YA Mystery – Genuine Fraud; Little Monsters; Bonfire; Truly Devious

Lockhart, e. Genuine Fraud. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-0-385-74477-5. 262pp. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

In her follow-up to We Were Liars, e. Lockhart masterfully creates a world of lies and deceit.  Told from the end backward, readers are introduced to Jule West Williams, a young woman living a life of luxury after the death of her best friend Imogen Sokoloff.  Imogen left Jule her trust fund after killing herself in London.  She also left Jule a mess to clean up, a flat, and an ex-boyfriend who wants answers.  As Jule explores her relationship with Imogen and her own existence, more questions about the truth arise.  What was the truth behind Jule’s and Imogen’s friendship?  What happened to Jule’s family?  How did Jule infiltrate Imogen’s life?  Is Imogen actually dead?  It’s hard to decipher the truth amongst all of the lies.  THOUGHTS:  Once again, e. Lockhart has created a masterpiece.  Her storytelling and writing is beyond match.  The use of the third-person limited narrator keeps the reader guessing as to the truth behind the lies. I couldn’t put this one down.  Lockhart certainly earned her many starred reviews with this one.

Mystery       Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

 

Imogen leads the charmed life, but it doesn’t always feel so charming. She’s decided to leave it behind and live off her trust fund, traveling wherever she pleases for a while. Jule works hard and fights to fit in – to be what people want her to be. Connecting with Imogen and being invited to go along on her travels seems like the break she deserves. Jule isn’t what she seems, though, and together she and Imogen have a toxic friendship. Jule is willing to go great lengths to protect her friendship with Imogen, even if it means not playing nicely. With her suitcase tightly in her grip, and several wigs and passports at the ready, Jule is on the run, but from whom or what readers won’t know until the end.   THOUGHTS: Beginning at chapter 18 and told in reverse order then ending with chapter 19, Genuine Fraud is an intricately woven tale. Readers will rely on this unreliable narrator to figure out the details. Profoundly confusing and fast-paced at the start, readers will page through this story, determined to learn its beginning. Fans of Lockhart’s We Were Liars might also like this story. Violence and mature content make this novel suitable to older readers.       

Realistic Fiction, Mystery   Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Thomas, Kara. Little Monsters. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-0-553-52149-8. 322pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Kacey Young recently moved to Wisconsin to live with her father, step-mother, step-brother, and half-sister, all people she didn’t know until last year.  Now a senior in high school, Kacey has a “normal” life, a job, friends, and a decent chance at art school.  That is until Bailey, one of Kacey’s best friends, goes missing after a midnight visit to the Leed’s barn, a haunted site in Broken Falls, and Kacey becomes a prime suspect in her disappearance.  As Jade, Kacey’s other best friend, and Lauren, Kacey’s half-sister, both of which were at the Leed’s barn too, begin to become distant, Kacey is determined to figure out what happened to Bailey and clear her own name while fighting her own demons, the same demons that brought her to Broken Falls in the first place.  THOUGHTS: Kara Thomas does it again with a suspenseful mystery that looks deep into the raw emotions of humans and the breakdown of the human psyche.  Little Monsters is an excellent follow-up to The Darkest Corners.  Although there are some holes in the text, leaving readers wondering a bit about Kacey’s family, this novel doesn’t disappoint.  Recommend to mystery/suspense lovers who enjoy the criminal mind over the action-packed mystery.

Mystery      Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

 

Ritter, Krysten. Bonfire. Crown Books, 2017. 978-1524759841. 277 pp. $26.00. Gr. 10 and up.

Erin Brokovich meets All the Missing Girls in this debut novel of psychological suspense from actress Krysten Ritter. Ten years after graduating from high school and ditching her small-town past, Abby Williams is back in her hometown of Barrens, Indiana. Now a lawyer with the Center for Environmental Advocacy Work, Abby is leading an investigation into water pollution and illegal waste disposal by Optimal Plastics. As the team uncovers a trail of corruption and cover-ups, Abby is pulled back into a decade-old mystery: the unusual illness and subsequent disappearance of her one-time friend, Kaycee Mitchell. Now Abby herself is experiencing mysterious symptoms. In Ritter’s deft hands all of the old rivalries, romances, and cruel games from the past repeat themselves on a collision course with the present. Readers will enjoy some truly harrowing moments along the way.  THOUGHTS: Teen readers who are familiar with Krysten Ritter from her starring role on the Netflix series Marvel’s Jessica Jones will be thrilled to discover her talents as an author!

Mystery/Thriller; Crossover     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

Johnson, Maureen. Truly Devious. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. 978-0-062-33805-1. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Private school Ellingham Academy is tucked into a remote Vermont mountainside. The school is known for encouraging some of the greatest minds – both academic and creative. Founded in the mid-1930s by wealthy philanthropist Albert Ellingham, a man fond of riddles and games, the school is free for those who attend, and the resources available to them are endless. Ellingham, his wife, and their young daughter live in the main house at the center of the school’s campus. When Mrs. Ellingham and Alice go out on a drive and  disappear, the only clue is a gruesome letter signed Truly Devious. Ransom calls come in, and Ellingham desperately does everything he can to rescue them to.  Nearly a century later, true-crime fan Stevie Bell is moving into Ellingham Academy, determined to succeed where all others have failed. Stevie feels like she has something to prove, though. While everyone else at school seems to have some incredible talent or skill, Stevie’s fascination with crime-solving, specifically her obsession over the unsolved Ellingham case, is what she was admitted on. When past and present collide, it seems Truly Devious may be closer than Stevie thinks.  THOUGHTS: Mystery fiction fans will love the blending of two stories, and be desperate to puzzle the clues together. While Stevie deals with being away from home; the pressures of a new, competitive school; and her anxiety, readers will watch her grow and come into her own. Underage drinking takes place, but consequences are also discussed. Initially, I was disappointed not to have all of the answers in book one, but I will anxiously await them in books two and three!

Mystery Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA Mystery – Overturned

Giles, Lamar. Overturned. Scholastic Press, 2017. 978-0-545-81250-4. 341pp. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Nikki Tate understands Las Vegas.  Taught by Nathan “The Broker” Tate to play cards and growing up in the casino owned by her family, Nikki understands that the easiest way out is to win.  When her father is murdered a week after his release from death row, Nikki is determined to finish what he started and figure out who murdered her father.  Using the photographs taken and notes made by her father, Nikki quickly learns that perhaps she doesn’t truly understand Las Vegas or at least her father’s Vegas.  As she learns more about the underbelly surrounding the glitz of Vegas and the Poseidon group, Nikki must lie, scheme, and risk her life (and her friendships) to uncover the truth about her father, the Poseidon group, and the true Vegas.  THOUGHTS:  This is a fabulous mystery that keeps readers rooting for Nikki while also questioning her choices.  Perhaps Las Vegas isn’t as legit as some think.

Mystery      Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA FIC – There’s Someone Inside Your House; Forest of a Thousand Lanterns; All the Crooked Saints; Who Killed Christopher Goodman?

Perkins, Stephanie. There’s Someone Inside Your House. Dutton Books, 2017. 978-0-5254-2601-1. 287 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Makani Young has recently moved from Hawaii to Indiana to live with her grandmother, after being involved in a bullying incident at her last school. Makani has sworn never to tell anyone her shameful past and doesn’t really love living in rural Indiana. In her new town, she has only a few close friends, Darby and Alex, and mainly looks after her grandmother, who has trouble with her memory. Makani also pines for her classmate Ollie, who has a troubled past of his own. When a talented classmate is brutally murdered, the town mourns and tries to move on. But as more and more students begin to die at the hands of an alleged serial killer, Makani and her friends try to discover who is killing, and why, before they become the next victims.  THOUGHTS: Perkins weaves an intriguing story, and at one point every character is a viable suspect. A perfect treat for horror fans that keeps you guessing until the very end.

Horror      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Dao, Julie C. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. Philomel Books, 2017. 978-1-5247-3829-7. 363 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

Eighteen year old Xifeng has lived with her cruel aunt, Guma, for her entire life and is often beaten for stepping out of line. Xifeng is resentful and often dreams of running away with her secret lover, Wei. While she and Guma embroider for a living, Guma assures Xifeng that her destiny is much greater; she has seen in the cards that Xifeng’s beauty and cunning will one day get her a powerful position in the kingdom, but only if she embraces the dark magic deep inside her. One day after a particularly horrific beating that disfigures her face, Xifeng and Wei set off for the Imperial City hoping that Xifeng can enter the Empress’s services as a lady-in-waiting and eventually fulfil her destiny. As time passes, Xifeng struggles to maintain friendships, navigate the treacherous eunuchs and concubines at the palace, and also with the darkness lurking under her skin. Xifeng is a complex anti-heroine whose character will linger with readers long after the last page. Dao’s debut is a polished and masterful Asian-inspired retelling of Snow White’s Evil Queen. THOUGHTS:  A beautiful, lush story with complex and diverse characters will delight readers. Julie C. Dao has written an engrossing and refreshing fairytale retelling that belongs in all libraries.

Fantasy      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends Central School

 

Stiefvater, Maggie. All the Crooked Saints. Scholastic, 2017. 978-0-545-93080-2. $18.99. 311 p. Gr. 7 and up.

In the small town of Bicho Raro, the primary industry is miracles. The Mexican-American Soria family carries the burden of sainthood, blessed or cursed, with the ability to grant a miracle to each of the pilgrims who wander into the town. However, the miracle the Sorias grant only manifests a pilgrim’s darkness into an external entity. It is then up to the pilgrim to commit the second miracle, and banish the darkness. Lately, however, the pilgrims have not been able to accomplish the second miracle, and the Soria enclave is overflowing with a motley assortment of pilgrims struggling with their manifestations. Young Daniel Soria, the 19-year-old current saint, and his cousin Beatriz, know this situation has to change, but they will have to break the Soria code to do so, which may destroy the family.  Glorious wordsmith Stiefvater has crafted another magnificent story, more tall-tale than fantasy. Populated with a memorable cast of characters, from the Soria clan to pilgrims to the accidental visitors to the town, the book shows us the darkness in all of us, and the miracles needed to banish it.  THOUGHTS:  Stiefaver successfully departs from her myth-based fantasy genre with this beautiful read. The large cast of characters can be challenging to keep straight, but the reward is great.   

Magical Realism      Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Wolf, Allan.  Who Killed Christopher Goodman? Candlewick, 2017.  978-0-7636-5613-3. 269 p.  $16.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Set in the fictional town of Goldsburg, VA, in 1979, this well-written novel follows the intersecting paths of six teenagers leading up to the murder of one of their classmates following the town’s big summer festival.  The perspective alternates among the six teens, each of whom has different relationships with the eventual murder victim and each of whom ultimately reacts to the murder differently, wondering if their actions were at all to blame for the death of Christopher Goodman.  Based on the actual 1979 murder of Edward Charles Disney following Deadwood Days in Blacksburg, VA, this thought-provoking novel will encourage teenagers to think about the reasons behind their actions and how these actions can have rippling effects that may never be entirely known.  THOUGHTS: Reluctant readers, fans of mystery/suspense, and fans of Wolf’s previous release, The Watch that Ends the Night, will enjoy this title.  It might also be interesting to introduce this book in a social studies class.  It could prompt an interesting character study discussion in a psychology course, or U.S. history students could research the actual murder of Edward Charles Disney and compare the real-life events to those in the book.  A solid addition to any high school collection.

Historical Fiction; Mystery      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

 

YA Fiction – You Bring the Distant Near; Lives of Desperate Girls

Perkins, Mitali. You Bring the Distant Near. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. 9780374304904. $17.99 320 p.  Gr. 7 and up.

Told through the alternating voices of the Das sisters and their daughters, You Bring the Distant Near is the story of three generations of women in a Bengali family, who immigrated to the United States. The bond between Sonia and Tara Das is explored as they each struggle to find their own place in America, all while obeying the cultural traditions of their family. Supportive and united, each sister takes a separate path in life, which leads Tara to success as a film star back home in India and Sonia into a full embrace of an inclusive American culture and a happy interracial marriage in New York.  Their daughters, Chantal and Anna, in turn have very different upbringings, but all the threads of this family’s disparate experiences come together when Anna is sent back to the US to finish high school.  Beautifully written with well-drawn and complex characters, the novel realistically portrays the nuanced relationships between the women.  The rich Bengali culture weaves through the three generations, influencing each of the women in different ways.  Thoughts: Strongly recommended as an addition to your collection of novels on the immigrant experience, filled with positive messages about acceptance, integration, and identity.

Realistic Fiction           Nancy Summers, Abington School District

Perkins, Mitali. You Bring the Distant Near. Farrar Straus Girox, 2017. 978–0374-30490-4 304p. $17.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

We hear the stories of five Bengali- American women in three different generations, spanning from the era of mini-skirts until just after the tragedy of 9/11.  Perkins weaves their stories together beautifully.  All of them question what it means to be Bengali or what it means to be American and each comes up with their own answers for themselves.  Some of the stories are heart-breaking, but most are easy to empathize with.  A family tree at the beginning is a good key, but because it is there, the long-term romances are easy to foretell if they will end in marriage.  THOUGHTS   This is a great book that will bring a diversity of characters to your library.  It is also a beautifully told story.

Realistic Fiction      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Common, MacKenzie. The Lives of Desperate Girls. Penguin Random House, 2017. 9780143198710. $16.99. 304 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Tragedy befalls two girls in rural Northern Ontario, but the reaction of the police and the public is different in each case.  When pretty and wealthy Chloe Shaughnessy goes missing the police investigate in earnest, and the townspeople hold vigils for her safe return. A few days after her disappearance,  the body of  Helen Commanda, a girl from the reservation, is found in the woods. There is no public outcry about this crime, and when the police find no obvious clues, her case is placed on the backburner.   Chloe’s best friend Jenny, now friendless and depressed, becomes obsessed with Helen’s murder and the entrenched racism against the natives in their town. Jenny takes up with the high school bad boy, and together they set out to discover what really happened on the night Helen died. But as the police continue to focus on Chloe’s disappearance, Jenny is equally determined to protect Chloe’s secrets. Thoughts: The novel broaches some serious issues including date rape, racism, and substance abuse, but the character and plot development fall a little short.  A secondary choice for older teens who appreciate realistic fiction with a hard edge.

Mystery        Nancy Summers, Abington School District

YA Fiction – Mask of Shadows; What to Say Next; My Favorite Things is Monsters; Strange the Dreamer

Miller, Linsey. Mask of Shadows. Sourcebooks, 2017.  9781492647492. 352 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Orphaned street thief, Sallot Leon, is permitted to enter the audition to become the next member of the Left Hand of the Queen, a group of four assassins who serve as advisers and protectors of the throne. These four are named for the gems of the rings worn by the Queen: Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, and Opal. When the last Opal is killed, Sal and 22 others compete to gain the position which will elevate the winner to enjoy the riches, security, and honor that will come with a new noble status. Borrowing heavily from titles such as Hunger Games and Throne of Glass, the plot follows the Auditioners, who must fight to the death to earn the coveted spot at court. The 22 contestants are virtually indistinguishable from one another with no real character development for any of them; each are masked for the competition and known only by their assigned numbers.  Sal, now known as Twenty Three, wishes to leave a life of thievery behind but also has a hidden agenda to avenge the destruction of her homeland and people. In one of the more original and interesting aspects of this tale, Sal‘s character is gender fluid and prefers to be addressed by the pronouns of “they” and “them”. Unfortunately, the gender identity for Sal seems to revolve around what clothing they are wearing that day. A romance with a noblewoman who serves as a tutor for the Auditioners unfolds and the sexuality between the two is presented matter of factly.  The only obstacle to such a romance in this world is Sal’s lower-class status, which would change if they win the contest. Mask of Shadows details the growing violence and intrigue between the Auditioners, as the competition advances and many of these scenes are gripping, violent, and gory.  But overall, the story lacks strong character development and the world building is not fully realized. Sal’s backstory is only briefly visited and there is no real explanation or insight into the magic and shadows which caused the destruction of the old-world order, or the war between the kingdoms that led to the current shaky political reality.  THOUGHTS: This YA fantasy with a strong gender-fluid character has an interesting premise and action-packed competition sequences. A secondary purchase for fans of violent fantasy.

Fantasy          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

 

Buxbaum, Julie. What to Say Next. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-0-553-53568-6. 292 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Julie Buxbaum, author of the very enjoyable Tell Me Three Things, returns with the even better What to Say Next! David Drucker is a little unusual. He’s brilliant but awkward in social situations; he’s a diligent fan of order and routine, and he was once diagnosed with Asperger’s (but that’s just a label). He also keeps a notebook full of lists, rules, and notable encounters with his classmates at Mapleview High School. He’s got a particularly detailed entry on Kit Lowell, who attended his childhood birthday parties and smiled at him when their names were announced as Mapleview’s only National Merit semifinalists. Now, after 622 days of eating lunch alone, David is joined by Kit, whose father died in a car crash just one month ago. None of Kit’s popular friends know what to say or how to act around her, and David’s bluntness is a welcome change of pace. When David’s notebook is stolen and posted online, followed by the reveal of two huge Lowell family secrets, the opposites-attract couple needs each other more than ever.  THOUGHTS: This winning, dual perspective novel focuses on the “friend” in girlfriend and boyfriend relationships. It’s a perfect choice for fans of realistic romance with a serious side, such as Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and When We Collided by Emery Lord.

Realistic Fiction     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

Ferris, Emil. My Favorite Things is Monsters. Fantagraphics Books, 2017. 978-1-60699-696-2. unpaged. $39.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Emil Ferris’ mind-bogglingly good graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, hinges on the murder of Anka Silverberg, who is shot and killed in her apartment. Her downstairs neighbor, 10-year old Karen Reyes (an unusual girl who identifies with comic book monsters) decides to put on her detective hat and crack the case. In late 1960s Chicago, suspects abound. Anka’s personal history, depicted through tape-recorded interviews and an extended story within the story, reveal a damaged woman with a haunted past. Karen, meanwhile, longs to be changed into a werewolf so that she can “turn” and somehow save her own dying mother. One serious drawback: even after finishing this doorstop of a debut (which introduces a new mystery in the final pages), readers will have to wait until 2018 for Volume 2 and a resolution to the mysteries. THOUGHTS: This is a unique reading experience that raises more questions about monsters than it answers, and does so with beautiful style. Mature themes such as prostitution and violence are depicted visually, so this is recommended for older teens.

Graphic Novel     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

Taylor, Laini. Strange the Dreamer. Little Brown, 2017. 978-0-316-34168-4. 544 pp. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

A city with no name. A boy with no past.  A girl with no future.  Though it sounds bleak, Laini Taylor’s newest novel, Strange the Dreamer, is a magical, imaginative, heartbreaking story that will leave readers on the edge of their seats.  Lazlo Strange is an orphan, and a dreamer, with little memory of his childhood, save for the day that the name of the city was taken from him, and replaced with the name “Weep.” Consumed with a desire to know more, Lazlo, through an accident of fate, becomes a librarian, and garners all he can about the enigmatic city, including its language. When an entourage from Weep arrives, looking for people to come help solve a mysterious problem, Lazlo jumps at the chance. Meanwhile, in Weep, Sarai, a blue-skinned demi-goddess, is stuck; she and her three companions are trying to navigate an increasingly grim future by using their gifts, bestowed upon them by their god and goddess parents. Sarai is a dream walker, but uses her abilities to bestow nightmares on the people of Weep, punishing them nightly for their treachery.  When Sarai enters Lazlo’s dream, it unleashes an unexpected and intense series of events that will forever change the lives of the dreamers, and all of those around them. THOUGHTS:  I absolutely loved this book.  Laini Taylor has really come into her own as an author, and this is a much more nuanced, sophisticated novel than her previous efforts.  While the romance between Sarai and Lazlo feels a little rushed, the world-building, the characters, the setting, and the tension between characters makes up for it ten-fold.  Highly recommended to all fantasy lovers.

Fantasy     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Laini Taylor, author of the fantastic Daughter of Smoke & Bone series, is back with another incredible fantasy novel. Orphan Lazlo Strange works as a junior librarian and spends his days researching and dreaming. Since childhood, he has been obsessed with the lost city of Weep, a city which most of his peers claim is simply a legend. One day, a mythical Godslayer visits the library, and Lazlo finds an opportunity to go searching for his beloved lost city. In Weep, Lazlo finds his dreams haunted by a beautiful blue-skinned girl. Who is she, and why can they see and speak to one another? The mysteries of Weep deepen, and Lazlo finds himself embroiled in a centuries-old war between gods and mortals. This is truly a spectacular, lyrical story that will appeal to all fantasy readers. THOUGHTS: Taylor is an incredibly talented writer, creating a vast world with true to life characters and words that jump off the page. Fantasy fans will adore this and clamor for the next book in the series.

Fantasy     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

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

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

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

362.29, Rehabilitation                       Nancy Summers,  Abington SD

 

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

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

Fantasy, Science Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

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

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

 

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

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

Realistic Fiction     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

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

Contemporary Fiction    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

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

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

Realistic Fiction        Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

YA Historical FIC – Dreamland Burning; American Traitors; The Pearl Thief; Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue

Latham, Jennifer.  Dreamland Burning.  Little, Brown and Company, 2017.  978-0-316-38493-3. 371 p.  $18.99.  Gr. 8 and up.

In the early 1920s, Will Tillman is a teenage boy coming of age in Tulsa during the era of race riots and Jim Crow laws.  He wants to become a righteous man, but in order to do so, he must make some difficult decisions between the evening of May 31 and the afternoon of June 1, 1921, when white rioters loot and burn the African American section of Tulsa known as Greenwood.  Almost a century later, seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase begins asking questions when a skeleton is unearthed on her family’s property.  Through alternating narratives, readers learn how Will and Rowan are connected through time and how sadly, the negative attitudes of some people towards African Americans persevere even today.  THOUGHTS: This title is an excellent addition to any school where U.S. history is taught.  Not only does it present a gripping account of one of the most violent (and heretofore largely overlooked) racial conflicts in our country’s history, but it also raises monumental questions about how far we have come, or perhaps haven’t come, as a country.  While the book highlights the stark realities of the state of our country, it still manages to inspire hope and assure readers that the love and courage of a few unsung heroes far outweighs the evil and cowardice of others.  Pair this with other titles that expertly address the issue of racism, such as Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee, Paul Volponi’s Black and White, or Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Historical Fiction     Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Landis, Matthew. The League of American Traitors. Sky Pony Press, 2017. 9781510707351. $16.99. 256p.  Gr. 7 and up.

The League of American Traitors takes place in the present, but there’s an alternate reality that’s been happening for the past 240-years between two secret societies: The Libertines and The League of American Traitors. These groups are made up of the descendants of America’s traitors and America’s patriots since the Revolutionary War and most of society has no idea that they have been dueling to the death for the past 240 years. The Libertines are determined to end the bloodlines of America’s traitors, and, unfortunately for Jasper, he is the last direct descendant of America’s most notorious traitor, Benedict Arnold. The story and action begins with the death of Jasper’s dad, not only making Jasper an orphan, but also putting him next in line to be convicted and condemned for his ancestor’s sins, which he finds out the hard way. Jasper, and the reader, go on a fast-paced journey to try and clear Arnold’s name and avoid having to duel. There is attempted kidnapping, a violent clash on the streets of Philadelphia, a boarding school that doubles as a dueling academy, and lots of history that both Jasper, and the reader, learn about. THOUGHTS: This book is touted everywhere as National Treasure meets Hamilton. I can’t speak to that since I haven’t seen either, but that might be a selling point when book-talking this to students. The author is a Social Studies teacher in my district, and he includes notes at the end discussing the accuracy of the historical information included in the book. Despite the dark theme (gun violence, dueling, murder), the book also has light-hearted realistic teen banter that made me laugh. The League of American Traitors is a book I will recommend to my middle school students (7th – 9th) who are fans of action-packed books from authors like James Dashner, Dan Brown, and Richard Paul Evans or students who like some history with their fiction.

Historical Adventure      Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Wein, Elizabeth. The Pearl Thief.  Hyperion, 2017. 978-148471716-5. 326 p.  $18.99  Gr. 8 and up.

The Pearl Thief, a prequel to Code Name Verity, features Julie Beaufort-Stuart a few years before she became a spy. For Verity’s legion of fans, it is especially poignant to witness Julie’s coming of age, since it is impossible to forget her ultimate fate. For those who have yet to read Verity, the book works just fine as a stand-alone. Fifteen-year-old Julie, a minor noble, returns to her ancestral home for the summer holidays and quickly finds herself at the center of a mystery when she is attacked and wakes up with no memory of the incident.  The local police are eager to blame the “Travellers,” an ethnic group (similar and somewhat related to Romany peoples) native to Scotland. But Julie is adamant that they are not to blame; in fact, a Travellers family rescued her. Julie develops a strong attachment to Ellen, a Travellers girl her own age. Their relationship not only foreshadows the deep bond that develops between Maddie and Julie in Verity, but also offers a subtle but deep subtext on issues surrounding sexual preference and gender fluidity. The appearance of a (rather macabre) dead body and the disappearance of priceless pearls heighten the mystery element, but this book is much, much more than a whodunnit.  THOUGHTS: The writing is elegant, nuanced, and complex, and the subject matter is appropriate for younger as well as older teens. Recommended for fans of Code Name Verity and any reader looking for something meaty and thought-provoking; a strong purchase for high school libraries; an additional purchase for middle school libraries looking to acquire books for students with higher reading levels.

Historical Fiction, Mystery           Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Lee, Mackenzi. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2017. 978-0-0623-8280-1. 528 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

Eighteen year old Henry “Monty” Montague is no stranger to scandal. As the son of an earl, Monty’s flagrant vices do not quite fit the gentlemanly life that’s expected of him. His love for drinking, gambling and cavorting with both men and women have gotten him expelled from school and infuriated his mean father, who often takes out his anger with his fists. So Monty looks forward to a year away with his best friend Percy, who he also happens to have a massive crush on, as they venture on their Grand Tour of Europe. But trouble always seems to find Monty, and soon he, his sister Felicity, and Percy are caught up in political scandal, pirates, and alchemy as they make their way across Europe. As Monty explores the countryside and opens up to his friends, readers will surely see a part of themselves in Felicity, Percy or Monty. THOUGHTS: While this story may seem just like any other YA romance, this is one of the few mainstream teen books to feature a bisexual protagonist. Lee creates an incredible enthralling and fast-paced story that hooks readers in the first few pages. Not only does Lee explore gender identity in the 1800s, but readers will also learn about race relations, disability, and feminism during the time period as well. A delightful, well researched read.

Historical Fiction      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

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 Mystery – One is Lying; A Good Idea; Expelled

McManus, Karen M. One of Us Is Lying. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-1-524-71468-0. 368 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.  

Five very different high school students walk into detention. They’re known for being smart, pretty, dangerous, athletic, or outcast. Within a few minutes of being stuck together, something seems off. It turns out science teacher Mr. Avery confiscated a phone from each of them, phones they claim don’t belong to them. The problem: Only four students walk out of detention.  While four students are distracted, Simon collapses. 911 is called; the police ask questions, and meanwhile everyone in detention wonders what just happened. Was Simon targeted? He created an app that shares everyone’s juicy gossip. It’s not unreasonable to think someone wanted the gossip to stop, or maybe it was simply revenge.  Narrated by each student, readers are taken on a fast-paced whodunit ride. Each character has his or her own drama to deal with as rumors circulate, and mystery surrounds each suspect. Though these students know each other, this book asks how much do they really know? Readers will quickly learn not all is as it seems.  THOUGHTS: Mystery fiction fans will devour this book, puzzling the details as bits and pieces of the story are given. The multiple narrators add a compelling element as readers will want to know the next piece of the story. Don’t skip around, or you’ll miss out on some key evidence!    

Realistic Fiction, Mystery      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Simon Kelleher is the face behind Bayview High’s most notorious gossip site, so it’s no surprise that he is also one of the most unpopular (and at times popular, depending on the gossip at the moment) students at Bayview.  When Simon ends up in detention with Nate Macauley, Bayview’s “bad boy”; Cooper Clay, a rockstar pitcher looking at the majors; Bronwyn Rojas, the “brain”, and Addy Calloway “Miss Popularity”, it seems like The Breakfast Club all over again.  That is until Simon dies in detention due to anaphylactic shock and only Cooper, Bronwyn, Addy, and Nate are in the room when it happens.  Now it’s up to them to prove they didn’t kill Simon, unless one of them actually did kill Simon since he was about to post gossip about each of them.  THOUGHTS:  This is a true mystery “whodunit”.  It is not for the murder-mystery, action-packed mystery lover, but for the thoughtful problem/crime solver mystery lover.  It moves slowly, and due to the varying narrators (Addy, Cooper, Nate, and Bronwy rotate sections in each chapter) has some holes throughout.  Readers need to focus on the minutia to solve Simon’s murder.  

Mystery      Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Moracho, Cristina.  A Good Idea. Viking, 2017.  978-0-451-47624-1. 357 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

When Finley’s parents divorced, she moved to New York City to live with her mom.  However, she returns to the small town of Williston, Maine, every summer to visit her dad and hang out with her best friend, Betty.  That is, until Betty disappears during the fall of their senior year, and her ex-boyfriend, Calder, admits to drowning her.  Unfortunately, his testimony is thrown out because he was a minor when he gave it and did not have a lawyer present.  Because the body was never found, people begin to speculate about whether Betty was actually murdered or whether she ran away.  When she returns to Williston at the end of her senior year, Finley is determined to discover the truth about Betty and seek justice in the case.  However, she soon learns that the truth may be more complicated and devastating than she ever imagined.  THOUGHTS:  Although this is not an incredibly fast-paced mystery, it does have realistic, relatable characters and plot twists that keep readers coming back for more.  It is a powerful portrait of grief, anger, and forgiveness, concepts and feelings that we all experience at some point in our lives.  It also takes a look at the realities of small town life and includes some edgy content, such as underage drinking, drug use, lesbianism, and sex.

Mystery    Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Patterson, James and Emily Raymond. Expelled. JIMMY Paterson Books/Little, Brown, 2017. 978-0-316-44039-4. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Theo, Jude, Sasha, and Parker are not the type of students you would expect to be expelled from school — the boy-next-door, the artist, the hot mysterious girl, and the quintessential football jock not only have very little in common but also have never gotten in trouble before.  Best friends Theo and Jude have a friendship that survives on keeping the other in check while Sasha and Parker broke up years ago for the simple fact that a relationship is hard to maintain when you have nothing of substance to say to the other person.  However, now they all have something to talk about.  These four high school students find themselves thrust together when each gets expelled, vowing to work together to find the truth behind who really committed the crimes they’ve been accused of.  The only problem is, each is hiding their own secret that could tear the misfit group apart at the seams.  Can they solve the mystery and save their own futures without destroying each other in the process?  THOUGHTS:  Patterson’s newest YA release is a bit The Breakfast Club meets Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, with very modernized twists that can still stand the test of time.  In fact, several iconic 80’s movies are referenced, which was a delightful surprise for this mid-30’s reader of YA.  Adults are not to be trusted in this contemporary, realistic fictional world, but then again, teenagers aren’t, either.  The protagonist, Theo, is a clean-cut teen who has had a very rough year and could use a break that just doesn’t seem to be coming his way.  So, he makes one for himself.  Readers will root for Theo the entire book for the simple fact that, when being handed a raw deal, he shows a tenacity to fix his own life without waiting for someone else to do it for him.  He isn’t impervious to a depressing life he finds himself in; he does have a small pity party or two, but he also refuses to let it swallow him whole or use it as an excuse to give up.  Theo is the epitome of a modern-day teenage hero whose lesson hopefully resonates with every young adult who picks up this book.

Realistic Fiction, Mystery            Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley SD

YA Realistic Fiction – Lizzie Lovett; The Tea Girl…; The Hate U Give; Follow Me Back

Sedoti, Chelsea. The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett. Sourcebooks, 2017. 978-1-492-63608-3. 400 p. Gr. 9 and up.

While the bigger picture items (depression, bullying, teen suicide, growing up/apart from friends, and feeling like you don’t fit in anywhere) are very compelling, the whole werewolf thing is a distraction. I kept expecting Hawthorn to be diagnosed with something and didn’t enjoy that aspect of the story. Not many high school seniors will make up convoluted fantasies to deal with stress. I stuck with it through the end, but I don’t know that many teens will be as dedicated. Love the cover, though!
Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

See, Lisa. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. New York: Scribner, 2017. 978-1501154829. 384 p. $27.00. Gr. 11 and up.

Lisa See has done it again, writing a beautifully nuanced and wonderfully engaging story of mothers and their bonds with daughters. The story begins with Li-yan, a young girl who is a member of a small ethnic minority, the Akha, that live in the mountains of southern China. Their livelihood is dependent upon the tea trees that cover their mountain. Li-yan is to inherit a special grove of trees passed down among the women in her tribe.  Li-yan attends a local school, and yearns to experience life beyond her tiny mountain. Soon, however, she becomes involved with a boy from a nearby tribe, and this relationship results in pregnancy. Normally, the pregnancy would be aborted since the couple is not yet married, but Li-yan refuses to let that happen, trying to keep her growing belly a secret. Her mother takes her to their private tree grove to give birth, and Li-yan takes the baby to an orphanage, leaving her with a small cake of tea leaves wrapped in paper. The girl is quickly adopted by a couple from California. The story is interspersed with small chapters about the childhood of the girl, who her parents name Haley, as she struggles with understanding why her birth mother did not want her. Her storyline highlights the difficulty of assimilating into another culture through adoption. In China, Li-yan marries the man she fell in love with, but their story is cursed from the start. She eventually ends up at school and learns more about her beloved tea. The reader will be appalled by the archaic traditions practiced by the Akha, but See does an excellent job of making their livelihood understood, looking at it through Li-yan’s changing eyes yet loving heart. See obviously did extensive research on both the Akha and the process of making tea as well as the culture of tea in China.  Li-yan is strong but humble, and searches throughout her life for meaning, love, and forgiveness. THOUGHTS: This is an excellent story to give to students interested in tea, China, and/or adoption from another country. Highly recommended for mature teens and adults.

Realistic Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy

I absolutely loved this book. Not only was it an introduction to a new culture in China, but it was also an interesting presentation of the adoption process and what young children of other cultures go through when they are adopted into white American families. I have always enjoyed Lisa See’s novels, but this one stands out as a favorite. When I was towards the end, I often found myself wishing that the story would go on and on, as I wanted to stay with the characters and see their stories continue to grow and evolve.  

 

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

Starr may seem like the average teenage girl; she plays sports, likes spending time with her friends, and occasionally fights with her boyfriend, but she’s actually living a double-life.  Starr is torn between who she thinks she wants to be and who she thinks she should be.  While Starr lives in a poor, all-black neighborhood with gangs and drive-bys (to which she’s already lost one childhood best friend), she attends a rich, mostly-white prep school where stereotypes are so commonplace that she tries to blend in as much as possible to avoid being one, causing her to contemplate what it truly means to be black in today’s society.  Starr’s parents educated her and her brothers about racism when they were younger, even outlining specific possibilities they themselves may encounter, but this never stopped Starr from giving people the benefit of the doubt.  That is, until tragedy strikes and yet another childhood friend is killed; this time at the hands of the very people meant to keep us safe, the police.  When the young man is labeled as a drug dealer and a “thug”, laying the groundwork for a cover-up of this heinous crime, it is up to Starr to finally decide which life she wants to lead and how important she is to ensuring equality and justice for all.  THOUGHTS: Poignant. Thought-provoking. Powerful. Heartbreaking. Thomas writes an incredibly impactful story of race and culture that sadly rings so true today, shining a very bright light at racism, gang violence, drug dealing, interracial dating, and other parts of our society that many turn a blind-eye to. I cannot find the words to adequately explain how important this story is, except to say that while Starr and Khalil are fictional, their experiences unfortunately are not. Read this book. Then share it. I, for one, will be adding it to my high school library collection and putting it on display, front and center.

Realistic Fiction           Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley School District

 

Geiger, A.V. Follow Me Back. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1-492-64523-8. 368 p. $10.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Something happened to Tessa that made her an agoraphobic; she hasn’t left her house, more specifically her room, since she returned from New Orleans in June. She has limited access to the outside word and relies on her phone, Twitter, and Wattpad. Tessa feels safe in the anonymous world writing fanfiction about Eric Thorn.

Eric Thorn was thrown into the spotlight when he rocketed to the top of the music charts, gaining instant fame and a lot of fans. Eric feels trapped by his recording contract and his fame. Since a fellow singer was murdered by a crazed fan, Eric has become fearful of his fans and bitter about the life he is forced to live.  Among his tons of fans, Eric connects with Tessa on Twitter. They both feel a connection with each other and look forward to their daily DM conversations. Meeting in real life is a risk for both of them, but is it one they should take?

THOUGHTS:  Set in the present and the past, readers are given bits of the story as told by Tessa and Eric, their tweets and direct messages, and their police interviews. This fast-paced drama will attract those of the tech generation. While the terminology may become outdated as technology changes, this book will fly off of the shelves today.

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District