YA – Elatsoe

Little Badger, Darcie. Elatsoe. Levine Querido, 2020. 978-1-646-14005-3. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

In a world where paranormal activity is as normal as overpriced movie theatre popcorn, Ellie, who is able to summon the dead, is determined to solve the mystery of her cousin’s death. After Trevor appears in her dreams pleading her to keep his family safe from his murderer, Ellie and her friend Jay begin to investigate the strange town where he died and the circumstances surrounding his death. Using her mystical powers, passed on through generations of Lipan monarchs, Ellie uncovers the horrific truth of Willowbee’s origin and the connection between Willowbee’s founder and Trevor’s death.

THOUGHTS: A thrilling story for readers who love fantasy, mystery, and folklore. The story weaves elements of these three genres to create a unique and compelling story.

Fantasy     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – Grown

Jackson, Tiffany D. Grown. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-84035-6. $17.99. Grades 9 and up.

Enchanted Jones wants to sing, so when she auditions for a music competition and catches the eye of artist Korey Fields, her dream seems to be within reach as Korey befriends her and begins singing and recording with her. When Korey proposes Enchanted go on tour with him, her parents refuse, but soon Enchanted is on tour with Korey and begins to learn the truth about him. Now in an abusive relationship, Korey controls Enchanted’s every move – how she looks, what she sings, when she can leave a room, who she can speak to.  Korey swears his love for Enchanted and desire to marry her once she turns 18.  Enchanted believes that everything Korey does is because of his love for her, yet she questions his continued control of her. When she learns of charges filed against Korey for a relationship with an underage girl, Enchanted can’t believe it. Yet, she sees herself in the story. Does Korey truly love her, or does he just love controlling her? Can Enchanted escape the abuse alive, or will Korey be the end to her?

THOUGHTS: Tiffany D. Jackson is a genius. She is a master of suspense, and her ability to tell truth through story is uncanny. I cringed through most of Grown (and was physically nauseous at times), but I also couldn’t put it down. The truth of abuse is so real, and yet Enchanted’s lack of recognition is so real. This novel made me uncomfortable, angry, sad, and so many more emotions. To me, it is the most intense of Jackson’s novels. It does include a content warning at the beginning: “mentions of sexual abuse, rape, assault, child abuse, kidnapping, and addiction to opioids.” This is a phenomenal addition to all HS library collections.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD
Mystery

YA – Girl, Unframed

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

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

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

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – The Boy in the Red Dress

Lambert, Kristin. The Boy in the Red Dress. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11368-4. $18.99. 362 p. Grades 9 and up. 

It’s New Year’s Eve, 1929 in the French Quarter, and Millie is running her Aunt Cal’s speakeasy, the Cloak and Dagger, while she’s out of town. Running a speakeasy during prohibition is dangerous enough, but the Cloak and Dagger’s entertainment includes drag shows, and the patrons are primarily from the LGBTQ community, making it doubly scandalous by 1929’s standards. The employees and patrons take care of each other though, and Millie, who is bisexual herself, would love nothing more than if her Aunt would let her quit school and help her run the place. This New Year’s Eve, she thinks, might be her chance to prove herself. But then a group of high-society newbies show up to the Cloak and Dagger, and one of them starts looking for a boy from her past she’s showing in a photograph, a boy who looks an awful lot like Millie’s best friend, who now goes by Marion and is the “undisputed queen of the Cloak and Dagger.” After Marion’s big performance at midnight, the girl – Arimentha – is found dead in the alley, apparently pushed off the balcony near Marion’s dressing room, and all the evidence points to Marion as the murderer when details emerge about their past. Millie knows her best friend is not a murderer; she just has to prove it to everyone else. As if solving a murder mystery isn’t complicated enough, Millie’s mostly-absent mother reappears forcing her to deal with some repressed feelings, and throughout her quest to clear Marion’s name, she also finds herself romantically interested in both Bennie – the son of one of their bootlegged alcohol suppliers – and Olive – a waitress at the Cloak and Dagger.

THOUGHTS: This is a fun, different kind of LGBTQ tale given the time period. Though primarily a mystery, the novel has lots of layers including a love triangle that is good but very much a sub-plot that doesn’t take over the primary storyline. Touches on the history of the time period, but at its heart, this murder mystery is just plain entertaining with a likeable cast of outcast characters, even Millie’s flawed mother. Highly recommended for collections where patrons can’t get enough LGBTQ.

Mystery          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area 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 – The Cousins

McManus, Karen M. The Cousins. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-525-70800-1. 336 p. $22.99. Grades 7-12.

It begins with a most unexpected letter. Teen cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah are invited to spend the summer on Gull Island, the resort home of their wealthy WASP grandmother, Mildred Story, the woman who, decades before, cut off all contact with her children, enigmatically telling them, “You know what you did.” Except the three brothers and their sister have always denied knowing what their mother meant. Now the adult siblings, encouraged by this gesture, bribe, threaten, and cajole the cousins to accept the offer, for a variety of personal reasons, including, but not necessarily limited to, possible access to the immense Story fortune. Sweet Aubrey, bearing a traditional Story family name; sophisticated Milly, named after her grandmother; and extremely disgruntled Jonah meet up on the ferry ride to the island, pondering what the summer will hold. None of them envisions the events that unfold. But when one of the first people they encounter on the island tells them “you shouldn’t have come back,” the cousins become reluctant allies, uncovering lost family history and learning exactly what happened all those years ago. McManus presents another tour de force with her fourth young adult mystery. This character driven plot has the feel of a classic Agatha Christie. Breathtaking suspense takes a back seat as Aubrey, Milly, and Jonah, burdened with parental legacies, expectations, and disappointments, cautiously open up to each other, shedding secrets and personas molded by family legacy. Plot twists keep the reader guessing until the tempestuous climax, but the journey is the true star in this book.

THOUGHTS: McManus just keeps getting better. A first purchase for all middle school and high school collections, and multiple copies will be needed. 

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Cousins Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story did not grow up enjoying extended family vacations on Gull Island or at the resort home of their wealthy grandmother. Instead each has had to deal with a parent who is still – years later – dealing with the fallout of being disinherited by their mother, matriarch Mildred Story. Cut off with only a message of “You know what you did.” the story children are left to fend for themselves which, given their upbringing, they were not prepared to do. When the cousins each receive a postcard from their grandmother inviting them to work on Gull Island’s resort for the summer, they have mixed reactions. Their parents, however, insist. It’s the opportunity to get back into their mother’s good graces, and they’ve been waiting decades. Forced together, the cousins arrive on Gull Island only to be told they “shouldn’t have come back.” They bond together to make the best of their circumstances and learn more about the family they never got to know.

THOUGHTS: This one will keep readers guessing, and fans of McManus’s other books will be happy with this new mystery. A must have for middle and high school libraries.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Twenty-four years ago the Story children were disowned by their mother, Mildred. The children, Adam, Asher, Allison, and Archer received a note with just five words: “You know what you did.” The problem was, and still is, that none of them know what the note means.  Now, 24 years later, the children of Adam, Asher, and Allison received letters inviting them to Gull Coast Island on behalf of their estranged grandmother to work in the resort’s Towhee program. The cousins have not seen each other in years, so when Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah meet up on the ferry to Gull Coast Island, it is as though they are meeting for the first time. As they are introduced to their new boss, Carson, their grandmother arrives and appears very surprised to see them. When Mildred immediately leaves for two weeks, Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah begin to question the entire situation. Who sent the letters inviting them to Gull Coast Island? Why is their grandmother so elusive? What happened over 20 years ago that has kept their grandmother away? But, it isn’t until they are finally introduced to Mildred and a night out that the cousins truly begin to delve deep into the history of the Story family. Told through alternating chapters from Milly, Aubrey, Jonah, and Allison in 1996, The Cousins looks at secrets kept to protect family and secrets hidden to expose mistakes.

THOUGHTS: Karen M. McManus once again weaves a thrilling tale of lies, secrets, and deceit.  Mystery and detective fiction lovers will devour this novel.

Mystery        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – The Great Upending

Kephart, Beth. The Great Upending. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-4814-9156-3. 259 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7. 

Sara has what she needs: her younger brother, Hawk, her parents, the family farm with all its wonder. Hawk is her best friend, and together they navigate life. When a gentleman rents the converted silo on the farm, Sara and Hawk are expressly told to not bother Mister. But, being 12- and 11-years old, they wonder, they spy, they uncover secrets. Sara also has those things in her life she wishes she didn’t have: a drought that is pushing the farm into bankruptcy, a heart condition requiring surgery, and Marfan syndrome, which has caused her to grow taller than her mother already. Sara is tired of being gawked at and whispered about when she is in town, and is miserable about the anxiety and strain her condition puts on her parents. The bankers have turned down a loan application, telling her father that the farm has no value as collateral, leaving the family struggling to find funds for her surgery. This is a secret Sara keeps from Hawk, which begins to put a strain on their relationship. However, the secret the siblings uncover about Mister just may change many lives. This is a lyrically written book first about family, then about the rare condition of Marfan syndrome. Sara’s voice is wonderfully nuanced, as she rockets between being a child and a girl with too many burdens for her age. Her and Hawk’s spying on Mister definitely crosses boundaries, but galvanizes the pair into a wild scheme in which Sara finds purpose and a way to forget about her health issues. Readers will fall in love with Sara and root for a happy ending for everyone.

THOUGHTS: This lovely book addresses a medical condition with which most people will not be familiar. But while Sara’s illness is the nudge that drives the plot, it does not take over. Sara is a memorable character who has Marfan syndrome, not because she has Marfan syndrome. The theme that shines throughout is the closeness of family. This story will linger after the last pages.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot

Key, Watt. Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020. 215 p. $16.99 978-0-374-31369-2 Grades 5-8. 

Adam survives the car crash that apparently killed his parents–at least, they have disappeared. When questioned by police, he speaks bewilderedly but honestly of what he saw in the wooded road near the Suwanee River: not a person or a bear, but something bigger than a bear, covered in hair, with a human face and huge black eyes. When the local paper runs a story about the accident including a “Sasquatch-like creature,” Adam regrets saying anything. The questions and the disbelief become overwhelming, especially from his Uncle John, who takes him in while the search for his parents continues. Adam can’t forget the creature, and due to disrupted sleep and nightmares, he begins searching online for information. He learns of a local Sasquatch appearance nearly 30 years ago, and sets out to question the man who reported it. He finds the near-hermit “Stanley” who reluctantly, then completely, tells Adam all he knows about the creatures, with a strong warning that the search for answers destroys your life. Adam decides he needs answers, and sets off on his own with some basic supplies.  What follows is a hard-core survival story wherein Adam becomes so attuned to the forest and animals that he lives as one of them, soon close to starving. Then he sees one of the creatures, then more. The scenes with the creatures shift from past tense to present tense, adding to the sense of unreality. Adam has found what he came for, but can he survive, can he find his parents, and can he get proof of the creatures’ existence?

THOUGHTS: With a likeable narrator, reasonable length (215 pages), and an attractive cover (see the creature in the trees?), Key has written a suspenseful survival story that will attract middle school readers curious about Bigfoot. Key includes helpful explanatory information about Sasquatch sightings.

Fantasy, Paranormal Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Havenfall

Holland, Sara. Havenfall. Bloomsbury,  2020. 978-1-547-60379-4. $18.99. 305 p. Grades 7-12.

“To everyone who’s ever felt like they don’t have a place.” Maddie is an ordinary teenager who lives extraordinary summers at Havenfall, a Colorado inn that connects different realms: Earth (Haven), Bryn, Fiordenkill, and formerly, Solaria. The inn is run by her Uncle Marcus, and someday, Maddie hopes to take over as the innkeeper. Still traumatized by the unsolved death of her brother, which was blamed on her mother, Maddie is looking forward to her summer escape in Havenfall. However, after briefly reuniting with her uncle and beloved Fiordian soldier, Brekken, things start to go horribly wrong. Maddie awakens on her first morning to chaos: Marcus has been hurt, Brekken has disappeared, and someone has been murdered by a Solarian creature, although the door to that realm is supposed to be sealed. Suddenly, Maddie finds herself in the position she’s always wanted, but without the guidance of her uncle or best friend. On her own, Maddie must untangle the secrets and betrayals lurking around every corner and decide who she can really trust: a mysterious newcomer, or the powerful delegates of the realms she’s known for years?

THOUGHTS:  This was a refreshing, new fantasy read for me! Although it’s mainly described as a contemporary fantasy, it’s also a mystery which helps to draw the reader into the story. By the end of the novel, there are still many questions that have not been answered, which left me feeling like I needed to know more. Holland also gives her readers a glimpse into three fantastical worlds, and I’m hoping she expands upon these realms in her follow up novels to Havenfall. There is still so much of this magical story left to tell.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes

Orr, Jennifer. Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes. Capstone Editions, 2020. 978-1-68446-077-9. 239 p. $16.95. Grades 3-6.

Abigail Hensley is a twelve-year old genius who knows a lot about everything – anthropology, criminal trials, even the French language. Skipping two grades in school means she knows a lot more than other girls her age. Abigail also knows herself – she doesn’t like others intruding on her personal space and she has a definite aversion to germs. The one topic Abigail doesn’t know much about is how to make real friends. All of that is going to change, however, when she arrives at Camp Hollyhock, determined to make a real friend for the first time in her life. Like any good anthropologist, Abigail uses scientific research methods and writes detailed notes as she studies her cabinmates for their sidekick potential. Although her observations are off to a good start, she is thrown off from her meticulous plans when a crime is committed in her own cabin – and she becomes the prime suspect. Abigail has to use her research methods and observations so she can clear her name and hopefully make a friend before her time at camp is done, even if the answers she seeks may be the opposite of what she thinks.

THOUGHTS: Although author Jennifer Orr doesn’t make it clear in the book, Abigail could be on the autism spectrum, which is evident as she hates invasion of her personal space and struggles to understand social norms. However, Abigail’s journey to make a friend can ring true for any middle grade reader, genius or not. Her scientific commentary on the nuances of young female friendships are humorous yet relatable. All readers can understand that friendship may not be an exact science, but when the elements align, it can be quite wonderful.

Mystery Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD