YA – The Dead and the Dark

Gould, Courtney. The Dead and the Dark. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-76201-6. 371 pp. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

What could possibly go wrong in a town called Snakebite? That’s what celebrity TV ghost-hunters Brandon and Alejo are back in their hometown to discover, with their daughter Logan in tow. Unfortunately, Brandon’s recent arrival for location scouting coincided with the disappearance of local teen Tristan, and many in Snakebite suspect his involvement. Hoping to resolve the town’s suspicion about her dads, Logan teams up with local girl Ashley (Tristan’s girlfriend). Not everything in Ashley and Tristan’s relationship was quite as it seemed from the outside looking in, and there are clues that her partnership with Logan (who is gay) may become something more. Meanwhile, their investigation leads them to an abandoned cabin in the woods, where Ashley receives vivid visions of both Tristan and Brandon. Someone, or something, is hunting the teens in this remote Oregon town, and the race to solve this chilling situation is on. So are the ghost-detecting gadgets, which provide both important clues and light-hearted satire of programs such as Ghost Adventures

THOUGHTS: Intergenerational, small-town secrets abound in this supernatural horror novel. Debut author Courtney Gould is a writer that horror fans will want to follow; she’s delivered a compelling brew of elements for spooky book season!

Horror          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – They’ll Never Catch Us

Goodman, Jessica. They’ll Never Catch Us. Razorbill, 2021. 978-0-593-11432-2. 330 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Did Stella Steckler do something to Mila Keene? That’s the question at the heart of Jessica Goodman’s taut sports mystery set in New York’s Catskill Mountains. In Edgewater, the cross country team reigns supreme, and Stella is the star. Her main competitor is her younger sister, Ellie, who is more of a “people person” than Stella. In fact, Stella has a history of violence; she hurt another runner in an incident that is alluded to and fleshed out throughout the novel. But, after spending the summer at Breakbridge Elite Track and Field Center, Stella is back on a good path and clocking her best times yet. Ellie, meanwhile, is in a relationship with another runner’s boyfriend, and dealing with her complicated feelings about the abortion she had over the summer. When champion runner Mila Keene transfers to Edgewater High, both sisters are drawn to her kindness and ability to listen without judgment. When Mila disappears, the town is plunged back into its years as “Deadwater,” when three girls disappeared from the local resort’s running trails and were later found, murdered, with their shoelaces missing. The cases were never solved, and with a fresh missing person’s case, everyone is a suspect … and Stella isn’t the only one with secrets (and first place finishes) to protect. 

THOUGHTS: With chapters alternating between Stella’s and Ellie’s points of view, They’ll Never Catch Us is both a fast-paced mystery and a nuanced portrayal of sisters who fiercely protect each other’s secrets despite their deep mutual distrust. Fans of Karen McManus will run to this one!

Mystery          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem./MG – The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. as Told to His Brother

Levithan, David. The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. as Told to His Brother. Alfred A. Knopf, 2021. 978-1-984-84859-8. 215 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

It has been six days since Lucas’s brother Aidan went missing, and of course, everyone is frantic. Police, search-and-rescue teams, friends, and family members are searching everywhere for him, not daring to consider the worst. On the sixth night, Lucas hears a noise above the bedroom he shares with his brother and goes up to the attic to investigate. He finds Aidan face down on the floor in front of a dresser as if he had fallen out of it. Disheveled and disoriented, Aidan lifts himself from the floor and looks inside the dresser, seemingly dismayed. After Lucas alerts his family to Aidan’s reappearance, everyone wants to know where he was for those six harrowing days. A fantastic world called “Aveinieu” is his reply. No one believes that Aidan actually went to a magical world that only exists through the dresser doors. But Lucas does believe him because he remembers something. He remembers that when his brother was lying on the floor of the attic, there was something in his hair: a blue leaf in the shape of a diamond, unlike anything Lucas had seen in this world.

THOUGHTS: Students will read this book to find out if Aveinieu really exists and end up discovering that the bond between brothers can be stronger than anything in the world (this world or any others that exist). At its surface, this book is a fantastical tale of getting lost in another world, but deep down, it is a heartwarming story about family. This is definitely a must-have book for upper elementary and middle grade libraries. 

Fantasy Fiction           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Aidan, twelve years old, has gone missing. Lucas awakes one morning to find the room he shares with his older brother Aidan, empty. The boys’ parents start a frantic search alongside members of the community to find Aidan that lasts for 6 days. By this time the local police are hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. But when Lucas hears a thump from the attic, everything changes. Aidan appears in the attic looking confused with a blue diamond leaf in his hair. When Lucas asks Aidan where he was, he replies, “Aveinieu.” Everyone is happy that Aidan has returned, but there are big questions about where Aidan was for those six days. Aidan attempts to tell his story, but the adults do not believe him at all. Lucas talks to Aidan at night and over the course of a few days learns about Aveinieu and gains Aidan’s trust. While Lucas accepts Aidan’s story, the town does not and the students at school turn against Aidan and start making fun of him. The brothers stick together and in the end Lucas (who narrates the story) says, “Like all honest stories, it lives within us.”

THOUGHTS: Leviathan’s first middle grade novel does not disappoint. The story will tug at your heart strings and has a Narnia-esque quality to it. Aveinieu is a magical place with green skies, blue trees, and strange creatures. The struggle Aidan faces in wanting to return to this magical place while not being believed by the adults is heartbreaking. This book was a quick read because I couldn’t wait to find out if Aidan would be allowed back in Aveinieu.

Fantasy Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA – The Forest of Stolen Girls

Hur, June. The Forest of Stolen Girls. Feiwel and Friends, 2021. 978-1-250-22958-8. 369 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Min Hwani and her younger sister, Maewol, were raised on the Korean island of Jeju, in the small village of Nowon. In 1421 (five years before the events of The Forest of Stolen Girls), Hwani and her father, a renowned detective, relocated to the mainland while Maewol stayed in Nowon as a shaman’s apprentice. During those five years, Detective Min returned to Jeju many times to try and crack the only case he ever failed to solve: the “Forest Incident,” in which his own daughters were found nearly frozen to death, near the body – a possible suicide – of a village girl. Hwani has no memory of the incident, and Maewol has only a fleeting recollection of a masked man. Indeed, the forest is a dangerous place for the girls of Nowon: thirteen of them have vanished over the years. And a year ago, Detective Min failed to return from his journey to Jeju; he has been declared dead, though his remains were never found. Now in possession of her father’s investigative journal, Min is desperate to locate her father and solve the mystery of his disappearance before she is recalled to the mainland and an arranged marriage. June Hur’s expertly crafted blend of clues, suspicions, memories, and suspects builds slowly but surely to a nail-biting boil.

THOUGHTS: The Forest of Stolen Girls is a gripping and deeply immersive historical mystery, depicting a time period and setting that will be new to many readers. 

Historical Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD
Mystery

YA – The Hawthorne Legacy

Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Hawthorne Legacy (The Inheritance Games Book 2). Hachette, 2021. 978-0-759-55763-5. $17.99. 368 p. Grades 7 and up.

“A Very Risky Gamble,” that’s what Avery Kylie Grambs is to Tobias Hawthorne, the famous billionaire that left his entire fortune and estate to her upon his death, instead of to his children and grandsons. Avery and the Hawthornes are still trying to figure out the game Tobias is playing with them and the events that connect each of them, and a history of tragedy, together. With Avery’s realization that Toby Hawthorne, Tobias’s long-lost son, is still alive and possibly the secret her mother never got to share with her before her death, she, Jameson, Grayson, and Alexander set out to find Toby and figure out the mystery that connects them all together. But, what happens when Toby doesn’t want to be found, and the others want answers? As the four dig deeper into Hawthorne history and legend, they must accept the faults of one another, a family history of secrets and lies, and overcome threats to their lives. In the end, though, are answers worth all that must be revealed in the search?

THOUGHTS: Once again, Jennifer Lynn Barnes does not disappoint. Her writing style and storytelling keeps readers on the edge of their seats for all 368 pages (and more as they look forward to the next installment). Her character development connects the reader with Avery and each member of the Hawthorne family, so as to pull the reader into the story to solve the mystery right alongside Avery, Grayson, Jameson, and Alexander. This is a must-have for all middle school and high school collections.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Picking right up where The Inheritance Games leaves off, Barnes takes readers on another puzzle-filled, mystery/adventure. Avery, Jameson, Grayson, and Alexander aren’t satisfied without having all of the answers – or as much information as they can extract from Tobias Hawthorne’s clues. Though threats still are very real, Avery and the Hawthorne brothers persist, uncovering long buried secrets that send them in new directions. Finding possible connections to her past, Avery thinks she’s finally cracking the case, only to be left with someone who doesn’t want to be found. Digging deeper into the past with some who want to leave it in the past, Avery, find some uncomfortable truths about their family histories. Sometimes past mistakes are best left in the past, but is finding out the truth worth all of the pain that comes with it?

THOUGHTS: Fans of Barnes’ other novels will devour this addition and anticipate the next installment (The Final Gambit, 2022). While reading book one first makes for a more clear understanding of the events in the second book, it could be read by itself (I’d recommend enjoying both). Highly recommended for secondary collections.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – That Weekend

Thomas, Kara. That Weekend. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-1-524-71836-7. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Claire’s – who had been unconscious – senses suddenly start becoming alert when a hiker and her dog approach on Bobcat Mountain. Claire doesn’t know if she’s alone, and she has a splitting headache. The woman and her dog leave to get help, and Claire begins to piece together what little she does remember: it’s prom weekend, but she didn’t go; she lied to her parents about being on Fire Island; and she’s hurt. Arriving at Sunfish Creek Hospital in the Catskill Mountains, Claire realizes she wouldn’t have hiked without friends Kat and Jesse, since Kat’s grandmother has a lake house nearby. After glimpsing herself in the ER bathroom mirror, Claire wonders, “Who are you?” and “What happened to you?” Then readers are taken back three days before Clair’s trip to Sunfish Creek. Told in alternating time, readers travel back and forth as Claire tries to puzzle out what happened to her and to her friends up on Bobcat Mountain.

THOUGHTS: When readers think they have another puzzle piece, the timeline switches, and this fast-paced mystery goes in another direction. Mental health, drug/alcohol abuse, and domestic violence make this thriller best suited for high school collections.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Throwaway Girls

Contos, Andrea. Throwaway Girls. Kids Can Press, 2020. 978-1-525-30314-2. 392 p. $17.30. Grades 9-12.

With only three months left until graduation and a few days after that until she turns 18, Caroline Lawson is more than ready to leave her prep school and unsupportive parents behind. All she has to do is put on a smile and pretend like everything is perfect. Things are anything but perfect, and Caroline can’t wait to leave and be who she truly is meant to be. Caroline’s girlfriend recently broke up with her and left for California, and Caroline’s best friend Madison just disappeared. Having kept secrets from each other and grown apart, Caroline feels partially responsible for Madison’s disappearance. Feeling like the only person capable of finding Madison, Caroline sets off on a dangerous path, determined to find her friend before it’s too late. But Caroline has to face some truths about herself, her relationship, her family, and about her friend. The deeper Caroline digs, the more she uncovers – including other girls who have gone missing. Why hasn’t anyone noticed these girls, and how is Madison connected to them? As Caroline gets closer to uncovering the truth, she realizes she may be the one connection between them all.

THOUGHTS: Despite having endless means, Caroline is extremely unhappy. The adults fail teens over and over. Mystery readers will be absorbed into this twisty narrative (this reviewer had a few jaw-dropping realizations) and will root for Caroline to uncover the truth before it’s too late.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

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

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

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

Mystery          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Pippa Fitz-Amobi has everything going for her: She’s a good student with good friends and a great family. Pip is a “good girl,” and she can’t help but notice how local missing (presumed murdered but never found) Andie Bell also seemed like a good girl. A fan of true crime podcasts and documentaries, Pip can’t ignore the feeling that the five year old murder/suicide of two local teens has some gaps in its investigation. She knew Sal when she was younger, and he couldn’t have possibly killed Andie then himself. Or did he? Though she sells it to her advisor as a look at how media sensationalizing can impact an investigation, Pip decides her senior capstone project will be to look into the Andie Bell case. As she uncovers one clue after the next, she begins to hope that she can prove Sal’s innocence. When Pip receives a threat telling her to stop digging, she knows she must be onto something. Then again, maybe someone is just playing a sick joke. Getting closer to Sal’s little brother Ravi during her investigation doesn’t help Pip keep her feelings separate from the case. When a threat hits close to home, Pip is ready to give up. She might be paranoid, but it seems like someone in Fairview doesn’t want her to keep looking. Told throughout Pip’s investigation, readers will be on the edge of their seats to learn what really happened to Andie Bell and if Pip will successfully complete her project.

THOUGHTS: Told in a variety of formats, readers will not want to put down this fast-paced mystery. The full cast audiobook is excellent. Fans of other YA Thrillers by authors like Karen M. McManus, April Henry, and Gretchen McNeil will be happy to have a new author to enjoy. Mature topics (drug use, drinking, and suicide) make this one best suited for high school readers.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD