Elem./MG – Perfectly Imperfect Stories : Meet 28 Inspiring People And Discover Their Mental Health Stories

Potion, Leo. Perfectly Imperfect Stories : Meet 28 Inspiring People And Discover Their Mental Health Stories. Lawrence King Publishing, 2021. 978-1-786-27920-0. $17.99. 58 p. Grades 3-7. 

28 famous people, both historical figures of note and pop culture icons of the last few years, are highlighted in this book as a way to normalize the conversation around mental health issues. Each brief biography covers the background, struggle, and hopeful outcome of a person who has grappled in the past with conditions like eating disorders, panic attacks, PTSD, and depression. Quirky, colorful illustrations decorate almost every page, drawing in the reader and helping to lighten the overall mood of this important book. A brief but heartwarming forward, helpful back matter, and a detailed bibliography offer opportunities for students to explore further information about mental health, suicide prevention, and the stories of famous lives that may look perfect from the outside, but contain untold struggles on the inside.

THOUGHTS: This book delivers the powerful message that no one is too rich, popular, smart, or successful to be immune from mental health struggles, and does it in an appealing package that should draw in elementary and middle school level students. Pop culture figures do come in and out of style, but there are notable people from the past mentioned as well, giving this book more potential longevity. This could be a great leaping-off book for biography studies as well.

616.89 Mental Health Stories          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

YA – The Castle School (for Troubled Girls)

Content warning: This book contains depictions of mental illness, including but not limited to addiction, anorexia, self-harm, and trichotillomania.

Moira (Moor-a, not Moy-ra) has been skipping school, meals, and leaving her apartment for hours at a time. Her parents stage an intervention where they share that they’re sending Moira to The Castle School, a school for girls going through a “rough patch” not a reform school. Though two bodyguard types look ready to spring into action should Moira bolt, she willingly packs her things and gets on a plane heading to a remote part of Maine. There she meets eleven other girls who like her are experiencing their own struggles, each unique and told in her own voice in a sporadic chapter throughout the novel. When asked why she’s at The Castle School, Moira reports it’s because she got a tattoo. She does not share that she lost her best friend. With a very regimented schedule which includes lights out and individual therapy sessions, Moira struggles to adjust at first. She has some time on her own, though, as her roommate Eleanor is staying in the infirmary. While reading by a secret flashlight, Moira hears music in the distance and notices that the padlock on her window’s security bars is broken. The next night Moira and Eleanor head out to investigate and discover a castle that seems a lot like theirs, only happier, warmer, and with twelve boys. The Castle Schools may not be what Moira thought. Moira notices that she feels more like herself than she has in a long time when she’s at the other Castle School (Castle South); it seems to have the same effect on Eleanor. What type of experiment is Dr. Prince conducting with two schools run so differently, and why – other than the fact that she’s a girl – is Moira at Castle North? Why does Dr. Prince’s son Randy live at Castle North instead of with the boys in Castle South? As Moira gets to know the girls and attends sessions with Dr. Prince, she struggles through her grief and begins to come to terms with why she’s at The Castle School.

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Moira as she adjusts to her new life at The Castle School and works through her grief. As an adult reader, I felt like Moira’s semester ended a bit too tidy (though she does work through a lot). I’m interested to talk to a student reader about their thoughts of authenticity. Purchase for high school collections where character driven, mental health titles are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – Thanks a Lot, Universe

Lucas, Chad. Thanks a Lot, Universe. Amulet, 2021. 978-1-419-75102-8. 279 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Brian and Ezra, both 13 years old, are classmates at school, and on the same basketball team. But that’s where the similarities end. Ezra, who is biracial, appears to Brian as cool, confident, and popular, while Brian, who is white, suffers from crippling social anxiety (or Super Awkward Weirdo Syndrome, as he labels it). Ezra thinks Brian seems interesting, but doesn’t go out of his way to befriend the boy until the bottom drops out of Brian’s life. On his 13th birthday, Brian awakens to discover that his father has disappeared (to evade capture by police) and his mother is unconscious from a drug overdose. In the ensuing days, Brian tries to keep his life together, after he and his younger brother, Ritchie, are placed in foster care. But eventually Brian takes Ritchie and runs away. Ezra soon gets involved in the search for Brian, and after locating the brothers, makes it his mission to befriend the young man. Along the way, Ezra is trying to understand himself as well. His circle of friends is evolving, as some of the boys become interested in girls, while Ezra is coming to terms with the fact that he is gay, and has a crush on Brian. Two well adjusted high school students provide a sounding board for both boys as they attempt to navigate the life they have been given. While racial issues are touched upon, mental health takes center stage. Brian is terrified he will be labeled “crazy” since his mother suffers with mental health issues. While these seventh grade boys are far more comfortable discussing their feelings and expressing concern for each other’s emotional well-being than your average middle schooler, the book is a marvelous, feel-good display of masculine friendship. The story, alternating between Ezra’s and Brian’s point of view, grabs hold from the opening page, and doesn’t stop until the end. Brian and Ezra are both such sympathetic characters readers will wholeheartedly root for them to find happiness. And maybe all those really nice people are what make the book so heartwarming.

THOUGHTS: Highly recommended. While there may be too many unrealistically nice people in the story, including a helpful police officer, a teacher who takes in Brian and Richie, and a pair of high school teenagers who befriend Ezra and Brian, it is worth it for the good feelings it engenders. There is no perfect ending – dad goes to prison, Ezra loses a friend, mom is still unstable – but the book still leaves you smiling. With main characters that are 13-years-old and in 7th grade, this book should have wider appeal than just middle grade. The timely issues of race and mental health make this a great fit for 7th and 8th graders. Hopefully readers will take to heart the message to befriend and understand shy kids, and to look out for each other. Perfect to pair with The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Brian, who suffers from Super Awkward Weirdo Syndrome (SAWS), as he calls it, is used to having a rough time in junior high; he is a good basketball player, but feels too shy to talk to his teammates off the court. He often deals with bullying, and his dad wants him to be tougher and stand up to those who make him even more socially miserable. Then, life gets much harder when his dad suddenly leaves the family. Suddenly, Brian is taking care of his younger brother, navigating foster care, and still dealing with his social anxiety, bullies, and every-day adolescent stress. Luckily, a support system shows up to help when Ezra, a teammate from basketball, and a group of caring adults step in. Meanwhile, Ezra is dealing with uncomfortable tension between his childhood best friends, his growing interest in music and playing the guitar, and his changing feelings about boys.

THOUGHTS: This is a beautiful story about supportive friends in times of struggle. The characters in the story experience the difficulties of growing up and demonstrate the positive influences that good people and good friends can have during a teen’s formative years. This book also portrays several positive coming-out experiences and sensitively handles the struggles of a LGBTQ+ teen.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – My Life in the Fish Tank

Dee, Barbara. My Life In the Fish Tank. Aladdin, 2020. 978-1-534-43233-8. $17.99. Grades 6-8.

Zinny Manning’s family is known for being noisy and tightknit. She has a nurturing older brother, Gabriel; a moody sister in high school, Scarlett; and a younger, inquisitive brother, Aiden; and two longtime best friends, Kailani and Maisie. At the beginning of seventh grade, though, her world comes crashing down when Gabe steals and crashes his college roommate’s car. His impulsive behavior and hospitalization uncover Gabe’s bipolar disease. Now, a cloud hangs over the whole family as they strive to keep Gabe’s mental illness a secret from classmates, teachers, and neighbors. Zinny’s voice alternates from the present to the recent past. While she drifts further and further away from her concerned friends, Zinny recalls the fun times she has had with Gabe and dissects occasions when signs of his mental illness appeared. Zinny finds some solace in the predictable, controlled world of science. Her favorite teacher, Ms. Molina, has recommended her for a coveted spot as part of a middle school research team for the summer. Zinny gets respite from her friends’ constant questioning by helping Ms. Molina set up the crayfish tanks for the class’s animal unit. Zinny proves herself a resilient girl, helping her younger brother with his “how-to” project, shopping for groceries for the family, and sparking her beleaguered mother’s interest with an herb garden. When Zinny receives an invitation to the counselor’s Lunch Club, she at first throws it in the trash; but eventually, she starts to appreciate the opportunity to align with others who are also suffering from family concerns: divorce, stepfamilies, grief, or sick parents. Although it takes quite a while for Zinny to feel comfortable sharing, the group supports her and makes her feel she is not alone. At a therapy session at Gabe’s residential treatment center, Zinny confesses the anger she feels keeping the family secret. That small confession spurs a huge release that eases Gabe’s return home and allows the family to accept Gabe with a chronic illness just like cancer or diabetes. My Life in the Fish Tank is a story of a family in crisis and the shame and guilt they struggle with trying to deal with insurance, disruption, and worry. Author Barbara Dee has excelled in presenting an important topic with sensitivity and honesty. The Manning family seems to be white; the author integrates the diversity of other characters organically into the plot.

THOUGHTS: Though there are some fine books dealing with mental illness (Crazy by Han Nolan and All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker), My Life in the Fish Tank is a welcome addition. The dialogue captures the main character’s frame of mind well and depicts a likeable, relatable person. Zinny’s love of science and the crayfish experiment act as metaphors for her family situation Even though the plot flipped back and forth, the chapters were short and the writing fluent, making the story easy to follow. I could not put down this book.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

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