YA Realistic FIC – When I Am Through with You; Thing with Feathers; St. Death; Sunshine is Forever

Kuehn, Stephanie. When I Am Through with You. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-101-99473-3. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Unreliable from the start, Ben tells the story of what happened on the mountain in his own way, on his own terms, and apparently from his prison cell. So begins Ben’s story and how he got to be on the mountain to begin with.  Suffering from migraines and depression and being the only caregiver for his unwell mother, Ben feels trapped by his life in Teyber. He reconnects with former teacher Mr. Howe to help with the school’s orienteering (exploring) club.  Rose, Tomas, Avery, Duncan, Clay, and Archie join Ben on the first hike into the wilderness. Tense from the start, this group seems to be on a doomed trip. It’s not until the end that readers see just how doomed these adventure seekers are. THOUGHTS: Drinking, drug use, descriptions of casual sex, and violence make this a book for more mature teens.

Realistic Fiction, Adventure       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Hoyle, McCall. The Thing with Feathers. Blink, 2017. 978-0-310-75851-8. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Emilie is perfectly fine staying in the safety of her home with her mom and best friend (her seizure dog). She disagrees with her mom and her therapist: attending public school is not a good idea. She doesn’t want to be known as “that girl that has seizures.” When Emilie starts school, she makes a decision not to tell anyone about her epilepsy. As she gets closer to her friends and a boy she’s paired with her decision not to reveal her medical condition becomes more and more critical. But it’s been months since Emilie seized, so she’ll be okay, right?  THOUGHTS: Readers will fly through this light-hearted and realistic sweet novel about what it means to be different and what lengths we will go to hide our differences. With a compelling storyline – Will she or won’t she tell? Will she or won’t she seize? – readers will fall in love with Emilie as she experiences public school, friendship, and first love.

Realistic Fiction     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Sedgwick, Marcus.  Saint Death.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017 (1st American ed.).  978-1-62672-549-2. 227 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Arturo lives in a shack on the outskirts of Juarez, a Mexican city that butts up against the American border. One day, his childhood friend, Faustino, shows up begging for Arturo’s help. It seems that Faustino has joined a gang and has stolen $1,000 from his boss to send his girlfriend and her baby to America. He must replace this money by the next day or he will be killed. Arturo, a skillful card player, agrees to try to win the money back, but soon finds himself in even more debt. Now, Arturo’s life is also on the line. He scrambles to replace the money both he and Faustino owe before they are both killed by gangsters. Fast-paced and devastatingly honest, this title by Printz award winner Sedgwick is an excellent addition to high school libraries. THOUGHTS: Focusing on taboo topics like religion, illegal immigration, human and drug trafficking, and the exploitation of foreign workers by large corporations, this title is sure to spark a great deal of discussion and debate. Because violence is addressed in such an uncomfortable and unflinching manner, this title might be better suited for older, more mature readers. Pair this title with Linda Barrett Osborne’s This Land is Our Land for a unit on immigration or with Patricia McCormick’s Sold for a unit on human trafficking.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

 

Cowan, Kyle T.  Sunshine is Forever. Inkshares, 2017. 978-1-942645-62-7. $11.99. 282 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Hunter S. Thompson spends his days smoking pot with his only friend until a tragic “incident” changes everything. Desperate for acceptance and connection and wracked with guilt, he blames anyone else for the events in his past.  When he makes a couple of suicide attempts, he is sent to Camp Sunshine for depressed teens.  After being in therapy for months and on several medications, Hunter is not optimistic about the Camp Sunshine Program.  A few of the counselors and guards on staff are cruel and clueless,  though one or two seem genuinely interested and concerned for the kids.  But Hunter finds a real friend in his bunkmate Quint and a potential girlfriend in the charismatic but manipulative Corin. These connections and the questions of his therapist are helping Hunter make progress with his mental state, but when Corin convinces Hunter and a few others to join her in an escape plan, all of their chances for recovery are threatened.  THOUGHTS:  Sunshine is Forever is a raw and darkly humorous tale that tackles adolescent depression, suicide and mental health treatment in a believable way. A fast-paced read – a good choice for reluctant readers and for those who appreciate darker realistic fiction titles.   The mature themes and make it more appropriate for older teens.
Realistic Fiction            Nancy Summers, Abington School District

YA Fiction – Mask of Shadows; What to Say Next; My Favorite Things is Monsters; Strange the Dreamer

Miller, Linsey. Mask of Shadows. Sourcebooks, 2017.  9781492647492. 352 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Orphaned street thief, Sallot Leon, is permitted to enter the audition to become the next member of the Left Hand of the Queen, a group of four assassins who serve as advisers and protectors of the throne. These four are named for the gems of the rings worn by the Queen: Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, and Opal. When the last Opal is killed, Sal and 22 others compete to gain the position which will elevate the winner to enjoy the riches, security, and honor that will come with a new noble status. Borrowing heavily from titles such as Hunger Games and Throne of Glass, the plot follows the Auditioners, who must fight to the death to earn the coveted spot at court. The 22 contestants are virtually indistinguishable from one another with no real character development for any of them; each are masked for the competition and known only by their assigned numbers.  Sal, now known as Twenty Three, wishes to leave a life of thievery behind but also has a hidden agenda to avenge the destruction of her homeland and people. In one of the more original and interesting aspects of this tale, Sal‘s character is gender fluid and prefers to be addressed by the pronouns of “they” and “them”. Unfortunately, the gender identity for Sal seems to revolve around what clothing they are wearing that day. A romance with a noblewoman who serves as a tutor for the Auditioners unfolds and the sexuality between the two is presented matter of factly.  The only obstacle to such a romance in this world is Sal’s lower-class status, which would change if they win the contest. Mask of Shadows details the growing violence and intrigue between the Auditioners, as the competition advances and many of these scenes are gripping, violent, and gory.  But overall, the story lacks strong character development and the world building is not fully realized. Sal’s backstory is only briefly visited and there is no real explanation or insight into the magic and shadows which caused the destruction of the old-world order, or the war between the kingdoms that led to the current shaky political reality.  THOUGHTS: This YA fantasy with a strong gender-fluid character has an interesting premise and action-packed competition sequences. A secondary purchase for fans of violent fantasy.

Fantasy          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

 

Buxbaum, Julie. What to Say Next. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-0-553-53568-6. 292 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Julie Buxbaum, author of the very enjoyable Tell Me Three Things, returns with the even better What to Say Next! David Drucker is a little unusual. He’s brilliant but awkward in social situations; he’s a diligent fan of order and routine, and he was once diagnosed with Asperger’s (but that’s just a label). He also keeps a notebook full of lists, rules, and notable encounters with his classmates at Mapleview High School. He’s got a particularly detailed entry on Kit Lowell, who attended his childhood birthday parties and smiled at him when their names were announced as Mapleview’s only National Merit semifinalists. Now, after 622 days of eating lunch alone, David is joined by Kit, whose father died in a car crash just one month ago. None of Kit’s popular friends know what to say or how to act around her, and David’s bluntness is a welcome change of pace. When David’s notebook is stolen and posted online, followed by the reveal of two huge Lowell family secrets, the opposites-attract couple needs each other more than ever.  THOUGHTS: This winning, dual perspective novel focuses on the “friend” in girlfriend and boyfriend relationships. It’s a perfect choice for fans of realistic romance with a serious side, such as Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and When We Collided by Emery Lord.

Realistic Fiction     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

Ferris, Emil. My Favorite Things is Monsters. Fantagraphics Books, 2017. 978-1-60699-696-2. unpaged. $39.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Emil Ferris’ mind-bogglingly good graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, hinges on the murder of Anka Silverberg, who is shot and killed in her apartment. Her downstairs neighbor, 10-year old Karen Reyes (an unusual girl who identifies with comic book monsters) decides to put on her detective hat and crack the case. In late 1960s Chicago, suspects abound. Anka’s personal history, depicted through tape-recorded interviews and an extended story within the story, reveal a damaged woman with a haunted past. Karen, meanwhile, longs to be changed into a werewolf so that she can “turn” and somehow save her own dying mother. One serious drawback: even after finishing this doorstop of a debut (which introduces a new mystery in the final pages), readers will have to wait until 2018 for Volume 2 and a resolution to the mysteries. THOUGHTS: This is a unique reading experience that raises more questions about monsters than it answers, and does so with beautiful style. Mature themes such as prostitution and violence are depicted visually, so this is recommended for older teens.

Graphic Novel     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

Taylor, Laini. Strange the Dreamer. Little Brown, 2017. 978-0-316-34168-4. 544 pp. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

A city with no name. A boy with no past.  A girl with no future.  Though it sounds bleak, Laini Taylor’s newest novel, Strange the Dreamer, is a magical, imaginative, heartbreaking story that will leave readers on the edge of their seats.  Lazlo Strange is an orphan, and a dreamer, with little memory of his childhood, save for the day that the name of the city was taken from him, and replaced with the name “Weep.” Consumed with a desire to know more, Lazlo, through an accident of fate, becomes a librarian, and garners all he can about the enigmatic city, including its language. When an entourage from Weep arrives, looking for people to come help solve a mysterious problem, Lazlo jumps at the chance. Meanwhile, in Weep, Sarai, a blue-skinned demi-goddess, is stuck; she and her three companions are trying to navigate an increasingly grim future by using their gifts, bestowed upon them by their god and goddess parents. Sarai is a dream walker, but uses her abilities to bestow nightmares on the people of Weep, punishing them nightly for their treachery.  When Sarai enters Lazlo’s dream, it unleashes an unexpected and intense series of events that will forever change the lives of the dreamers, and all of those around them. THOUGHTS:  I absolutely loved this book.  Laini Taylor has really come into her own as an author, and this is a much more nuanced, sophisticated novel than her previous efforts.  While the romance between Sarai and Lazlo feels a little rushed, the world-building, the characters, the setting, and the tension between characters makes up for it ten-fold.  Highly recommended to all fantasy lovers.

Fantasy     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Laini Taylor, author of the fantastic Daughter of Smoke & Bone series, is back with another incredible fantasy novel. Orphan Lazlo Strange works as a junior librarian and spends his days researching and dreaming. Since childhood, he has been obsessed with the lost city of Weep, a city which most of his peers claim is simply a legend. One day, a mythical Godslayer visits the library, and Lazlo finds an opportunity to go searching for his beloved lost city. In Weep, Lazlo finds his dreams haunted by a beautiful blue-skinned girl. Who is she, and why can they see and speak to one another? The mysteries of Weep deepen, and Lazlo finds himself embroiled in a centuries-old war between gods and mortals. This is truly a spectacular, lyrical story that will appeal to all fantasy readers. THOUGHTS: Taylor is an incredibly talented writer, creating a vast world with true to life characters and words that jump off the page. Fantasy fans will adore this and clamor for the next book in the series.

Fantasy     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

YA Realistic Fiction – Windfall; The Whole Thing Together; Bang

Smith, Jennifer E. Windfall. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-0-399-55937-2. 414 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Alice, Teddy, and Leo have been together through a lot, and luck did not bring them together. Alice moved across the country at age 9 to live with her cousin Leo and his family after both of her parents died a year apart from each other. Teddy’s dad disappeared after losing his family’s apartment as a result of gambling debts. Nine years later they’re the best of friends, and their luck seems like it’s about to change. The lottery ticket Alice gives Teddy for his 18th birthday is a winner, a $140 million winner to be exact. What Teddy sees as a blessing, Alice sees as a curse; she’s had more than enough change for one lifetime. With delicate ease, Smith demonstrates how fears can hold us back and how difficult change can be. Windfall approaches many topics like loss, grief, gambling, graduating, families, and relationships while asking what would you do if you won the lottery, and would it change you for the better?  

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Brashares, Ann. The Whole Thing Together. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-0-385-73689-3. 304 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Though they share a bedroom on opposite weeks at their families’ beach house on Long Island, Ray and Sasha have never met. Family is a complicated term for these two teens who share three older half sisters (Ray with his mom and Sasha with her dad). From mutual childhood toys to books with notes written in the margins, Ray and Sasha’s lives are more intertwined than one would expect, considering they’ve never met. They’re like siblings, and something about sharing a space has become almost intimate. Not everything is sunshine and summery as one may expect of a book set at the beach. The carefully constructed modern day blended family dynamics show just how complex relationships can be. Told through multiple points of view, Brashares’s The Whole Thing Together will charm readers with it’s idealistic setting and family drama.

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Lyga, Barry. Bang. Little, Brown Books, 2017. 978-0-316-31550-0. 304 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Sebastian is 14, and 10 years ago he did something so unspeakable, so unthinkable, so unintentional: he shot and killed his infant sister. Though he has no recollection of the tragic moment, Sebastian has lived his life full of guilt. Now he’s ready for some relief. Bang approaches so many “headline” issues – gun violence, broken families, lack of communication, depression, suicide, Islamophobia, and more – with a gentle yet compelling voice. Readers will root for Sebastian to find some peace in life, and he will stay with them long after the last page.  THOUGHTS:  I’m truly at a loss for words after finishing Bang. To put things simply, this book is incredible, and it is a must read!

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

YA Realistic Fiction – What Light; Keep Me In Mind; The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker

whatlight

Asher, Jay. What Light. New York: Razorbill, 2016.  978-159514-5512. $18.99. 251 pp. Gr.  7-12.
Sierra loves her life but is between two worlds.  For most of the year she lives in Oregon on her family’s tree farm, but each year in the pre-Christmas season, her family moves to California to work on their tree lot.  Sierra loves the work and loves that her family embraces everything Christmas; no jadedness or blasé attitudes here.  However, each year it’s hard to leave behind friends, and this year her parents have come clean with the fact that individual sales are down, and they may close the California lot after this season.  And so, Sierra knows that starting a relationship with a boy in California would be foolish; she’ll be gone and maybe never return.  Enter Caleb.  After several visits to her family’s tree lot, Caleb clearly is interested.  Sierra is drawn to him, and his choice to buy trees to surprise families in need, but her friend warns her of a violent act in his past.  She tries to keep her distance, but also tries to find out how a “violent” boy description squares with the kind Caleb she’s getting to know.  Soon, they’re both head over heels in love, and run into problems from the past and present.  THOUGHTS: This winter romance delivers light PG-related content.  Asher pricked our guilty consciences with Thirteen Reasons Why.  In What Light, he shines only a pale, predictable light on forgiveness and judging others. Drink with a peppermint mocha.  Suitable for grades 7-12.
Romance         Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

 

keepmeinmind

Reed, Jaime. Keep Me In Mind.  New York: Point, 2016. 978-0-545-88381-8. 329 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.
When Ellia Dawson has an accident and suffers a head injury, her memory of the past two years is erased.  While she can remember her family and her best friend, she does not remember her boyfriend, Liam McPherson.  Liam, on the other hand, is still crazy about Ellia and would do anything in his power to bring her memory back.  He turns to writing to document their love story, and the author presents bits and pieces of his narrative throughout the story.  Chapters alternate between Liam’s perspective and Ellia’s perspective as the two work to overcome the obstacles associated with memory loss and rebuild their relationship.  A well-written story of teenage love and self-discovery. THOUGHTS: This title is remarkable in that it profiles an interracial relationship; Liam is white, and Ellia is black.  Although there is some tension between their families, the fact that they come from different backgrounds does not even phase Liam or Ellia.  Recommend this book to fans of romantic movies about memory loss, such as The Notebook or 50 First Dates.

Realistic Fiction         Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School​

 

grantparker

Spears, Kat. The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker: A Novel . New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016. 978-1250088864. 320pp. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

After a series of pranks and misbehaviors, high school senior Luke is sent away by his mother to live with his father, a Baptist minister in a conservative town in Tennessee.  Luke immediately gets the attention of just about everyone in town, and the principal and the police chief are particularly suspicious of him. As the school year begins he struggles to find his spot on the social ladder and initially ends up with the outcasts. But before long, the school golden boy, Grant Parker, targets him for some old fashioned bullying.  A freak accident occurs and almost immediately Luke goes from bullied loser to boy of the hour with everyone now looking up to him to take Grant’s place on the high school social scene. Told in the first person with a male POV, the book delves into the social hierarchies in high school. Luke is at first an interesting and complex character, but after the pivotal incident his character loses his edgy voice as he blithely goes along with the crowd in his new found popularity.  Luke begins to take on more of Grant’s mean streak and he starts to lose himself and his true friends as he tries to fit in with the popular crowd. THOUGHTS: This novel is a fine realistic fiction quick pick for reluctant readers, but in the end leaves some questions and issues unresolved. I was hoping for a stronger and more insightful resolution to Luke’s change in status and attitude. Some of the situations in the novel are a bit implausible and many of the secondary characters could be fleshed out beyond stereotypes.  A quick read that brushes on some important issues such as bullying and conformity.

Realistic Fiction       Nancy Summers, Abington SHS

Love is the Drug

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Johnson, Alaya Dawn.  Love is the Drug.  New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2014.  978-0-545-41781-5.  335 p. $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.
Emily Bird is a privileged African American teenager who attends a private school in Washington, D.C.  Both of her parents are high profile scientists, and her mother has high expectations for Emily (who prefers to be called Bird) to socialize with the right crowd and eventually attend an Ivy League school.  However, Bird’s perfect world is shattered when she wakes up in the hospital with no recollection of how she got there.  The last thing she remembers is attending a party at which she spoke with Roosevelt David, a government security agent.  Now, the country has been hit by a flu pandemic, and although the government claims this to be an act of bioterrorism, Bird soon starts to believe that she knows an awful secret about the origins of the outbreak…if only she could remember.  As she struggles to remember the details of the night she landed in the hospital, Bird must determine who she can and can’t trust.  She finds an ally in Coffee, a drug-dealing son of a diplomat, and as the two of them work together to discover the truth, she finds herself falling in love and gaining both confidence and independence.
Realistic Fiction           Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School
​There are many layers to this story: class and racial inequities, government power and corruption, science fiction elements, a rocky mother-daughter relationship, a passionate love story and a coming of age story.  Therefore, I can see this story appealing to a wide variety of audiences.  I do, however, think the story is better suited for upper level students.  There are a lot of details that require close attention, and because the reader knows only as much as Bird throughout the story, there are many gaps that might cause confusion and frustration for lower level students.  There is also some off-page sex in the book that might not be suitable for younger readers.  The suspense of discovering the earth-shattering secret about the flu pandemic, however, will keep readers turning the pages until the very end.