived is because he was home struggling with his diabetes that day. In the years since the shooting, the town has turned into a living memorial. Monuments both large and small pop up everywhere. The diner in town posts every failed gun control bill on its walls. The survivors themselves serve as living reminders, and the boys each handle it differently. Cole is reserved and awkward, not wanting people to recognize him as the boy in the viral photo from the shooting. Matt is wracked with guilt over not being there that day and constantly questions whether or not he is meant to live. Now they are graduating from high school, and a time in life that is scary enough for any teenager is exponentially more complicated for Cole and Matt. They must navigate family, love, and their friendship through the summer after high school carrying with them the after-effects of the tragedy that they will never forget. Told in alternating points of view between Cole and Matt, this book – which is Muldover’s debut novel – will appeal more to male readers, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

THOUGHTS: This book is heavy. Though not graphic, it obviously deals with matters of life and death. Additionally, just as a warning, it contains more offensive language than the average YA. However, the fact that it also deals with typical YA themes like love and friendship with MALE narrators is a huge plus for this book. Cole and Matt’s friendship is real and raw and touching, and this is one of the best male-narrated YA books I’ve read. I find it similar in style and tone to a John Corey Whaley novel. In an English or Social Studies class, this novel would pair well with a non-fiction book about a school shooting or gun control. Moldover focuses on the human element of a tragedy such as this, but still manages to touch on both sides of a deeply personal and passionate political debate without being overly political.

Realistic Fiction           Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Nazemian, Abdi. Like a Love Story. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 978-0-06-283936-7. $17.99. 413 p. Grades 9 and up.

It’s 1989. The AIDS epidemic evokes fear in the gay community, and Madonna’s music is at peak popularity. This is the New York City in which Art, Reza, and Judy live. Reza, originally born in Iran, just moved to Manhattan from Toronto. He and his mom and sister fled from Iran during the revolution, and now his mom is remarried. When he starts school, Reza quickly befriends edgy aspiring fashion designer Judy. Her best friend Art is the only known gay student at school. At first Judy misreads Reza’s fear of Art as homophobia, but Reza’s fears have more to do with himself. Reza’s known for some time he likes boys but is afraid to come out for multiple reasons, namely fear of his Iranian family’s reaction but also of contracting AIDS – which at this time was thought to be a disease that plagued only the gay community. As Reza starts dating Judy, he gets to know Art better and develops a secret crush on him. He also gets to know Judy’s Uncle Stephen who is gay too and suffers from AIDS. Stephen is an activist for AIDS research, and Art and Judy attend meetings and protests with him; eventually, Reza joins them, despite fear of what his parents would think if they found out. Art also introduces Reza to Madonna, and they all bond over their love of her music and the ideas for which she stands. Can Reza keep hiding who he really is – and his feelings for Art? Find out in this funny and moving coming of age novel about self-expression and owning who you are no matter your age, race, gender, or orientation. 

THOUGHTS: This book is more than just an LGBTQ love story. Because of its setting and Uncle Stephen’s position in the ACT UP activist group, it serves as a history lesson on the AIDS crisis and how far gay rights have come in the last 30 years. As a lifelong fan of Madonna, I found her role in this novel and the allusions to her songs particularly enjoyable as well. Current teen readers may not understand or appreciate these references as much, though it may serve as a good education for them on the Queen of Pop (Recently, a student actually asked me if Madonna was even still alive). Excellent addition to any YA collection, and possibly a good supplementary novel for health, history, or any class studying the AIDS crisis. Appealing to not only LGBTQ readers but also anyone fighting discrimination of any kind. The hopeful message to all readers is to “Express Yourself” no matter who your “True Blue” self is!

Historical Fiction           Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Panetta, Kevin, and Savanna Ganucheau. Bloom. First Second, 2019. 978-1-626-72641-3. 351 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Ari Kyrkos wants to move to the city with his bandmates to try and make their music career happen, but his parents want him to stay home and work full-time at their struggling Kyrkos Family Bakery. If he can find a qualified employee to replace him, maybe Ari can move without leaving his family in the lurch. Enter dreamy Hector Galeai, who has just finished his first year at culinary school and is in town to empty his Nana’s house. The boys bond over sourdough rolls, stargazing, and a road trip to the Maryland State Fair. But just when they connect physically, an accident at the bakery and misplaced blame drive them apart. Can Ari swallow his pride and reconnect with the boy he loves, delivering readers a happy-for-now ending to this sweet summer romance?

THOUGHTS: This winning graphic novel in beachy blues and greys is the perfect choice for readers seeking a romance with heart and a realistic conflict that doesn’t hinge on the characters’ sexual identity. Well-developed supporting characters, a recipe, and a playlist round out a delightful read.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Heller, Peter. The River. Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 978-0-525-52187-7. 253 p. $25.95. Grades 10 and up.

Dartmouth students Jack and Wynn, best friends who have just wrapped up a summer working as wilderness instructors in the Adirondacks, are now taking a month-long canoe trip through the lakes leading into the Maskwa River (Canada) and eventually the Hudson Bay. After smelling smoke for two days, they observe a potentially deadly forest fire. They do their best to warn other campers about the fire, including a couple they previously overheard arguing loudly on the lakeshore. But when they find him, the man is alone, injured, and claiming his wife disappeared in the night. Jack and Wynn double back to find her, touching off a chain of events that pits them against their fellow adventurers as well as the elements. This slim novel successfully blends elements of psychological suspense, survival, and transformative journeys. The prose is beautifully austere, with Jack’s and Wynn’s backstories filling in the calm stretches between whitewater and other perils. The River is a literary achievement that’s also a pageturner; it’s as taut as a spring-loaded snare trap! 

THOUGHTS: With main characters in their very early twenties, The River is an excellent crossover selection for readers who enjoy adventure stories with a tinge of menace. Comparable crossover thrillers include Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta and Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin.

Each year, seniors in Ridley High School’s Advanced Placement English Literature class participate in an end-of-year book club during the month between their A.P. exam and graduation. Recent selections include Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann and Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. I will definitely suggest The River as an option for next year’s book club!

Fiction (Crossover)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Prior-Palmer, Lara. Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race. Catapult, 2019. 978-1-948-22619-6. 288 p. $25.00. Grades 9 and up.

When Lara Prior-Palmer was nineteen, she entered the Mongol Derby, touted as the world’s toughest horse race, on a whim, and much to everyone’s surprise, including her own, she won, becoming the first female, and the youngest rider ever to do so. It’s telling that the title of the book uses the adjective “loneliest” rather than “toughest” to describe this race; not once throughout the entire 1,000 kilometer journey does Prior-Palmer allude to the toughness of the experience, while her solitude is palpable. With little hope of winning, let alone finishing the race, Prior-Palmer sets her expectations low, and when she is in close to last place at the end of the first day, it seems like a good plan. It is just this freedom from the trappings of competition, along with her ambivalence towards riding solo, that allows her to move up the ranks. Once she realizes that she’s doing well, however, she doesn’t shy away from her (somewhat shameful) need to remain at the top of the pack. She is an unusual narrator, given to philosophical musings, and starkly honest self-reflection, and writes very much in the vein of the 1950s Beat movement. Just like the race itself, the book is a meandering, introspective, yet gripping, narrative. Peppered throughout are quotes from the Tempest (the only book she brought with her), letters to her mother, Mongolian sayings and cultural references, and poetic descriptions of the landscape. This is not an endorsement for the Derby itself, nor is it a motivational guide to risk-taking and living life to its fullest; it is a no-nonsense, strangely compelling, almost epistolary exploration of this singular moment in Prior-Palmer’s life, told without hubris, but with a dash of dry British wit.

THOUGHTS: Prior-Palmer speaks often about her inability to fit in anywhere, and especially her frustration with the rigidity of the institution of education; her story, and her narration, will speak to those students who have similar feelings of frustration, isolation, and a touch of wanderlust, which, let’s face it, is most adolescents.

Memoir          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Snaith, Simone. Between the Water and the Woods. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-44020-7. 311 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up.

Magic, chivalry, monsters, secrets – these are just a few things that drive Simone Snaith’s debut novel, Between the Water and the Woods. We first meet the Bird family – Emeline, her younger brother, Dale, and Dada, their father – living a quaint country life in the small village of Equane. Their quiet lives are shattered, however, when Emeline and Dale encounter an Ithin, a monster of myth, living in the haunting woods across the moat. After reviewing the laws of the land, it is determined that the family must travel to the capital to tell the king in person about their encounter. The Birds, along with their driver, Fish, and their stowaway, Aladane (Dale’s good friend, with a serious case of FOMO), are unprepared for the ruthlessness of the world, and in short succession come across highway men, an assassin, a haughty Lash Knight, and a wealthy Sapient who is the potential heir to the throne. When they finally arrive in the capital, the villagers find themselves in the middle of a philosophical war between the Sapients – those who only believe in science and technology – and the Theurgists – those who believe deeply in magic, and the old tales. In the midst of all of this, Emeline discovers that she possesses true elemental magic, and has the ability to control water plants. She keeps it a secret, even from her family, for she knows that in the wrong hands, this knowledge could have potentially dangerous consequences for her and for her family. This is a rollicking adventure, with a courageous heroine at its heart who readers will root for. There is a sweet, chaste romance, as well, along with more serious treatment of class divisions, oligarchy, and, in a small way, the trappings of wealth. Readers will eagerly await the next installment.

THOUGHTS: A perfect book for fans of medieval tales of knights and chivalry, and for middle grade readers looking to graduate up to more complex fairy tales.

Fantasy          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Hulick, Kathryn. Cyber Nation: How the Digital Revolution is Changing Society. ReferencePoint Press, 2019. 978-1-682-82469-6. $29.95. 80 pg. Grades 6-12.

This stand alone title focuses on how digital technology is changing the way people interact, learn, and form their identities online. Broken into chapters focusing on relationships, society, information overload, identity dilemma, and future issues, this title is full of information and real life connections. Chapters are broken into subsections that highlight how easy it is to “hide” your true self while online – leading to cyberbullying, addiction, and overstimulation. Information is provided on how digital culture is affecting change in how people spend money and the need to have items “now.” Topics also addressed in brief detail include fake news, cybercrimes, censorship, and propaganda. The final chapter will hit home with students as it focuses on how the internet will greatly affect their future with virtual reality, AI, and how “smart” cities can help fix worldly problems. 

THOUGHTS: A great title for students researching the cause and effects of constant access to the internet and the future of digital access. A bit dry at times, the information is useful and applicable to the topic. The source notes, websites, and organizations available in the back of the book allow students to delve further into how the cyber world is shaping our lives.

302.30285 Social Interaction        Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Winters, Cat. The Raven’s Tale. Amulet Books, 2019. 368 p. $17.99. 978-1-419-73362-8.  Grades 9-12.  

1826, Richmond, Virginia. Seventeen-year-old Edgar Allan Poe longs to escape his foster father, John Allan. The Allans took in three-year-old Edgar when his parents died, and though his foster father showed some pride in Edgar for a while, that feeling has vanished in the face of Edgar’s writing, a talent in which businessman John Allan sees no future. Freedom is less than two weeks away, when Edgar leaves for college in Charlottesville. That’s if Edgar can make it that long. The situation worsens when Edgar’s muse physically appears in town, making residents fearful with her garish, increasingly raven-like appearance. Edgar–and John–know muses are real–John killed his own muse years ago by pushing her into a fire, and he’ll be damned if Edgar gives in to the same weaknesses. Edgar faces a devastating choice: obey his wealthy “Pa” and succumb to mindless business career, or follow the macabre muse he names Lenore and live penniless and shunned, unable to support himself let alone his secret love Elmira Royster. Yet Lenore is relentless: “Let them see me!” she demands. Edgar’s circumstances worsen at college as his foster father denies him adequate funds, and Edgar turns unsuccessfully to gambling. Many recognize his giftedness, including a second would-be muse, Garland O’Peale. Both O’Peale and Lenore hope for victory over Edgar’s soul, but neither will find this an easy fight. Edgar is young, tortured by death, and so very alone. 

THOUGHTS: Drawing on extensive research into Poe’s life, Winters crafts an elegantly written tale, told in alternating chapters from Edgar’s and Lenore’s points-of-view. The result is a novel appropriately suspenseful and macabre, weaving in Poe’s writing and creating an atmosphere which evokes a grim yet creative life that brings to mind the tortured Mary Shelley depicted beautifully in Lita Judge’s Mary’s Monster. Highly recommended for high school collections, this will entice many readers into a new or strengthened following of Poe’s horror writing.      

Historical Horror: Poe, Muses          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Enni, Sarah. Tell Me Everything. Scholastic, 2019. 282 p. $17.99. 978-1-338-13915-0.  Grades 7-12. 

Ivy thrives on art and photography, but people or the spotlight, not so much. She does well enough keeping to herself, though she’s just endured a boring summer without her best friend since fourth grade, Harold, by her side. Harold is an intelligent go-getter whose summer was spent at an Ivy League prep camp, an experience both exhilarating and sobering. Now Harold is diving into any class or club that he can, determined to impact the world, while Ivy prefers the newly minted anonymous art-sharing app VEIL. VEIL has made headlines nationwide, but it stays local, and wipes itself clean every Sunday. Though Ivy never posts any of her own artwork, she follows the posts eagerly, feeling curious about the artists and so inspired that she wishes to thank artists for the connection she feels. This desire to help and encourage others is Ivy’s strength, and she gives gifts, anonymously, then openly, to various people she has identified by their posts. But the pressure is high for Harold, and so, when Ivy discovers what she thinks is his secret, she decides to throw him a party. However, her assumptions about Harold, and her disregard for the “anonymous” label, create some horrible breakdowns in friendships. Meanwhile, a hateful anti-gay VEIL post has parents concerned and suing the creator, who unexpectedly folds the app. Where can Ivy go now?

THOUGHTS: Ivy is a likable character with a huge heart and talent, and thankfully, a strong friend in Harold.  Several adult characters, including Ivy’s art teacher and refreshingly, her parents, counsel her wisely and with compassion. Enni has a knack for current slang and a feel for how teenagers relate on and offline. The novel uses social media and art as a clever way to investigate anonymity, bravery, and character change. Though Ivy and Harold are sophomores, the novel feels written for junior high, and will work for grades 7-12.      

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Leno, Katrina. You Must Not Miss.  Little, Brown & Company, 2019. 294 p. $17.99. 978-0-316-44977-9. Grades 10-12.  

Six months ago, sophomore Margaret “Magpie” Lewis had a decent life. Normal family, close best friend Allison, and reasonable grades. But in one night, everything collapsed. She and Allison walked in on Magpie’s naked dad and aunt having sex, her mom retreated into alcohol, and her college sister Eryn kept her promise to leave if her mom ever got drunk again. To add to the pain, Magpie got drunk and was sexually assaulted by Allison’s boyfriend Brandon, and popular Allison immediately decimated Magpie’s social life. Now, a very depressed Magpie attends school, does no schoolwork, sits at the outcast lunch table, and is in danger of repeating her sophomore year. She holds her new social circle at arm’s length–Clare, whose father committed suicide; bisexual Luke; trans Ben; and Brianna, who is not allowed to live down a humiliating school incident. In a yellow notebook, Magpie creates Near, a place where her former life never fell apart, where everything is perfect, and she feels no pain, only happiness.  She believes in Near so strongly that she brings it to life, accessible via the shed in her backyard. It becomes not only a refuge, but a plan of revenge. Magpie introduces Clare to Near but quickly sees the difficulties. She instead uses Near to exact revenge on those who have hurt her–her father, her sister, Brandon, Allison (who escapes), and oddly, her teacher but not her mother. This is a slow read of an interesting premise whose details are not fleshed out well. Her alter-ego “Hither” warns her of consequences, but nothing more than exhaustion and migraines affect Magpie.  Magpie disappears into Near, but her teacher and her father return (with no memories), though they were all eaten by monsters like Brandon (who does not return). Then Allison herself chooses Near.

THOUGHTS: This is a dull read of a girl who gets temporary revenge that changes only Allison’s opinion of her, but Magpie never gets the help she needs to face reality.   

Fantasy          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Dunbar, Erica Armstrong, and Kathleen Van Cleve. Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away. Simon and Schuster, 2019. 254 p. $18.99. 978-1-534-41617-8. Grades 5-12.

Ona “Oney” Judge was born into slavery on George and Martha Washington’s estate.  At ten years old, she became Martha’s personal attendant, working to smooth all the details of Martha’s wardrobe, comfort, and volatile personality. But times were changing, and many in the country were pushing for laws to free slaves, whether immediately, gradually, or at the owner’s death. As evidenced by their letters, George’s views conflicted, but Martha’s did not; she clung to the life she had been born to expect, and slaves were part of that world. As a teenager, Oney accompanied Martha to Philadelphia, seeing a completely different world: a largely free black society, white servants, and making friends in the free black community. Upon learning that Martha planned to give Oney as a wedding gift to her granddaughter–a spoiled girl who grew into an incorrigible woman–Oney decided to escape. On March 21, 1796, at twenty-two years old, Oney chose the one time of day she was least needed, during dinner, and escape by walking from the estate onto a ship bound for Portsmouth. Enraged at the humiliation by a girl “brought up and treated more like a child than a servant,” (177) the Washingtons maintained that Oney “ought not to escape with impunity” (177). What follows is a pursuit thwarted by Oney’s stalwart resolution not to return to Mount Vernon to be freed: “I am free now and choose to remain so.” It was also thwarted by abolitionists: New Hampshire Governor Langdon, who tipped off Oney to a pursuer’s second attempt to take her by force, and by customs officer Joseph Whipple, who after meeting Ona communicated clearly to George Washington to consider abandoning slavery nationwide, follow the established laws (which Washington was sidestepping) and acknowledge the changing tide of opinion on slavery. Due to political changes and to George Washington’s death in December 1799, Oney was no longer pursued, but neither was she technically “free” unless freed by Martha or Martha’s descendants (she never was). Her life in New Hampshire was one of her own making–she chose to marry a free black sailor and raised three children–it was also a life of great poverty and hardship (she outlived her husband and children, and never learned of her Mount Vernon relatives again).

THOUGHTS: A little-known story of a young woman whose “audacity” to live free astonished leaders of our nation and certainly helped to push for anti-slavery laws. Many “supposed” thoughts are inserted into Oney’s (and others’) actions, “Maybe she closed her eyes and imagined her mother…maybe she thought about the new black church that was forming just a few blocks away…” (97). This is an uncomfortable interpretation on history that is more than overdone in the book, but it could serve to make these characters feel more real to young readers. A solid addition to middle and high school collections.               

Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Cook, Eileen. You Owe Me a Murder. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 9781328519023. 346 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10. 

Kim is on her way to Europe, but rather than being excited, she is miserable. Her ex-boyfriend is also on the trip, with his new girlfriend. When a friendly girl named Nikki starts talking to Kim on the plane, they find they have many interests in common, including being so mad at someone they could just kill them. Nikki proposes that she will kill Connor, Kim’s ex, if Kim kills Nikki’s mother. After the flight lands in London, Kim doesn’t give the conversation another thought, until Connor dies. Was it an accident? Or did Nikki really kill him? All doubts are erased when Kim receives a note: You owe me a murder. At first she shrugs it off; how can Nikki make her commit murder? But it soon becomes evident that Nikki has plotted this well, and Kim will have to out-think Nikki to be free of her control. The tension is high throughout the book, with red herrings and plot twists to keep readers guessing until the very end.

THOUGHTS: A taut psychological thriller that will captivate fans of One of Us is Lying.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Ali, S.K. Love from A to Z. Salaam Reads, 2019. 978-1-5344-4272-6. 335 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Oddity: When Zayneb gets suspended from school for (once again) defending her Muslim faith to her Islamaphobic teacher, her frustrated mother decides to send her to Doha, Qatar, to visit her aunt. Oddity: Adam, coming to terms with a diagnosis of MS, the disease that killed his mother, decides to drop out of college and return home to Doha, Qatar. Marvel: They notice each other in the London airport. Marvel: They speak on the plane to Qatar. Marvel: Her aunt works with his dad. They meet. There is attraction. But Zayneb is on her best behavior, trying to develop a more mellow personality than her outspoken activist self. Adam has yet to reveal his medical prognosis to his father. Can true love flourish under these conditions? This journal-style narrative switches viewpoints between Zaynab and Adam, slowly revealing the layers of their personalities. Intertwined is their devotion to their faith, which gently allows Ali to discuss Islamophobia, cultural appropriation and Muslim culture, including wearing the hijab and dating mores. Readers may be attracted by the plot but will be all the richer for having read the book.

THOUGHTS: A first purchase where romances are popular and an excellent addition to multi-cultural collections. 

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Bennett, Jenn.  Serious Moonlight. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-42514-9. 425 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up.

Birdie Lindbergh, mystery lover extraordinaire, is in something of a pickle. The boy she had both a wonderful and disastrous one night stand with just happens to be working at the same hotel where she has landed her first job. Daniel is everything Birdie is not – gregarious, charming, friends with everyone, and in Birdie’s estimation, uncomplicated. Despite their obvious attraction to each other, and Daniel’s solicitous behavior towards her, Birdie is floundering, unsure of her own feelings. Birdie, whose mother passed away when she was young, has lived under her grandmother’s conservative and overprotective thumb for so long, isolated from peers who her own age because of homeschooling, that she second guesses every interaction. When Daniel suggests they work together – strictly as friends – to solve a mystery at the hotel involving a hyper-famous mystery writer, she can’t resist. Jenn Bennett, just like magic-loving Daniel, masterfully utilizes misdirection throughout the novel; just when the reader thinks they know exactly what path Birdie and Daniel are going down, she veers off into an unexpected, but wholly welcome, direction. The secondary characters, particularly Birdie’s sweet natured grandfather, and her outrageous, larger-than-life auntie, are well developed and play vital roles in Birdie’s life. While Birdie is our main protagonist, it is actually Daniel who steals the spotlight over and over again – Birdie often comes off as a bit one dimensional. Daniel, on the other hand, with his outgoing, witty, and disarmingly nerdy personality draw readers in right away. A breezy, fun, and heartfelt romance novel.

THOUGHTS: This is a decidedly mature book, peppered throughout with cursing, and fairly graphic intimacy – recommended for an older YA audience.

Realistic Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

YA – Thicker Than Water; The Sisterhood; White Rose; A Curse so Dark and Lonely; Parkland Speaks; With the Fire on High; Shout; Happy Messy Scary Love; Aurora Rising; Cicada; That Night

Deen, Natasha. Thicker Than Water. Orca, 2009. 978-1-459-82198-9. 128 p. $9.95. Grades 7-12.

Zack is an aspiring criminologist, so the recent disappearance of his friend Ella has him searching for answers. He’s keeping it secret that they had a disagreement that day, and worse, that after they parted, he saw Ella meet with his dad (their school guidance counselor) and get into his dad’s SUV. His dad hasn’t spoken a word, and Zack worries and imagines the worst, trying to piece together the truth while protecting himself and his dad. Zack’s friend Ayo Mohammad repeatedly offers logical perspective, and reminds Zack of his all-too-frequent over-reacting, likely due to crime show binging. Zack is on to something, but it isn’t what he thinks, and he needs a wake-up call in order to set things right. Ayo stands out as a solid friend and necessary voice of reason.

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the Orca Soundings series, this is a realistic story written at 3rd-4th grade level for young adult readers and worth considering for reluctant readers.

Mystery          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Grainger, A.J. The Sisterhood. Simon & Schuster, 2019. 978-1-481-42906-1. 298 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.  

Sixteen-year-old Welsh teenager Lil has withdrawn since the disappearance of her older sister, Mella, four months ago. She devotes most of her time to updating a blog about Mella, questioning her police officer aunt about the case, watching her single mom deteriorate, and having detailed conversations in her head with Mella. While biking one day as a terrible storm approaches, she stumbles upon a young woman who is unconscious and injured in the road. “Alice” is fearful and willing to run if Lil involves authorities, and Lil becomes determined to not let Alice down the way she feels she’s let her sister down. Lil takes Alice home, and she and friend Kiran debate the girl’s odd speech, intense fear, and slow reveal of the Sisterhood, led by the charismatic Moon. Soon it becomes clear that Mella is involved in the dangerous cult, and Lil must walk a fine line between exposing Alice and losing her sister. Lil’s devotion to her clearly difficult sister shows how a strong personality can mold and rule a family; Mella consistently turns the spotlight on herself, erupts in tantrums, and lately, vanishes at will. The secluded atmosphere lends itself to the story, though readers may wish for more details on the cult’s inner workings. Told largely from Lil’s perspective, the novel benefits from occasional slips into Mella’s mind, as well as frequent inside views of Moon and the Sisterhood.

THOUGHTS: This book will find an audience among those who find cults fascinating.

Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Wilson, Kip. White Rose. Versify, 2019. 978-1-328-59443-3. 358 p. $17.99 Grades 5-12.

Sophie Scholl was one of five siblings in a strong, close-knit family who watched as Hitler rose to power in Germany. This novel in verse gives Sophie a strong voice, showing her early teenage years as she and brother Hans were enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth. Their enthusiasm waned, then vanished, as they witnessed increasing restrictions and discrimination. Years passed and as university students in Munich, Sophie and her brother Hans and some like-minded students began the White Rose society, dedicated to spreading anti-Nazi messages. Hans wrote content for the leaflets, and Sophie found duplicating machines and all members found ways to distribute the leaflets. Such treasonous activity as free speech was punishable by death, a fate that she and Hans and friend Christoph Probst met in February 1943 (three other White Rose members were arrested, tried, and killed later the same year). Told primarily from Sophie’s perspective, the novel is strengthened by letters from Hans, boyfriend Fritz’s thoughts, and the clinical coldness of Robert Mohr, Gestapo investigator who tracked down their illegal activity. This book effectively shows Sophie’s steadfast and tenacious desire to make a difference, and her realization that simply remaining silent was akin to endorsement of Nazi beliefs.  

THOUGHTS: This is a suspenseful, powerful novel made richer for the paucity of words per page. Wilson illuminates the steel in Sophie’s mind and soul; her story should be should be widely read and remembered. Recommended for all middle and high school libraries.

Historical Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Kemmerer, Brigid. A Curse So Dark and Lonely. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19508-7. $18.99. 477 p. Gr. 8 and up.

Harper’s mother is dying of cancer, and her brother is in trouble with some loan sharks, but these are conflicts only revealed in the opening chapter of this Beauty and the Beast retelling. Life then gets even more complicated for Harper when she is swept from Washington, DC into a parallel fantasy universe, the kingdom of Emberfall. As in the original fairytale, Prince Rhen, heir to the throne, is cursed by an enchantress, a curse that can only be broken by falling in mutual love. Prince Rhen’s beast form only manifests each autumn though, making it seemingly easier to fall in love with him. However, also in a similar fashion to the original, Harper’s worry for her ailing family prevents her from fully committing to life in Emberfall. Likewise, politics and threats from neighboring kingdoms prevent Prince Rhen from wholly throwing himself into wooing Harper to break the curse, not to mention appearances by the enchantress Lilith who cast the curse, Rhen’s handsome and loyal Guard Commander Grey, and Harper’s cerebral palsy. Despite all the hurdles Harper and Prince Rhen face, the struggling kingdom of Emberfall and its people unite them with a common cause that propels this story, which is told in alternating points of view from Harper to Rhen. Harper’s cerebral palsy is almost never mentioned after the opening chapters, which was intentional on the part of the author to prove a point, though sometimes it simply feels forgotten. Regardless, Harper’s character is definitely strong and likable, and the friendships she forges with the people of Emberfall are a bright spot in the slower mid-plot before the book becomes unputdownable in the final 100 pages.

THOUGHTS: Far more violent than the Disney version and with its own very original plot, this fairytale retelling will be enjoyable for fans of both YA speculative AND contemporary fiction as the characters hail from both worlds.

Fantasy (Fairytale)          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area High School


Lerner, Sarah, editor. Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-84999-1. 192 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.   

This collection of poems, photos, essays, and journal entries by students that survived the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida will leave you feeling ripped apart and connected to each student at the same time. The anthology features a scrapbook like feel with handwritten entries, scraps of paper seemingly taped onto the page, as well as both student artwork and photographs. Although some entries are short with little detail, others vividly account what was experienced that day. There are several themes prevalent throughout their poems, stories, and speeches that will resonate with every reader. They include facing grief from the tragic loss of 17 Eagles, anger with the government for change not occurring fast enough, and betrayal that another school shooting resulted in the loss of life. Readers will also find messages of hope, love, and strength threaded throughout their first hand accounts. This book may be difficult for certain individuals who may struggle with the fear and uncertainty that follows a school shooting.

THOUGHTS: The handwritten pieces and images in the text allow you to feel connected to each student who survived the horrific events at MSD High School. The book allows all readers to reflect on the importance of protecting those you love and inspires us to work toward instituting change in our schools to make them safe places for learning.

371.1, Teachers & Teaching          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Acevedo, Elizabeth. With the Fire on High. HarperTeen, 2019. 978-0-062-66283-5. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Emoni Santiago loves to cook.  She has a natural connection with spices and flavors that evokes emotion, not just a good taste. Raised by her ‘Buela after her mother’s death and father’s return to Puerto Rico, Emoni has learned to use her passion for food in good times and bad. With her senior year looming and her future not far away, Emoni enrolls in Culinary Arts; it seems like an easy-A, but she soon learns that although she is a natural in the kitchen, she has a lot to learn. Meanwhile, Emoni’s structure begins to unroll with the entrance of new student, Malachi Johnson. With a smile that melts, Emoni’s rule of no dating is challenged. But Emoni has more than just herself to consider; she has her daughter, Emma (Baby Girl), too. On top of it all, Culinary Arts includes an immersion trip to Sevilla, Spain, over spring break. There, Emoni is challenged to find her way while remaining true to her own desires.

THOUGHTS: With the Fire on High shares present day struggles for many students through a universal topic: food. Acevedo takes the familiar and weaves an individual story of wants, desires, and the here-and-now. She looks at the struggles faced by many but does not dwell on any of the struggles. Instead, she gives realistic hope to readers through Emoni and an understanding that each choice one makes connects to their overall story, and one choice does not define a person. This novel is a wonderful addition to high school collections.

As a side-note, I did not love With the Fire on High like I did The Poet X.  Although I greatly enjoyed Fire, Poet X evoked emotions from me that I hadn’t felt in a while. I deeply connected with Xiomara, but not so much with Emoni, although I liked her story. I would have liked Acevedo to delve deeper into the social issues she skims in Fire.  I guess I wanted more.

As a second side-note, I love Acevedo’s audio recordings. The fact that she reads her work adds a layer of intimacy with the text and the characters that reading the words doesn’t give. I hope she continues to read her novels in the future.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elizabeth Acevedo has a hard act to follow:  herself. The Poet X, her debut novel, won an almost impossible trifecta of awards (The Printz Award, the National Book Award For Young People, and the Carnegie Medal).  However, her new release, With The Fire on High, does not disappoint. African-Latina-American Emoni is a senior in a Philadelphia charter high school and the mother of a two-year-old girl, Emma (“Babygirl”), whom she is raising with the help of her Abuela. Babygirl’s father, Tyrone, is a better parent then ex-boyfriend, and Emoni is slow to trust when a boy in her culinary arts class, Malachi, seems too good to be true. Becoming a chef is fiery, fierce Emoni’s dream . . . but she’s not sure what dreams are in her reach. Emoni’s struggles with parenting, families, relationships, school, college applications, and trying to decide what’s best for both her and her daughter’s futures are realistically portrayed in this fast-paced novel with short, snappy chapters. Recipes with more of a literary than culinary purpose are included, but they might work for bold-spirited cooks willing to interpret ambiguous and playful directions.

THOUGHTS: Vivid prose, well developed characters (including Emoni’s best friend, Angelica, who is a lesbian), and a narrative that includes but does not center on romance will have teen readers eating up this book. Highly recommended. 

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

This book made me hungry for Emoni to find success in her life. Despite having multiple roadblocks (becoming a mom as a teen, working while going to school, living with her grandmother who is nursing an injury), she finds a way to constantly strive for what’s best for herself and her daughter. She knows what she wants out of life, and that is to be a chef. She is even in a culinary arts class at school with the possibility of a week long apprenticeship in Spain, not that she can afford it. There is a truth to the balance of Emoni’s struggles at school, at home, and at work all while raising a three-year-old and navigating the balance of an amicable relationship with her daughter’s father and his family. 

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the urban fiction cannon that should be on a high school shelves. Emoni’s positive outlook in a less than desirable environment will motivate the less than inspired students. The addition of recipes and creative descriptions of the food she makes will make the readers hungry for more.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Anderson, Laurie Halse. Shout: A Poetry Memoir. Viking, 2019. 978-0-670-01210-7. 291 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up

Laurie Halse Anderson’s memoir of growing up in a shattered family and surviving a sexual assault at the age of thirteen is heart-wrenching and beautiful. Her father, a World War II veteran, suffered from memories of death and destruction during the war. Her mother, shattered from miscarriage after miscarriage of sons and abuse from her husband, tried to repair the torn family and be the “proper” pastor’s wife. Laurie and her sister were born out of heartache and desire. A desire for something more; a desire to move beyond the past into the present and future, but the past is hard to escape. As the daughter of a pastor, Laurie learned to accept what she had and developed a creativity that helped her through her days. Sharing her torn family life, she sheds light on situations often left undiscussed. As she moves from her shattered family, to her rape and then into her time in Denmark where she saw a family structure different from her own, Anderson highlights the hope within darkness. In Part II of Shout, she looks at the impact of her writing and her school visits. She addresses the censorship she has dealt with along with the numerous stories of assaults shared with her by students. Shout is a beautifully written memoir-in-verse that proves life and hope can grow from tragedy and hardship.  

THOUGHTS: Anderson once again delivers an emotional story of survival. Much like her novels, Shout forces readers to examine what they know (or think they know), and then face reality head on. She does not sugar coat the abuse and hardships of her family or glaze over her own rape at thirteen. Anderson’s overt style, without being in-your-face and vulgar, is breath-taking and much appreciated. This is a must have for all high school collections.

811 Poetry or 92 Memoir          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Written in free verse, Anderson delivers her own story in a powerful memoir. Shout has clear parallels with her first novel, Speak which make reading Anderson’s story that much more painful. She chose to tell her story beginning with an act of assault that she has had to live with, and the rest of the book is the journey Anderson takes to heal. She is fierce and effective at getting her point across in the current climate of our world.

THOUGHTS: This memoir should be required reading for all high school students and staff. It belongs on the shelf of every high school library to allow those who are victims an opportunity to heal and those who are lucky enough not to have been abused or assaulted a glance into the mind of someone who has and survived.  

Memoir          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Konen, Leah. Happy Messy Scary Love. Abrams, 2019. 978-1-419-73489-2. $18.99. 336 p. Gr. 7 and up.

Olivia Knight dreams of attending film school, but procrastinating on writing her horror screenplay is not helping her attain that dream. She’s failed to get into an NYU summer writing program and now must spend her summer in the Catskill Mountains with her parents while her friends have their dream summers. To pass time through her writer’s block, Olivia watches lots of horror films on Netflix and messages Elm, another horror film addict she meets on a discussion board where she goes by the name “Carrie” – after her favorite film, of course. When Elm suggests they exchange photos, self-conscious Olivia panics, especially when he sends his picture, and he’s cute! Assuming they’ll never meet in person anyway, since she’s from Brooklyn and he lives in North Carolina, Olivia sends back a selfie of her best friend Katie who is the traditional definition of attractive. Awkwardness averted… at least until Olivia shows up to her summer part time job in the Catskills to find Elm is working there as well. Though she wants to tell him the truth, the thought of trying to explain herself is more horrifying than her favorite films. As she admits, “Being close to people, being honest with them, not being afraid to fail – that’s the scariest thing of all.” So as Olivia and Elm’s real-life relationship develops, “Carrie” must also maintain their online relationship, all while trying to finish her screenplay and navigate a summer job for which she feels ill-equipped. Some surprises along the way create a Shakespearean comedy-like plot while exploring relevant and important themes for high schoolers such as body image, self-worth, breaking out of one’s comfort zone, and friendship.

THOUGHTS: A delightful summer read, this book will be fun for hardcore horror fans, but it’s not so full of jargon or allusions that non-fans can’t enjoy it.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Kaufman, Amie, and Jay Kristoff.  Aurora Rising. Alfred Knopf, 2019. 978-1-524-72096-4. 480 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up. 

Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have squarely secured their place as scions of young adult science fiction. Their sophomore series, The Aurora Cycle, like the Illuminae Files, propels readers once again into a wild conspiracy featuring a scrappy crew of space cadets, shadowy overlords, a girl who shouldn’t exist, and an intricate spider web of a plot. The crew’s leader is golden boy Tyler Jones, the highest ranked Alpha at Aurora Academy, who is primed to hand-pick his squad from the best of the best. His plan goes completely awry, however, when he discovers not only a generation ship thought to be lost two centuries earlier, but also a surviving passenger – Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley. Now Ty is saddled with a squad he had no say in – though fortunately for him, his twin sister, Scarlett, and his best friend, Cat, both choose loyalty to Ty over ambition – and a girl two centuries old who is much more than she seems. When Ty’s team is sent on their first humanitarian mission, it goes completely wrong, and sets off a chain of events that leave the squad questioning everything they thought they knew about their world, and running from the highest authorities in the galaxy, authorities who are determined to eliminate Ty’s crew, and capture Auri for their own nefarious purposes. Kaufman and Kristoff’s plot is twisty, complex, and fun as all get out. The story is told from multiple perspectives – not an easy feat, given there are seven unique characters – and crew members narrates their own chapter, in their own voice, with their own personalities shining through. This is a page-turning romp through space that will leave readers clamoring for book two.

THOUGHTS: While all of the characters are well-developed, Zila, the crew’s scientist, provides the most interesting perspective – she struggles mightily in social situations and has an underdeveloped sense of empathy, making it almost impossible for her to gauge and understand human emotions and motivations. Her chapters are often very short, very funny, and very poignant.

Science Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Tan, Shaun. Cicada. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019. 978-1-338-29839-0. Unpaged. $19.99. Gr. 6 and up.

For seventeen years, Cicada has worked in an office where it is mistreated and ignored. Although Cicada works harder than the humans, it cannot use a bathroom in the building (it must go downtown for a bathroom). It cannot afford rent, so it lives at the office. It does not receive any benefits or resources like the humans and is verbally and physically abused by the humans regularly. When Cicada decides to retire, it leaves without fanfare and goes into the unknown; it has no home, no money, and now, no job. At the top of the tall office building, Cicada stands at the edge. Has Cicada’s journey come to an end, or is it just beginning?

Tan’s illustrations are breathtaking. Using oil on canvas and paper, he creates a world of gray for Cicada. The illustrations enhance the abuse and mistreatment faced by Cicada. They evoke emotion from the reader as they intensify the symbolism of Cicada and its dismal life.  

THOUGHTS: Cicada is a timely (2019 is the year of cicada) look into mistreatment and cruelty. By addressing mistreatment, it highlights the spiral of cruelty beyond work into one’s home and personal lives. This YA picture book forces readers to consider social injustices and, through symbolism, dive deeper into the impact of society and how people are treated by governments, economics, and one another. As a minimalist picture book, it is an impactful case study for English and social studies courses into symbolism, human interaction, social justice, law and policy, mental health, discrimination, and more.  Highly recommended for all middle school and high school collections.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Balog, Cyn. That Night. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-67904-2. 320 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up. 

One year ago Hailey’s boyfriend Declan ended his life, and she has lived in a fog ever since. A stay in rehab only blurred her memories of the weeks surrounding Declan’s death. One thing is certain in her mind, though, Hailey knows Declan never would have killed himself. All she wants is to remember. It is Declan’s step-brother Kane, who has been Hailey’s best friend forever, that helps her begin to remember the last year. Kane and Hailey have a complicated relationship, but with the help of a box of Declan’s things, Hailey begins to remember the past as she tries to move on. She can’t understand why Kane’s on again of again girlfriend (and Hailey’s former best friend) won’t even look at her. As she tries to puzzle through her memories, this fast-paced mystery flashes between Hailey’s present grief and the year leading up to Declan’s death. The answers might not be exactly what Hailey was looking for, though.

THOUGHTS: Thriller fans will devour this unpredictable read. Recommended for high schools where mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The Similars; I Love You So Mochi; The Rest of the Story; Girl Gone Viral; The First True Thing; Heroine; Internment; Salt in My Soul; You Asked for Perfect

Hanover, Rebecca. The Similars. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-4926-6510-6. $17.99. 381 p. Gr. 8 and up.

The Similars takes place in a dystopic future, but most of the story setting is familiar enough. There’s a private boarding school in Vermont, teen romance and drama, and testing into a select group of students that ensures acceptance into any Ivy League school. However, Darkwood Academy just enrolled six clones (called The Similars), and the people they were illegally cloned from 16-years ago are all upperclassmen at the school. Students and their wealthy parents’ reactions to these newcomers is mostly opposite Darkwood’s legacy of acceptance and diversity, but soon a club is formed, and demonstrations are held to boycott the Similars’ presence at the school. Emmaline Chance, the protagonist, is in her junior year and, although she welcomes The Similars and believes they have a right to be at Darkwood, she is having a difficult year after the suicide of her best friend, and fellow student, Oliver. It doesn’t help that one of the Similars, Levi, was cloned from Oliver. Not only does she see him all around campus, but they are both inducted into the elite group of students called The Ten where she’s forced to interact with him. When someone tries to kill Emma’s friend, Pru, and Levi becomes a suspect, Emma tries to figure out who was behind the attack. The story includes a lot of sneaking out of dorms past curfew to uncover illegal experiments and breaking into a top-secret island laboratory owned by a madman. The story ends with the set-up for a sequel which will aggravate some readers.

THOUGHTS: This debut novel is a fun read, despite some formulaic characters and over-the-top espionage work done by teens. The interesting twist and the use of teens clones should make it a book that 8th grade and up will enjoy reading. The acceptance/rejection of the Similars mirrors some of what’s currently being said about immigrants.

Dystopian/Mystery          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Kuhn, Sarah. I Love You So Mochi. Scholastic Press, 2019. 978-1-338-30288-2. $17.99. 308 p. Gr. 8 and up.

Kimi’s future seems bright and sure. While many high school seniors experience anxiety over future plans, Kimi has been accepted into a prestigious art academy, and her path appears clear. In reality, she hasn’t been able to paint in months and has dropped her Fine Arts class, all unbeknownst to her mother, also an artist; she has instead been “goofing off” designing and making her own clothing. In fact, she’s not even sure she wants to attend the Liu Academy anymore. When Kimi’s secrets are revealed and she feels the wrath of her mother’s silent disappointment – the worst equation in “Asian Mom Math” according to Kimi’s friends – she decides to forgo spring break plans at home in southern California and instead spend two weeks in Japan visiting the grandparents she’s never met (and who have not spoken to Kimi’s mother in 20 years) on a journey of self discovery. Though most readers will know the answer to Kimi’s problem within the first few pages (even though she doesn’t), the journey she takes to get there makes this book worth reading. In a story slightly reminiscent of Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, Kimi’s self discovery relies heavily upon learning her family history, particularly the complicated relationships between the women. Of course, a budding romantic relationship with Akira, a cute boy Kimi first meets as he is dancing in a giant mochi costume in front of his uncle’s mochi shop, also drives this plot. “What. Is this extremely handsome piece of mochi trying to flirt with me?” Kimi asks herself in Kuhn’s authentic teenage voice. Young women readers will empathize with Kimi, as she discovers the answer to this and many other questions.

THOUGHTS: Though the plot is predictable, Kuhn’s imagery and integration of Japanese culture give this story more substance than the typical YA contemporary. Readers may find themselves wanting to use “the Google” – as Kimi’s grandfather calls it – to look up Japanese words, food, landmarks, and clothing.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Dessen, Sarah. The Rest of the Story. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 987-0-062-93362-1. $19.99. 440 p. Gr. 9 and up. 

Emma Saylor lost her mother when she was just 10 years old. Due to addiction Waverly was in and out of Emma’s life long before she died. Though she doesn’t remember a lot about her mom, Emma recalls the bedtime stores about life in North Lake, Waverly’s hometown. Since her mother’s death, Emma has lived a privileged life, growing up in Nana Payne’s fancy apartment with her dad who works as a dentist. Just remarried, her dad and new wife Tracy (also a dentist) are planning to honeymoon sailing around Greece. Nana is scheduled for a cruise while her apartment is renovated. Emma is an organized planner – to a fault. Due to a sudden illness in her best friend’s family, Emma’s carefully arranged summer has to change. Emma goes to stay with Mimi Calvander and her mother’s family in North Lake – family she doesn’t remember, family who calls her Saylor, and family who she hasn’t seen since she was four. Emma quickly notices the two different lakeside communities – North Lake where her mother grew up and Lake North where her father vacationed in the summer. Though only 3 miles apart, these two communities couldn’t be more different. Always known as Saylor to her mother’s family, Emma begins to see the world through a new lens. Once she breaks through the icy welcome of some of her cousins (who think she’s just there for a vacation, not to work like them), Saylor learns what it means to be a Calvander. As her time too quickly passes, Saylor tries to learn as much about her mother as she can. When her dad returns from his honeymoon, Emma Saylor has changed, and she has to decide who she wants to be. One thing is certain: She’s not the same Emma Saylor she was when she arrived in North Lake.

THOUGHTS: No one does teen romances like Dessen. This sweet story will captivate readers, transporting them to summers on North Lake as Emma learns more about her family and herself. This one will fly off the shelves. Underage drinking (to excess) and Emma’s mother’s drug use are included. Highly recommended for high school collections, especially those where romance is popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Ahmadi, Arvin. Girl Gone Viral. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-425-28990-7. 384 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up. 

17 year old Opal Tal – now known as Opal Hopper – is a coding genius who is determined to learn what happened to her father, a tech guru who disappeared seven years ago. Howie Mendelsohn, her father’s business partner at the time, may know more than he admits, but he hasn’t ever responded to Opal’s emails. Now a senior at a prestigious boarding school for tech whizzes, Opal and her friends Moyo and Shane are coding their way into a WAVE competition. WAVE is a virtual reality world with incredible detail and lifelike features. Stumbling upon information that causes their channel to go viral brings its fair share of challenges, including Opal’s initial desire to be out of the limelight. As she quickly learns, though, the self you put out there on WAVE isn’t always the self you really are. Opal has to decide what she believes in and if finding out what happened to her father is worth the risk – for herself and for her friends.

THOUGHTS: There is a lot of technical jargon, so this might be a tough read for some. The mystery keeps the pace moving, but there’s a lot more than fun and games going on here, including government/police corruption and social media’s influence on politics. Hand this STEM title to students who are into VR, AR, or video gaming, as the worlds Ahmadi depicts sound incredible. A great addition to high school libraries looking to diversify their STEM offerings with a strong female lead.

Science Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Needell, Claire. The First True Thing. HarperTeen, 2019. 978-0-062-36054-0. $17.99. 256 p. Gr 10 and up. 

After riding on a dangerous path through the woods while drunk, Marcelle crashed her bike under a neighbor’s parked car. Her alcohol use finally catching up with her, Marcelle is forced to attend rehab sessions at the Center after being discharged from the hospital. Being labeled an alcoholic isn’t the easiest, especially considering her friends are into much worse things. With her parents on high alert for missteps, it seems like Marcelle can do no right. Even her peers at the Center don’t fully believe she’s giving her best effort. When Marcelle receives a text from her best friend Hannah asking her to cover, she is desperate to feel connected. Hannah disappears, though, and Marcelle is the last one to hear from her. Torn between loyalty to her friend (and her friend’s dangerous secrets) and guilt over not doing more to intervene before it came to this, Marcelle keeps her story to Hannah’s mom and the police vague. As time goes on, though, everyone’s panic levels increase, and Marcelle has to decide if it’s better to keep a friend’s secret or be honest with everyone including herself.

THOUGHTS: Drug and alcohol abuse are openly discussed, making this most suitable for mature readers. The lack of support for Marcelle both as she recovers and faces the disappearance of her friend is surprising. Readers who want to know what happened to Hannah will stick with the story. Recommended as an additional purchase where realistic mysteries are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


McGinnis, Mindy. Heroine. Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-84719-5. $17.99. 432 p. Gr. 10 and up. 

Trigger Warning: Please proceed with caution, as this book discusses (in great detail) addiction, drug use, overdose, and withdrawal, among other difficult topics.

The Prologue begins with the end: “When I wake up, all of my friends are dead.” Readers are placed front and center and feel the sheer terror of this realization before being told what happened. Mickey Catalan has never felt comfortable in her own skin, unless she’s behind home plate catching for her best friend and star pitcher Carolina. Though Mickey doesn’t quite know who she is, playing catcher defines her. When Mickey is in a terrible car accident with Carolina as her passenger, their chances of playing senior season are threatened, as is Carolina’s Division I pitching scholarship. Mickey is determined to get back on the field; she too wants to earn a scholarship. What starts as pain management for a major injury quickly spirals into an addiction, as Mickey tries to make it back into shape for spring training. When her physician refuses to refill her Oxycontin prescription, saying she’s doing so well she doesn’t need it, Mickey turns to alternative methods. It’s just to get her back on the field, though, and she can stop at any time. She’s not an addict, and Mickey has some great new friends who understand her and will keep her (and her secret) safe. Mickey’s tolerance level quickly increases, and she begins to lose control of all she was fighting for.

THOUGHTS: Heroine is definitely for mature readers and should be presented with a trigger warning. That said, it serves as a great cautionary tale about how easily one can become addicted to opioids, regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. Check your ego and what you think you know about addiction at the door. McGinnis’s novel will take you on a terrifying roller coaster ride with some unforeseen consequences. I listened to the audiobook version and was hooked from the first minute.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Ahmed, Samira. Internment. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-316-52269-4. $17.99. 387 p. Gr. 9 and up. 

In a future United States where the Presidential election has shaken up American beliefs and freedoms, 17 year old Muslim American Layla Amin is frustrated. Her parents always had been respected in their community, but with the President’s new Exclusion Act they feel compliance will keep them safe. Layla, however, breaks government mandated curfew to see her Jewish boyfriend. Though unfriendly neighbor stares bring fears to the forefront of her mind, the risk is worth the reward. Despite her parents attempts to remain safe, Layla’s family is rounded up and taken off to an interment camp, one like those used for Japanese and German Americans during World War II. They only have a few moments to gather comforts of home, not knowing if they will ever return or if their possessions will still be there. Once in the camp, Layla finds herself increasingly frustrated by her parents’ (and many of the adults’) complaisance but is fortunate to find friends who she can laugh with and share her frustrations. Together, Layla and her friends find subtle ways (at first) to rebel against the Director. Building their rebellion also increases the risks they face, and Layla has to decide if standing up for what she believes in – what is right – is worth risking her life and the lives of those she loves.

THOUGHTS: This timely diverse title will appeal to fans of historical fiction. Internment will pair well with World War II novels or memoirs, especially those relating to internment or concentration camps. I personally enjoyed reading it then reading The War Outside by Monica Hesse. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Layla and her family are American, but they also happen to be non-practicing Muslims. After the 2020 census, all Muslims are taken to internment camps for the safety of all citizens. In this all too real and near future novel, Layla and her friends inside the walls of the camp, her boyfriend outside, and one brave guard on the inside plan a revolt to end the camp once and for all. Much of this book skims the surface of many of the political, racial, and religious issues that many Americans are facing with today’s political climate. Some of Layla’s decisions seem rash, even for an angry teen, which makes parts of the story a bit difficult to rationalize. 

THOUGHTS: Although this book moved me and scared me, I wanted more. I think this book belongs on the shelves of high school libraries, if the budget allows because it will open conversations of possibilities of the future state of our country. It will only start the conversation and pique the interest of students who wonder what could happen with the next census and elected officials. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Smith, Mallory. Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life. Spiegel & Grau, 2019. 978-1-984-85542-8. $26.00. 288 p. Gr 9 and up. 

Immensely positive and determined to live her best life, even in the face of cystic fibrosis and rare bacteria B. cenocepacia, Mallory Smith is a girl everyone loved. From the beginning readers know Mallory tragically dies young; however, it is how she lived her life that will inspire readers. Her “live happy” mantra carries her through frustrating hospital stays and discharges and helps her remain focused on really living. In reading Mallory’s most personal thoughts, readers are given a glimpse into the life of someone who struggles with a chronic illness, though not always visible on the outside.

THOUGHTS: Pair this nonfiction text with the fiction Five Feet Apart which will be even more popular with the 2019 movie. Excellent addition for high school nonfiction collections where memoirs and medical stories are popular.

616.372 Diseases          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Silverman, Laura. You Asked for Perfect. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-65827-6. $10.99. 288 p. Gr. 9 and up. 

Seemingly perfect senior Ariel Stone has everything going for him. He’s a great student, musician, and his college application couldn’t be more well-rounded, especially since he’s expected to be valedictorian. When Ariel earns a 5/10 on his first Calculus quiz and there’s no opportunity for redemption, Ariel’s careful facade begins to crumble. Accepting help means he’s not as perfect as everyone, especially himself, thinks. With a Harvard interview to prepare for, and his top spot on the line, though, Ariel doesn’t have much choice. He finds he was wrong about Amir, who is actually nice to be around, and Amir is really great at Calculus. Among a long list of obligations, one more might just be enough to break Ariel.

THOUGHTS: This should be required reading for every high school student. The internal and external pressures on students to be perfect, to achieve the top rank, to go to the best school is unfortunate. I see many students so stressed that they don’t allow themselves room to breathe and relax. Highly recommended for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – World Make Way; Short and Skinny; Rising Seas; Wild Blues; Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt; Body Pro; The Vietnam War; The Night Diary; The Confidence Code for Girls; Property of the Rebel Librarian

Hopkins, Lee Bennett, editor. World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers. 2018. 978-1-4197-2845-7. $16.99. Unpaged. Grades 4-7.

The master of sharing poetry collections with young readers has created a new artistic collaboration in World Make Way. Lee Bennett Hopkins begins the book with a quote and illustration from none other than Leonardo Da Vinci, “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” Indeed, the remainder of the book seeks to bridge those two artistic mediums together by allowing 18 poets (including Hopkins) to find inspiration in various works from the Met. The artwork ranges from familiar paintings (Cassatt and Klimt) to worldly artifacts (Mexican wood engraving and Chinese scrolls) and comes with museum style descriptions. The poets, such as Marilyn Singer, J. Patrick Lewis, and Naomi Shihab Nye, work to bring a voice to the people and creatures represented. This gorgeous side by side practice leads the reader to see, feel, and hear the creative works with plenty of room for personal interpretation. The World should Make Way for the visual and literary achievement within.

THOUGHTS: Students who have any art history background or art teachers wishing to help make world art more accessible will appreciate this work. The poems are not too long or complex, but they do encourage multiple readings to absorb the themes and meanings. As such, the book sits well with middle grade readers and those adults who who share the love of the Met’s broad collection.

811 Poetry          Dustin Brackbill State College Area SD


Tatulli, Mark. Short & Skinny. Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 978-0-316-44051-6. 249 p. $12.99. Grades 4-8.

Oh, slop! It’s the summer of 1977, and 12-year old aspiring cartoonist Mark Tatulli has had it with being short and skinny. The neighborhood bullies view him as an easy target. He’s listed as “unofficial” on the swim team roster because his times are so slow. His best friend, sister, and brother all enjoy a regular laugh at his expense. In a last-ditch attempt to bulk up, Mark orders a bodybuilding kit that’s advertised in the back of a comic book. Maybe by the beginning of eighth grade he’ll have the height, muscles, and confidence to talk to his crush, Lisa Gorman. 1977 is also the summer of Star Wars; inspired by the game-changing film, Mark and his friends join forces to make their own homegrown spoof of the movie called Star Bores. Can discovering his passion – and editing his own Super 8 movie – transform the life of the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Munchkin City?” Mark Tatulli’s bright artwork vividly depicts the 1970s, while the relatable storyline captures the universal preadolescent angst. A variety of panel sizes and layouts gives every page a fresh look. Even better, the story is laugh-out-loud funny while still inviting empathy (and a touch of commiseration).

THOUGHTS: Short & Skinny joins a growing number of outstanding graphic memoirs. It fits in perfectly right between Smile by Raina Telgemeier and Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. It would be a standout selection for a middle grade book club, especially combined with a screening of Star Wars.

92 Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Thomas, Keltie. Rising Seas: Flooding, Climate Change and Our New World. Firefly Books, 2018. 978-0-228-10022-5. 64 p. $19.95. Grades 5+.

This middle grade nonfiction title is a brightly colored, highly readable overview of the hazards of rising sea levels around the globe. Spotlighted cities and countries include Miami Beach, New York, Mumbai, Greenland, Bangladesh, and island nations such as the Maldives. Brief chapters discuss the current situation and outlook for each area, and feature maps, photographs, and fast facts. Each region’s game plan to protect, adapt, or relocate is also covered. The author’s conversational writing style offsets the more dire predictions. Best of all, Rising Seas concludes with ten tips that answer the question “What can you do?”

THOUGHTS: This is a solid choice for both browsing and reading cover-to-cover. The real star of the show are the “photo illustrations” that depict the watery future of several international landmarks. Students are often instructed to open research papers with an “attention grabber,” and Rising Seas offers an abundance of statistics and forecasts that could make perfect openers.

551 Climate Change          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Kephart, Beth. Wild Blues. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-481-49153-2. 323 p. $17.99. Gr. 5 and up.

Lizzie assumes that her summer at her uncle’s cabin in the “six million acre” woods will unfold just as it always has – spending her days “collecting” with Uncle Davy; shooting the breeze with her best friend, Matias; and avoiding her mother’s phone calls. Kidnapping, escaped convicts, and getting dangerously lost in the woods were definitely not on her to-do list. Readers get to know Lizzie in snippets – we discover, along the way, that her mother has been recently diagnosed with cancer, that her mother and her Uncle Davy are not on speaking terms, that her father was a self-centered narcissist, and that she and her mother eventually left him. We also know that she and Uncle Davy share a very special bond – this is a rare thing in middle-grade and YA, to shine a spotlight on a relationships with a secondary family figure; aunts and uncles are universally ignored, and Lizzie and Uncle Davy’s interactions are well-drawn and entertaining. It just so happens that Uncle Davy’s cabin is closely situated to a prison, and it just so happens that right around the time of Lizzie’s visit, two convicted murderers have escaped said prison – information that neither Lizzie nor her uncle are aware of. When Lizzie hikes out to meet her BFF, Matias, at their normal meeting spot, and finds him gone, with only one of his crutches left behind, she knows something terrible has happened. Without a second thought, Lizzie sets out to find him – she’s not alone though; she has her trusty wilderness guide – Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart – which she dubs, “The Art of Keppy,” a gift from her uncle which she carries with her everywhere. Using passages from the book, tidbits that she picked up from her favorite science teacher, and her own instincts, Lizzie treks through the woods, determined to find Matias. There are parts of Lizzie’s story that are very endearing, particularly her conversations with Uncle Davy, and there are parts of the story that would have benefited from further illumination and exploration, particularly Matias – we only see him through the eyes of Lizzie, who gives frustratingly little in the way of characterization. Lizzie, herself, is both an atypical and realistic 13-year-old, who often acts from a place of great naivete, but also great heart.

THOUGHTS: This is a perfect book for young readers who prefer the company of adults to other children their own age, and who are looking for a quirky wilderness adventure.

Realistic Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Bailey, Linda. Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt. Kids Can Press. 2018. 978-1-771-38985-3. $11.99. Gr. 5-8.

Bailey, Linda. Stowing Away with the Vikings. Kids Can Press. 2018. 978-1-525-30150-6. $15.99.
Bailey, Linda. On the Run in Ancient China. Kids Can Press. 2019. 978-1-525-30152-0. $15.99.

The first item in The Time Travel Guide series, Hot on the Trail in Egypt explores the life and culture of living in Ancient Egypt. As three siblings are sucked into a book in a spooky looking store, they realize that they are lost in Ancient Egypt and need to complete the guidebook in order to return home. The guidebook explains different parts of the life and culture in Ancient Egyptians, from the clothing, homes, work, parties, rulers, and more. In order to escape the madness and life of an Egyptian, the siblings complete the book and manage to return back to the spooky store, hoping to never return.

THOUGHTS: The cross between a story and real life information provides students with an opportunity to place themselves in the siblings shoes, while learning interesting information about life in Egypt. The guidebook is not filled with an excessive amount of information, but enough relevant and different information that keeps readers interested.

932 Egypt          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


Falligant, Erin. Body Pro: Facts and Figures About Bad Hair Days, Blemishes, and Being Healthy. Savvy Books (Capstone Press), 2018. 978-1-515-77878-3. 48 p. $23.99. Gr. 4-7.

A very informative and statistics-filled book for girls about the physical and social aspects of puberty. Body Pro has good images, great infographics throughout and well organized chapters that cover topics from how often to shampoo your hair to info about bras and breasts. There is a chapter on healthy eating and sugary drinks as well as a chapter on being active and staying healthy. Other topics covered briefly are substance abuse, sleep, mental health, and how to talk with adults.

THOUGHTS: I think this is a really good resource for 4th-7th Graders. It’s got relevant data that won’t go out of date soon, so is worth the price. If you’re looking to update your collection, this should be on your list.

646.7 Personal Care          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School


Diggs, Barbara. Illustrated by Sam Carbaugh. The Vietnam War (Inquire and Investigate). Nomad Press, 2018. 978-1-619-30658-5. $17.95. Grades 6 -9.

Mooney, Carla. Globalization: Why We Care About Faraway Events. 978-1-619-30664-6.
Wood, Matthew Brenden. The Space Race: How the Cold War Put Humans on the Moon.  978-1-619-30661-5.
Taylor, Diane C. World War II: From the Rise of the Nazi Party to the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb. 978-1-619-30655-4. 

This title provides an accessible introduction to the history of the Vietnam War for middle school students.  It discusses the origins of the conflict with the colonial rule of the French, the growing US involvement in the 1950s, the strategies and actions of the United States government as the war escalated, the realities of conflict for American soldiers, the growing anti-war movement at home, and the fall out as the US withdrew troops.

THOUGHTS: A very readable and engaging history, this terrific text includes features to increase understanding such as informational sidebars, photos, cartoons, QR code links to primary source material, and ideas for individual or group research projects.   

Non Fiction 959.7   Vietnam – History          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Hiranandani, Veera. The Night Diary. Dial,  2018. 978-0-735-22851-1. 272 p. $16.99.  Gr. 5-8.

It is 1947, India is splitting into two countries, and 12-year-old Nisha and her family find themselves on the wrong side of the divide. Shy, smart, Nisha and her twin brother are half-Muslim, half-Hindu. Because they are being raised by their Hindu father, they are no longer safe in what has now become the Muslim country of Pakistan. Nisha is inconsolable at the thought of leaving Kazi, her family’s Muslim cook, and the only person she truly feels comfortable talking with. Through letters she writes to her deceased mother, Nisha tells the story of her family’s dangerous journey to their new home.  

THOUGHTS: Gorgeous writing and realistic, relatable characters make this story about the Indian partition and the horror of the mass migration that resulted from it a must-buy for middle school libraries.

Historical Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

It’s 1947, and 12 year old Nisha is chronicling her daily life in India in letters to her mother. Recently, India has gained independence from Britain, and split into India and Pakistan. Nisha and her family live in Pakistan, but feel that it no longer safe to be there. So Nisha and her father, brother, and grandmother become refugees and begin the long journey to a new home. Nisha spills her fears and doubts into her letters: how alone she feels being half-Muslim and half- Hindu and how she fears her family does not have enough fresh water for the journey. After suffering the loss of her mother, who died giving birth to Nisha and her twin brother, Amil, Nisha fears she cannot bear to lose her home, too.

THOUGHTS: A wonderful look at an important part of India’s history, Nisha’s voice is real and fresh and will appeal to younger readers. Add this Newbery Honor Book to your shelves!

Historical Fiction          Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Kay, Katty, and Claire Shipman. The Confidence Code for Girls: Taking Risks, Messing Up, & Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self. Harper, 2018. 978-0-062-79698-1. 308 p. $14.99. Gr. 3-8.

This non-fiction, self-help book is research based, but incredibly readable. All the information gathered (and there’s a LOT) is explained in a way that makes sense without sounding demeaning. The book is divided into three different sections: “Risk More!” “Think Less!” and “Be Yourself!” The authors give concrete real-life examples, and reach readers through a variety of different styles of text and images, including cartoon panels throughout that provide examples. The Confidence Code for Girls can be read as a workbook – there are a lot of ways to interact with the text, from creating a “Confidence Notebook” to taking quizzes, deciding what path might be the most confident to take in a scenario, to creating your own confidence code.

THOUGHTS: I wish this book had been around when I was starting middle school. It is incredibly well researched and referenced with a full section of endnotes.

305.2352 Social Groups          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School


Varnes, Allison. Property of the Rebel Librarian. Random House, 2018. 978-1-524-77147-8. 275 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

June’s parents have always been strict, but when they start controlling her access to books, June is at first confused then angry. Her anger turns to outright horror when her parents demand a mass book-banning in June’s school library. Things get even uglier when the school administration sides with June’s parents, and June’s beloved school librarian, who refuses to comply, loses her job. Instead of giving up, June fight backs by banding together with a group of like-minded students. Hoarding books in an empty locker, she becomes “the rebel librarian,” and soon even the kids who didn’t like to read are clamoring for the latest titles she’s managed to gather. But not all the kids are on her side, and everything comes to a head when information starts leaking out about where all the “contraband” is coming from.

THOUGHTS:  The situation this book presents is ridiculously extreme (or so one would hope). However, it provides an interesting jumping off point for thinking and talking about censorship and banned books, and June is a positive role model for youth activism. A fast-paced, thought-provoking tale that will appeal to fans of realistic fiction.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

June is a reader; the library her sanctuary, and librarian Ms. Bradshaw her idol. When June’s parents discover her reading an “inappropriate book,” they go a little overboard. Taking drastic measures to ensure their daughter is not manipulated by such unacceptable content, her parents (and other parents in their parent organization) convince the school to place the Ms. Bradshaw on leave and close the school library until the entire collection can be reevaluated. Heartbroken by this transgression (are books really that bad?), June hides what little books remain after her parents clear the shelves in her bedroom. Taking the long way to school (because she has free time now that she’s not in the library), June stumbles across a Little Free Library and what follows can only be described as a librarian being born. Suddenly, rule following June is loaning books out on the black market, making new friends, and taking risks she never imagined. 

THOUGHTS: Cute and quirky, hand this one to your readers. Classes can create a list of books that June obtains, talks about, or requests she fills. Discussions can follow about what books students would break the rules to read.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – Harbor Me; Winterhouse; Front Desk; The Third Mushroom; Someone Like Me

Woodson, Jacqueline. Harbor Me. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018. 978-0-399-25252-5. 176 p. $17.99. Gr. 4 and up.

Hayley has a secret that she’s not quite ready to share, but she soon learns, so do all of her classmates. When Ms. Laverne, their teacher, introduces the class to ARTT (A Room to Talk), Hayley learns about her classmates, Esteban, Tiago, Amari, Ashton, and Holly, and the struggles they deal with each day. Struggles with race, immigration, economics, bullying, family, grief, and loss. As each student shares his or her story, Hayley realizes that she is not alone. Everyone struggles and has fears. It’s not about the individual struggle but about how one finds strength to overcome the struggle and be a harbor, for those struggling.  Soon she understands what Ms. Laverne means when she tells the students to “be a harbor” and protect someone else. ARTT and each other are her harbor, and she is theirs.

THOUGHTS:  This book could not be more timely. From the perspective of fifth and sixth graders, the stories of deportation, bullying, fear of being shot, family dynamics, death, and not fitting in are heart-wrenching and too true.  Woodson masterfully shares real stories from a child’s perspective, a perspective that does not usually have a voice. This is a must-have for all school libraries. Although recommended for middle grades, it is a worthy read by all ages. Woodson puts it perfectly when she writes, “I know in my heart, Tiago whispered, the language we like to speak is music and poetry and even cold, sweet piraguas on hot, hot summer days. But it feels like this place wants to break my heart. It feels like every day it tries to make my mom feel tinier and tinier, like the size of Perrito’s head in my hands” (129). These kids will not be broken, and this novel gives everyone strength to persevere.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Guterson, Ben. Winterhouse. Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt, 2018. 978-1-250-12388-6. 370 p. $22.50. Gr. 4-6.

Elizabeth Somers is not happy when her aunt and uncle inform her that she must spend the Christmas holidays on her own at an old hotel called Winterhouse. To her surprise, Winterhouse is a beautiful rambling sort of place full of secrets. She makes a friend of her own age, a boy called Freddy, and the pair pass the time solving puzzles, exploring and competing in word ladder competitions. It soon becomes clear that not all is as it seems in the old hotel as they find the owner Norbridge Falls in the library searching through books as if looking for something in particular. Added to this mix of interesting characters is a helpful librarian and a scheming bookseller couple, who are also seeking this special book. Elizabeth believes she has found this sought after text, which appears to have magical qualities when a hidden message is revealed on its pages. This message is one that means life and death for one character and a new beginning for another. This book is part adventure, mystery, fantasy, and even ghost story all in one. While the initial pacing of the plot is slow, readers who persist with this title will be rewarded with an exciting climax and resolution. The whimsical illustrations by Chloe Bristol add an Edward Gorey-like atmosphere to this work. The attractive cover contains a drawing of the house with its windows cut out to reveal the book characters and a glimpse of the hotel’s interior. Guterson has penned a sequel called The Secrets of Winterhouse, which is scheduled for release in December, 2018.

THOUGHTS:  This book will appeal to middle grade readers who like a longer book. Those who enjoyed the Floors series by Patrick Carman will want to read this one. 

Mystery/Fantasy Fiction          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD


Yang, Kelly. Front Desk. Arthur A. Levine, 2018. 978-1-338-15779-6. 304 p. $16.99 Gr. 4-7.

The rollercoaster ride of hopes, dreams, and disappointments that characterizes the lives of so many immigrants is at the heart of Front Desk, a book informed by Yang’s own childhood. 10-year-old Mia Tang’s parents jump at the chance to manage a hotel in Southern California, only to find that they will be on call 24/7, and the job isn’t as lucrative as promised. Mia, who’s more than willing to help out at the front desk, is disappointed to learn she’s banned from the hotel pool and that her parents won’t earn enough for trips to Disneyland. Although the novel’s tone is breezy, neither the reader nor Mia is sheltered from learning the harsh realities of life for Chinese immigrants in the 1990s, which include racism, loan sharks, and homelessness. Mia dreams of being a writer, but her mother discourages her because she’s not a native English speaker. However, Mia’s talent becomes evident when she writes letters for family friends in desperate situations, saving the day with her boldness and ingenuity.

THOUGHTS: Mia is a funny, feisty heroine whom kids will love. Recommended for upper elementary and middle school libraries; the fact that it is an “own voices” book about the Chinese immigration experience is a bonus.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Holm, Jennifer. The Third Mushroom. Random House, 2018. 978-1-52471-980-7. 217 p. $16.99 Gr. 4-7.

Holm’s satisfying sequel to The Fourteenth Goldfish reunites Ellie with Grandpa Melvin, a cantankerous 77-year-old living in the body of a teenager, thanks to the miracles of science. This time around, Ellie talks Grandpa Melvin into entering the science fair with her, and the the duo work with fruit flies to pursue the possibility of growing new body parts. The project leads to a surprising (and welcome) development for Melvin. Meanwhile, Ellie deals with typical middle school friendship issues: She and Raj go on a date, and their easy relationships takes an awkward turn, but she also learns the value of shared memories and reconnects with an old friend. On a somber note, Ellie must come to terms with the fact that science cannot fix everything, as she deals with the loss of a beloved pet. Themes of taking chances, making mistakes, and reveling in the unexpected are woven throughout the novel and connected to STEM topics, but never in a didactic or preachy manner. Backmatter provides additional resources for students interested in further exploring the scientists and concepts introduced in the book.  

THOUGHTS:  Like its predecessor, this science fiction story will also appeal to fans of realistic fiction and can stand on its own. Highly recommended for late elementary and middle school libraries. The Third Mushroom is that rare book that is easy to read, easy to relate to, and highly thought-provoking.

Science Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Change is never easy or expected, even for Ellie who lives with her teenage grandfather! In the sequel to The Fourteenth Goldfish, we revisit the blended and ever interesting family as they try a new experiment and face many of life’s challenges. Melvin is the grandfather who is learning to adapt to his reverted age while also knowing the facts of life ahead. He and Ellie engage in a science experiment that could be the next great discovery for regeneration. Ellie also deals with changes to her mom’s world, her pet’s life, and her best friends’ relationships. Nothing is easy for a teenager, but trying new things (like the titular mushrooms) could lead to unexpected results!

THOUGHTS: Jennifer Holm hits the feelings of Ellie and her world with captivating ease. The bonus is her ability to bring in famous scientists and some scientific inquiry concepts. Though not plot-perfect or entirely plausible, The Third Mushroom makes a suitable sequel and gives resolution to some inevitable discoveries.

Realistic/ Science Fiction           Dustin Brackbill State College Area SD


Arce, Julissa. Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream. Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 978-0-316-48174-8. 223 p. $16.99. Gr. 5 and up.

Having been born in Mexico in a bathroom stall two months early, Julissa’s indomitable spirit carries her throughout her life. She begins telling her story on her presentatcion de los tres años, the day she turned three years old. Throughout her childhood, Julissa’s parents travel to festivals all over Mexico, selling cantaritos. In the close knit town of Taxco, Julissa and her two older sisters have many relatives to help watch after them; though, they primarily are cared for by their beloved nanny Cande. Eventually, Julissa’s parents gain work visas and begin traveling to the States to sell their Taxco’s sterling silver. While Julissa’s parents spend most of their year in America, Julissa and her sisters visit for summers on tourist visas. When Julissa’s sisters return to Mexico at the end of the summer before she enters middle school, her mom informs Julissa that she’ll be staying in Texas with them. Thrilled to be with her parents and her baby brother Julio (born in America), Julissa is enrolled in a Catholic school, though there is no ESL program. With an understanding teacher and one classmate who speaks Spanish, Julissa begins her American education. Met with many challenges and frustrations over the next several years, Julissa perseveres with hopes of eventually achieving her American Dream. 

THOUGHTS:  Through descriptions of her life in Mexico and America, Julisssa’s story helps readers understand why families want to achieve an American Dream, even when they’re not born in America. This “own voices” story is an excellent addition for middle or high school libraries where heartfelt memoirs are popular. 

305.48 Memoir          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Blanca and Roja; Hey, Kiddo; Sawkill Girls; My Whole Truth; Little White Lies; How She Died, How I Lived

McLemore, Anna-Marie.  Blanca & Roja. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2018. 9781250162717. 375 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Everyone knows the del Cisne sisters – beautiful, blond, selfless, compliant Blanca, and small, dark, manipulative, witchy Roja – and everyone knows that one of them will be transformed into a swan; that’s just how it has been for generations of del Cisne girls – there are always two daughters born, and one of those daughters, after the youngest turns fifteen, is always transformed into a swan. Both Blanca and Roja have spent their childhoods believing that Roja will be taken, and they decide to outsmart the swans by becoming so much alike, the swans won’t be able to tell them apart. However, as readers of fairy tales know, there’s no outrunning a curse. When the swans do come, two boys who are trying to outrun their pasts also arrive on the del Cisne doorstep – blue-eyed, blue-blooded Barclay Holt, and his best friend, awkward yet charming, Page Ashby. The lives and destinies of these four teens become inextricably intertwined; Roja believes that Barclay, whom she calls Yearling (for reasons too complicated to reveal here) is the key to saving herself from the swans, and Blanca, who should be focusing her energies on saving her sister, can’t stop thinking about Page. Due to a catastrophic failure in communication, Roja is convinced that Blanca is trying desperately to save herself, when really, Blanca, without disclosing any of her plans to Roja, is secretly scheming to get herself taken, rather than Roja. McLemore’s characters usually have an entire cadre of familial supporters behind them, but in this story, Blanca and Roja are entirely on their own, which provides a deep tension and sense of urgency to their predicament. Similarly, Barclay and Page choose to be on their own, believing, for very different reasons, that it’s far better than being with their families. There is a complex web connecting all of these stories together, with family secrets galore, and the balance if sometimes off-center, leaving more questions than answers. Blanca and Roja are not as well developed as some of McLemore’s characters, leaving the readers less attached than they might want to be.  However, the writing is what we’ve come to expect from McLemore – beautiful, whimsical, precise, and spell-binding.

THOUGHTS: The secondary female characters – namely Page and Barclay’s grandmothers – are perhaps the most memorable, the most fierce, and the most likeable of all of the characters in the book. They provide much needed guidance and no-nonsense attitudes to the sometimes melodramatic situations in this book.

Fantasy          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction. Graphix, 2018. 978-0-545-90248-9. 320 p. $14.99. Grades 8+.

As a child, Jarrett “Ja” Krosoczka was taken in by his grandparents because his single mom, a heroin addict, was unable to care for him. Over the years, Jarrett would occasionally see his mother, Leslie, but she was usually absent from birthdays and special occasions as she moved in and out of jail, rehab, and halfway homes. His true support system was his grandparents (the very colorful Joe and Shirl), aunts and uncles, and a handful of close friends. When his father reaches out via a letter, Jarrett must decide whether or not to pursue a relationship with the man who has always been just a name on his birth certificate. Through it all, Joe and Shirl are stalwart, loving guardians who support their grandson’s interest in art and comics. Krosoczka’s artwork is rendered in shades of burnt orange, grey, and brown. Soft lines and shading lend a nostalgic mood to memories both cherished and painful. Actual letters from Jarrett’s parents, his childhood drawings, and other family artifacts make this graphic memoir especially personal.

THOUGHTS: Readers will embrace Ja’s journey from confused little boy to teenager finding his voice through art. Don’t skip the Author’s Note, which provides further context and an epilogue of sorts. Also check out the book trailer and Krosoczka’s 2013 TED talk for even more insights into how addiction and art have impacted his life.

92, Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Full of heart and heartbreak, this biographical graphic memoir tells the author’s story of growing up in a family of addition. Taken from his mother at a young age, Jarrett “Ja” Krosoczka is raised by his grandparents (who struggle with addition issues of their own). Seeing his mother sporadically throughout his life leaves Jarrett full of unanswered questions about who he is. Jarrett’s only solace is in his art, and his grandparents recognize and encourage this through his life by ensuring Jarrett is enrolled in a variety of art courses and camps. This love is demonstrated even more by the inclusion of original art and letters spanning Jarrett’s life. 


THOUGHTS: Hand this one to readers looking to be inspired by one man’s struggle to overcome his situation. Krosoczka’s honesty will change the way readers define family and view addiction. A National Book Award Finalist, this graphic memoir is a must-have for high schools. Middle school libraries should preview due to language and mature situations. 

 92, Graphic Memoir          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Jarrett J. Krosoczka was adopted and raised by his grandparents because his heroin addicted mother could not care for him. This graphic memoir explores his childhood with his grandparents, his search for his biological father, and his relationship with his mother, who weaves in and out of his life like a fever during the flu. His complicated relationship with his grandparents is riddled with verbal abuse, alcoholism, and crime. Jarrett’s one outlet during this time is art, and he incorporates actual drawings done from preschool through graduation into the memoir. The artwork is often somber, colored in dark greys and black, reflecting the ripple effect that his families addiction can have.

THOUGHTS: This is a stunning, vulnerable look at addiction. The authors choice to create a graphic memoir will appeal to teens, and should not be overlooked. Recommended for older teens due to drug use and violence.

Memoir          Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Legrand, Claire. Sawkill Girls. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. 978-0-062-69660-1. 447 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Something strange and sinister is afoot on Sawkill Rock. For years, girls have vanished without a trace in the night, but life continues apace among the staid citizens of Sawkill. As always, someone knows something … and maybe the time has come for three girls to banish Sawkill’s unseen menace. “Queen Bee” Val Mortimer, a lifelong resident of Sawkill Rock, is part of the influential and untouchable line of Mortimer women. Zoey Harlow, the police chief’s daughter, is still mourning the loss of her best friend, first to Val’s circle of mean girls and then to the island’s “Collector.” Finally, the arrival of Marion Althouse and her sister Charlotte — eventful from the first moment — stirs something deep within Sawkill Rock itself. The girls are initially adversaries, then tentative allies, then soldiers-in-arms (and more) as they battle demons both internal and quite real. Claire Legrand puts a feminist spin on classic horror conventions, including hidden rooms, a book of Latin incantations, a secret society dedicated to eradicating the Collector, and imperiled girls walking home through the woods.

THOUGHTS: This is a very solid teen horror selection. In an essay for Bookish.com, Legrand herself described Sawkill Girls as an “angry, queer, feminist YA horror novel.” It is these things, and a pageturner with some truly scary moments as well. I read this book with my 9th grade book club, a group of about 20 girls. It was the perfect choice for the Halloween / dark-at-4:30 season. The atmosphere of Sawkill Rock, the horses, and some of the creepy elements reminded me of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, one of my all-time favorites.

Horror Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Thrace, Mischa. My Whole Truth. Flux, 2018. 978-1-635-83024-8. 256 p. $11.99. Grades 9-12.

“I need help,” seventeen year old Seelie Stanton whispers to the 911 operator after escaping her attacker. Brutally attacked while alone at work, Seelie saves herself and in the process kills Shane Mayfield, son of a well-connected family. When she wakes up in the hospital and is questioned by officers, Seelie isn’t even sure if Shane is living. All she knows is that she had to save herself. While one officer seems to empathize with Seelie, the other twists her words. Upon Seelie’s release from the hospital, she’s arrested and is being charged as an adult for murder. Seelie thought the loft of the barn was her worst nightmare, but really it was only the beginning. 

THOUGHTS: Fans of thrillers will appreciate the mystery that the title implies. Clearly, readers do not have the whole truth from the beginning. Due to the graphic nature of her attack, this is recommended for mature high school readers. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. Little White Lies. Freeform, 2018. 978-1-368-01413-7. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

The hardworking daughter of a flighty single mom, eighteen year old Sawyer Taft does not expect to become a member of high society. When her estranged grandmother makes an offer she cannot refuse, Sawyer steps into her mother’s former world to participate in debutante season. Initially caught up in the life she hasn’t had, Sawyer eventually realizes that there is more than meets the eye. If she wants to get the answers she’s looking for, Sawyer will have to join the others and play dirty. 

THOUGHTS: Readers will adore and root for Sawyer, respecting her search for the truth about her family origins. The complex and twisted friendships and family ties will leave readers unsuspecting of the eventual outcome and highly anticipating its sequel. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Sawyer Taft knows little about luxury and even less about her family.  So when Lillian Taft, her grandmother, appears and offers her half-a-million dollars to come live with her and fulfill a debutante contract, Sawyer can’t refuse.  Soon she finds herself in a new world, full of debutantes, wealth, Southern hospitality, and family secrets that was only 45-minutes away her entire life. As Sawyer befriends her cousin, Lily, and her friends, she also learns secrets that lead to blackmail, arrest, and enemies coming together for a common good.  But with secrets, comes curiosity too. Sawyer knows her mother left this life when she got pregnant during her debutante year, and one of four men must be her father. With the help of a friend, she begins to eliminate potential dads until she unleashes a secret that could tear apart her new life and her new-found family.  

THOUGHTS:  Told through first-person narration and alternating between present and past events, Little White Lies is an entertaining romp through secrets, wealth, Southern hospitality, and debutantes.  

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Crockett, Mary. How She Died, How I Lived. Little, Brown Books, 2018. 978-0-316-52381-3. 416 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

“Want to hang out this afternoon?” One simple message has an irrevocable ripple effect; five girls received it, and only the one who responded – beautiful, sweet, innocent Jamie – was brutally murdered. Coming up on the sentencing hearing one year later, each girl is (or isn’t) coping in her own way. Though readers know the other survivor’s names, the narrator remains anonymous. Through her eyes readers are taken on a journey of pain, grief, and survivor’s guilt, as she tries to make sense of the senseless and move on from this tragedy. Together with Charlie, Jamie’s boyfriend at the time of her death, and Lindsey, another of the targeted girls, these teens process their emotions and the role this event has played in their lives while trying to figure out how to live. 

THOUGHTS: The unique point of view of this novel helps readers understand how trauma survivors (and friends and family of those impacted by trauma) cope, process their emotions, and learn how to live. The author’s note adds some insight into how Crockett was inspired by a violent act in her own community and used writing to process her own anger (listen to this podcast for more). Recommended for fans of character driven, realistic novels. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MS/YA Nonfiction – Survivor’s Club; One Last Word

Bornstein, Michael, and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat. Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017. 978-0-374-30571-0. 348 p. $16.99. Gr. 6-8.

Born in 1940 in the Nazi-occupied ghetto of Zarki, Poland, Michael Bornstein spent the first 11 years of his life enduring an incredible amount of heartbreak and despair.  When he was only four years old, he and his family were relocated to the Auschwitz concentration camp, which he, along with his mother and grandmother, miraculously survived.  Sadly, his father and brother were killed at Auschwitz.  After returning home to Zarki, Michael and his remaining family discovered they were unwelcome, and eventually ended up moving to Munich as displaced persons.  There, Michael attended a Hebrew school and his mother worked until, after six years, they were finally able to emigrate to the United States.  Throughout this honest and harrowing memoir, the power of hope is consistently reinforced, as Michael’s mother is constantly reminding him: “Gam ze ya’avor” (“This too shall pass”).  The book is supplemented by an afterword, a Bornstein family “who’s who,” captioned photographs, a glossary of Yiddish terms, and source notes. This is a powerful and memorable addition to any middle school Holocaust collection.  THOUGHTS: There are many options for using this title in a school setting.  Social studies teachers could use it to supplement a unit on the Holocaust or to spark discussion about racism and senseless murder that is still happening in the world today.  Another option would be to pair this title with fictional stories about the Holocaust, such as Jennifer Roy’s Yellow Star, Alan Gratz’s Prisoner B-3087, or John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.  As with many selections that deal with the Holocaust, bear in mind that there are some horrific scenes throughout the course of the story that may not sit well with more sensitive readers.

940.53; Holocaust       Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

 

Grimes, Nikki. One Last Word. Bloomsbury, 2017. 978-1-61963-554-8. 119pp. $18.99. Gr. 5 and up.

“Can I really find / fuel for the future / in the past ?” (11) One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance is Nikki Grimes at her finest.  Following the beautiful poetic structure of Gwendolyn Brooks known as Golden Shovel, which Grimes explains in the preface, Grimes pieces together new poetry amongst Harlem Renaissance poems to explore life and common experiences.  Every other poem is written by Grimes with the even poems chosen from poets such as Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar and many others.  Grimes highlights the line from the Harlem Renaissance poems that she uses in her Golden Shovel style poem that follows (the words in her poems are also highlighted to connect back to the original text).  Intermixed with the poems are colorful mixed media art that support the poems and experiences. Two of my favorites are “Jabari Unmasked”, about how students mask themselves to fit in and often their hearts and mind are lost in the act, and  “Lessons”, about the impact of poverty in life and how love and family can save. THOUGHTS:  As a teacher-librarian, Grimes poems speak to the need to raise students up and praise them for their abilities while teaching them to strengthen their weaknesses.  Poems “Crucible of Champions”, “A Safe Place”, “The Sculptor”, and “Lessons” are just a few of the poems that remind the reader, adult or student, that life is different for each person no matter how similar they may seem.  This is an exquisite text.

Poetry     Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

 

 

 

YA NF – How Dare the Sun Rise; March Against Fear; Martin Luther; American Fire

Uwiringiyimana, Sandra, and Abigail Pesta. How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child. Katherine Tegen Books, 2017. 978-0-06-247014-0. 288 pp. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

This excellent memoir relates how one “war child” went from stateless refugee to leading activist. Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sandra Uwiringiyimana enjoyed a happy childhood in a large, loving family. Her parents strongly valued education and envisioned a life for their daughters beyond an arranged marriage; her siblings were both her playmates and protectors. However, the possibility of war was a constant cloud on the horizon. When she was ten, Sandra’s family fled to a refugee camp in Burundi that was attacked by a rebel militia. With a gun to her head, Sandra said goodbye to life, but the rebel spared her and she escaped into the darkness. Miraculously, after the massacre she reunited with some of her family, and together they began a journey that would ultimately bring them to Rochester, New York. Sandra’s challenges continued as she learned to navigate American culture, race relations, and her flashbacks to the Gatumba massacre. Sandra’s passion for education and human rights have driven both her activism and her quest to heal from the trauma she suffered. THOUGHTS: Sandra Uwiringiyimana has written a moving account of her harrowing years as a child of war, and the strength and support she found to rebuild her life. It stands alongside other standout titles such as Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara, Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee, and A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah.

In her closing Information and Resources section, the author highlights three organizations:

  • Jimbere Fund, whose mission is to revitalize distressed communities in rural Congo (www.Jimberefund.org)
  • The Maman Shujaa, a women’s movement for peace, women’s rights, rights of the indigenous, and nature (www.HeroWomenRising.org)
  • RefugePoint (www.RefugePoint.org) helps refugees in life-threatening situations find safety and rebuild their lives

92, Autobiography    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

 

Bausum, Ann. The March Against Fear. National Geographic, 2017. 978-1-4263-2666-0. $19.99. 144p. Gr. 7 and up.

The March Against Fear is the story of the last great, but sometimes forgotten, civil rights march. James Meredith was one of the first wave of recruits into the newly integrated Air Force, and he was the first African American to successfully integrate the University of Mississippi. It was that courage and determination that gave him the idea of marching across his home state of Mississippi to encourage African Americans to register to vote. A year earlier the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed but still a majority of African Americans had not registered to vote. Meredith thought that fear of retaliation was holding people back from registering, and this Walk Against Fear would be the thing to inspire them to register. On the second day of the march Meredith was shot. Fortunately, he didn’t die, but with the shooting his walk turned into a march and his cause was taken up by civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Stokely Carmichael. This march and the violent confrontations that the people who took part in it endured pitted King’s nonviolent response with Carmichael’s demand for “black power.” Following the march, all across the country there was growing unrest and frustration with racism and protests were held in at least 20 major cities. The media focused on what they thought was Carmichael’s call to violence and “black power” became the legacy of the March Against Fear.  THOUGHTS: Ann Bausum spoke to our students in support of the publication of this book. Our students and some teachers were mesmerized by this bit of history that they had never heard of. This book has powerful quotes and engaging photographs on solid black backgrounds that make it a pleasure to read. It would be an excellent book to use for Social Studies book clubs at the 7th through 9th grade level.

323.1196; Civil Rights      Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Ciponte, Andrea Grosso and Dacia Palmerino.  Renegade: Martin Luther, The Graphic Biography. Plough Publishing House, 2017.  9780874862072. 160 p. $19.95. Gr. 8 and up.

Beautifully illustrated and well researched, this graphic novel follows the life of Martin Luther, the man who challenged the Catholic Church and inspired the Protestant Revolution. It is a fast read that captures the tumultuous times in Germany at the beginning of the 16th century, a time of poverty, plague and suffering. Martin was the son of hard working, strictly religious family. He excelled in school and was granted the opportunity to study at the University in Erfurt with the hopes of becoming a lawyer and improving his family’s lot. When caught in a violent storm, Martin has an epiphany which brings him to the church. Obsessed with salvation and faith he pores over the scriptures as he seeks to reconcile his growing doubts with the practices of the Holy Catholic Church. His major complaints against the Church over the sale of indulgences and the true meaning of faith and grace lead him to post the infamous 95 Theses on the door of the Cathedral. The novel presents Luther’s reasoning on the questions of faith, his friends and foes in his struggle to clarify his theology, and his efforts to bring the word of God closer to the people of Germany.  The good the bad and the ugly of Luther’s life is exposed, including his end of life tirades against Jews, Anabaptists and the peasants of Germany.  Ciponte’s drawings are gorgeous and colorful – evocative of some of the great masterpieces of the Renaissance.  THOUGHTS: Could be used as a companion text for students of world history to bring this revolutionary time period to life. Having a degree of background knowledge would help the reader understand the events in this retelling.

92, Graphic Biography               Nancy Summers, Abington SD

 

Hesse, Monica. American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017. 978-1-63149-051-4. 255 pp. $26.95. Gr. 10+.

Monica Hesse, author of the excellent young adult WWII mystery Girl in the Blue Coat, returns with a compulsively readable true crime case study. In American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, Hesse relates the story of Accomack County, part of Virginia’s Eastern Shore peninsula, where dozens of abandoned buildings were set ablaze in 2012 and 2013. The story hinges less on whodunnit (the arsonists are already serving time) than why-dunnit. American Fire’s subtitle teases the answer, which Hesse reveals through depictions of the county’s cultural history, the crime of arson itself, the painstaking efforts of law enforcement, and an intense but ill-fated love story. THOUGHTS: American Fire is narrative nonfiction at its best. Written for adults, it’s also a perfect choice for teens who are listeners of the S-Town podcast, readers of David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon, or simply enjoy puzzling out a seemingly random crime spree. One gripe: an Eastern Shore map would have been helpful! Hopefully one will be included when the paperback edition is released.

364.16; Crime     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD