YA – All the Right Reasons

Mangle, Bethany. All the Right Reasons. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2022. 978-1-534-49903-4. 288 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Cara was angry. So very angry. She was just so frustrated with her father. The fact that he left Cara and her mother. The fact that he quickly married a young bimbo. The fact that he constantly pushes her mother’s buttons during therapy, and he constantly lies. So one night, after hacking her father’s face out of photographs, she records an online journal entry to release her emotions. The next morning, she learns her rant was accidentally posted, and has gone viral. And caught the eye of a producer of a new reality television show pairing up single parents and their children. Before Cara, a high school senior, can live down her viral humiliation, her personal trainer mom has snagged a coveted slot on the show, and the two of them are whisked off to Key West. Cara sees the TV show as an answer to her and her mom’s financial problems, never imagining that the stress of living life under the eye of the camera could cause even more strife. Luckily, she has sweet contestant Connor to turn to. But what if he ends up as her half-brother? Just, ewww! This adorable rom-com has it all: heroines to love, villains to hate, drama, fights, friends, and kisses. Plus a helping or two of love. The inside look at reality television is fascinating, and readers will sympathize with Cara’s bewilderment with the pseudo-reality of the experience, never sure who is revealing their true emotions. There are a few twists and turns in the plot, but a happy ending is guaranteed. A wide range of ethnicities are represented: Cara’s mom is Korean; her father white. The contestants on the show include Black and Hispanic families. Connor is white. Minor flaws in the story involve Connor’s disability, which is mentioned once and dropped, and the younger members of the show’s strange inability to use pen and paper once their cell phones are confiscated, but neither of these points detract from the overall joie de vivre of the book. 

THOUGHTS: This is a perfect romance for tweens and teens. Cara is devoted to her mom, and readers will understand her honest, justified anger with her father. 

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Great or Nothing

McCullough, Joy, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, Jessica Spotsword. Great or Nothing. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-37259-3. $18.88. 393 p. Grades 7-10.

Louisa May Alcott’s four March sisters have entered the 20th century, circa 1943. Beth has died, and the family struggles to cope with the overwhelming sadness of this loss. Marmee distracts her grief with committees and charitable works; Father, next-door neighbor, Theodore Laurence, and teacher John Brooks go off to fight the war; and the three young women are split apart. Four talented authors take on the personas of the classic characters, and each chapter recounts that character’s experiences against the backdrop of World War II. Beth’s voice in verse reflects her omniscient view of each of her sisters. Meg decides to stay close to home, dedicated to teaching at her former high school, but is so lonely, she concedes to pal around with an insipid but wealthy former classmate which results in revelatory consequences. After rebuffing Laurie’s unexpected marriage proposal, Jo goes off to Hartford, Connecticut, to work in a munitions factory and live in a boarding house with other female workers and pursue her writing. When she meets Charlie–Charlotte–a war journalist, Jo starts to come to terms with her sexual identity. Under the pretense of studying art in Montreal, Amy instead takes on a false identity and ships off with the Red Cross to minister to the morale of soldiers with coffee and doughnuts in London, England. There, she encounters prejudice and discrimination foreign to her upbringing, as well as the promise of true love. This contemporary spin on the classic Little Women is an easy read with touches of romance, LBGTQ+, and slang from the forties. Grab yourself a cuppa, curl up in your favorite chair, and hunker down to meet these Little Women.

THOUGHTS: Though four authors take on each of the March sisters, the writing flows smoothly and the writing is fairly even. Beth’s perspective voiced by Joy McCullough was my least favorite.  Reading the prose, characters were more well developed and satisfying. Though the story begins with the March sisters going their separate ways, it ends with the promise of them reuniting. Suggest this novel to lovers of the classic, but those who have never read Little Women will still understand the closeknit March family and the dynamic among the sisters.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – A Taste for Love

Yen, Jennifer. A Taste for Love. Razorbill, 2021. 978-0-593-11752-1. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Liza is a free-spirited, Taiwanese-American teen who likes to rebel against her mother’s wishes. With a “perfect” older sister off following her dreams and a meddling mother always on Liza’s case, she doesn’t have to try too hard to go against her mother’s wishes. And dating unsuitable boys has been number one on Liza’s list. Mrs. Yang, co-owner of the Yin and Yang restaurant and bakery with her chef husband, has a plan to get Liza on the right path. Using Liza’s love of and skill for baking, Mrs. Yang convinces her to serve as a guest judge in the bakery’s annual junior competition (think Great British Baking Show). It doesn’t take long for Liza to recognize that she’s been set up by her mother. Not only is each contestant male, each also is Asian American. What follows is a fun battle between mother and daughter, as Liza also fights her feelings for one contestant specifically. Mothers might know best, but Liza is her own person, and she won’t give up easily.

THOUGHTS: As a fan of The Great British Baking Show, I adored this sweet romance. Filled with delicious descriptions, readers will be rooting for Liza from the beginning. Pairs well with other YA “food titles” such as A Pho Love Story, The Way You Make Me Feel, and so many others (just google it!). Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries looking to add representation to their romance sections.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – The Memory Thief

Anderson, Jodi Lynn. The Memory Thief. Thirteen Witches Book 1. Aladdin, 2021. 978-1-481-48021-5. 325 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Rosie finds great comfort in writing fantasy stories with happy endings, to compensate for her less-than-perfect life with a mother who cannot remember she has a daughter. But when Rosie’s best friend, Gemma, suggests the girls are getting too old for stories, Rosie, shocked and hurt, burns her writings. Later that night, the ghosts come. When a young boy ghost realizes Rosie and Gemma can see them, he takes it up himself to educate Rosie of her family’s heritage. Armed with The Witch-Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, Rosie learns of the existence of 13 witches, who steal the good from inside of people. Her mother, the last known witch hunter, was cursed by the Memory Thief. Now that Rosie has triggered her own sight, the witches will be aware of her existence and will come for her. Anderson, author of the ethereal Midnight at the Electric, creates an equally luminous fantasy for middle grade readers. The main characters are fully nuanced, and the evolution of friendship is a major theme in the story. The layering of the magical world over the ordinary world is an element sure to pull in readers, as they cheer for Rosie and Gemma to succeed in holding off the darkness. This is the first book of the series, and the ending will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next volume. The main characters are presumed white.

THOUGHTS: This is a top-notch fantasy with three dimensional characters to whom readers can relate. There should be a wide audience for the book, beyond fantasy readers.

Fantasy (Magical Realism)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG/YA – Simone Breaks All the Rules

Rigaud, Debbie. Simone Breaks All the Rules. Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-68172-1. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Simone Thibodeaux is tired of her overprotective Haitian parents, and when they arrange her prom date with a son of a suitable Haitian family, it is the last straw. She decides the end of her senior year at St. Clare Academy, a largely white, all-girls school, is the perfect time to start experiencing life. She enlists two classmates with similar parental issues, Indian-American Amite and Kira, the white daughter of a notorious lawyer. The trio dub themselves HomeGirls, and create a Senior Playlist of challenges and accomplishments, including going to a house party, cutting class, and changing up their style. And then there is prom. Simone works feverishly to keep her parents thinking she is going to prom with Ben, the polite Haitian boy, while lining up her own date with Gavin, a hot guy from the affiliated boys school. But why is it so hard to be herself around Gavin, and so comfortable to be with Ben? Readers will fall for Simone from the first pages. Her voice is fresh, humorous, and authentic. Anyone with parents will relate and sympathize with Simone and her girlfriends. However, along the way to ditching her parents, Simone comes to appreciate her Haitian heritage and culture, and realize how much she does love her mom, as trying as she may be. The book celebrates the value of good friends (and how not to lose them) and the families who love us. Haitian culture and Haitian Creole language are sprinkled throughout the book, deftly adding to the depiction of the New York area Haitian-American community.

THOUGHTS:  This delightful rom-com is perfect for middle school as well as high school, with nothing more dangerous than a few chaste kisses, and clubbing occurs as a teen venue serving “mocktails.”

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Me & Mama

Cabrera, Cozbi A. Me & Mama. Denene Millner Books, 2020. $17.99. 978-1-534-45421-7. 32 p. Grades PreK-1. 

A young girl walks readers through an average day spent with her loving Mama. On the end paper, a series of mother/daughter still-life objects are presented: a large wooden spoon alongside a smaller version; a red bicycle and a tricycle; a knit winter cap next to one with fuzzy ears and pigtails. Through this series of objects, the reader gets a glimpse of the young girl’s admiration for her mother as she points out their similarities and differences in a distinctly wondrous and childlike way. Over breakfast she shares how Mama’s dainty tea cup “goes clink, clink, clink with a spoon” while her red sippy cup “goes duh, duh” yet together they sing like a chorus for their morning ritual. Later, she tells readers that Mama’s red rain boots are “bigger than my yellow ones” following up with an explanation that their dog, Max,“doesn’t wear boots.” After a day of errands and rain puddles, Mama reads a story and tucks in the girl and her brother, Luca. Although her brother seems to fall asleep immediately, the young narrator has just enough time to reflect on the day and familial love as she too drifts off. Stunning full-bleed acrylic illustrations feature detailed portraits of Mama, Luca, and the young girl with their beautiful varying shades of rich Brown skin and dark hair worn in a variety of styles throughout the day.

THOUGHTS: This lovely picture book immortalizes the precious mundane moments that make up a relationship between mother and daughter. Papa and brother Luca are also mentioned throughout, creating a snapshot day in the life of one happy family.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Elem. – Tune it Out

Sumner, Jamie. Tune It Out. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-45700-3.  275 p. $15.67. Grades 3-6.

Lou doesn’t like crowds. She doesn’t like loud noises. She doesn’t even like high fives and definitely hates anyone touching her. Unfortunately for Lou, avoiding all of these is difficult when her mother wants Lou to use her singing talent to take them away from their life of coffee shop singing gigs and dead-end waitress jobs to the bright lights and jet-setting life of Los Angeles that would come with a singing contract. And they almost made it. The trip to LA was planned for Friday, but the accident happened on Wednesday, and now Lou was separated from her mother and sent to live with her aunt and uncle, people she barely knows. But she has her own bedroom there. Clean clothes, food whenever she’s hungry, and a private school to attend.  Lou’s worked hard her whole life to hide what was inside her. Will this new life give her the opportunity to face the truth about the life she and her mother were living and about the diagnosis that could change the way she feels about herself?

THOUGHTS: Sumner gives the reader a lot to unpack in a tight 275 pages–homelessness, poverty, foster care, and a sensory processing disorder, but it never feels unrealistic or overdone.  Readers will root for Lou as she makes her way in the world.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

YA – Girl, Unframed

Caletti, Deb. Girl, Unframed. Simon Pulse, 2020. 978-1-534-42697-9. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Can you imagine if your mom was famous? Like moviestar-famous? Sydney doesn’t usually have to deal with her mom and her drama, but she’s going to visit her for the summer. Before setting eyes on her mom, the newest man in Lila’s life picks Sydney up from the airport, and it’s all downhill from there. From shady art dealings to rejected credit cards, Sydney misses her friends from home. Luckily, she befriends a guy working construction next door because shady art dealings quickly become the least of their worries. It’s as if Lila’s movie script has come to life, but crimes of passion are still crimes.

THOUGHTS: There is a lot of heaviness to unpack in this story, from women who prioritize beauty over motherhood and men treating women like objects, not to mention murder. A good addition for high school libraries looking for YA thrillers that are also coming of age stories.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD