YA – Kent State; Parachutes; The Lucky Ones; The Dark Matter of Mona Starr; A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

Wiles, Deborah. Kent State. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-35628-1. 144 p. $17.99. Grades 7 and up.

May 4, 1970. Sandy Scheuer, Bill Schroeder, Jeff Miller, Allison Krause. “Four dead in Ohio.” (“Ohio” by Neil Young, Performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young). At a time when much of the nation was protesting the war in Vietnam and invasion of Cambodia, students at Kent State had had enough. Beginning with campus protests on Friday, May 1, 1970, and the burning of the ROTC building to the burning of buildings in the town of Kent on Saturday, May 2, 1970, the protests in Kent culminated with the killing of four students and wounding of nine others on Monday, May 4, 1970, by the Ohio National Guard. Where were the protectors? For a war being fought around the globe, the Kent State shootings “brought the war home to American soil” (145). Author Deborah Wiles relives this fateful time in American history in Kent State.  Shared through conversation by those who experienced this horrific event, Wiles explores the event from the perspective of student protestors, student bystanders, black students, townies, and National Guard members as they converse and share their memories of this fateful event. Each voice is unnamed and poignant as their memories and understanding of those fateful days is shared. Using different print types, readers are immersed into the conversation as a listener, another bystander, hearing history come alive by those who lived it. Wiles explains in “A Note about May 4 and This Story,” how she used primary source documents and oral histories from the archives at both Kent State University and Kent, Ohio, to create a conversation of memories, hardships, fear, and regret. “What might have happened? We have no answers for that. We have only this moment, now. We can make decisions to be informed as citizens, not accepting what we hear or see or read until we’ve dug deeper on our own, for context, for truth. We can listen. We can share. We can make commitments to the tenets of democracy that say we have freedom of speech, press, assembly, and petition in our public places” (146).

THOUGHTS: This is a must-have for all middle school and high school collections. Deborah Wiles brilliantly brings to life the tragedy of Kent State that not only engages readers in a turbulent time of American history but also forces readers to question what they know about history in order to better understand its application today. Wiles does not sugar-coat the violence of the period, nor does she ignore the various voices and experiences of those living in Kent as they experienced the protests. Much like her use of primary sources in The 60s Trilogy, Wiles’ use of primary sources to create a conversation of past experience leads to an understanding of the event while leaving the reader wanting more. This is a fabulous historical fiction novel to pair with informational texts about Vietnam and Kent State.

Historical Fiction        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

After conducting extensive research, Wiles recreates the chaos of Kent State University‘s campus on May 4, 1970, with distinct narratives (protestor, Guardsman, townie, student) to share many perspectives. An anti-war demonstration turned violent and resulted in the killing of four students and wounding of nine others. The fear and confusion, anger and sadness of those involved is portrayed through short snippets of free verse which encourages readers to approach history by considering many viewpoints. Each narrator is unnamed, and readers feel connected to their stories. Narratives are displayed in various fonts to differentiate.

THOUGHTS: This historical fiction belongs in high school libraries and would pair well with an American history reading collection of major events, especially those that may not receive as much attention.

Historical Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Yang, Kelly. Parachutes. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-94108-4. 496 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up.

Yang begins this “story of [her] heart” with a letter to readers and a trigger warning about the book’s content (sexual harassment and rape).

Due to her posh lifestyle in Shanghai, Claire Wang may seem oblivious to many of the typical woes of being a teenager. Claire holds a lot of pressure on her seventeen year old shoulders. Her father has a not so secret mistress – she actually reached out to Claire on WeChat – and her mother, hides her dissatisfaction by spending money on fancy clothes and trips to upscale restaurants. Family pressure and preparation for the gaokao (Chinese college entrance exam) drive Claire’s life; she doesn’t understand how teens in American movies seem to have so much free time, as her days are dictated by endless hours of homework and tutoring. Despite all of these outward pressures, Claire manages to spend time with her boyfriend and a group of friends. After an unfortunate assignment result and despite Claire’s wishes, her parents decide she should be foreign educated, attending American Preparatory school in LA, where she will live with a host family. Afterwards, Claire will “stand out” upon her return to China, and as an added bonus, she’ll avoid the gaokaos, having a better shot at getting into one of the UCs. Dani lives in East Covina, CA and is a student at American Preparatory, where she participates in band and shines on the Debate Team. Like her grandmother and great grandmother before her, Dani and her mom both work as maids, and Dani does not shy away from the hard work. This helps them afford living expenses and send $500 a month to family in the Philippines. It isn’t easy being a maid to the elite students of American Preparatory, but Dani needs the money to be able to travel to the Snider Tournament for debate and to afford Yale, the college of her dreams. To help the family with increasing expenses, Dani’s mom decides to rent out their spare room to a nice girl from China who will attend school with Dani: Claire. Told in alternating narratives, Dani and Claire don’t interact much; they are from entirely different worlds. Despite drastically different circumstances, Dani and Claire must learn to live together and even learn how to understand each other.

THOUGHTS: Parachutes is a beautiful YA novel that intertwines two painful narratives. This is a must have for all high school library collections. Be sure to read the author’s note too!

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Lawson, Liz. The Lucky Ones. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-593-11849-8. 352 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

“The Lucky Ones is a book about what happens after the news cameras leave and the reporters stop calling.” May McGintee is a “lucky one,” though she feels like anything but lucky. Wracked by PTSD, May is also angry. She’s the only survivor to walk out of the band room on the day when her twin brother and closest friends are killed during a school shooting. Feeling guilt, an immense amount of loss, as well as constantly fearing for her safety, no one could possibly understand how May feels – even after eleven months and therapy sessions. She finds ways to process her anger, but others see them as destructive. Zach’s life hasn’t been the same for the last eleven months either but for a very different reason. Zach is angry too. As a result of his mom’s decision, he lost everything, and his home, the only place he can be himself, is being vandalized. It doesn’t help that his mom is never home, and his dad is an absent parent, barely able to get himself out of bed or even get dressed. Zach and May each have one friend that sticks with them through everything. With their support, Zach and May just might be able to find a way to move forward.

THOUGHTS: This book tackles a heavy topic, well-covered in the young adult genre, but the fresh approach of looking at the aftermath when news cameras have moved onto the next big story gives this debut a worthy spot in high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Gulledge, Laura Lee. The Dark Matter of Mona Starr. Amulet Books. 2020. 978-1-419-73423-6. 192 p. $22.99. Grades 8+.

High schooler Mona Starr suffers from depression, which feels like an encompassing fog of “Dark Matter” that invades every crevice of her thoughts. It makes Mona feel overwhelmed, alone, and insignificant. Her best friend Nash has recently moved to Hawaii, but at his and her parents’ urging she begins seeing Dr. Vega, a therapist who helps Mona study her Matter and forge a path toward health. After emergency surgery to correct a rare condition, Mona also learns to embrace the support of her “Artners:” her partners in Art, though not without some additional growing pains. “Maybe art can help transform embarrassment and suffering into insight,” Mona realizes, “one heartbreak at a time.” Some readers will find Mona’s progress frustratingly halting, but depression is a very frustrating disorder and that is realistically portrayed here. Laura Lee Gulledge’s pencil-shaded illustrations, with golden spot color, are so stunningly evocative that readers will catch themselves just staring at the pages. Her portrayal of Mona’s internal world is brilliant, especially the panel that captures how it feels to be an introvert.

THOUGHTS: The Dark Matter of Mona Starr is an intimate, moving depiction of Mona’s journey toward emotional and physical wellness, embracing her unique self, and accepting the loving support of people who care most about her. Gulledge even includes a Self-Care Plan template at the close of the book so her readers can implement some of the practices that guide Mona in her journey.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Jackson, Holly. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. Delacorte Press. 2020. 978-1-984-89636-0. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Pippa Fitz-Amobi is a good girl: high achiever, faithful friend, devoted daughter, and big sister. So it’s a bit out of character for her to solve a murder for her senior capstone project, especially because it’s one that’s already been solved. Five years ago, high school senior Andie Bell disappeared from their small town of Fairfield, Connecticut. Her body was never found, but the remains of her boyfriend, Salil “Sal” Singh, were discovered in the woods along with evidence that he had killed Andie and then committed suicide out of guilt. Pippa’s instincts, honed on true crime podcasts and documentaries, tell her that Sal is innocent. She aims to raise enough doubts about Sal’s guilt to convince the police to revisit the case. With the help of Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, Pippa susses out one lead after another, untangling clues and connections hidden within interview transcripts, journal entries, and text messages. Meanwhile someone with much to lose is watching their every move — and he (or she?) is unafraid to follow through on threats against what Pippa holds dearest when she refuses to stop digging. Holly Jackson skillfully weaves the elements of a solid mystery into her debut: suspense, red herrings, breathless amateur surveillance, and even a spooky dark alley. A huge twist, revealed just when the crimes have seemingly been solved, propels the pace right to the final page.

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans, take note: You’ll be hooked from the “Murder Map” that appears on page 29! This fast-paced whodunnit is perfect for fans of Karen M. McManus’ thrillers, especially Two Can Keep a Secret. Note that this novel’s potentially sensitive topics include suicide, sexual assault, and an animal in peril.

Mystery          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Maybe He Just Likes You; Good Enough; Klawde; Viewpoints on the Sinking of the Titanic; The Okay Witch; Over the Moon; Other Words for Home; Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club; Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky; The Story Web; Dragon Pearl

Dee, Barbara. Maybe He Just Likes You. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-43237-6. 283 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

When do you decide enough is enough? Seventh grade Mila is excited to celebrate her friend Omi’s birthday after lunch with a thoughtful gift and a group hug with her other friends Max and Zara. This moment between friends is perfect – that is until the basketball boys come over and hug them too, lingering on Mila. This small moment makes Mila uncomfortable, and it doesn’t stop there. The boys find ways to bump into Mila, make comments, and invade her personal space. Afraid to tell her mom, the principal (who is also the boys basketball coach), or her guidance counselor, Mila’s emotions spiral out of control. Mila tries to tell her friends what is going on, but they shrug it off, saying that’s just how boys are. But when a friend comes to Mila with information about a “scorecard” and another friend steps forward and says it happened to her too, Mila finds the strength to speak up for herself and stop the unwanted attention.

THOUGHTS: This middle grade novel does a perfect job of exploring the #metoo movement and how harassment and innocent “jokes” can end up affecting others. The story will bring you all the feels – joy, anger, shock – and leave you feeling like you may know someone this book is perfect for. The book also explores different relationships between characters and the strength a person has to stand up for themselves.

Realistic Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Petro-Roy, Jen. Good Enough. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. 978-1-250-12351-0. 261 p. $16.99. Grades 7-9.

Twelve year old Riley doesn’t think she’s good enough, fast enough, talented enough…the list goes on and on. Tired of being compared to her “golden” younger sister Julia, Riley starts running excessively, skipping meals, and having a bad attitude. And it gets worse! At school she is being picked on for what she looks like and how she eats, which leads Riley down the path to an eating disorder. Riley’s parents decide she needs to be hospitalized in order to find the path to recovery. The story is presented as a journal of Riley’s experiences while hospitalized – her struggle with anxiety, food issues, and her parents’ constant judging and disappointment. The program requires strict meal planning, therapy sessions, group activities, and even counting out loud while you go to the bathroom. Riley meets several girls in the program all while dealing with the loss of her best friend and discovers that she is more than the voice in her head telling her she’s “not enough.” Will Riley’s parents accept her for who she is and not just as someone with a problem? Does Riley have the power to be in control of herself? A must read!

THOUGHTS: Perfection. Petro-Roy does a fantastic job of approaching a delicate subject as she is someone who battled an eating disorder. The journal style of writing allows readers to feel as if they are taking the journey with Riley day by day and makes for a fast read. The story deals with so much more than recovering from an eating disorder and allows readers to see that we all have flaws that make us who we are.

Realistic Fiction         Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Marciano, Johnny, & Emily Chenoweth. Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat: The Spacedog Cometh. Book 3. Penguin Workshop, 2019. 978-1-524-78724-0. $14.99. Grades 4-8.

The third epic adventure of Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat! As Klawde continues to plot his return to his home planet and take over from the tiny evil kitten who has taken command, he is unaware that there are others looking for him: the most loyal beasts of all…dogs! Barx has been given the mission to capture and return Klawde to his home plant to pay dues for blowing up one of their most amazing plants! As Barx travels to Earth, he realizes just how wonderful it is, especially Klawde’s master Raj. While the animals fight and attempt their vengeful missions, Raj is suffering with his own problems. His parents are out of town for a few weeks for a conference vacation, so his Ajji, grandmother, is staying with him. All she cooks is weird, un-American food and decides to throw him a birthday party. How will Raj deal with Ajji, as well as dealing with Klade being…Klawde!

THOUGHTS: I was so excited to see the third book to this hilarious series! The addition of the dog characters brought forth more excitement and perspective to the “dog vs. cat” personality stereotypes. A great third book for the Klawde lovers!

Adventure/Action/Fantasy          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


Russo, Kristin J. Viewpoints on the Sinking of the Titanic. Orchard Books, 2019. 978-1-228-18736-6. 48 p. $25.95. Grades 5-8.

In a subseries of Part of the Perspectives Library, Viewpoints and Perspectives takes a look at how various people may have different views about some of the most known events in history. In Viewpoints on the Sinking of the Titanic readers get a look inside the Titanic through the eyes of three very different passengers. Using first person stories inset with facts about the ship and a timeline of the events, this title takes readers through what the sinking of the Titanic was like for a first, second, and third class passenger. This book is a nice mixture of pictures and stories, allowing for students not to be overwhelmed by the amount of text to read. With a mixture of historical black and white, recreated color, and pencil drawings readers get a look back in time. The simplicity of the pages and clear nonfiction text structure lends this book to be a great introduction to text structures including table of context, index, timeline, and captions. The book includes ideas for teachers in the sidebars to help lead research or a lesson on the Titanic.  

THOUGHTS: The unique look into different classes on the Titanic would allow students to see how classes were separated and the prejudice against the lower classes even while evacuating the boat. A book like this could, and others in this series, be used in middle schools to see how prejudices have changed throughout history.

910.9 History, general          Arryn Cumpston, Crawford Central SD


Steinkellner, Emma. The Okay Witch. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-43146-1. 271 p. $20.99. Grades 4-8.

Moth believes she is a typical Halloween loving teenager, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. After studying the history surrounding Founder’s Bluff and the persecution of witches, Moth suddenly discovers that she may have special “powers.” After an incident with the school bullies and a talking cat at home, Moth confronts her mother for the truth. Yes, Moth is from a long line of witches, and with her mother’s diary and her new found powers, she is about to discover the truth. The witches of Founder’s Bluff were real…and they are still alive. Moth learns to navigate middle school (including a new boy who keeps bumping into her), harness her powers against her mother’s wishes, and meet her very ancient grandma. Travel with Moth through past and present as she discovers her heritage and becomes an “okay” witch.

THOUGHTS: This debut graphic novel will delight middle schoolers as Moth discovers who she truly is. The illustrations are whimsical and eye-catching, while the story just flows across the frames through a series of chapters. Graphic novel readers will want to pick this novel up, especially if they enjoy the element of magic.

Graphic Novel            Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Lloyd, Natalie. Over the Moon. Scholastic Press, 2019. 978-1-338-11849-0. 291 p. $14.95. Gr. 4-8.

The Dust has taken away the light from the stars in Coal Top, made the villagers feel hopeless, and forced children to work for measly wages. Mallie cleans the home of a well to do family in the “Down Below.” The work is hard and does not pay enough to help protect her brother from being taken by the Guardians and sent to the mines to work. When a mysterious flyer appears and offers an opportunity for orphan boys to earn riches, Mallie knows this is her chance to save her family. Mallie quickly discovers that the task is to tame and ride a Starbird into the Dust above in order to retrieve gold dust. Up for the challenge, she doesn’t back down and struggles with her disability as well as the others who wish she wasn’t there. With the help of her friend Adam, and her loyal Starbird Leo, Mallie finds she can be successful. But when she discovers the leader, Mortimer, is up to something dark and sinister, Mallie decides she must expose the truth. Risking her life and her family’s, Mallie races against the Dust and Mortimer to prove that the stars really do exist.

THOUGHTS: You can’t help but cheer for Mallie as she struggles to protect her family, discover the truth, and overcome obstacle after obstacle. The characters are well developed and the whimsy of flying horses and dust puppets make the story come to life. Fans of Lloyd will not be disappointed with this title that pulls at your heart strings and reminds you to shoot for the stars.

Science Fiction            Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Warga, Jasmine. Other Words for Home. Balzer and Bray, 2019. 978-0-062-74780-8. $16.99. 352 p. Grades. 4-8.

Jude, young immigrant from Syria adjusts to her new life in Ohio. She had to flee with her pregnant mother, leaving behind her father and older brother. There is so much change living with her uncle, aunt, and cousin who is in the same grade. Although her aunt and uncle are accommodating, her cousin Sarah is a bit jealous of the attention and practically ignores Jude at school. School is a challenge. She thought her English was good in Syria, but in the United States pace of life is so much faster, including the language! Life is definitely not like the American movies she used to watch with her friends. Jude is a resilient girl. She makes friends with others in ESL (English as a Second Language) and meets Layla who is also Muslim. She wants to fit in, and one of her real motivations is the musical. She works really hard to try out, perfecting her English and learning about drama. This annoys Sarah and her friends who Jude thinks of as “SarahMinaHarperStone” (They seem to lack individuality.). Jude is concerned for Amal, her new baby sister. Amal, whose name means Hope, will be an American, not an immigrant. Jude realizes that home is where the people you love and those who love you are. It is where you feel you belong, and Jude works very hard to create a place for herself.

THOUGHTS: Jude voices very real concerns about fitting in, prejudices against Muslims, and the safety of her father and older brother who are still in Syria. The reaction to a bombing in the Middle East and subsequent vandalism of Layla’s family property is both upsetting to the community and an opportunity to bond. Warga’s use of verse to tell the story makes it accessible and poignant as the succinct wording and rhythm evoke emotions and meaning.

Realistic Fiction          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Nicherson, Sara. Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club. Dutton Children’s Books, 2019. 978-1-101-99442-9. 240 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Josh is starting fifth grade at a new school, a fresh start, where no one knows of Josh’s multiple invisible friends. Only Josh’s friends are not imaginary; they just can’t be seen by anyone else. But the friends are all gone, buried at his old house. Until Big Brother shows up again on Josh’s first day of school. Big Brother dispenses advice, comfort, and companionship. But Josh is not the only student in his class with an awkward friend. Lucas has an invisible friend, Maxie, and Josh can see her too. While Big Brother gently guides and encourages Josh to be brave and try new experiences, Maxie seems a bit more malevolent. When she engineers a meeting between the two boys, she may be dangerously replaying her sad history. But Lucas and Josh discover real friends are powerful also.

THOUGHTS: A unique look at processing death and maturing. Readers who feel they see the world differently than those around them will definitely relate to Josh and Lucas.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Mbalia, Kwame. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. Rick Riordan Presents, 2019. 978-1-368-03993-2. 482 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Tristan is having a difficult time recovering from the school bus accident that left his best friend Eddie dead. Frustrated, his mother sends him to spend some time with his grandparents down south in Alabama. Grandma warns Tristan to stay away from the bottle tree, a traditional structure to capture haints, or spirits, at the edge of the forest. Tristan would have gladly done so, but that night he is awoken by a small, sticky figure sneaking in his room. Gum Baby has come to steal Eddie’s journal, and Tristan chases her into the forest, attempting to reclaim his cherished memento. When Tristan punches the bottle tree in frustration, he inadvertently creates a hole in the sky and is pulled into another world, where the stories his grandma used to tell him and Eddie come alive. Another mythology/folklore based adventure from Rick Riordan’s imprint, Tristan Strong brings alive the tales of the deep south, featuring Brer Rabbit, John Henry and, of course, Tristan’s reluctant sidekick Gum Baby. Tristan is sent on a quest to find the trickster god, Anansi, who can weave the sky back together. While Tristan is convinced he cannot save anyone (he broods that he failed to save Eddie), he discovers heroes do not necessarily have to be strong, or even brave, and he is more than capable of saving the world of his new friends from destruction.

THOUGHTS: This lightning fast, rollicking tale will win many fans, as well as introduce them to Black American folklore. Tristan and Gum Baby are a new dynamic duo that provide constant laughs as they attempt to save the day.

Fantasy (Mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Blakemore, Megan Frazer. The Story Web. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19525-4. 321 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7. 

When Alice was little, her magical father would regale her with wondrous stories. But now Alice’s world is broken in so many ways. She no longer socializes with friends, she quit her ice hockey team, and even nature seems out of whack, with forest creatures making their way into town. She believes everything stems back to that something she did that made her father go away. But Alice can no longer maintain her invisible persona. The animals know; Alice’s classmate, frequently bullied Melanie, knows; and her best friend, Lewis, knows. The story web, a fragile creation of spiders, spun to record the stories of man, is broken. If it is not fixed soon, the world will be in peril. Alice’s father had explained the story web to her when she was young, and now Alice must look past her grief and fear to work with Melanie, Lewis, and many caring individuals, to repair it. But when the stories Alice remembers from her father don’t rebuild the web, the children realize they must find their own stories, as painful as they may be. The plot unfolds at a leisurely pace, through various viewpoints, including several animals. Much like spinning a web, individual threads eventually weave together in a breathtaking finale. The storyline of Alice’s father, who is eventually revealed to be suffering from PTSD, also takes time to uncover, and is never explained directly, but rather through oblique comments, reminiscences, and finally a conversation between Alice and her father.

THOUGHTS:  While the climax is riveting, it will take a patient reader to navigate to that point. Hand this lovely, heartwarming story to a reader who enjoys the journey as well as the destination.  

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lee, Yoon Ha. Dragon Pearl. Rick Riordan Presents, 2019. 978-1-368-01335-2. 320 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl, one of the first titles published under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, will delight young readers who like their fantasy informed by the trappings and tropes of science fiction. Lee imagines a world—a thousand worlds, actually—inspired by Korean mythology, and then sends it – them – spinning off into outer space. The young protagonist, Min, is a shape-shifting fox disguised as a human to avoid the persecution her species has long suffered. When her brother disappears, she sets off in search of him, planet-hopping through the universe on a grand and dangerous adventure. The plot moves at a breathless, breakneck pace as Min pilots a rocket ship and has run-ins with ghosts, dragons, and pirates.  

THOUGHTS: A top-notch #own voices entry in the sci-fi/fantasy genre that subtly addresses issues of identity and acceptance.  Highly recommended for middle schools.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – The Year We Fell From Space; A Boy Is Not a Bird; Just Jaime; Tangled History (Series);

King, Amy Sarig. The Year We Fell From Space. Arthur A Levine Books, 2019. 978-1-338-23636-1. 272 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Liberty is a girl with a unique talent going through an incredibly hard family situation. Her love for stars and star maps, in which she creates her own constellations and meaning from the night sky, is shaken when her parents announce that they are divorcing. Liberty and her little sister, Jilly, are left with many questions and not many ways to cope at first. Their reactions, however, are both heartbreaking and relatable, insightful and hilarious throughout the experience. Liberty works to adapt to middle school, bullies, old friends, and her father’s seeming disappearance. As changes continue, readers see into her confused heart and mind and wit with brutal honesty and emotion. The talking space rock that Liberty discovers certainly adds to her confusion! Amy Sarig King (known as A.S. King to older readers) also faces the stigma of mental illness, depression, and therapy with the same honesty and deftness, including endnotes to raise awareness and seek help. The Year We Fell From Space is like a shooting star that shines brightly, creating a moment that won’t soon be forgotten.

THOUGHTS: The themes of divorce and depression are very raw and relatable in the story, but may be a lot for some younger readers. No two cases are the same, but she goes through such an emotional roller coaster that many readers will at least partially relate. Topics like dating after marriage and dealing with mental health matters are not black and white, and King weaves through all the shades of gray with empathy. This is a powerful story highly recommended for middle grade collections.

Realistic Fiction          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Liberty Johnson loves space, and she is determined that people are going to look at space a different way. She looks at the constellations and sees shapes and people, and that makes her feel special. What doesn’t make her feel special is that her father moved out and hasn’t really talked to her or her sister since. What also doesn’t make her feel special is her sister is refusing to go outside, for any reason. And her mom, who in Liberty’s mind should be miserable that her father left, is really happy. Add a talking meteor that fell from the sky, and things just aren’t going the way Liberty wants them to go.

THOUGHTS: This book dealt extremely well with mental illness. Nothing is sugar coated, and the father figure doesn’t magically get better by the end of the book. The relationships between the characters feels well thought out and is complicated, as most real life relationships are. The magical element is true to Amy Sarig King’s work, and adds some levity to the plot.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy


Ravel, Edeet. A Boy Is Not A Bird. Groundwood Books, 2019. 978-1-773-06174-0. 232 p. $16.95. Grades 4-8.

Ukraine during 1940 is an ideal place for Natt, full of food, fun, and family. Even though the Nazi Germans are starting trouble, Natt is assured that they will be clear of any conflicts. Of course, all of that slowly begins to unravel when the Soviets move in and begin Stalinist tactics of taking over the village. Natt’s world starts slowly getting crushed, but his parents seek to find the most optimistic view for every hardship. Are they only putting on an act for Natt? Can his father get out of prison before getting shipped to Siberia? On which side will Natt end up, and what makes a hero during a time of war? One thing is for sure – A Boy Is Not a Bird, and he can not fly away from this dangerous time. Ravel has created an insightful historical fiction novel with a first person account that was based on true stories from her own fifth grade teacher. The layers of this book and the questions that remain will only create anticipation for the sequel.

THOUGHTS: This less familiar part of WWII history gets full attention as Natt sees the coming war through a child’s vantage. Especially around the halfway mark when the reader will find a disturbing turn to Natt’s mindset. It would make for a great example text for Notice & Note Signposts, if they are familiar. Recommended.

Historical Fiction          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Libenson, Terri. Just Jaime. Balzer & Bray/Harperteen, 2019. 978-0-062-85108-6. 224 p. $22.99. Gr. 5-8.

Having a best friend makes middle school a lot less awful. But when Jaime’s best friend, Maya, starts acting weird around her, Jaime fears the worse. Maya has found a new circle of friends to hang with at the end of 7th grade, cutting Jaime out via a text message. Jaime struggles to understand what she did wrong and how Maya could have changed so much. After an emotional breakdown in French class, Jaime decides to move on and find a new group of friends, including her best guy pal, Anthony. Meanwhile, Maya struggles with the gossip and mean girl attitude her new friend Celia seems to have. Maya begins to wonder if she made a big mistake. The end of the year field day puts the “old best friends” against the new – will Maya and Jaime find their way back to each other? A must read for fans of Invisible Emmie and for all middle schoolers!

THOUGHTS: Libenson does it again! In the third of the Emmie & Friends series, Libenson will grab the hearts of all middle schoolers and parents. The use of narrative text and cartoons to tell the story of Jaime and Maya’s dissolution of a friendship is relatable, heartwarming, and all too true. A must read!

Realistic Fiction         Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Hoena, Blake. The Boston Marathon Bombing: Running for Their Lives. Capstone Press, 2019. 978-1-543-54196-0. 112 p. $24.49. $587.76 set of 24. Gr. 4–9.

Braun, Eric. Fatal Faults: The Story of the Challenger Explosion. 978-1-491-47077-0.
Burgan, Michael. Total Devastation: The Story of Hurricane Katrina. 978-1-491-48452-4.
—. The Salem Witch Trials: Mass Hysteria and Many Lives Lost. 978-1-543-54197-7.
—. Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Atomic Bombings that Shook the World. 978-1-543-57256-8.
—. The Battle of the Bulge: Nazi Germany’s Final Attack on the Western Front. 978-1-543-57259-9.
—. Breaking Barriers: The Story of Jackie Robinson. 978-1-515-77932-2.
—. Turning Point: The Story of the D-Day Landings. 978-1-515-73607-3.
Doeden, Matt. Impact: The Story of the September 11 Terrorist Attacks. 978-1-491-47079-4.
Freeburg, Jessica. Fight for Survival: The Story of the Holocaust. 978-1-491-48454-8.
—. Collapse and Chaos: The Story of the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti. 978-1-515-73606-6.
Gunderson, Jessica. The Wound Is Mortal: The Story of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. 978-1-491-47076-3.
Otfinoski, Steven. The Battle of Iwo Jima: Turning the Tide of War in the Pacific. 978-1-543-57258-2.
—. The Battle of Alamo: Texans Under Siege. 978-1-543-54198-4.
—. Captain Sully’s River Landing: The Hudson Hero of Flight 1549. 978-1-543-54195-3.
—. Day of Infamy: The Story of the Attack on Pearl Harbor. 978-1-491-47078-7.
—. From Fugitive to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad. 978-1-515-73604-2.
—. The Great Chicago Fire: All Is Not Lost. 978-1-515-77931-5.
—. Japanese American Internment: Prisoners in Their Own Land. 978-1-543-57257-5.
. The Selma Marches for Civil Rights: We Shall Overcome. 978-1-515-77941-4.
—. Smooth Sea and a Fighting Chance: The Story of the Sinking of Titanic. 978-1-491-48453-1.
—. Tragedy in Dallas: The Story of the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. 978-1-491-48451-7.
Rissman, Rebecca. Houston, We’ve Had a Problem: The Story of the Apollo 13 Disaster. 978-1-515-77940-7.
—. Swept Away: The Story of the 2011 Japanese Tsunami. 978-1-515-73605-9.

The Boston Marathon Bombing: Running for Their Lives is the story of the terrorist bombing of the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. This book begins the night before the race with the Tsarnaev brothers when they were making their pressure cooker bombs. The story is told from different people’s points-of-view in chronological order, which contributes to the suspense. The book continues through the manhunt and capture of Dzhokhar. The book ends on a hopeful note with an epilogue that mentions heroes and the people they helped rescue, and that the 118th Boston Marathon went on as scheduled. The book addresses “Boston Strong.” How through adversity the city came together. This book includes a foreword about the history of the marathon, a table of contents, a timeline, a glossary, critical thinking questions, further reading, and a selected bibliography.

THOUGHTS: I thought I had read or heard all the details surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing, but I was surprised to have learned quite a bit from this book. It was an engaging book that I read cover to cover in one sitting. Because of how much I liked this book, I recently purchased about 10 of these titles for my school’s library. I’m confident my students will be captivated by them and can use them for research in addition to reading for pleasure. This book deserves a place in elementary and secondary libraries.

363.325 Terrorism          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

YA – Down from the Mountain; No More Excuses; Patron Saints of Nothing; Mike; Girls on the Verge; On the Come Up; The Weight of Stars; The Girl King; Coral; Her Royal Highness; Scars Like Wings; We Are the Ghosts; How the Light Gets In; We Set the Dark on Fire; The Lady from the Black Lagoon

Andrews, Bryce. Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-1-328-97245-3. 274 p. $25.00. Gr. 10+.

Bryce Andrews grew up in Seattle and spent a decade ranching outside Missoula, Montana, before joining the nonprofit conservation group People and Carnivores. The group’s purpose is “to mitigate the conflicts that arise when ranchers, farmers, hunters, and recreationists share landscapes with large predators.” As bears gravitate to agricultural crops in Montana’s Mission Valley — especially corn — opportunities for dangerous encounters with people increase. Bryce’s quest to find a solution that protects both people and bears parallels the journey of Millie, a grizzly bear named for Millie’s Woods, and her two female cubs. Down from the Mountain‘s subtitle reveals Millie’s fate. Her story “embodies the violence that mankind inflicts everywhere on wilderness and wild creatures.” It’s a tragic story, to be sure, but one that should be widely read by anyone who cares about nature, wildlife, and the changing American landscape. 

THOUGHTS: Although some sections of Down from the Mountain about building, monitoring, and repairing an electrified fence dragged on, most of the book is both fascinating and eloquently written. Of special, poignant interest is the future of Millie’s cubs when she is unable to care for them.

This would be an excellent choice for an A.P. Biology book club, and could readily be excerpted for a unit on endangered species.

599.7, Grizzly Bears         Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Keyser, Amber. No More Excuses: Dismantling Rape Culture. Twenty-First Century Books, 2019. 144 p. $28.04. 978-1-541-54020-0. Grades 9-12. 

The bold black and white cover of this book parallels its content: a persuasively blunt presentation of the abuse and criminalization of women in our culture and the painful, misleading messages perpetuated about men AND women.

“What is… rape culture?
The belief that men don’t have to listen when a woman says no.
The belief than men can objectify the bodies of women.
The belief that women who like sex are sluts.
The belief that men can’t be expected to control their sexual urges.
The belief that women are responsible for keeping horny men at bay.
The belief that women don’t have a right to decide what they do with their bodies.
The belief that rape isn’t really a big deal.”  (101-102)

Keyser shares individual stories of survivors–both unknown and celebrities, details the birth of the #MeToo movement, tackles pervasive media objectification of women, and examines how even our legal system does little to prevent rape culture. This book could be eye-opening to young people (male or female), who will see themselves in the stories and misunderstandings presented. “Speaking out, standing up” is increasingly an option, and Keyser gives ways that we can stop the abuse. The book closes with rich source notes, glossary, and further information. Students intimidated by the topic will be encouraged by the straightforward and relatively short presentation (144 pages) and the engaging sidebars.

THOUGHTS: This book is an excellent starting point for anyone seeking to understand the current culture and push for change. Strongly recommended for all high school collections. 

362.8 Rape, Sexual Harassment          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Ribay, Randy. Patron Saints of Nothing. Kokila, 2019. 329 p. $17.99. 978-0-525-55491-2. Grades 7-12.  

Filipino-American Jay Reguero edges toward the end of his senior year feeling unsure of future plans and realizing that outside of his parents’ support, he’s pretty alone despite friends and siblings. He spent his first year of life in the Philippines, until his Filipino dad emigrated to the US with his American mom, and they successfully embarked on medical careers and provide well for their three children, of whom Jay is the youngest. Jay has memories of visiting his Filipino family eight years ago and the strong connection with his cousin Jun, about his age. For a while, the two wrote letters (Jun’s more frequent than Jay’s), until news came four years ago that Jun had run away. Now Jay learns that Jun is dead. There is no explanation, and there is to be no funeral. Jay is stunned by the news and heavily burdened by memories of a great cousin and friend that he abandoned. What really happened? All he can learn is that Jun was killed as a drug user or dealer, and these killings are allowed (even welcomed) under President Duterte’s policies to wipe out crime in the Philippines. But under the policies, police and vigilantes kill, largely unquestioned and without recrimination. Jay cannot imagine his caring cousin to have fallen into drug use. Jay finagles a solo 10-day spring break trip, ostensibly to connect with his Filipino heritage, but really to uncover the unraveling of Jun’s life. He takes Jun’s letters, and reads them to remember. These letters offer needed insight into Jun’s way of life, his motivations, and his numerous questions about faith, purpose and more. On Jay’s visit, he is to stay in three relatives’ homes: his Tito Maning (Jun’s father and police chief); Tita Chato and Tita Ines; and his grandparents Lola and Lolo. At Tito Maning’s, no one speaks of Jun; it is as though he never existed. Jun’s letters disappear from Jay’s bag, and Jay also discovers Tito’s harsh control of the family as well as his disregard for Jay’s American beliefs. Through Jun’s sister Grace, he meets Mia, 19-year-old aspiring journalist determined to write the truth of her country, despite the reality of death for those who speak out. Through Mia, he is able to piece together most, but not all, of Jun’s last four years, and he is angry at family secrets, defensive of his cousin’s memory, and grieved again and again by the truths he learns. He returns to the U.S. having stood up to Tito Maning, and determined to delve into his Filipino heritage more fully, reconnecting with his own father on the way.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful story of grief and how to make a difference both from within a country, and from a world away. Ribay has Jay (like the reader) humbly learn of devastating corruption outside of a bubble of American safety, prosperity and ignorance–corruption that controls his own family’s lives. The wonder here is that Ribay suffuses the novel with such hope, through Jun, Mia, Grace, and ultimately, Jay. Masterfully done, eye- and heart-opening, and not to be missed.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Norriss, Andrew. Mike. Scholastic, 2019. 232 p. $17.99. 978-1-338-28536-9. Grades 7-12.

Floyd Beresford is a 15-year-old tennis prodigy.  He began playing at age two, and his parents encourage everything about the sport: daily training (in a backyard court), expensive matches, traveling, anything.  Floyd’s dad’s own tennis career derailed due to injury, and only Floyd’s birth restored his hope. So Floyd plays, and plays well. But then Floyd notices Mike. Mike, who shows up quietly at odd times and says or does unusual things (like holding Floyd’s arm down during a match). And, since no one else can see Mike, Floyd’s parents hire psychiatrist Mr. Pinner, who will figure this out in a few sessions so Floyd can get back to tennis. With the support of Mr. Pinner, who believes Mike has important things to say to Floyd, Floyd begins to pay attention to Mike and to himself. Soon, he faces the fact that he doesn’t like tennis. And he doesn’t want a career in tennis. It’s a major hurdle to tell his parents, but an even more major one to discover just what it is he does want to do. This is a book to encourage young people to listen to their own “Mike” and discover themselves.  

THOUGHTS: A unique book, light-hearted enough to carry what could seem a heavy message of self-determination. Everyone can identify with Floyd, and this book will have readers seeking what their own Mike has to say to them.  

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Waller, Sharon Biggs. Girls on the Verge. Henry Holt & Co., 2019. 978-1-250-15169-8. $17.99. 221 p. Gr. 9 and up.

17-year old Camille has only had sex once, but she finds out she is pregnant as a result. It’s been months, and she has not even spoken to the boy since. She is definitely not ready to have a baby, but while she knows she wants to terminate the pregnancy, getting an abortion in Texas is no easy task. Restrictive laws, fake clinics that turn out to be abortion deterents, and judgemental shamers at every turn force Camille to take matters into her own hands. As a result, she embarks on a road trip to Mexico in search of an abortion with Annabelle – a new friend she barely knows but who supports her decision – and her life-long, very conservative best friend Bea – who does not support her decision but decides to make the trip last-minute nonetheless. Shockingly enough, this story takes place in present day. Though primarily a story meant to reveal the magnitude of shame and struggle women in the US still face when making decisions about their own bodies, Girls on the Verge is also very much a tale of the strength of female friendship as this trio endures trial after trial in this quick-paced compact plot. 

THOUGHTS: Girls on the Verge will not blow anyone away with its character development or prose, but it serves as more proof that contemporary YA fiction should be taken seriously as more than just fluff and sparkly vampires. Biggs Waller tackles a hot button issue head-on, and does it well and even-handedly. While she obviously wants readers to sympathize with Camille, her best friend Bea’s conservative side is also presented fairly on multiple occasions throughout the novel. A good addition to any high school collection but may contain language and themes that are too mature for sensitive readers. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Thomas, Angie. On the Come Up. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 978-0-780-40461-8. 447 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Bri Jackson wants to rap.  As the daughter of Lawless, a rapper who’s life was taken too soon, she wants to stand out as her own talent in The Ring and beyond. After an incident at school, Bri uses her words to express her feelings. She records “On the Come Up” and becomes a neighborhood and internet sensation. But with praise, comes criticism: criticism of her representation of police and praise of gang life. Facing poverty at home and a desire to help her family, Bri must decide what life to live and how to remain true to herself. 

THOUGHTS: On the Come Up is a must-have for all high school collections. Angie Thomas is a master craftsman. Her beautiful words and characters evoke so much emotion: anger, laughter, happiness, tears, that the reader becomes entwined in the story. Her authenticity is insightful and leads to understanding, empathy, compassion, and action. The audiobook is superb and brings the story to life with depth and soul.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Bri wants to be a rapper, and she’s good–like really good. She probably got some of her talent from her late father who was a well-known rapper before he was murdered in a gang fight. Obviously, her mother and brother do not want her involved in a lifestyle that could be dangerous. Bri’s aunt, on the other hand, is more than willing to go against her sister’s wishes and help Bri rap in big battles. Bri’s mom is a recovering addict who just lost her job, recently stopped going back to school, and is trying to figure out how to pay rent while Bri’s brother decides to drop out of college to help put food on the table. This story is hard in that it touches on drugs, violence, and racism, and family issues.

THOUGHTS: Read it for the phenomenal raps. I enjoyed Thomas’ second novel even more than The Hate U Give–she can write a rap! I was so into it, and I’m not even a music person. On the Come Up includes more relatable characters for readers to attach to and still manages to touch on big issues that span all demographics.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata


Ancrum, K. The Weight of the Stars.  Imprint, 2019. 978-1-250-10163-1. 378 p. $18.99. Grades 9+.

Ryann Bird is an orphaned teen who takes care of her younger brother and his son Charlie, in a trailer on the wrong side of the tracks. She also serves as protector and friend to a group of delinquents and misfits from her high school. When a troubled new girl moves to town, Ryann’s teacher asks her to reach out to her. Alex Macallough is obsessed with finding out about her mother who was one of the sixteen “Uninauts” chosen to launch out into space for the rest of their lives to record galactic phenomenon. Always obsessed with space herself, Ryann helps the guarded and hostile Alex as she listens for transmissions for her mother’s spaceflight. After a tense start, Alex and Ryann form a tentative friendship which begins to turn into something more. Though much of the plot focuses on the space mission, this book is decidedly not a sci-fi novel, it is very much about friendship and relationships of all sorts. The Weight of the Stars features a very diverse cast of characters: mostly queer, of various ethnicities, with wide disparities in wealth and even a polyamorous parental relationship. Ryann’s squad of misfits is a family- each one a bit troubled and different, yet they all fit together.  

THOUGHTS: An emotional and introspective book that explores some heavy issues such as grief, PTSD, anger, and love. Another solid title with LGBTQ themes and characters for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Yu, Mimi. The Girl King. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19889-7. 488 p. $17.99. Grade 9 and up.

Lu is the eldest daughter of the emperor, trained as a warrior and ready to take on the throne when her father steps down. However, in an unexpected move, Lu’s father names her cousin Lord Set as the heir to the throne instead and promises Lu’s hand in marriage to cement the succession. At their betrothal ceremony, Lu challenges her cousin and proposes a competition to determine who is truly fit to rule. But Set has organized an assassination plot against her and her father to ensure his success. Lu escapes and must head to the north to convince the magic wielding lords and warriors to support her claim to the throne. The Girl King is told in the alternating points of view of Lu, her timid younger sister, Min, and Nokhai, an Ashina peasant. As Lu tries to raise an army to oppose her cousin, she is joined by Nok, the last surviving “Gifted,” a shapeshifter whose clan was destroyed by Lu’s father and grandfather. Meanwhile, Min is left behind at court with the ruthless Set when she realizes that she herself possesses some incredible magic. This fast paced novel blends fantasy with Asian history to create a fascinating adventure with complex characters and a richly detailed setting and background story depicting political intrigue and ancient legends. The ending is a terrific setup for the next book in the series, expected next year.

THOUGHTS: Fans of Sabaa Tahir and Renee Adhieh novels will especially appreciate this epic fantasy tale. Because of some graphic scenes of violence, this book is recommended for grades 9 and up. 

Fantasy          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Ella, Sara. Coral. Thomas Nelson, 2019. 368 p. $18.99. 978-0-785-22445-7. Gr. 8 and up.

Trigger warning: Suicidal acts and death by suicide are discussed and described in detail. 

Mermaids cannot cry. So when Coral discovers that her sister, the Crown Princess, has tears it can only mean one thing: Red Death is coming. Afterward, Coral knows it will not be long before Red Death finds her too. Only Coral’s Grandmother seems to understand Coral’s struggle, but running away from the family curse also means giving up everything she has ever known. On dry land Coral will have to learn who she is all over again. Merrick, son of a wealthy business magnate knows that it’s his responsibility to uphold the family name in front of the paparazzi. When tragedy strikes and tears his family apart, Merrick is forced to take his sister into hiding while searching for his estranged mother. Brooke appears one day in the same coastal California town as if she just walked out of the sea. All three story lines become woven together in a deliciously unexpected twist. Coral is part fairytale, part romance, and part tragedy rolled into one unforgettable story about loss and healing. Mental health is handled in a relatable way as several characters struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal actions. The ripple effect of mental health challenges within families is also a poignant takeaway from this novel. The alternating views from narrators keeps the reader guessing until all of the pieces are beautifully woven together into a modern day fairytale ending. 

THOUGHTS: Although the subject matter is sometimes painful, this book also carries a beautiful message about recovery and self-love. I would definitely recommend this title to mature teen readers. 

Realistic Fiction          Jackie Fulton, PSLA Member


Hawkins, Rachel. Her Royal Highness. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019. 304 p. $17.99. 978-1-524-73826-6. Grades 9+. 

Recently heartbroken by her best friend turned maybe something more, Millie applies for scholarships to ensure that she can attend boarding school in Scotland and avoid a daily reminder of what she can’t have. It was her original plan for senior year before the awkward ending with Jude anyway. Millie is determined to enjoy her time in the Highlands of Scotland as part of the first class of women admitted to Gregorstoun, and it doesn’t seem difficult considering the lush green surroundings. However, Millie has a bit to learn after she insults her roommate, who she later learns is Princess Flora. Tons of teenagers with titles and a lot more money (and freedom away from parents) than a scholarship student proves to be challenging at times in this lighthearted international LGBTQ+ romance. Those who read Royals will be happy with the appearance of some familiar characters, but Millie and Flora and a new cast of high society teens take center stage in this companion.

THOUGHTS: Hand this book to any romance reader who likes learning about royals and their drama. Fans will want more books featuring this royal family!

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Stewart, ErinScars Like Wings. Delacorte Press, 2019. 352 p. $18.99. 978-1-984-84882-6. Grades 9+.

After losing everything how does one move forward? Almost one year ago life as Ava knew it ceased to exist. Of course, she didn’t realize that until months later when she woke from a coma and was given devastating news: the fire that burned over 60% of her body also took the lives of both of her parents and her cousin/best friend Sarah (Ava’s Aunt Cora and Uncle Glenn’s only child). Many painful days of healing later, Ava now lives with Cora and Glenn while struggling with who she is; the old Ava died in the fire. Now as far as Ava is concerned, cyber school and staying hidden away define her existence. The only people who regularly see her are her aunt and uncle and her doctors. When her surgeon and aunt suggest she attend school, Ava begrudgingly agrees to a two week trial period. Though the stares are hard at first, Ava is used to them, and she begins to realize how much she misses having friends. Taken under the wing by Piper, another girl who has scars of her own, Ava begins to define her new normal and adapt to life outside of her comfort zone. Though Ava’s grief is at the heart of this novel, Piper provides some much needed comic relief. Readers will learn that it isn’t just the outside appearance that defines who we are.

THOUGHTS: With plenty of tear-jerking moments, there also are plenty of laugh out loud scenes and musical references (I definitely had a few songs stuck in my head). Hand this book to any fan of a compelling, emotional read or those who will appreciate the healing power of music.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Skinner, Vicky. We Are the Ghosts. Swoon Reads, 2019. 272 p. $17.99. 978-1-250-19535-7. Grades 9+. 

Ellie’s life looked a lot different a year ago. She and her older brother Luke, who their whole school idolized, were best friends, and she was starting to date Cade. Then Luke disappeared, and Ellie’s life came to a screeching halt. Her grades plummeted, and she withdrew into herself, lost without Luke. With no word from her brother in over a year, Ellie is awoken by her parents with news of Luke’s sudden death. Completely devastated again, Ellie looks for answers and reconnects with Luke’s best friend and his ex-girlfriend. Cade and Ellie tentatively reconnect as well. Together the four teens embark on a road trip to get away and find some answers. While Ellie, Wes, and Gwen have questions about Luke, not everything they learn is easy. Ellie must find a way to accept Luke’s death and exist without her brother beside her. Even Cade gets some answers to questions about his own family.

THOUGHTS: This emotional journey leaves readers with a lot of unanswered questions, but the mystery surrounding Luke’s last year will compel readers to the surprising ending. Hand this one to fans of unpredictable plot twists.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Upperman, Katy. How the Light Gets In. Swoon Reads, 2019. 336 p. $18.99. 978-1-250-30567-1. Grades 9+. 

Callie and Chloe spent last summer visiting their recently divorced Aunt Lucy and helping transform her new historical house into a bed and breakfast. Then Chloe died tragically. Callie has spent the past year in a haze – mostly of her own creation – and her dad has had enough. He gives Callie a choice for this summer: go to Montana wilderness camp or spend another summer in Bell Cove, Oregon working with her aunt. It doesn’t seem like much of a choice, so Callie decides to return to Bell Cove, her aunt, and her memories. Unusual dreams and old house sounds are unnerving, but Callie doesn’t seem so far away in Bell Cove. Tucker, a local boy who is working on Lucy’s yard, helps Callie feel again. As Callie works on the house and uncovers some of its history, she learns how to manage her feelings in a productive way. But to move on Callie has to face some harsh truths about Chloe’s death and her part in it, or neither of them will be able to move on. Readers will feel the blanket of guilt and grief that covers Callie’s life and the hope that healing brings.

THOUGHTS: Upperman skillfully combines a subtle mystery with the paranormal and the unbreakable bond between sisters. The sweet romance brings hope and lightens the tone of the novel. Recommended for high school libraries where compelling stories or romance are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Mejia, Tehlor Kay. We Set the Dark on Fire. Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-69131-6. $17.99. 364 p. Gr. 9+. 

Daniela Vargas is the top Primera of her graduating class at the Medio School for Girls. Primeras are the first wives – the family planners, the socialites, the wives with no emotion and all the logic. The Segundas are the second wives – the childbearers and caretakers. This family system based on an ancient religious tale is how Medio has functioned for thousands of years. By graduating as top Primera, Daneila ensures she will be married off to the richest, most powerful young bachelor on the island, which has been her goal since her parents illegally snuck over the wall and into the capitol city when she was only four years old. No one can find out where she really comes from, though, if she hopes to maintain this life her parents worked so hard for her to have. Upon graduation, she is married off to Mateo Garcia, a young man from a powerful family, and rumor has it he is being groomed for the presidency. It seems Daniela finally reaches her lifelong goal and promise to her parents, but on the night of graduation, Daniela is approached by a rebel group who knows her secret and threatens everything she has worked so hard for unless she cooperates with them. As if that weren’t enough trouble, she also finds out her Segunda, the woman she must share her life with, is Carmen, a gorgeous but venomous rival of hers from school. Politics, forbidden love, and an emerging rebellion collide in this page-turning debut novel.

THOUGHTS: This was one of the more refreshing speculative fiction novels I have personally read in a while (and speculative fiction is my favorite genre). Though the politics of the world are fairly standard – the rich and powerful class maintaining – even strengthening – the divide by suppressing poor outside the city walls, the Latin-based culture and two-wife family structure are what makes it stand apart from other dystopian stories. While there were some plot twists readers might peg early on, it still managed to surprise me, personally, at several turns, making this a very enjoyable, unputdownable read. Highly recommended for students searching for strong Latina and/or LGBTQ characters, and very timely given the political issues presented.

Dystopian          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Outside the walls, people are dying. Daniela Vargas barely escaped that life with her family when she was just a girl, fleeing over the wall to the relative safety on the other side. But just how safe is her new life? With a capital living a life of luxury while people starve, things are bound to get messy. At the Medio School for Girls, young women from prominent families are trained to be one of two wives for the political leaders of Medio and, despite her less than desirable background, Daniela has managed to rise to the top of her class. Graduation is just days away when civil unrest strikes yet again in Medio and if Daniela isn’t careful, she may just lose everything.

THOUGHTS: Set among a background of political unease, Daniela’s struggles to remain true to herself and to her convictions, leading her down a path both frightening and exhilarating. This was an intriguing and entertaining read that will appeal to fans of Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

Fantasy (mythology); Dystopian          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


O’Meara, Mallory. The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick. Hanover Square Press, 2019. 978-1-335-93780-3. 307 p. $26.99. Gr. 10+.

Mallory O’Meara is a writer, filmmaker, podcaster, and fan of all things horror. With her deep love of monster movies, she is the ideal author to relate the rise, fall, and disheartening obscurity of the woman who created one of cinema’s most iconic monsters: the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Early chapters cover Milicent’s childhood and teen years in (maybe a little too much) detail, particularly the period when her father worked as a construction engineer on the California estate of media magnate William Randolph Hearst. Later, Milicent attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where her work earned her a job offer from Walt Disney; she became one of the first female animators at Disney Studios in 1939. She then spent the next decade working as a freelance artist and professional model, and later as an extra on various movie sets. In 1952, she became the first woman to work in a special effects makeup department (at Universal). There, she designed one of cinema’s all-time most recognizable monsters, eventually going on a national publicity tour to promote The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Sadly, this tour triggered the professional jealousy that would derail her trailblazing career. It’s clear that Mallory O’Meara identifies deeply with her subject and the professional challenges Milicent Patrick faced, especially sexism in the film industry and the experience of being a female in a male-dominated space. Also, not every Hollywood monster wears a rubber suit and a mask.

THOUGHTS: A woman before her time, Milicent Patrick should have been hailed as a hero. But few even recognize her name … until The Lady from the Black Lagoon. It’s a great listen for anyone with an interest in hidden Hollywood history, creature features, the #MeToo movement, and the feminist perspective of the divine Ms. O’Meara. 

777, Motion Picture Industry/Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – The Owls Have Come to Take us Away; Safe Harbour; Cold Grab; Tin

Smith, Ronald L.  The Owls Have Come to Take us Away. Clarion Books, 2019. 978-1-328-84160-5. 215 p. $16.99. Grades 6 and up.

Written in the matter-of-fact tone of Gary D. Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter, but with the insidious, surreality of Kenneth Oppel’s The Nest, Ronald L. Smith’s latest offering is a strange blend of science fiction and heart-wrenching realism. Simon, our narrator, is a twelve-year-old boy whose favorite pastimes are playing EverCraft, reading fantasy and science fiction books (especially about aliens, or “Grays” as Simon calls them), and writing his own fantasy novel entitled Max Hollyoak and the Tree of Everwyn, chapters of which are interspersed throughout the book. He and his family live on an Airforce base in Maryland, one of several he’s lived on over the years. Given his nomadic lifestyle, Simon struggles with his social life. He is bullied at school, partially because of skin color (his mother is black, his father is white), and partially because of his hobbies and interests, and his only friend, Tony, is away in Mexico for part of the summer, leaving him lonelier and more isolated than usual. When his parents force him to go camping, Simon experiences a terrifying and traumatic event out in the woods: he has an encounter with a Gray. His proof? There is a small scoop in his stomach, and he can feel something hard (an implant?) underneath his skin. Although Simon tries to keep this a secret, eventually he confesses to his parents, who, understandably concerned, send him to a psychiatrist. Simon does find unwavering support from Tony, and, surprisingly, from his older brother’s girlfriend, Miranda. She introduces Simon to her father, an avid believer, who holds regular meetings with other true believers, all of whom have had their own alien encounters. As the novel progresses, the tone becomes increasingly urgent and ominous, as Simon’s predicament grows steadily more bizarre and fantastic. Like Simon, the reader will be left wondering what is actually going on – is this an elaborate fabrication from the mind of a wildly imaginative young boy, or is Simon truly experiencing alien encounters? Smith skillfully navigates the ingrained skepticism of the adults in Simon’s world, with the inherent belief of children in otherworldly realms of possibility. The ending of this book will come as a shock to some, and a vindication to others.

THOUGHTS: Hand this book to any middle grade reader who claims they don’t like science fiction – after reading The Owls Have Come to Take us Away, they will be sci-fi converts.

Science Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Kilbourne, Christina. Safe Harbour. Dundurn, 2019. 978-1-459-74518-6. 264 p. $12.99. Grades 6-9.

Fourteen and alone in a new city would be hard enough. Harbour, however, is alone in a new country. Her dad sent her to Canada from her home state of Florida with the promise to sail their boat up and meet her. Harbour isn’t worried though; she has her dog, Tuff Stuff, her credit card for essentials, and emergency cash, along with her cell phone to keep in touch with her dad. They are camping in a ravine with plenty of coverage not to be seen or bothered. Harbour soon makes friends with Lanie who is another homeless girl who has plenty of street smarts and loads of compassion for Harbour’s unique situation. Life is good until her credit card is declined, and winter is quickly approaching. Even with sleeping bags rated for negative twenty degrees Celsius, Harbour isn’t ready for what winter brings. Lanie and Harbour grow closer as Lanie helps prepare Harbour for winter and the possibility that her dad will never come.  Harbour starts sharing some stories about her dad, which is the first glimpse into a bigger problem. Harbour is convinced that there is a plot to blow up all the cities in the United States and that she has to keep Tough Stuff safe because her dad put a chip under his skin that has proof of this conspiracy. As we follow Lanie, Harbour, and Tough Stuff through the story, readers start to feel that there is more to her dad than Harbour knows and that maybe he knew he wouldn’t make it. The question is why send her to Canada and why instruct her to camp in that specific ravine. Harbour’s father loved her. Even when he was struggling with his schizophrenia, he had a plan to keep his daughter safe and put her where she needed to be. Harbour and Lanie are great characters that show friendship in a very raw way. Lanie sticks by Harbour though floods, panic attacks, and a lost dog to finally help her find a happy ending.

THOUGHTS: This book would be great for middle grade lit circles as it gives a lot of openings for discussion of what makes a good friend as well as mental health.     

Realistic Fiction           Arryn Cumpston, Crawford Central SD


Barwin, Steven. Cold Grab. Lorimer, 2019. 978-1-459-41379-5. 194 p. $8.99. Grades 6-9.

While originally published in Canada in 2018 Cold Grab will be published for the first time in the United States in 2019. Angelo, a sixteen year old boy from the Philippines, has been forced to move to Canada live with his mom. His mom moved to Canada when Angelo was young to make a better life for him. The problem is that Angelo didn’t want to leave Paolo, his grandfather and their fishing boats. Angelo is slow to adjust to life in a new country, but he does quickly become friends with Marcus. Marcus introduces him to other Filipino students with whom he hangs out. Angelo soon becomes concerned with if these are the right friends for him when they take him on his first “mission” to steal from people at Easton Center. Angelo is soon too caught up in all the money that he is making by being a part of the gang. Soon it is Angelo’s turn, but is he ready? Angelo’s thieving ways continue until he is caught between a rock and a hard place. Angelo stole a Mario Lemieux rookie card from Yvonne’s employer. The “Queen” with no proof fires Yvonne because of the theft and presses charges against Angelo, though there is no proof of his actions. Can Angelo trust his friends to stick up for him when times get tough, or does he learn the hard way that some people are only out for themselves.

THOUGHTS: This book is a great look into what life may be like for students coming to a new country and trying to figure out a new country. Angelo has a lot of normal sixteen year old emotions of anger and frustration with parents, along with the confusion and loneliness of being in a new place.  This would be a great book for students who enjoy realistic fiction books with a believable plot.

Realistic Fiction          Arryn Cumpston, Crawford Central SD


Kenny, draig. Tin. Chicken House, 2019. 278 p. $16.99. 978-1-338-27755-5. Grades 5-8. 

What does it mean to be human? What makes memories stay? What makes memories so important in the present? Christopher is the only “proper” human amid the mechanicals built by Mr. Absalom, his boss. Mechanicals are legal but only child-size and largely for servant functions; strong regulations are enforced by the Agency.  Christopher treats the mechanicals well, even when he, too, is treated badly by Absalom. Jack, Round Rob, Gripper, and their repairer Estelle all wish for better-made bodies, which Mr. Absalom promises will happen if he’s able to make a sale. But times are difficult in this mechanical world, and that never happens. Then an accident reveals that Christopher is not fully human, and the Agency swoops in to remove him from Absalom. Suddenly, Christopher is alone, facing piercing questions from engineer Blake, realizing he’s been living a life based on “patched” (added) memories, but he’s exceptionally important to Blake. Why? Jack, Round Rob, Gripper, and Estelle set out to get Christopher back, and in the process locate Cormier, the finest engineer ever to make mechanicals. Blake is determined to restore his engineer father’s dream of powerful mechanicals to defend Britain, and he pushes Cormier to reveal his secrets. The men struggle once more to fight for deeply-felt morals and a chance to vindicate or resurrect family. 

THOUGHTS: Kenny creates a harsh alternative post-WWI history where humanity’s advances leave empty mechanicals–and humans–in their wake. Not all nuances of mechanicals (emotions, souls, etc.) are unraveled, but Kenny presents a sufficient history as a backdrop for a story that allows for deeper questions of morality and humanity. Ideal for deeper-thinking fantasy and science fiction readers who love robotics, the focus here is on friendship and humanity.

Science Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD