YA – Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel

Reynolds, Jason & Novgorodoff, Danica. Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-534-44495-9. 208 p. $19.99. Grades 10-12.

The seven floors that Will travels becomes even more of a punch in the gut with Novgorodoff’s eerie images. The story is the same; Will has to decide if he is going to follow the “rules” and kill the guy who killed his brother. During the sixty seconds it takes him to get to the ground floor, he meets someone who was connected to his brother in some way. Will gains access to more pieces of the puzzle with each encounter that is perfectly depicted with raw edged watercolor paintings. The graphic novel includes traditional panels as well as full page images that draw in readers, even those who know this story well.

THOUGHTS: For any library that is looking to expand their graphic novel collection with novel adaptations or more diversity, this book is a must. If Long Way Down is constantly checked out of your library, this could be a great segue for readers to appreciate the format of graphic novels with a terrifying story. Warning: There are images of guns and gore.

Graphic Novel          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – The Game

Miller, Linsey. The Game. Underlined, 2020. 978-0-593-17978-9. 240 p. $9.99. Grades 9-12. 

Lia Prince has lived her life in the background; She isn’t good at anything her parents value. To make matters worse, Lia’s older brother, now off at college, was good at everything. Determined to make a name for herself by besting his third place finish in her Lincoln High’s senior class game of assassin, Lia’s been planning for a year. Carefully noting and observing patterns of her peers, Lia is ready for the game to begin. No one appreciates her skills, but Lia is good at games. Ready to lead her team and get their target, the game begins. As they get more into the game, it becomes deadly. Someone is playing dirty, but Lia is determined not to miss this opportunity to be good at something. Against advice of her parents, her school, and her friends, and determined to keep the fun of the game going Lia keeps playing. Can she win, and what does winning mean?

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans will love this brief, action-packed, stand alone and may overlook some of its flaws. Grief and fear are brushed aside to make room for the game, but would the game really continue with a killer on the loose? Purchase in high school libraries where mysteries are in high demand.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – They Wish They Were Us

Goodman, Jessica. They Wish They Were Us. Razorbill, 2020. 978-0-593-11429-2. 327 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

As a student in an exclusive private school on Long Island, Jill and her five best friends should be living their best lives as seniors and members of the elite group The Players. They have unlimited money and the world at their feet. But there’s a shadow hanging over their lives: the story of what happened to their friend, Shaila. During their freshman year, Shaila was murdered by one of their own – Graham, her boyfriend and a member of The Players. Three years have passed since her murder and most of The Players seem content to honor Shaila in their memories and move on. But Jill starts getting text messages from Graham’s sister, Rebecca, and she quickly realizes that there may be more to the story than she originally thought. Despite her better judgement, Jill contacts Rebecca and becomes consumed with finding out the truth of what happened to her best friend. Unfortunately, while her investigation might bring justice for Shaila, the truth could end up ruining Jill’s life and turning her perfect world inside out.

THOUGHTS: While at times a little predictable, Goodman’s book delivers a punch that will draw in young readers. The plot is full of drama, scandal, and a glimpse into the privileged lives of the young elite. High school librarians should purchase Goodman’s book as it will be a popular choice for young adult readers, especially those who are fans of One of Us Is Lying and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder.

Mystery/Thriller            Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central 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

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