Elem. – Pony Girls (Set 2) Series Fiction

Mullarkey, Lisa. Pony Girls (Set 2). Abdo Publishing, 2020. 978-1-532-13646-7. $20.95 ea. $83.80 set of 4. Grades 2-5.

Charlie. 978-1-532-13646-7.
Gracie. 978-1-532 13647-4.
Paisley. 978-1-532-13648-1.
Zoey. 978-1-532-13649-8.

Charlie loves being a camper at Storm Cliff Stables, but some things just make her belly swishy swashy. She wants to be able to go on a full trail ride and jump the vaults, but she just can’t seem to do it without her belly causing troubles and her heart going thump, thump, thump. Thankfully her friends, Aunt Jane, her mom, and Dr. Bell have helped her with different strategies to keep her nerves away. She will become a full Warrior and be able to achieve her goals, if she keeps visualizing them and doing her very best!

THOUGHTS: The ability in this book to discuss anxiety issues and panic attacks is absolutely phenomenal. The coping strategies listed in here are great strategies that readers can use to help keep nerves at bay and help reduce anxiety. A great choice for a young reader who is interested in horses or animals and may be dealing with their own fears and anxieties.

Realistic Fiction         Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – Love & Olives

Welch, Jenna Evans. Love & Olives. Simon Pulse, 2020. 978-1-534-44883-4. $18.99. 352 p. Grades 7-12. 

On the outside it appears that Liv has everything figured out, but inside she’s struggling with a few things. For one, her long time high school boyfriend Dax just graduated, and he wants Liv to follow him to Stanford. She hasn’t found the right way to tell him that her heart is set on RISD, and anyway she might not even get in (and still has one more year). When a beat-up postcard for Liv arrives days before Dax’s senior trip – which Liv is supposed to go on – Liv feels her perfect outside begin to crumble. Dax doesn’t know this side of Liv. At her mom’s insistence, Liv is headed to Santorini, Greece to spend some time with her father, whom Liv hasn’t seen since she was 8. Since she hasn’t heard from him in years, Liv has many conflicted emotions about seeing her father again. Why after all this time does he think they can have a relationship. But Liv’s father’s love of Atlantis was a connection the two of them shared during her childhood, and an exciting special project helps them begin to reconnect after all those years. His persistent assistant Theo is a great buffer between the awkward moments, and Theo helps Liv experience Santorini. His good looks are a great distraction too, and as they work together and become friends Liv begins to question some of the choices she’s made in her own life. The clock on her visit is ticking, though, and Liv isn’t sure she can count on her father. Is their relationship beyond repair, and can Liv move on beyond her childhood broken heart?

THOUGHTS: Set among a gorgeous backdrop with detailed descriptions of Santorini, readers will fall in love with Greece. Liv/Olive/Kalamata/Indiana Olive has a lot to learn about herself, and readers will be rooting for her from the beginning. With a strong cast of characters and a little bit of mystery and romance, this book will be a hit among middle and high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

Kolker, Robert. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family. Doubleday, 2020. 978-0-385-54376-7. 377 pp. $29.99. Gr. 10+.

From the outside looking in, the Galvin family embodied the American Dream. After serving in World War II, Don Galvin took a job at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. There he and his wife Mimi began a family that would grow to include ten boys and two girls, spanning the Baby Boom generation. But deep within the minds of six of their children, something was terribly wrong. One by one, six of the boys fell ill with schizophrenia, most late in adolescence; they suffered from hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and an array of debilitating symptoms. As the boys cycled between mental institutions and the family home on Hidden Valley Road, Don and especially Mimi did their best to both care for their sick children and maintain outward appearances. The life of every child, well and sick alike, was touched by mental illness, particularly the two youngest, Margaret and Mary. Author Robert Kolker deftly blends the heart-wrenching story of the Galvin family with chapters on the medical side of the story: could a “multiplex” family like the Galvins, with so many cases of the disease, help scientists resolve the nature versus nurture debate that had always dominated schizophrenia research?

THOUGHTS: This is not a quick or easy read, but it is a propulsive one. Kolker’s ability to stitch extensive research into such a personal story, complete with details cementing the Galvins’ lives in a distinctive place and time, is a master class in nonfiction writing. Note the presence of scenes of abuse and trauma, which are very sensitively depicted.

616.89 Schizophrenia          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA FIC – Before I Let Go; Rules of Rain; Moxie; The Librarian of Auschwitz

Nijkamp, Marieke. Before I Let Go. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018. 978-1-492-64228-2. 368 p. $17.15. Gr. 10 and up.

Returning to Lost Creek, Alaska, for her best friend’s funeral after moving away several months ago, Corey is devastated. She never found the words to tell Kyra that there was a great big world outside of Lost, and now she’ll never have the opportunity. Guilt-ridden over never responding to Kyra’s letters, Corey doesn’t know what to expect in Lost. Lost isn’t what she remembers, and neither are the people that live there. The town that she once loved and that loved her seems like it’s hiding something. Determined to uncover the truth about Kyra’s death, Corey sets out on her own. Desperate to find answers before her return to Winnipeg and terrified for her safety, Corey races against the clock before her flight departs. Told in present tense, letters sent and unsent, and flashback narratives written in play format, Corey’s and Kyra’s stories unfold as Lost fights to keep its secrets.  THOUGHTS: The remote Alaskan wilderness amps up the creepy factor in this mystery. Through the emphasis on Kyra’s storytelling, readers will be compelled to learn what actually happened to her, but they may not feel fully invested in the novel, as the characters lack depth. Though identity and mental health issues are addressed, they are not at the center of the story. Before I Let Go is a good read for mystery fans and those interested in exploring the ways mental illness affects one’s life and experiences.

Mystery; Realistic Fiction    Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Scheier, Leah. Rules of Rain. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1-492-65426-1. 384 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up.

The connection between twins can be unique. Add into the mix one twin has autism, and the dynamics are even more complicated. Rain’s entire life has revolved around her brother and helping him navigate the world. She has been Ethan’s voice and rock for so long that she knows no different.  Now teenagers, Rain and Ethan are beginning to grow into themselves and somewhat apart from each other. She is interested in cooking and blogging about obscure recipes, while he is fascinated by the inner workings of the human body. Rain and Ethan experience many firsts and learn a lot about each other and themselves. While Ethan seems to be thriving in his independence, it is Rain who begins to unravel. THOUGHTS: This is more than a coming of age story, and there are a lot of issues involved. At the heart of the novel twins are learning as much from each other as the world around them. Their twin/sibling relationship, autism, family dynamics/relationships, parent/child roles, divorce, bullying, underage drinking, as well as teen relationships (friendship and romantic). While other issues are present, to say more would spoil the surprise. Teens with complicated home lives and/or challenging sibling dynamics will like this character-driven novel. Some mature content makes this book more suited for high school readers.  

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Mathieu, Jennifer.  Moxie.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017.  978-1-62672-635-2. 330 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Unlike her mother, who was a rebellious teenager, Vivian Carter has always kept to herself and followed the rules.  However, after witnessing incident after incident of sexism in her conservative Texas high school, none of which are corrected by the administration, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl zines of the nineties, Vivian creates and distributes an anonymous zine around her school, calling for all girls to take action in protest.  The movement gradually grows, with more and more girls participating in each new protest and some girls even taking their own actions to improve the misogynistic environment.  Inspiring and empowering, readers will keep turning pages in order to find out what the Moxie girls are going to do next–and whether or not they will be successful in changing their school’s culture. THOUGHTS: Because of its strong emphasis on feminism, I would recommend this book to teenage girls and/or those who enjoy reading fiction with strong female protagonists.  The novel would also be an excellent supplement for a social studies unit on women’s history, women’s rights, and/or social activism.  It would be sure to spark discussion and may even inspire students to conduct further research on the Riot Grrrl movement of the nineties.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Iturbe, Antonio. The Librarian of Auschwitz. Translated by Lilit Thwaites. Henry Holt and Company, 2017. 978-1627796187. 432 p. $19.99. Gr. 9-12.

Spanish author Antonia Iturbe tells a fictionalized story of the little-known “Librarian of Auschwitz,” a young girl whose task it was to protect the few books in the possession of Jews in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Dita Kraus arrives at Auschwitz after living in the Terezin Ghetto, and is “lucky” enough to be sent to the family camp instead of directly to the gas chambers. In this part of the camp, there is a school run by Freddy Hirsch, who sees in Dita a strong young woman willing to protect their beloved texts. The story moves back and forth between Dita’s life in the ghetto, the lives of other prisoners and Jews, and the backstory of the enigmatic Hirsch. The novel starts out slow and on occasion the language seems a bit stunted (which might be a result of reading it as a translation). However, the story and characters do shine through, and the reader becomes engrossed in this story of both the cultural and physical survival of a people. THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for high schools, especially to complement memoirs and other readings about the Holocaust.

Historical Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy

YA FIC – Sparrow; Far from the Tree; They Both Die at the End

Moon, Sarah. Sparrow. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017. 978-1-338-03258-1 264p. $18.99.  Gr. 6 and up.

Sparrow is super shy and doesn’t really like people.  She “checks out” of uncomfortable situations by watching birds and imagining she can fly.  Her refuge at school is the school library, but her librarian dies suddenly, leaving Sparrow adrift.  The book begins when she wakes up in the psych ward of the hospital after she is found on the school roof and everyone assumes she was going to jump.  Sparrow ends up in therapy, which is really helpful, eventually. She is exposed to music that really speaks to her.  Music becomes a new obsession.   She even ends up at a great summer camp where she learns to play the bass guitar.  The story ends with great hope for Sparrow’s continued growth.  THOUGHTS:  This is a painful story to read, but an important one.  It is for all of our super shy kids.  It is for all of our black girl nerds.  It is for music lovers.  It is for all of us to build empathy for people in similar situations to Sparrow.

Realistic Fiction       Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Moon, Sarah. Sparrow. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017. 978-1-338-02358-1. 272 p. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

For introvert and only child Sparrow, navigating her peers and the halls of her school has never been easy. She found “her place” in the library with Mrs. Wexler, the school librarian who knew just the right books to give Sparrow. In the quiet comforting space, Sparrow ate her lunch in the library with other book people but not really with them. The book opens as Sparrow wakes up in a white hospital room, after being found on her school’s roof, apparently attempting suicide. No one believes that she really wasn’t trying to kill herself. Sparrow isolates herself from her mom, the one person who used to understand her, and finds herself meeting with a therapist. Resentful of this invasion of privacy because she really wasn’t trying to kill herself, Sparrow sits quietly through her therapy sessions. Oddly, Dr. Katz is perfectly willing to let Sparrow sit and be with her thoughts and some intriguing music. Eventually, Sparrow begins to trust Dr. Katz, and she pushes herself out of her comfort zone in an attempt to find an outlet for all that she is feeling.  THOUGHTS: This book really gets into the head of a girl dealing with mental health and anxiety issues. I’m not sure how much teens will like Sparrow’s bird fascination, but the way she is able to connect with music on an intense emotional level will resonate. Sparrow’s journey seems like a stretch, since she is initially found isolated on the school’s rooftop and at the end she is healing and able to go so far out of her comfort zone.

Realistic Fiction   Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Benway, Robin. Far from the Tree. HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-06-233062-8 374p. $17.99.  Gr. 9 and up.

Grace has had a tough year.  She became pregnant and chose an adoptive family for her baby.  Attending school during the pregnancy is tough, as she loses friends and is mocked in the hallways.  After the birth and seeing her daughter being taken home by someone else, Grace is adrift and wants to know more about her own birth family.  Grace’s adoptive parents are supportive as Grace meets Maya and Joaquin, her biological brother and sister.  Maya has her own secrets as her adoptive parents fight all of the time and her mother drinks.  Joaquin has spent seventeen years in the foster care system and keeps all of his secrets as to not hurt anyone else.  This fast-paced story kept me turning pages to find out how the three of them would treat each other and handle all of the other things happening in their lives. All three siblings have romantic relationships that need some work.  THOUGHTS: This is a great read.   It explores the meaning of family, the complexities of secret-keeping, and the importance of letting other people in. A great purchase for a high school collection.

Realistic Fiction      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Silvera. Adam. They Both Die at the End. HarperCollins, 2017. 9780062457790. $17.99. 384p.

Gr. 8-12.

What would you do if you knew you only had 24 hours left to live? This story follows two teenaged boys, Mateo and Rufus, who are Puerto Rican and Cuban-American respectively, on their End Day. In the future, you will receive a phone call from specially trained “Deckers” whose job it is to tell you that you will be dying soon. Fortunately, there is an app called Last Friend that allows people to connect with someone that will also die, which is how Mateo and Rufus finally meet after having to deal with a few believable trolling incidents from people using the Last Friend app. The reader follows along as the two teens try to make the most of their last few hours while also coming to terms with their impending death. Chapter titles countdown the time and include additional characters thoughts. THOUGHTS: I enjoyed the premise of this book – that one day you will find out that it is your last day on Earth. It’s something that most people have thought about and can be a great way to focus on what is important in life. Silvera did away with pesky families so that the characters didn’t want to just sit around with them on their last day. This sets the teens up to go out and have experiences together, which included developing a romantic relationship with each other. This will be another great book to add to your LGBT collection.

Dystopian     Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

YA – Dead Inside; Midnight at the Electric; The Hate U Give; Wildman

Etler, Cyndy. Dead Inside. Sourcebooks, 2017 . 9781492635734. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

A grim and shocking memoir of a young girl’s harrowing experiences in a juvenile rehabilitation facility. Ignored by her mother and abused by her stepfather, fourteen-year-old Cyndy Etler finds a degree of acceptance with a wild crowd on the rough streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut. When she runs away from her dysfunctional home, she is forced by her family into an addiction treatment center called Straight Inc., which operated dozens of centers up and down the East Coast. For sixteen months, Cyndy endures a complete loss of freedom and grueling discipline at the cult-like institution. The abusive mental and physical tactics employed at the center are truly frightening. Cyndy details the bizarre and cruel routines and punishments of the staff and older inmates who had the goal of forcing obedience and compliance from all new recruits. Under the relentless pressure, Cyndy turns from rebellious and disbelieving newbie to brainwashed graduate.  It is incredible how an institution like Straight Inc. managed to exist for years, escaping the scrutiny of child welfare officials. The program was finally shut down in the 1990s. However, similar places still exist for troubled youth today. It was only after years of commitment to AA and her time at University of Massachusetts that Cyndy was finally able to escape the shadow of her experience at Straight, Inc. She currently works as an educator and advocate for troubled teens.  Thoughts: For older teens who enjoy gritty, real life stories such as A Child Called It. Too graphic for younger readers.

362.29, Rehabilitation                       Nancy Summers,  Abington SD

 

Anderson, Jodi Lynn. Midnight at the Electric. HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-06-239354-8. $17.99. 174 p.  Gr. 7 and up.

Adri Ortiz is on her way to Mars. Selected as a colonist in the year 2065, Adri arrives in Kansas, the home of space program, for final training before launch. She has been housed with a here-to-fore unknown relative, an elderly cousin. When Lily, 107, attempts to befriend Adri, she is told by Adri, “I’m not really a friendly kind of a person. I’m not charming or anything. I’m, like, the opposite of that.” During the downtime waiting for training sessions, Adri explores the old house and comes across a postcard from Lenore to Beth, dated 1920. Curious, Adri questions Lily, who vaguely remembers some letters her mother used to read. Adri tears the house apart to find the letters and unravel the mystery. However, finding the letters only leads to more questions; questions Adri desperately needs answered before she is launched into space. The story is narrated from multiple viewpoints throughout time, corresponding to the documents Adri is reading. The reader, along with Adri, becomes emotionally involved with these strangers from the past, as the various threads eventually come together in a lovely, heartbreaking story. THOUGHTS:  This novel deservedly received multiple starred reviews. The evocation of the Dust Bowl during one storyline is stunning, and the themes of bravery, acceptance, and love are beautifully conveyed. Plus, there is a Galapagos tortoise who maintains continuity through the generations of the story. A must purchase for secondary collections.  

Fantasy, Science Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Jodi Lynn Anderson latest work, Midnight at the Electric is a wonderful rabbit hole of a novel. We begin with Adri Diaz, in the year 2065.  Things are looking bad for the Earth, and Adri is part of an elite group chosen to colonize Mars. When she is sent to live with an elderly cousin she didn’t know existed while she completes her training, she stumbles across a mystery, of sorts, about the former owners of the farmhouse. When Adri finds a diary written by Catherine Godspeed, the perspective switches. We learn about Catherine’s life during the 1930s dust bowl; she, her mother, Beth, and her little sister, Beezie, are struggling to survive, and when her mother almost dies in a dust storm, she decides it’s time for Catherine to learn the truth about a few things she’s been keeping secret. Catherine is given a bundle of letters written to her mother from her best friend, Lenore, in 1919. Lenore lives in England, and she is reeling from the death of her beloved brother, Teddy, killed in a battles during World War I; writing to Beth, and spending time in an abandoned cottage on the outskirts of her family’s property are her only outlets. Both Catherine and Lenore’s stories end abruptly, and with no resolution, which infuriates Adri. Determined to discover what happened to these women, she searches the house, visits the town library, and the archives. Will Adri discover the secrets of the past before she leaves Earth forever?  This is a fascinating blend of science fiction and historical fiction. Anderson has painted a convincing picture of a crumbling and doomed Earth, but with a hyper-laser focus on Adri, she avoids tumbling too far into doom and gloom; we can put all of our attention on Adri’s search, her hilarious and heart-warming relationship with her cousin, Lily, and on the intersection of Adri’s, Catherine’s, and Lenore’s stories. The novel ends on a bittersweet note that may wrench a tear or two, especially if you have a thing for tortoises.

Science Fiction; Historical Fiction      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. New York: Balzer & Bray, 2017. 978-0-06-249853-3. 464 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Starr Carter is leading a double-life.  There’s the Starr Carter who attends an exclusive private school with mostly white students, has a long-term boyfriend, who is also white, and who faces daily microaggressions.  Then there’s the Starr Carter who lives in a poor neighborhood overrun by gang violence, who has a father who used to be a gang member, and who is best friends (or is she?) with Khalil.  Starr thinks she has a handle on navigating these two worlds until the night she witnesses Khalil’s murder at the hands of a police officers.  Angie Thomas has written a provocative, moving, and often times enraging book that feels incredibly current, given the multiple deaths of unarmed black men in the last few years, and the resultant simmering anger across the nation.  Starr is a heroine of our time; her indecision, her fear, and her rage, are realistic; never do we, the reader, forget that she is just a sixteen year-old girl who has a monumental weight on her shoulders. Her support network, her family, her boyfriend, her friends, are extremely well-drawn; there are no caricatures here.  From feeling like an outsider wherever she is, to embracing, and melding, both selves into a confident young woman who finds her voice, Starr’s evolution is glorious to behold.  Get this book into as many hands as possible.  THOUGHTS: This is one of my top 10 books of the year so far.  Not only is it incredibly timely, it is also beautifully written.  Starr is a character that everyone can see themselves in – the impulse to hide parts of yourself in order to just get through the day is universal. While this is not an easy book to read, it will hopefully inspire empathy in those who do read it; an extremely worthwhile book for allies and advocates alike.

Realistic Fiction     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Angie Thomas’s highly anticipated debut inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement more than lives up to the hype. Sixteen year old Starr lives in a poor neighborhood but attends an exclusive prep school. She finds that she is two people; one at home and one at school. One night after a party, Starr witnesses the unprovoked murder of her black friend Khalil at the hands of a white police officer. The murder makes national headlines, and Khalil is soon pegged as a thug and drug dealer. As protests ring out across her neighborhood, Starr is unwillingly thrown into the front lines, and finds her home and school lives colliding. As the media continues to paint Khalil as a gangbanger and make excuses for the shooting officer, Starr knows that only her voice can speak for Khalil – even if she’s afraid to use it. THOUGHTS A timely and intimate portrait of racial injustices from the eyes of a black teenage, this incredibly important story sheds light on police brutality, judicial racial bias, and white privilege, among other things. Starr is a relatable, believable, and fierce protagonist. If you buy one book this year, make it this.

Contemporary Fiction    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Balzer & Bray/HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-062-49853-3. 444 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Starr Carter leads two separate lives. Though she lives in a poor neighborhood, Starr attends a fancy suburban prep school. She is conscious of how she talks differently, and at times the struggle between her two worlds weighs on Starr. After reconnecting with her childhood best friend Khalil, Starr witnesses his death at the hands of a police officer. Unarmed, the news of Khalil’s death goes viral, and Starr is thrust in the middle of a national headline she isn’t sure she wants to be part of. In order for Starr to reconcile her feelings about Khalil’s death, she needs to figure out which world she wants to live in and for what she stands. Fortunately, Starr has a strong family that will help her through this tragic situation.  THOUGHTS: This book is necessary, and teens will feel at home with Thomas’s honesty over Starr’s struggle. While the language may make some adults uncomfortable (strong language and themes), this novel could have been ripped right from today’s headlines. Teens need real stories that are relevant to their own lives to help them process their feelings and fears. Thomas’s The Hate U Give should be required reading for anyone interested in social justice, social issues, or today’s world.

Realistic Fiction        Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Geiger, J. C.  Wildman. Disney-Hyperion, 2017. 9781484749579. $17.99. 336 pp. Gr. 9-12.

Sometimes it may look like you have it, the perfect life, until you get thrown off course and need to recalibrate. So it goes for Lance, a graduating teen who has life mapped out for him until his father’s Buick decides to break down in the Pacific Northwest wilderness. Suddenly he finds himself saving passengers, getting in fights, jumping trains, and unleashing the “Wildman” inside him. More important than those adventures, though, is his confrontation with identity and love and his future choices. Lance is in for one wild ride!  THOUGHTS: Definitely geared to the older high school crowd, this novel is lacking in a few areas, but is overall a satisfying read. The author’s debut novel has plenty of his personal knowledge mixed with some interesting, complex characters. What the story misses from leaps of logic and lacks in diversity are balanced by some creative plot points and well written settings.

Realistic Fiction, Action/Adventure     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

 

 

 

 

 

YA Realistic Fiction – Truthers; Allegedly; Once and for All; We are Okay

Girard, Geoffrey. Truthers. Carolrhoda LAB/Lerner Publishing Group, 2017. 978-1-5124-2779-0. 360 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Katie never believed in her dad; he let her down too many times to count.  His bad combination of drugs and alcohol left Katie picking up his responsibilities all throughout her childhood, forcing her to learn that the only person she can depend on is herself.  When the police bring Child Services to her front door, Katie isn’t shocked, knowing it was only a matter of time.  What she didn’t expect was to hear her dad has been admitted to a mental institution due to a violent encounter with coworkers and claims of 9/11 conspiracies involving former vice president Dick Cheney.  Katie remembers her dad spouting “truther” conspiracies sporadically, mostly when he was either drunk or high.  But when her dad shares a dark secret with her, she finds herself thrust into a world of lies, half-truths, and corruption.  Now Katie must figure out if her dad could be telling the truth, which would shake up her world completely, or if he really is in the place where he belongs.  THOUGHTS: Girard’s novel had me riveted and horrified all at the same time.  Like many reading this review, I remember 9/11 very clearly.  I can tell you where I was when each plane crashed, how I felt when each tower crumbled before the world’s very eyes, and how my friends, family, and students were directly affected by what happened that terrible day.  To read this fictional character, Katie, explore all-to-real “truther” points-of-view, I was so upset by how plausible it all seemed.  I have never given credence to the “truther” movement before, and I cannot say this book has convinced me to believe in any way, nor was that the author’s intent, however I can see how easily it would be to get caught up in it all, just like Katie was.  I would recommend this to any high school teacher who is looking to get their students more involved in questioning the world around them, even if it means questioning their own government.

Realistic Fiction          Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley School District

 

Jackson, Tiffany D.  Allegedly.  Katherine Tegen Books, 2017.  978-0-06-242264-4. 387 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9 and up.

After serving six years in jail for allegedly killing a three-month-old baby who was in the care of her and her mother, Mary Addison now lives in a group home and is on house arrest.  She volunteers at a nursing home, where she meets Ted and ends up getting pregnant with his baby.  When she realizes she won’t be allowed to keep the baby, she decides it is time to tell the truth about what happened that fateful night so that she may be exonerated.  Finding someone to believe her, however, may be more difficult than it seems, and in the end, the truth may not be clear and straightforward.  A searing portrait of relevant issues like mental illness, media bias, race, complicated family ties, and the criminal justice system, this novel is sure to spark debate among its readers.  THOUGHTS: I found myself unable to put this book down, as I desperately wanted to discover the truth about Mary and her mother.  Besides the suspense, the empathy and pity I felt for Mary, along with the plot twists along the way, kept me coming back for more.  I would recommend this title to fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Paula
Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train, or fans of the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.  An excellent addition to any YA collection.

Realistic Fiction     Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Dessen, Sarah. Once and for All. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-425-29033-0. 368 p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

With her mom, a famed wedding planner, Louna lives amidst many teen girls’ dreams, taking a ringside seat working at lavish weddings. Being part of the planning and execution, however, is not as glamorous as one may think. Though they make their livelihood on love, Louna’s mother Natalie and her mother’s business partner William don’t believe in it. In fact, their post-wedding celebration includes a bet on how long (or not) each marriage will last. Their cynicism is starting to rub off on Louna; she can feel it. With her own first love ending tragically last year, Louna feels like she missed out on her one and only. It takes meeting Ambrose, an impossible and annoying son-of-the-bride (and later brother-of-the-bride) to bring Louna out of her shell. With the support and distractions of her best friend Jilly, who is constantly taxiing her siblings around while her food truck parents work, Louna enjoys one last memorable summer of wedding planning.   THOUGHTS: Fans of Sarah Dessen’s sweet teenaged romance novels will swoon over this newest book. Set amongst a beautiful summer wedding season, it successfully looks at love and loss. Descriptions of sex and teen drinking may not be suitable for younger readers.

Realistic Fiction   Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

I look forward to each new novel by Sarah Dessen. While her newest release is not as strong as her previous titles, the story is still engrossing and will be heartily enjoyed by any young person interested in novels focused on relationships and personal growth. Louna has spent her life around weddings, since her mother and her mother’s best friend own one of the premiere wedding planning businesses in their town. Louna is an old hat at calming down a bride and finding an errant wedding guest. Yet, a previous heartache has caused her to question marriage and she has given up dating for the foreseeable future. The summer before college, she works at her mother’s business every day. When her mother hires the brother of one of their clients, she immediately questions this decision. Ambrose is annoying, loud, and constantly in search of his next date. Ambrose and Louna decide to make a bet- Ambrose has to date someone for longer than two or three dates, and Louna has to go on as many first dates as she can. The bet leads to some funny outcomes and interesting interactions between the two. The characters, as always, are engaging and likeable even with their faults, and the story moves back and forth between Louna’s present and the love of her past. THOUGHTS: While a bit cliche at times, this title will be enjoyed by many teens looking for a simple, easy lovestory.

Realistic Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy

 

LaCour, Nina. We Are Okay. New York, Penguin: 2017. Print. 978-0525425892. 240 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Nina LaCour has written a beautiful little gem of a novel about truly understanding one’s family and accepting the life we have to lead. Marin escaped from her home in California after a tragedy, leaving for her new collegiate home in rural New York. She cut herself off from her life and friends, not answering any texts from her best friend, Mabel. But, when the winter break comes around, Mabel comes to New York for a visit, and Marin must begin to confront her past and come to terms with the life she now must lead. The story jumps easily from Marin’s past and her life with her beloved grandfather, to her present, quiet existence at school. Marin and Mabel’s complex relationship slowly reveals itself, and LaCour shares their experience with compassion and grace. THOUGHTS: I highly recommend this novel for libraries with a vibrant teen collection.

Realistic Fiction     Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy

YA Realistic Fiction – Dodgers; Great American…; Highly Illogical…; When We Collided

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Beverly, Bill. Dodgers. New York: Crown Publishers, 2016. 978-1-101-90373-5. 290pp. $26.00. Grades 10 and up.

At fifteen years old, East has never left Los Angeles. He works as a lookout in his Uncle Fin’s drug organization in a neighborhood known as “The Boxes.” But, after failing to warn his crew about a police raid, East is called up to redeem himself by running a special favor for Fin. East and three other boys, including his younger brother Ty, are tasked with driving to Wisconsin to murder a key witness. Beginning with a quick, but complicated stop in Las Vegas, the plans go tragically awry as the boys barrel headlong into the heartland in search of their mark. Along the way East realizes that maybe, just maybe, a different kind of life awaits him somewhere down the road. In depicting East’s cross-country journey, debut novelist Bill Beverly incorporates elements of crime fiction, travelogue, and classic coming-of-age stories. THOUGHTS: With a teen protagonist, Dodgers is an excellent crossover selection for readers looking to experience a poetically austere new voice in fiction. With frank depictions of drug dealing, violence, and urban survival, it is strongly reminiscent of the brilliant TV series The Wire.

Realistic Fiction      Amy V. Pickett, Ridly High School Library

 

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Federle, Tim. The Great American Whatever. New York: Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2016. 978-1-4814-0409-9. 278 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

It’s fair to say that Pittsburgh teen Quinn Roberts is not having a great junior year. His mom’s on disability, his father has unceremoniously ditched the family, and worst of all Quinn’s beloved older sister, Annabeth, died in a car crash on the day before Christmas break. Quinn has essentially suspended all contact with the outside world, until summer hits and record-breaking highs interrupt his personal record-breaking lows. Bolstered by his best friend Geoff, Quinn emerges from both his room and his shell. At a party, he meets cute, college boy Amir, who genuinely likes him back. Quinn, however, is less than forthcoming about his deeply sad back story; he’d rather “imagine how the ideal screenplay version of events would play out.” A cinematic thread runs throughout the novel; movie buffs Quinn and Annabeth were amateur filmmakers, with Quinn writing and Annabeth directing his scripts for “Q&A Production,” and an abandoned application for a student filmmakers’ competition brings the narrative full circle. This winning LGBT coming-of-age novel has just the right balance of tragedy, comedy, and reality. THOUGHTS: Tim Federle’s first YA novel, The Great American Whatever, is 2016’s answer to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. References to Pittsburgh locales such as Squirrel Hill and Kennywood will especially delight Pennsylvania readers!

Realistic Fiction    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

 

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Whaley, John Corey. Highly Illogical Behavior. New York: Dial Books, 2016. 978-0-525042818-3. 249 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Solomon Reed, age 16, hasn’t left his house in over three years. He suffers from agoraphobia and debilitating panic attacks, but he’s managed to build a safe and comfortable life for himself in his parents’ home. Enter Lisa Praytor, who remembers Solomon’s all-too-public 7th grade meltdown and takes a keen interest in befriending him. Lisa also has a keen interest in receiving a full ride to a prestigious psychology program. Her essay prompt: “My personal experience with mental illness.” Once Solomon allows Lisa into his life he enjoys the companionship, even coming out to her during one of their visits. Lisa values his friendship, too, ignoring the pangs of guilt she feels over quietly manipulating him for essay material. When Lisa invites her boyfriend Clark to join her daily visits with Solomon, everyone gets along swimmingly until unexpectedly complicated feelings arise. With humor balancing the more serious plot lines, Highly Illogical Behavior is a fresh spin on the tried-and-true formula of a staged relationship leading to real feelings. THOUGHTS: Although this endearing novel doesn’t have quite the literary gravitas of Whaley’s debut, Where Things Come Back, or the creative chutzpah of Noggin‘s head transplant, it will leave readers thinking about and feeling for Solomon, Lisa, and Grant.

Realistic Fiction     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library

 

whenwecollided

Lord, Emery. When We Collided. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016. Print.  978-1619638457. 352p. $17.99. Gr. 9+

I had never heard of Emery Lord before, but after absorbing the drama and characters in When We Collided, I am eager to read her other titles. Free spirit Vivian has moved to Verona Cove for the summer with her artist mother. The idyllic beach town enchants Vivi from the start, and she quickly begins making friends, including five year old Leah Daniels, who happens to have a handsome older brother. Jonah and Vivi strike up a romance quickly, but they both have pasts that haunt them. Jonah, along with his older brother and sister, is trying to keep his family afloat after the death of their father. Their mother is present, but so severely depressed that she can hardly take care of herself, let alone her three youngest children. Readers slowly learn that Vivi is battling her own inner demons, and her relationship with Jonah is tried when she begins to lose the battle. Told in the alternating perspectives of Vivi and Jonah, the book is reminiscent of Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. The perspective of Vivi is powerful, and gives the reader a hint of the jumbled thoughts in her mind. The author concludes with a powerful note to her readers and resources for further reading on mental health. THOUGHTS: This is an excellent addition to the growing novels about mental health, and can help spark a good discussion among teens about various issues they face.

Realistic Fiction       Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

Though this book is a hard read, it is also an important read.  Mental health issues still carry a negative stigma, especially in high school or a teenage setting. It can be hard for some students to grapple with these issues, including students going through them as well as their friends who simply want to help. Having books like this, that highlight depression and other mental problems, are great ways to spark conversations and discussions, and to lead teens to more resources. This is definitely a book that warrants more thought and discussion upon finishing, so make sure to suggest it to more mature teens who are ready for the subject matter, or a book club willing to tackle issues that might be uncomfortable to discuss.

YA Realistic Fiction – Minnow Bly; Challenger Deep

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Oakes, Stephanie. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly. New York: Dial Books, 2015. 978-0-803-74070-9. $17.99. 398p. Gr. 9 and up.

“I am a blood-soaked girl” (Oakes 1).  Thus begins the story of Minnow Bly and her journey from the mountains of Montana to juvenile detention.  Raised from a young age in the secluded, polygamous, Kevinian cult, Minnow remembers a world outside of the Community but has been taught (brainwashed) to believe that that world is evil and sinful, and only the Community and the Prophet can protect people from the Gentiles and the war between God and the unbelievers.   After the Prophet receives a prophecy from God (also known as Charlie), Minnow’s fate is set; she is to become his next wife.  When she refuses her fate and runs away, she is caught and her hands are chopped off as penance for her disobedience.  Handless, she is returned to the “maidenhood” room to prepare for marriage, but during an evening of fellowship in Prophet Hall, Minnow’s mother releases her from seclusion, and she is able to escape into the woods.  She runs to her best friend Jude’s cabin, where together, Jude and his father care for Minnow.  As she heals, Minnow realizes that she must return to the community to save her twelve-year old sister, Minnow’s replacement as the Prophet’s new wife.  Caught trying to save a brainwashed Constance, Minnow and Jude are subjected to death by the community.  Minnow survives, escapes to the world, beats a man to near death, and ends up in juvenile detention.  Jude is beaten to death; his body disappearing as the Community is burned to the ground.    Told through flashbacks and dialogue, the story of Minnow’s experience in the community unfolds as a story of strength, cruelty, friendship, fear, and love.  THOUGHTS: This debut novel is exceptional.  It received starred reviews from Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and VOYA and was a 2016 William C. Morris Award finalist.  This is a must-have for all high school libraries.  

Realistic Fiction; Suspense    Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City SD

I absolutely loved The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly.  It has a purity and innocence that I haven’t seen in many of the 2015 YA novels I’ve read.  Minnow is  strong and incredibly weak at the same time.  She stands up for herself and her beliefs, while also questioning everything she has been taught.  Readers will root for her throughout, even though her entire story doesn’t unfold until after page 300.  She states towards the end of the novel, “The power to do what I know is right.  The power to free myself, finally” (Oakes 378).  This is the true message of the novel.  Be strong for yourself.  Minnow does this and is able to free herself of her past.  She is a prominent female protagonist whose questioning of everything will resonate with teen readers.

 

challengerdeep

Shusterman, Neal. Challenger Deep. New York: HarperTeen, 2015. 978-0-06-113411. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Middle grade science-fiction staple Neal Shusterman explores teenage mental illness in this deeply affecting, incredible novel. Caden Bosch is living between two worlds.  In one, he’s a typical high school teenager with a few odd quirks; in the other, he’s the resident artist on the Challenger Deep, a ship that’s travelling faster and faster towards a dark abyss in the deepest part of the ocean. On the ship, Caden finds himself ignoring his friends and family but can’t understand why. Through broken glimpses into both worlds, readers see the boy that once was normal, and the boy that is now deeply paranoid, distracted, and isolated. Caden is someone all readers can relate to, and Shusterman gently guides the reader into the harrowing reality of a real mental illness; the paranoia, the questioning, the misunderstanding. Shusterman writes with tact, care, and authority that is important for the teen audience.  Shusterman based Caden on his son, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and the drawings throughout the story are his son’s. THOUGHTS: Shusterman’s story brings to light an important, rarely talked about illness that affects many teens and/or those around them. With a touch of magical realism, Caden’s voice is authentic and personal.  A fantastic addition to any teen collection.

Realistic Fiction  Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone

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Griffin, Adele. The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone. New York: Soho Teen, 2014. 978-1-61695-360-7. $17.99. 241p. Gr. 9-12.
Even as a young girl, art prodigy Addison Stone amazed her teachers with advanced sketches and captivating drawings.  Her tumultuous home life caused her to hang with her best friend Lucy Lim quite often or sleep in the art room of her high school.  During her junior year, her art teacher and his wife decide to call in some favors, and with the help of a W.W. Sadtler Scholarship, Addison finds herself living in New York, taking art classes and attending exclusive dinner parties and exhibits featuring her work.  Fame and notoriety play havoc on Addy’s feeble mental state, though.  Always fearless and impudent, Addy oscillates between extreme happiness and crippling depression.  With the help of doctors and medication, she finds a tenuous balance, but yearns to create her work and live her life without being in a state of medicated murkiness.  Her untimely and horrific death escalates the mystery surrounding this beautiful and talented young individual.
Adele Griffin takes the role of a writer/reporter looking for answers to Addison’s unfinished story.  She interviews family members, friends, adversaries and lovers as she searches for answers and the indelicate truth of Addison’s life.  Told from the viewpoint of so many characters, the storyline is incredibly fast-paced, and the intensity of the events is elevated, creating a page-turning thriller.

Mystery    Christine Massey, JWP Middle School