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