MG – Chirp

Messner, Kate. Chirp. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-547-60281-0. 227 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Mia and her family leave Boston to move back to Vermont in order to help Mia’s Gram sell her failing cricket farm. Strange things have been happening at Gram’s cricket farm, and Mia suspects sabotage by the man interested in buying the farm. Mia joins two summer camps, Launch Camp & Warrior Camp, at her mother’s request to keep her busy during the summer. At Launch Camp, Mia meets Clover who is instantly invested in helping Mia figure out what is going on at the cricket farm and in building a business plan to help the farm. Along with Anna, the girls create a robot to harvest crickets, a social media campaign (with the #ChirpChallenge), and a plan to pitch to several local businesses to hopefully gain investors. Clover decides to join Mia at Warrior Camp where Mia’s past gymnastic experience impacts her ability to perform. Each week Mia builds her confidence and strength up in order to confront an uncomfortable situation from her past. The girls form a strong friendship and work together to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill Gram’s cricket farm.

THOUGHTS: Messner does it again! This beautifully written, coming of age story is timely and offers readers a glimpse into the struggle kids face with speaking up. The story approaches the #metoo topic with grace and is appropriate to middle grade readers. Filled with plot twists, red herrings, and other elements of mystery, this book is a quick read and sure to delight fans of Messner’s work!

Mystery          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Mia’s family moves from Boston to Vermont to be near her grandmother, and Mia is glad for the change. Since she broke her arm at gymnastics, and despite her skill and enjoyment of the sport, she is relieved to give it up. She hasn’t told anyone about Coach Phil’s uncomfortable attention. If it wasn’t all right, wouldn’t an adult have stepped in? And besides, everyone likes Phil. Mia did, too, until hugs became too tight, his texts became personal, and finally, he gave her a friendly back rub she didn’t want. Mia felt “icky” around Phil, but nothing was wrong, was it? Now in Vermont, she finds an old photograph of herself and wonders if she can ever again be the brave girl who smiled as she jumped from the rocks into Lake Champlain with friends. In the meantime, she helps with her grandma’s cricket farm, caring for the crickets, working on advertising, and more. However, as more problems occur, her grandma is worried about sabotage and keeping the business afloat. Mia knows her mom wonders about her grandma’s memory and wishes her grandma would slow down.  But as Mia learns more, she and her friends begin to look into the problems. Could an outsider be trying to put her grandma out of business? Mia has spent time lately learning to be quiet, unnoticed, and unquestioned. But finding out the truth, and sticking up for another girl, helps her to find her voice. Mia learns that it’s not about finding her way back to the brave girl she once was, but finding her way forward, and she gets to decide for herself who she will be.

THOUGHTS: Messner expertly molds the serious issue of grooming and abuse into a coming of age mystery appropriate for upper elementary and middle school readers. Mia is a likeable personality, and readers will cheer for her as she stands up for herself and others and uses her voice once more.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Mia’s family is moving back to Vermont after living in Boston for a few years. Mia, a seventh grader, is happy about this move, as she gets to spend more time with her entomologist grandmother who owns a cricket farm. Mia is recovering from a gymnastics accident, but we learn that there was more damage than a broken arm from Tumblers Gymnastics in Boston.  With her parents making her choose two camps to participate in over the summer, Mia chooses Launch, an entrepreneurship camp that helps Mia save her Gram’s farm, and Warrior Camp, a parkour camp that helps Mia come to grips with her inner athlete. In her camps she makes lasting friendships that help her solve the mystery of who is sabotaging her Gram’s cricket farm and gives her the strength to face the secret she has been hiding from her parents.

THOUGHTS: This book is a must purchase for any middle grade library. Addressing all of the controversy surrounding gymnastics recently in a very appropriate way for middle schoolers (Mia’s male coach massages her shoulders and sends “friendly” texts and is generally just a bit too friendly in a creepy way), this novel focuses on female relationships and empowerment.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

MG – Dragon Hoops; When Stars Are Scattered; Gold Rush Girl; Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor

Yang, Gene Luen. Dragon Hoops. First Second, 2020. 978-1-626-72079-4. 446 p. $19.99. Grades 7+.

Gene Luen Yang has always hated sports, but he loves stories, especially writing and drawing graphic novels. He’s in need of a new idea for his next book when he overhears students at Bishop O’Dowd (the Oakland, CA, high school where he teaches) talking about the biggest story on campus: the basketball team! Yang ventures across campus and gets to know Coach Lou, who graduated from Bishop O’Dowd in 1989 and played ball with the Dragons. He’s been to the state championship game once as a player and five times as a coach but has never brought home the trophy. There are two reasons this year might finally be the Dragons’ year: Ivan Rabb and Paris Austin. As Yang gets to know their stories, he realizes that they are every bit as thrilling as the comics he loves. But unlike a superhero story, in basketball there is no guarantee that the heroes will always win. Yang skillfully weaves high-energy, game-changing moments from the history of basketball with Coach Lou’s equally high-stakes 2015 season. This very successfully paces the drama and also helps readers better understand the action on the court during game scenes. Throughout Dragon Hoops, themes of breaking barriers, challenging one’s own limits, and literally changing the game (even at the risk of making a big mistake) are depicted with the motif of feet stepping and the word “STEP,” cueing the reader that a pivotal moment is at hand.

THOUGHTS: Gene Luen Yang was the 2016-2017 Library of Congress’ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (a position currently held by Jason Reynolds). His skill as both an artist and a storyteller is fabulously showcased in Dragon Hoops. Throughout the book, Yang debates whether or not to include Mike Phelps, retired O’Dowd teacher and Dragons coach, in the story. At the risk of a spoiler, Phelps resigned following a molestation charge that was never prosecuted. The charge is not described in detail but Yang includes it in the narrative.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Jamieson, Victoria, and Omar Mohamed. When Stars are Scattered. Dial, 2020. 978-0-525-55391-5. 257 p. + notes. $20.99. Grades 3-8.

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have been living in a Kenyan refugee camp since fleeing Somalia at the age of 4. Omar’s life consists of taking care of Hassan, with the assistance of Fatuma, an elderly woman who has been appointed the boys’ guardian. UN supplied food rations are meager and entertainment is what can be manufactured, such as playing soccer with a ball created from plastic bags. Omar has not gone to school, feeling responsible for Hassan. But a camp community leader encourages Omar to begin attending school, and a new world  opens to Omar. But it can be a painful world, of crushed dreams and disappointments. Brilliant student Maryam who dreams of going to university in Canada, is forced to quit school and get married. The system of choosing people for possible relocation to the United States seems random, and when Omar and Hassan are finally chosen for an emigration interview, nothing comes of it. But Omar continues to study and dream. When Omar is 18 the brothers are finally selected for resettlement. This stunning autobiography portrays, in beautiful color palettes, the reality of life in a refugee camp. Living conditions are horrific, but there are also close bonds of people who care for and support each other. Omar’s horrific backstory is revealed during his first resettlement interview, explaining how he and Hassan came to be in the  camp alone at such a young age. Author notes at the end of the story update the reader on the brothers’ story after reaching the United States, including the delightful surprise that Omar is currently living in Lancaster, PA.

THOUGHTS: This important story is a must purchase for most libraries. It carries the gravitas of Jarrett Krosocka’s Hey Kiddo, but appropriate for a younger audience.

Autobiography          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

As Omar so succinctly states in the word bubble on the back cover: “Refugee Camps are supposed to be a temporary place to stay until it’s safe to go back home. I guess no one expected the war to last so long, though, because Hassan and I have been here for 7 years.” With gorgeous colors and interesting characters, Jamieson and Mohamed take us through childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya. The monotony of daily essential routines for survival are mixed with increasing odds against finding their mother or going back home to Somalia. What remains is the effort to take care of one another, the opportunity to get schooling and seek a future, and the slightest chance to immigrate to another country for a new beginning. All of these seem unlikely for Omar, who faces tragic memories, current realities, and future possibilities with truth and sincerity that will bring young readers into his world and into their hearts. When the Stars Are Scattered is a remarkable light in the night sky which guides hope home.

THOUGHTS: Both Pennsylvania residents do an excellent job bringing the refugee experience to children. The sibling relationship with Hassan, who is nonverbal except for one word, is truly touching and real. The afterword and authors’ notes bring the story up to date, and help realize the many other refugee stories that need to be heard. Highly recommended.

Graphic Novel          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Avi. Gold Rush Girl. Candlewick, 2020. 978-1-536-20679-1. 306 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Victoria Blaisdell finds life as a thirteen-year-old young lady in Providence, Rhode Island quite boring. She desires action, independence, and adventure. This is not how young ladies act in 1848. Her sole escape is sneaking off to the library and checking out stacks of books to read in private. She adores her younger brother, Jacob, but realizes her parents are under the control of her domineering aunt. All this changes when her father loses his job in an economic panic. While her parents dither, Tory obtains a job. Then the news comes of a gold strike in California. Tory’s father sees this as the answer to his woes and determines he and Jacob will sail for California. Tory is just as determined to go along, eventually stowing away on the ship. Life in San Francisco is not at all what the Blaisdells expected to find. Eventually Tory and Jacob are left behind in their tent home in the muddy, crude city, while their father heads to the gold fields. Resourceful Tory finds construction work and other odd jobs to support herself and Jacob, but Jacob becomes bored and dissatisfied. Is Tory too enthralled with her freedom and new friends to notice Jacob’s unhappiness? When Jacob goes missing, she knows she must find him before her father returns and their mother arrives. Tory, a memorable female character, strong, intelligent, and independent, guides the reader through gold rush in San Francisco. The sprawling, brawling town is no place for a lady, but Tory makes it her own. Avi brings the era to life, from the muddy, miserable tent cities to the brutish practice of crimping – kidnapping men to work on ships whose crews have deserted to search for gold. While some readers may find the exposition in the first half of the book a bit slow, once Tory is on the hunt for Jacob the suspense keeps you reading until the very end.

THOUGHTS:  Another meticulous book from a master. Tory is a memorable young lady, and the images of gold rush San Francisco will remain long after the book is complete.

Historical Fiction           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD
(1849 California Gold Rush)


Carter, Ally. Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-39370-2. 322 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Carter brings the delightfully snappy writing, humor, and plot of her Gallagher Girls series to the middle grade set. April is used to moving from home to home, as she is temporarily without a parent (DON’T call her an orphan. Her mom is coming back for her. Someday. Soon.). She has experienced foster care, good and bad, as well as group homes. While on a field trip to the opening of the Winterborne Gallery, April is shocked to see the Winterborne family crest is identical to that on the one item she has from her mother, a key she wears on a chain around her neck. Everyone knows the tragic story of the wealthy Winterbornes. The perfect family was killed when their boat exploded, all except young Gabriel Winterborne. He, however, disappeared from sight on his 21st birthday, leaving the family fortune in limbo. Now the ancestral manor houses a select group of orphans, and after a small incident involving setting the museum on fire, April is invited to move to the home, joining Sadie, Violet, Tim, and Colin. April isn’t there long before she realizes someone is sneaking around the house at night. Utilizing spy skills that will surely earn her a scholarship to the Gallagher Academy, April, with the very able assistance of her new friends, begins to unravel the long buried secrets of the Winterborne family. And, along the way she discovers there are different kinds of family and home.

THOUGHTS: Young mystery fans will love this first book in a new series. Plucky characters, boo-worthy, villains and a fast moving plot will be sure to captivate readers.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Kent State; Parachutes; The Lucky Ones; The Dark Matter of Mona Starr; A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

Wiles, Deborah. Kent State. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-35628-1. 144 p. $17.99. Grades 7 and up.

May 4, 1970. Sandy Scheuer, Bill Schroeder, Jeff Miller, Allison Krause. “Four dead in Ohio.” (“Ohio” by Neil Young, Performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young). At a time when much of the nation was protesting the war in Vietnam and invasion of Cambodia, students at Kent State had had enough. Beginning with campus protests on Friday, May 1, 1970, and the burning of the ROTC building to the burning of buildings in the town of Kent on Saturday, May 2, 1970, the protests in Kent culminated with the killing of four students and wounding of nine others on Monday, May 4, 1970, by the Ohio National Guard. Where were the protectors? For a war being fought around the globe, the Kent State shootings “brought the war home to American soil” (145). Author Deborah Wiles relives this fateful time in American history in Kent State.  Shared through conversation by those who experienced this horrific event, Wiles explores the event from the perspective of student protestors, student bystanders, black students, townies, and National Guard members as they converse and share their memories of this fateful event. Each voice is unnamed and poignant as their memories and understanding of those fateful days is shared. Using different print types, readers are immersed into the conversation as a listener, another bystander, hearing history come alive by those who lived it. Wiles explains in “A Note about May 4 and This Story,” how she used primary source documents and oral histories from the archives at both Kent State University and Kent, Ohio, to create a conversation of memories, hardships, fear, and regret. “What might have happened? We have no answers for that. We have only this moment, now. We can make decisions to be informed as citizens, not accepting what we hear or see or read until we’ve dug deeper on our own, for context, for truth. We can listen. We can share. We can make commitments to the tenets of democracy that say we have freedom of speech, press, assembly, and petition in our public places” (146).

THOUGHTS: This is a must-have for all middle school and high school collections. Deborah Wiles brilliantly brings to life the tragedy of Kent State that not only engages readers in a turbulent time of American history but also forces readers to question what they know about history in order to better understand its application today. Wiles does not sugar-coat the violence of the period, nor does she ignore the various voices and experiences of those living in Kent as they experienced the protests. Much like her use of primary sources in The 60s Trilogy, Wiles’ use of primary sources to create a conversation of past experience leads to an understanding of the event while leaving the reader wanting more. This is a fabulous historical fiction novel to pair with informational texts about Vietnam and Kent State.

Historical Fiction        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

After conducting extensive research, Wiles recreates the chaos of Kent State University‘s campus on May 4, 1970, with distinct narratives (protestor, Guardsman, townie, student) to share many perspectives. An anti-war demonstration turned violent and resulted in the killing of four students and wounding of nine others. The fear and confusion, anger and sadness of those involved is portrayed through short snippets of free verse which encourages readers to approach history by considering many viewpoints. Each narrator is unnamed, and readers feel connected to their stories. Narratives are displayed in various fonts to differentiate.

THOUGHTS: This historical fiction belongs in high school libraries and would pair well with an American history reading collection of major events, especially those that may not receive as much attention.

Historical Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Yang, Kelly. Parachutes. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-94108-4. 496 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up.

Yang begins this “story of [her] heart” with a letter to readers and a trigger warning about the book’s content (sexual harassment and rape).

Due to her posh lifestyle in Shanghai, Claire Wang may seem oblivious to many of the typical woes of being a teenager. Claire holds a lot of pressure on her seventeen year old shoulders. Her father has a not so secret mistress – she actually reached out to Claire on WeChat – and her mother, hides her dissatisfaction by spending money on fancy clothes and trips to upscale restaurants. Family pressure and preparation for the gaokao (Chinese college entrance exam) drive Claire’s life; she doesn’t understand how teens in American movies seem to have so much free time, as her days are dictated by endless hours of homework and tutoring. Despite all of these outward pressures, Claire manages to spend time with her boyfriend and a group of friends. After an unfortunate assignment result and despite Claire’s wishes, her parents decide she should be foreign educated, attending American Preparatory school in LA, where she will live with a host family. Afterwards, Claire will “stand out” upon her return to China, and as an added bonus, she’ll avoid the gaokaos, having a better shot at getting into one of the UCs. Dani lives in East Covina, CA and is a student at American Preparatory, where she participates in band and shines on the Debate Team. Like her grandmother and great grandmother before her, Dani and her mom both work as maids, and Dani does not shy away from the hard work. This helps them afford living expenses and send $500 a month to family in the Philippines. It isn’t easy being a maid to the elite students of American Preparatory, but Dani needs the money to be able to travel to the Snider Tournament for debate and to afford Yale, the college of her dreams. To help the family with increasing expenses, Dani’s mom decides to rent out their spare room to a nice girl from China who will attend school with Dani: Claire. Told in alternating narratives, Dani and Claire don’t interact much; they are from entirely different worlds. Despite drastically different circumstances, Dani and Claire must learn to live together and even learn how to understand each other.

THOUGHTS: Parachutes is a beautiful YA novel that intertwines two painful narratives. This is a must have for all high school library collections. Be sure to read the author’s note too!

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Lawson, Liz. The Lucky Ones. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-593-11849-8. 352 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

“The Lucky Ones is a book about what happens after the news cameras leave and the reporters stop calling.” May McGintee is a “lucky one,” though she feels like anything but lucky. Wracked by PTSD, May is also angry. She’s the only survivor to walk out of the band room on the day when her twin brother and closest friends are killed during a school shooting. Feeling guilt, an immense amount of loss, as well as constantly fearing for her safety, no one could possibly understand how May feels – even after eleven months and therapy sessions. She finds ways to process her anger, but others see them as destructive. Zach’s life hasn’t been the same for the last eleven months either but for a very different reason. Zach is angry too. As a result of his mom’s decision, he lost everything, and his home, the only place he can be himself, is being vandalized. It doesn’t help that his mom is never home, and his dad is an absent parent, barely able to get himself out of bed or even get dressed. Zach and May each have one friend that sticks with them through everything. With their support, Zach and May just might be able to find a way to move forward.

THOUGHTS: This book tackles a heavy topic, well-covered in the young adult genre, but the fresh approach of looking at the aftermath when news cameras have moved onto the next big story gives this debut a worthy spot in high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Gulledge, Laura Lee. The Dark Matter of Mona Starr. Amulet Books. 2020. 978-1-419-73423-6. 192 p. $22.99. Grades 8+.

High schooler Mona Starr suffers from depression, which feels like an encompassing fog of “Dark Matter” that invades every crevice of her thoughts. It makes Mona feel overwhelmed, alone, and insignificant. Her best friend Nash has recently moved to Hawaii, but at his and her parents’ urging she begins seeing Dr. Vega, a therapist who helps Mona study her Matter and forge a path toward health. After emergency surgery to correct a rare condition, Mona also learns to embrace the support of her “Artners:” her partners in Art, though not without some additional growing pains. “Maybe art can help transform embarrassment and suffering into insight,” Mona realizes, “one heartbreak at a time.” Some readers will find Mona’s progress frustratingly halting, but depression is a very frustrating disorder and that is realistically portrayed here. Laura Lee Gulledge’s pencil-shaded illustrations, with golden spot color, are so stunningly evocative that readers will catch themselves just staring at the pages. Her portrayal of Mona’s internal world is brilliant, especially the panel that captures how it feels to be an introvert.

THOUGHTS: The Dark Matter of Mona Starr is an intimate, moving depiction of Mona’s journey toward emotional and physical wellness, embracing her unique self, and accepting the loving support of people who care most about her. Gulledge even includes a Self-Care Plan template at the close of the book so her readers can implement some of the practices that guide Mona in her journey.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


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

YA – The Midnight Lie; Yes No Maybe So; Tweet Cute; The Inheritance Games

Rutkowski, Marie. The Midnight Lie. Farrar, Strous and Giroux, 2020. 978-0-374-30638-0. 358 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Nirrim lives in the Ward, and life there is not fun or easy. You must follow the rules or you will be forced to face the ramifications of your actions. For Nirrim who is half-caste, her life is even harder as everything she does is policed and she is forced to live very simply. Early in her life, Nirrim was taken in by Raven who she looks up to as a mother figure, even though it’s clear to the reader that Raven isn’t a good person. Enter Sid, who causes Nirrim to think about things a different way. However, Nirrim has a secret, one that she keeps very closely guarded for if it were to get out, it would be disastrous.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing fantasy story with lush, lyrical language and a fantastic set of characters. There is a female/female romance which is wonderful to read and doesn’t take away from the rest of the story. This book is set in the world of Marie Rutkowski’s Winner’s trilogy, but you don’t need to read that series to find your way through this book. Overall, I’d highly recommend this book.

Fantasy          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy Charter


Albertalli, Becky, and Aisha Saeed. Yes No Maybe So. Balzer + Bray, 2020. 978-0-062-93704-9. 436 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehman were friends as 6-year olds but haven’t seen each other in a decade. Suddenly they find themselves tossed into canvassing for a local state senate candidate in suburban Atlanta. Neither teen is a natural fit for canvassing. Jamie, whose mom works for another state senator, is tongue-tied and awkward (see: topping a Target display of tangelos in the book’s opening pages). Maya, who is fasting for Ramadan and whose parents are going through a painful trial separation, is motivated by the promise of a car. A bumpy start to their civic engagement (complete with plenty of foot-in-mouth moments and some outright racism directed at Maya) transitions into a true partnership between friends with shared values … and huge crushes on each other. Plenty of absorbing subplots keep the pace hopping: Jamie’s grandmother and her viral “InstaGramm” account, Maya’s falling out with her college-bound BFF, and the specter of public speaking at the upcoming bat mitzvah for Jamie’s little sister. A proposed bill that would ban religious garments (like the hijab that Maya’s mother wears) raises their personal stakes in the election.

THOUGHTS: Yes No Maybe So is both woke and thoroughly adorable, and Jamie’s and Maya’s voices are equally strong and compelling. Readers will sigh swooningly at Jamie’s and Maya’s ultra-tentative romance, giggle at the supporting characters’ antics, perhaps be inspired to find their political voices, as the co-authors did following the 2016 election.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Lord, Emma. Tweet Cute. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-61867-2. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.

Debut author Emma Lord puts a fresh, Gen-Z spin on You’ve Got Mail in this ultra-cute contemporary romance! Four years ago, Pepper’s mom divorced her dad and moved them to New York City to focus on growing the family’s fast food chain, Big League Burger. A classic overachiever, Pepper has done her best to fit in at her fancy private school, but she still feels like a small-town fish out of water. Her mom coaxes Pepper to oversee the company’s social media presence, which Pepper reluctantly adds to her full itinerary of swim team, baking blog with sister Paige, mostly straight A’s, and not getting lost on the subway. Jack is a NYC native, less popular twin, and heir apparent to his family’s deli, Girl Cheesing. He’s also an ace app developer who has the whole school hooked on his anonymous chat platform, Weazel. As Wolf, he enjoys refreshingly candid exchanges with Bluebird (guess who?), but would she like him IRL? Speaking of IRL, Big League Burger has a new menu item that’s suspiciously identical to Girl Cheesing’s own Grandma’s Special, and a Twitter war between them goes viral. It sounds complicated, but Lord keeps all the plates spinning with aplomb.

THOUGHTS: A strong cast of supporting characters and well-timed plot turns prevent predictability in a read that’s both savory and sweet! Emma Lord, formerly a lifestyle editor at Bustle, clearly knows NYC’s foodie-verse inside and out. With so many mouthwatering sandwiches and sweet confections, Tweet Cute is just begging to be incorporated into a potluck book club meeting!

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Inheritance Games. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-1-368-05240-5. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Holy cannoli!  Jennifer Lynn Barnes is amazing! Avery Kylie Grambs lost her mother at the age of 15. Two years later she is whisked off to Texas to Tobias Hawthorne’s estate where she learns that this stranger has left her a multi-billion dollar inheritance. Leaving minimal inheritance to his children and grandchildren, Avery must live at Hawthorne House with the family for a year in order to inherit the estate. Soon Avery realizes that her inheritance is a game she must play with the Hawthorne grandsons: Nash, Grayson, Jameson, and Alexander. As clues are discovered by Avery, Grayson, and Jameson, mysteries of the past are also uncovered. Avery is determined to figure out why she was chosen by Tobias Hawthorne to inherit his estate instead of his family. Soon, Avery realizes that everything is a game and in order to stay alive, she must play and win. When the answer is revealed, Avery learns there is much more to the Hawthorne family and its past than meets the eye.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing mystery. Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a genius mystery writer. The story keeps readers mesmerized by the characters and then PUNCH right to the gut with a change this reader didn’t see coming. Words cannot express the awesomeness of The Inheritance Games and Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s ability to weave a story together flawlessly. The ending makes me need book two NOW!

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Jackpot; Last True Poets of the Sea; Wicked Fox; Red at the Bone; Hungry Hearts; Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens; One of Us Is Next; What We Buried; Opioid Crisis; #MeToo Movement; The Plastic Problem; Full Disclosure; All We Could Have Been; The Hand on the Wall

Stone, Nic. Jackpot: All Bets Are Off. Crown, 2019. 978-1-984-82962-7. $17.99 343 p. Grades 8+.

Rico Danger (yes that’s her name, pronounced) is a high school senior working at a convenience store to support her struggling family. She learns that a 100 million-dollar lottery ticket has been sold there on Christmas Eve while she was working and when no one steps up to claim it, she recalls a sweet older lady who visited that night. Believing that woman may be the holder of the winning ticket, Rico sets out on a quest to find her and hopefully get a tiny share of the payout. Rico finds an unlikely helper in her popular and super wealthy classmate, Zan. As they work together to try to find the lotto ticket holder, they realize they have a lot in common despite their family circumstances. Though the book does take on the serious topics of poverty, sacrifice, and family issues, it is overall a lighthearted read with a slowly building romance between opposites.

THOUGHTS: Nic Stone is another solid, up and coming African American author to follow. With popular titles in the last two years – Odd Man Out and the exceptional Dear Martin, Stone’s latest book should be popular with high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Drake, Julia. Last True Poets of the Sea. Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-04808-8. $17.99. 391 p. Grades 9 and up.

After her brother attempts suicide, Violet’s family is torn apart. Her parents retreat in their grief at home in New York City; her brother is in a treatment center; and Violet, a sixteen-year-old wild child, is sent off to live with her uncle in her mother’s hometown on the coast of Maine. While there she is determined to isolate herself, but she is sent to volunteer at the aquarium where she meets Orion, a local teen with a unique circle of friends. The story follows Violet as she faces her own trauma over her strained relationship with her brother and his mental illness. Woven in is her new quest to investigate her family’s strange history, including the mystery of the famous shipwreck that her great great grandmother survived. Another element is a love triangle that develops between Violet, Orion, and Liv. With parallels to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, this is a sweet and thoughtful novel with lovely prose, an enchanting setting, and vivid characters.

THOUGHTS: A lovely coming of age tale that addresses mental illness, family dynamics, sexual orientation, and first romance. Recommended for fans of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Cho, Kat. Wicked Fox. Putnam, 2019. 978-1-984-81234-6. 420 p. $18.99. Grades 8 and up. 

The gumiho, seductive foxes masquerading as women who eat the livers of men to survive are just myths, right? Jihoon has grown up hearing the stories of the gumiho from his grandmother, his halmeoni, but he knows that they are just scary stories, ones meant to keep children from the woods at night. That is until an otherworldly encounter in the forest brings all those stories to life. Miyoung, a gumiho, manages to save innocent bystander Jihoon when a dokkaebi, a goblin, attacks although she loses her fox bead in the process. Without the bead Miyoung is unable to hold the energy, the gi, she sucks from humans to survive, making it necessary to feed more often and making her more dangerous. But when their worlds collide in another life or death situation, Miyoung is faced with a choice she never thought possible: save herself or the life of a human.

THOUGHTS: Set in modern-day Seoul, this mythical love story paints a vivid picture of a world unseen, where monsters live alongside men and the stories that you grew up to discredit just may be the thing that saves your life.

Fantasy (Mythology)           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Woodson, Jacqueline. Red at the Bone. Riverhead Books, 2019. 978-0-525-53527-0. 208 p. $26.00. Grades 10+.

Woodson knows how to tug at your heartstrings. Whether you’re a mother or not, this book so sharply addresses the complicated relationship of mothers, daughters, and extended relatives. The novel is told in a back and forth, switching from the perspective of a mother at age sixteen and her sixteen year old daughter as she gets ready to participate in her debut to society. Each character was authentic in their own way, making the story relatable to most readers. Woodson touches on themes of race, legacy, social class, parenting, coming of age, and family dynamics. The narratives toggle back and forth between 2001 and 1985, when Iris and her daughter were both sixteen, respectively. The family history allows Woodson to mention historical events such as the race riots in the early part of the 20th century as well as the attacks on September 11, 2001.

THOUGHTS: There are some heavy topics covered in this title that some young and immature readers might not be able to digest on their own including teenage pregnancy, dysfunctional mother/daughter relationships, drug abuse, 9/11, and sexuality. This book should be on the shelves of all high school libraries for mature readers.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Chapman, Elsie. Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-42185-1. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

A true collaboration between best-selling authors that are interconnected by not only location, but by a few characters as well. The thirteen stories include various different genres and tackle topics that are easier to handle with a sweet confection or a magic soup dumpling. Not only is the collection diverse in genre types, but also with characters including nontraditional families, gang violence, bi-racial families, people of color, and a lot of the author’s #ownvoices. My favorite story in the collection is the final tale: “Panadería ~ Pastelería.” The protagonist shows up in many other stories with a unique and handcrafted pastry at moments when characters didn’t know they needed it more than anything in the world. This concluding story includes topics of generational differences and coming of age all while focusing on the moral of the story: do what’s right, and you get to choose what is right.

THOUGHTS: This anthology would be a good addition to high school libraries that supply content for contemporary fiction. This title can be recommended to reluctant readers to provide a feeling of accomplishment in finishing one or two tales, but can also serve as exposure to a variety of genres for readers who are looking to branch out.

Short Stories          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Boteju, Tanya. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-43065-5. 384 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Small town? Check. Bored teen? Check. Bi-racial queer protagonist? CHECK! Drag kings and queens and #ownvoices? Check! CHECK! CHECK! After spending time with her nerdy best friend at the town carnival, Nima stumbles into a drag show that leaves her with more questions than answers about herself and her world. Luckily, Deidre, a drag queen with flair, takes on Nima as a side project and not only serves as her mentor but another adult to trust when she isn’t even sure where her mom is. As Nima muddles through discovering secrets about her mom, working through a crush, and getting on stage to finally participate in a show, there are quite a few subplots with different characters including her hippie dad, a gay family friend, and even a childhood friend who isn’t sure of his place in the world. Written by a queer author who has knowledge about the drag community makes the story authentic and provides a true depiction for a reader who hasn’t had exposure to drag.

THOUGHTS: A great addition to any library that needs more diversity, a better LGBTQ+ representation, or an example of a novel written with attention to precise detail or pronoun usage and hope. The storyline is a bit jumbled, but tells a hopeful story with a cast of diverse characters.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


McManus, Karen. One of Us is Next. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-525-70796-7. 384 p. $19.99. Grade. 8-12.

The sequel to One of Us is Lying has the same thrill, but it’s missing some of the avant-garde pieces of the first book. Many of the main characters in the second book were featured in some manner during the debut. Mauve, Phoebe, and Knox take center stage in the newest mystery at Bayview High. Per McManus’ classic whodunit writing format, the mystery of who is behind the deadly game of truth or dare keeps readers on the edge of their seat. A game of truth or dare via text message has all of Bayview High constantly checking their phones for updates. Truths are escaping that confuse even the sluethy-est among the characters, and the dares are getting lethal. The pacing is perfect, and the ending will be sure to shock even the most astute readers.

THOUGHTS: A book that should sit right beside its counterpart on every high school shelf but can just as easily stand alone. This is another great answer for a psychological thriller on a school library shelf to fit the craving many teens have from some of the trending adult novels of the same genre.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

A year after the Bayview Four are exonerated in the death of Simon Kelleher, several copycats have appeared, but not until a viral game of Truth or Dare begins has anyone taken the copycats seriously. Now, students are choosing to complete a Dare or have a Truth about them revealed. But, not everyone wants to play. Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox are all targets of the game who refuse to participate, opening themselves up to a horrible Truth being revealed. As they dig into the chatroom used by Simon during his revenge plot, they meet Darkestmind and begin investigating who is behind the viral Truth or Dare. When tragedy strikes and a student ends up dead, their inquiry into Darkestmind becomes a full investigation into him (or her), their dead peer, and the past, individually and in relation to others. As more tragedy strikes Bayview, will Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox be able to uncover Darkestmind before it’s too late, or is revenge the new norm in Bayview?

THOUGHTS: Personally, I think One of Us is Lying is a fine stand-alone that didn’t need a sequel. That being said, One of Us is Next is in high demand. It lacks some mystery because it is more predictable than the first, and I found it difficult to keep all of the minor characters straight and their connections to the others. It felt like more of a realistic fiction read for the majority of the text over a mystery read. I did not like the connection in the end to the characters and story; it was both predictable and disjointed. This text felt forced in comparison to McManus’s previous two novels. It is still highly recommended, though, for YA collections.

Mystery        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Boorman, Kate. What We Buried. Henry Holt and Co., 2019. 978-1-250-19167-0. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.  

What We Buried is a twisty mystery that constantly had me second guessing myself and my ability to keep characters, timelines, and realistic events in order. Liv, a former child pageant star and reality TV star, doesn’t have a great track record with her brother, Jory. As a court case for emancipation nears a gritty end between Liv and her parents, Jory is sitting back and watching how the media and Liv’s followers react to the news. Before the hearing, their parents disappear, and Liv and Jory are left to find out what happened to them in the desert of Nevada. There is never a clear sense of time or perception as the narration toggles back and forth between Liv and Jory. The time the siblings are forced to spend together makes them travel back to places from their childhood to reconsider their life choices so far.

THOUGHTS: A must have for any high school library looking to add to their thriller collection with a young adult perspective. The characters are hard to like, but the tension and sense of confusion encourage curious readers to not put the book down. The unreliable narrator can be a challenging concept for some readers.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Hyde, Natalie. Opioid Crisis. Crabtree, 2019. 978-0-778-74973-8. 48 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

This six chapter book focuses on what a responsible citizen can do to understand, inform, and take action on the epidemic that has “affected every community, class, ethnic group, industry, and age group.” The first chapter defines the crisis and some of the key terms. In addition, there is a glossary in the back of the book. Although the second chapter uses the perspective of the opioid crisis to frame how to find quality and reliable information, most of the information could be applied to any general research project. Chapter three dives into the recreational and street use of opioids and how the crisis developed. Chapter four focuses on the effects the opioid epidemic has had on families, work society, and individuals. The last two chapters offer statistics on where the crisis stands and a look toward the future, including initiatives from the government. Each page includes color photographs, and there are many graphical representations and pop out text boxes.

THOUGHTS: Neatly packaged, this title should be in all middle and high school libraries to provide concise and accurate information on a very emotional and pervasive topic. Two chapters include valuable research and reliable information checks that can be helpful across topics.

362.29 Drugs          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Hudak, Heather. #MeToo Movement. Crabtree, 2019. 978-0-778-74971-4. 48 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

Organized in six chapters focusing on the definition and international issues of sexual harassment and abuse, #MeToo Movement covers the major points of the movement including a glossary and further reading suggestions. Each chapter ranges from four to twelve pages and many pages have multiple photographs, graphs, and other pop outs that make this current issue accessible to readers as middle grades. The history, including dates and information about the founder of the movement, Tarana Burke, provide context to readers who may be lucky enough to not have experienced sexual harassment or assault within their social circles. The last two chapters focus on the reader and provide ways to stay informed and ways to influence the future of the #MeToo movement.

THOUGHTS: This succinct nonfiction title should be on shelves in middle and high school libraries to provide resources on a topic that is current and pervasive across ages, races, and social economic classes. The inclusion of ways to encourage the reader to become active within the movement is particularly insightful as many students are not looking for resources just for an assignment, but to help shape their perspective and discover ways to make change.

Nonfiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Salt, Rachel. The Plastic Problem. Firefly Books, 2019. 978-0-228-10231-1. 80 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

Full of disturbing pictures and data on the plastic problem that is plaguing the globe. Each page has full color photos with enough text to get the information across to the reader, but not too much to make the work feel like a textbook or peer-reviewed journal article. Although it’s not arranged in chapters, there is a table of contents that provides the reader the opportunity to focus on a specific topic. There is also a glossary and index in the back of the book. The flow of The Plastic Problem begins with definitions and some foundational knowledge about plastic and the plastic industry, including how humans use plastic and where it ends up. It continues into problems at the micro and macro level of producing, using, and discarding too much plastic and ends with suggestions for solutions that can be accomplished on local, small levels.

THOUGHTS: This book doesn’t do a deep dive on any of the problems or solutions for the plastic problem, but provides enough information for a curious reader to get started. The title would be good for middle grade and possibly high school shelves, but should be accompanied by more in depth books to provide a more comprehensive study of a specific plastic problem.

363.72 Environment          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Garrett, Camryn. Full Disclosure. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-82996-2. 320 p. $21.99. Grades 10-12.

Not many contemporary novels take a full dive into the world of HIV-positive main characters, especially based in current day. Starting at new high school is daunting, but when you’re a teen who isn’t sure about her sexuality and is HIV-positive, the task is that much more daunting. Simone finds herself at home with the drama kids and two other friends and even becomes comfortable enough to start a relationship with someone, but now she has to decide whether or not to disclose her medical history with Miles. Her dads don’t make the potential for Simone to discuss it with her doctor any easier.

THOUGHTS: This book covers a lot of representation including LGBTQ+, HIV-positive, and African American (#ownvoice). It even hits on topics that most teens have to deal with like bullying and sexuality while layering on perspective and information about HIV that most teens might not remember from health class. This is a well-written debut novel that deserves space in a collection lacking diversity.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Carter,T. E. All We Could Have Been. Feiwel & Friends, 2019. 978-1-250-17296-9. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Lexie’s brother committed murder when he was 15 years old. Her brother has been locked away since the day of the murders. Despite having nothing to do with her brother’s actions, Lexie has been treated like a criminal ever since. She has standing appointments with her therapist and finds control in her life by wearing the same color each day of the week. At the fifth school since she was 12, Lexie finds comfort in a neighbor and a peer in the drama club. She decides to try and control a bit more of her life and her friendships, but the results have rippling effects and leave her questioning every aspect of her life so far.

THOUGHTS: Carter represents mental illness and even a bit of asexuality, but in a dark and twisty way that isn’t relatable to most readers. The lesson that is brought to life through the characters about not making assumptions about who someone is or believes is something that teens of all backgrounds can benefit from. Like much of her other work, this book is highly emotional and targets mature readers who have an understanding of grief, PTSD, and the uneasy terrain of high school gossip and drama (outside the actual drama club).

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Johnson, Maureen. The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious Book 3). Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-33811-2. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Following the death of Stevie’s mentor, Dr. Fenton, Stevie uses information from Dr. Fenton, along with the clues she has figured out, to solve the mystery of the Truly Devious letter from 1936 and the kidnapping of Iris and Alice Ellingham. But, unsure of the current climate at Ellingham and who she can and cannot trust, Stevie decides to maintain secrecy about what she has learned and continue her investigation before revealing her findings. As a blizzard approaches, Ellingham is shut down and students are sent home, but for the students of Minerva, who follow the bright-idea of David and hide in order to remain behind. As David convinces them to investigate his father, Senator King, Stevie continues her own Ellingham investigation and soon learns of secrets hidden in the walls that confirm her initial discoveries and unveil the truth behind Truly Devious and the Ellingham murders of 1936.

THOUGHTS: Johnson masterfully concludes this trilogy with an ending that keeps readers on edge. Her intersection of present mystery with the 1930s Ellingham mystery keeps the reader rooted in each mystery and the connection between the two. This is a must-read trilogy for mystery lovers.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Opposite of Always; Rebel; The Girl in the White Van; I Am a Feminist; The Revolution of Birdie Randolph; Slay; Frankly in Love; Hack Your Cupboard; All Eyes on Us; The Grief Keeper

Reynolds, Justin A. Opposite of Always. Katherine Tegen, 2019. 978-0-062-74837-9. $17.99. 457 p. Grades 9 and up. 

Jack King has spent most of his life on the sidelines – figuratively and literally. He attends his high school’s sporting events but only to cheer on his best friend Franny from the stands. Jack also is on the figurative sideline in his friend group. Though he had a major crush on Jillian during freshman year, she started dating Franny before he could tell her how he felt. He has spent much of high school content with being their 3rd wheel, supporting them through their family struggles. During senior year on a visit to a nearby college the trio of friends is hoping to attend, Jack meets Kate on a dingy stairwell, and he feels as though he finally has a chance at getting off the sidelines. Jack feels that he is falling in love with Kate, and she seems to return his feelings, but she keeps secrets and fails to commit completely to a relationship. When Kate suddenly falls ill and dies, Jack inexplicably time travels back to the moment they met on the stairwell and relives it all again… and again… Armed with knowledge of Kate’s future and the future in general, can Jack change the course of events and save Kate’s life? Can he fix his friends’ problems, too? Opposite of Always tells a mostly realistic but also slightly fantastical story that explores the concepts of time, priorities, relationships of all kinds, and what really matters. 

THOUGHTS: Contemporary YA romance meets Groundhog’s Day probably best describes Opposite of Always. As a result, the plot – by nature – is a bit repetitive. However, Jack’s self-deprecating humor makes him an easy character to root for, so with each iteration of the plot, the more he tries, the more readers will want to see him succeed. Though the narration is often heavy in dialogue, that’s okay because the snappy banter between Jack/Kate or Jack/Jillian is delightfully laugh-out-loud funny. Any YA book with a relatable male narrator gets my recommendation, but add the fact that Jack and his friends are black, and that makes this an excellent addition to any collection, especially one where students demand books with diverse characters. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Lu, Marie. Rebel. Roaring Book Press, 2019. 978-1-250-22170-4. $18.99. 376 p. Grades 7 and up.

One decade ago Eden’s older brother Daniel – better know by the nickname Day – took the Republic of America by storm, rising above poverty to become the nation’s most notorious criminal and later the rebellion’s hero. Now settled into Ross City, Antarctica, Eden is a top university student, and Daniel works for AIS, the Antarctican Intelligence System. The leveling system of Antarctica ensures the boys are living comfortably on the Sky Floors – but what neither boy realizes is how unhappy they both are. Alternating narratives show Daniel as an overprotective, older brother and Eden as an independent, frustrated younger brother. While the boys live together, they’re beginning to drift apart, and both feel frustrated by their relationship. Tired of living in his brother’s shadow, Eden is ready to make a name for himself, even it if takes him into the dark and dangerous Undercity. With friend Pressa by his side, Eden is ready to test his skills in a big way – an illegal way – entering Undercity drone race. When Eden’s invention catches the eye of Daniel’s and AIS’s target, life becomes more dangerous. This of course is right around the same time June and the President of the Republic of America are scheduled to arrive in Ross City. What follows is a fast-paced story about brothers and what it means to look out for each other while becoming who you were born to be.

THOUGHTS: Fans of Marie Lu’s writing will rejoice with this new installment to the Legend series. Though Lu takes a new approach with narrators in this fourth book, there is still enough of June’s character to satisfy earlier readers. References to previous events (and Daniel’s struggle to remember them) make this most suited for readers of the series; however, new readers can follow along as a new cast of characters surround the main conflict. Highly recommended for secondary libraries, especially where dystopian or sci-fi books are popular.

Dystopian Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Henry, April. The Girl in the White Van. Henry Holt & Company, 2020. 978-1-250-15759-1. $17.99. 224 p. Grades 7-12.

About 7 months ago Savannah and her mom relocated to Portland to live with her mother’s newest boyfriend. Tim isn’t exactly what his online dating profile promised. Though Savannah is trying to make the best of life in Portland, she hasn’t really found her place except in the Kung Fu dojo. There she finds solace, and she’s working on building her strength and her confidence. With her mom working nights Savannah is forced to spend some time with Tim. Luckily, Kung Fu gets her out of the house for a bit most nights. When Tim threatens to take away Kung Fu, Savannah runs out of the house and loses herself in that night’s class. Daniel, a fellow student, notices that Savannah seems distracted. Afraid to get too close to anyone only to move away again (they’ve lived in many different towns and states throughout Savannah’s life), Savannah doesn’t let herself get too tied to Portland. Distracted on her walk home and trying to figure out how to apologize to Tim, Savannah doesn’t notice she’s not alone. All of her Kung Fu lessons can’t save her from Sir, who overpowers Savannah and kidnaps her. Savannah isn’t alone in the RV, though. She’ll need to rely on her determination and convince Jenny that life is still worth living if they have any hope of getting free.

THOUGHTS: With fast-paced, compelling stories and characters readers will root for, it is no wonder why April Henry’s books are popular in my high school library. The Girl in the White Van is no different and is a must have for secondary libraries where mysteries or other books by Henry are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Orca Issues. Orca Book Publishers, 2019. $21.41 ea. $64.23 set of 4. 175 p. Grades 9 and up.

Polak, Monique. I Am a Feminist: Claiming the F-Word in Turbulent Times. 978-1-459-81892-7.
Siebert, Melanie. Heads Up – Changing Minds on Mental Health. 978-1-459-81911-5. (2020)

Stevenson, Robin. My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights. 978-1-459-81712-8.
Tate, Nikki. Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die: The Complexities of Assisted Dying. 978-1-459-81889-7.

Polak’s narrative explores multiple aspects of feminism starting with a chapter on its history from the suffragists of the early 20th century up to the current movement including the Women’s Marches in 2017. The book covers feminism around the world, highlighting many issues girls and women on this continent do not typically have to deal with like lack of access to education and genital mutilation. It looks at feminism in the workplace, feminism as it relates to love and relationships, rape culture, body image, issues of diversity and sexuality, and more. Finally, Polak discusses the toxic masculinity that exists in our culture and offers suggestions for readers to support men in becoming feminists, too. The book contains colorful photos and illustrations on nearly every page. Sidebars highlight specific news stories, individuals making a difference, or unique products that support the movement like, for example, a nail polish that changes color when it comes in contact with a date rape drug. The book also contains a very thorough glossary and list of resources at the back. Though Polak is from Canada and many of her references and examples come from that country, she also cites people, studies, and stories from the United States, so readers from the US do not feel like the book is irrelevant.

THOUGHTS: This book is an excellent resource for students doing a research project on feminism or simply seeking personal awareness on the topic. A relatively quick read, it could be read cover-to-cover, but could also be easily searched for a single specific topic using the index. While the lexile suggests the writing is at a high 9th grade reading level, Polak’s style is simple and conversational enough that it is accessible for a wide range of readers. Polak points out on several occasions that equal treatment for all is the aim of feminism, whether a woman wants to subscribe to traditional gender roles or not. As her title suggests, her purpose is to have all readers proclaim that they are feminists and shed the word’s negative connotation it has gained in recent years.

305.42 Feminism          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Colbert, Brandy. The Revolution of Birdie Randolph. Little Brown, 2019. 978-0-316-44856-7. 336 p. $17.99 Grades 8 +. 

A sweet and empathetic coming of age story about a sixteen-year-old growing up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago. Dove Randoph, affectionately called Birdy by her family, has led a sheltered life kept away from trouble and temptation by her protective parents. The unexpected arrival of a new boyfriend and her long lost Aunt Carlene shows Birdie a different view of life away from the high expectations and straight lines drawn by her loving but controlling parents. These two new individuals in Birdie’s life both have checkered pasts. Carlene is in recovery, overcoming years of drug addiction and life on the streets and Booker has spent some time in juvenile detention, which definitely marks him as unsuitable in the eyes of Birdy’s parents. But both Carly and Booker expose Birdy to a new way of experiencing life, and this adds spark and adventure to her sedate existence. These new experiences and conversations open Birdy’s eyes and lead her down a path of her own choosing, rather than that of her parents’. This touching novel shows a teen figuring out how to live life on her own terms, walking the line between her loyalty to her family and following her own heart. Colbert expertly weaves together so many interesting and important themes, rebellion, family, addiction, rehabilitation. She gives an empathetic portrayal of the troubled Carlene and Booker and shows the potential for redemption every person may have inside of them.

THOUGHTS: With several of the author’s previous books on bestseller and awards lists, this novel is sure to be a teen favorite.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Morris, Brittney. Slay. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-44542-0. 321 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Kiera Johnson lives a double life. By day she is one of four African American students at Jefferson Academy. She excels academically and works hard to fit in, never wanting to be seen as an outlier. But by night, Kiera lives in a world she has created, one in which she can truly be herself, the world of SLAY. An underground game that requires a passcode to get in, SLAY caters to the black community all over the world. More than 500,000 gamers use SLAY as a sanctuary from the real world, and Kiera, along with her developer Cicada, gives them all a safe place to be themselves. Known only as Emerald within the game, Kiera keeps her double life a secret from even her closest friends and family. But when an unexpected tragedy thrusts the game, and Emerald, into the limelight, Kiera must fight to keep her world and her online community safe from intruders.

THOUGHTS: Slay was an incredibly fun read. Morris explored the deeply important ideas of community and belonging in a way that was fresh. An empowering read.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Yoon, David. Frankly in Love. Putnam, 2019. 978-1-984-81220-9. 406 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Frank Li knows his parents are racist. They look down on anyone who isn’t Korean, so much so that when his sister married a black man she was disowned. As Frank tries to cope with senior year and the girls that come with it, he finds himself in a cultural conundrum. His parents would like nothing more than for him to date a nice Korean-American girl, but Frank Li only has eyes for Brit Means, a white girl who is definitively not Korean. Joy Song, a close family friend, finds herself in a similar situation prompting the teenagers to make the obvious choice, pretend to date each other so neither their parents nor their significant others ever find out that there is an issue. What follows is a whirlwind story that will take the reader on a journey to explore race, relationships, and what it takes to be true to yourself.

THOUGHTS: Frank Li’s story will resonate with anyone who has ever felt their choices would never be supported by their parents and has had to deal with the emotional fallout of that thought.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Wiegand, Alyssa, and Carla Carreon. Hack Your Cupboard: Make Great Food with What You’ve Got. Zest Books, 2019. 978-1-942-18607-6. 168 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Let’s face it: grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen are three big components of “adulting” that must all master eventually. Hack Your Cupboard is here to guide the way from cereal-for-dinner to a fancy date-night dinner with minimal kitchen catastrophes. Authors Alyssa Wiegand and Carla Carreon have organized their collaborative cookbook into four sections: Your First Kitchen, Dorm Room Dining, First Apartment Dining, and First Solo Kitchen. Within each section are tips on stocking your pantry, food storage, selecting kitchen equipment, and mastering kitchen techniques from beginner (basic vinaigrette) to intermediate (caramelizing onions) to advanced (deep frying). The cookbook’s signature element is the concept of “hacking” recipes by using what’s on hand to improve each dish or tailor it to your personal tastes. Recipe pages are liberally peppered with gourmet, spicy, budget, healthy, and hearty hacks: incorporating nuts or fresh herbs, adding protein like chicken or shrimp, marinating veggies for more flavor, and preparing part of the recipe in advance to maximize prep time. 

THOUGHTS: The cookbook benefits from the authors’ “you’ve got this!” tone and beautiful, full-color photographs of each prepared recipe. Ramen noodles topped with shredded rotisserie chicken and red peppers have never looked so delicious! Hack Your Cupboard is a worthy addition to every library’s cookbook section, and it will appeal to cooking novices or anyone looking for ways to rejuvenate their worn-out recipes.

641.5 Cooking          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Frick, Kit. All Eyes on Us. Margaret K. Elderry, 2019. 978-1-534-40440-3. 374 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Logansville’s elite girl Amanda Kelly has it all: she’s pretty, she’s popular, she’s rich, and she’s witty to boot. To top it all off her boyfriend is none other than Carter Shaw, of Shaw Realty, and together they make the perfect power couple, the new generation that will take over the town. But Amanda’s life isn’t as perfect as it seems; Carter’s been cheating on her, slumming it with Rosalie from Culver Ridge. Rosalie, for whom going out with Carter is nothing more than a convenient cover, has no intentions of keeping Carter around once high school is over. She plans to move into an apartment with her girlfriend. All is well for both Amanda and Rosalie as long as no one knows. But when a Private number begins sending the girls threatening messages and ultimatums attempting to expose their secrets to their families and communities, will they choose to work together to save their futures?

THOUGHTS: A fun, fast-paced mystery that will keep you guessing until the end!

Mystery          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Villasante, Alexandra. The Grief Keeper. Putnam, 2019. 978-0-525-51402-2. 310 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up. 

How much would you give up to ensure your safety? Your family’s? Marisol and her little sister Gabi have fled El Salvador and purchased illegal passage into the United States. Their family, torn apart by gang violence, is no longer safe. The sole future the girls have is to be granted asylum. Trapped in a Pennsylvania immigrant detainment center, the only hope for the girls is their ability to prove their need to stay in the asylum interview. When the interview does not appear to go as Marisol had hoped, she and her sister flee the center at the first chance they get. Unexpectedly, an opportunity presents itself that seems to be too good to be true, take part in an experiment that will potentially treat the grief of others for one month, and they will be allowed to stay legally. Marisol jumps at the chance but the toll is one she never imagined. How much can one person be expected to endure?

THOUGHTS: Touching on immigration and exploitation, The Grief Keeper is a thought-provoking novel that brings to light the plight, hopes, and fears of those who have nowhere left to go.

Realistic Fiction           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – Color Outside the Lines; The Library of Lost Things; Patron Saints of Nothing; I’m Not Dying with You Tonight; Stamped; I Know You Remember; When You Ask Me Where I’m Going; Deadly Little Scandals; The Last to Die; Winterwood

Mandanna, Sangu, editor. Color Outside the Lines: Stories About Love. Soho Teen, 2019. 978-1-641-29046-3. 269 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Color Outside the Lines is an exploration of what it means to love while you’re young, especially when something gets in the way. For some that something is race, for others it’s prejudice, and yet for others it may be superpowers. The stories are wonderfully interspersed with meet-cutes and relationships both normal and fantastical, all exploring different cultures and experiences and the dynamics and challenges that come with them. Readers will encounter mythologies and realities, villages and cities, changing families and stable relationships within the 16 stories included.

THOUGHTS: Color Outside the Lines will strike a chord with many readers who have never before seen themselves in a book. I loved the way the stories were not all what I expected, not everything was about romantic love, and not everything was rooted in reality. It’s a must add to any middle or high school collection.

Mostly Realistic, Some Fantasy Elements        Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Namey, Laura Taylor. The Library of Lost Things. Inkyard Press, 2019. 978-1-488-05135-7. 384 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

A teen literary prodigy, Darcy spends most of her spare time lost in a favorite book or working in the local independent bookstore. With best friend Marisol by her side, Darcy has found a careful balance in life, amidst her mother’s serious hoarding addiction. Darcy’s safe space has long been the one place her mother cannot set foot, Darcy’s bedroom where she is surrounded by myriad books. When a new property manager begins making cosmetic improvements around the apartment complex, Darcy worries how long she’ll be able to keep the secret of her mother’s “collections.” While her mother is able to work, she can’t control her compulsive shopping. Darcy is supplemented by her grandmother but also has learned to be self reliant. Falling for Asher Fleet isn’t part of Darcy’s plan, but something about him makes her want a real life fairy tale. Darcy is used to the comfort of her books, and real life isn’t so predictable or easy.

THOUGHTS: Avid readers will appreciate all of the literary references, and teens will enjoy the slow burning romance, friendship, and mother-daughter dynamics. Recommended for high school libraries where compelling romances are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Ribay, Randy. Patron Saints of Nothing. Kokila, 2019. 978-0-525-55491-2. 323 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Half Filipino high school senior Jay spends much of his spare time lost in a video game world, not fully aware of what’s going on around the world. Though he’s been accepted to the University of Michigan, he’s only going out of obligation to his family who worked hard, so he could life their American dream. Jay doesn’t really know what he wants, and he’s just going through the motions. When Jay learns more about his cousin Jun’s death (Jun was murdered as part of Philippines President Duterte’s war on drugs), he can’t shake his guild over losing touch with Jun. Jay wonders if he had returned Jun’s letters would have become lost – surely Jun really wasn’t into drugs. But Jay doesn’t really understand life in the Philippines, and he’s determined to learn more. Passing up the new laptop he’s wanted for college (really gaming), Jay convinces his parents to let him travel to the Philippines, promising not to bring up Jun’s death, especially around his Uncle ___. With Jun’s letters in his bag, Jay is determined to learn the truth about Jun’s death and honor his cousin in the way he deserves.

THOUGHTS: Ribay’s novel encourages teens to get out of their comfort zones and become more globally aware. With many issues from family dynamics and grief to international politics, readers will be taken on a journey of healing. Highly recommende3d for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Jones, Kimberly, and Gilly Segal. I’m Not Dying with You Tonight. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-67889-2. 249 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

From two very different worlds, Lena and Campbell are forced together inside a Friday night football game concession stand. On the outside Lena appears to be cool and confident, always wearing the “right” clothes and trying to impress her boyfriend Black. Like many girls, though, Lena isn’t as confident as she seems in herself or in her relationship. New to town after her mother takes a job abraod, Campbell is trying to find her place in school and at home with her father, who owns a local hardware store. One teen black, one teen white, Lena and Campbell must learn to work together when chaos erupts all around them. With their lives in danger, the girls must see past their differences in order to survive and get to safety.

THOUGHTS: Written by two authors, this dual narrative intertwines and comes to life. A Big Library Read selection in 2019, this title is sure to be popular with high school readers who have enjoyed other powerhouse YA titles like The Hate You Give, Long Way Down, All American Boys, Dear Martin, and more. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Reynolds, Jason, and Ibram X. Kendi. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-316-45369-1 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Re-evaluate everything you learned or think you know about history in this text that is “NOT a history book.” Broken down by various time periods, Reynolds adapts Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning for a teen audience. Reynolds explains that everyone fits into a category – racist, antiracists, or assimilationist – often moving from one to another or being associated with one but really fitting into another. Various leaders throughout time are analyzed for their words and actions, causing readers to reconsider what they think they know about history.

THOUGHTS: Teen readers will appreciate Reynolds’ open and honest voice which asks them to question the educational system – what they have been taught, by whom, and why. Instead of accepting what they are told, readers will want to prove their history texts (and teachers) wrong. teachers should appreciate the opportunity to encourage students to rewrite history with a more open, honest, and true version. This is a must have nonfiction title for every secondary library.

305.80 Racial, ethnic, national groups          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Donaldson, Jennifer. I Know You Remember. Razorbill, 2019. 978-1-595-14854-4. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Three years ago Ruthie and her mother left Anchorage, Alaska hoping for a fresh start away from Ruthie’s alcoholic father. Ruthie tried to keep in touch with her best friend Zahra, but time and distance (not to mention Zahra’s delayed or lack of responses) meant that wasn’t always easy. After a tragic hiking accident kills her mother, Ruthie finds herself on a plane back to Anchorage to live with her now clean father and his new wife and stepdaughter. Before boarding the plane, Ruthie texts Zahra, letting her know she’ll be home soon and hoping they can reconnect. Zahra never receives the message, and Ruthie is devastated to learn that Zahra has gone missing, following an argument at a party with her boyfriend Ben. Ruthie tries to help the search for clues while connecting with Zahra’s new friends. She hopes this will help her understand how Zahra has changed since they were friends. The Zahra that Ruthie knew isn’t the same girl that’s missing, but Ruthie is determined to find her and recover their lost friendship.

THOUGHTS: This twisty mystery is unpredictable, and things aren’t always as they seem. A must have for high school collections where fast-paced dramas are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Kaur, Jasmin. When You Ask Me Where I’m Going. HarperCollins, 2019. 978-0-062-91261-9. 256 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

This debut collection of poetry, prose, and illustrations will cause readers to think and feel deeply about a variety of tough topics such as sexual assault, mental health, and undocumented immigrants, just to name a few. With a strong voice, Kaur is sure to be appreciated by poetry fans.

THOUGHTS: This title will enhance and diversity existing high school poetry collections. Recommended for libraries looking to offer new voices and update poetry pieces.

Poetry          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

 


Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. Deadly Little Scandals. Freeform, 2019. 978-1-368-01517-2. 352 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Sawyer Taft is back with another southern high society debutante drama. This time she spends her time alternating between the family home and their summer lake house. Much more comfortable among her cousin Lily and their fellow debutante friends, Sawyer is still determined to solve the puzzle of her biological father. As she becomes closer with the girls, though, Sawyer must be careful not to upset the balance they have achieved. Drama seems to follow these girls wherever they go, and pledging to a long time debutante, elite, all female secret society may give Sawyer the answers she’s been seeking. Not everyone wants Sawyer to solve the mystery, though.

THOUGHTS: A new cast of characters with some old friends will ensure readers are on the edge of their seats. A must-have for libraries where Little White Lies and mysteries are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Sawyer, Lily, Campbell, and Sadie-Grace are spending the summer trying to relax, forget, and figure out the aftermath of the past year. Together at the lake, Sawyer is trying to figure out how to tell Lily who her father is; Campbell’s family is trying to survive the humiliation of her father’s arrest and save their company; Sadie-Grace is covering up Greer’s “pregnancy,” and Lily is figuring out who she is and what she wants. Of course, a relaxing summer isn’t quite in the picture for these debs, as they pledge the elite and mysterious White Gloves, and learn more about their pasts and present. When things spiral out of control, can the debs survive the scandal and the truth?

THOUGHTS: I love Jennifer Lynn Barnes. She is one of my favorite mystery/thriller authors. Although readers should read the Debutantes series in order because of references made to events from book one, Deadly Little Scandals is easy to follow. Barnes’s use of flashback for the majority of the novel keeps readers focused without confusion and constantly guessing what possibly could come next. Highly recommended for all high school collections.  

Mystery         Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Garrett, Kelly. The Last to Die. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-69844-9. 240 p. $10.99. Grades 9-12. 

Seventeen year old Harper seems to live an idyllic life. She’s a star soccer player at school and on her club team, she has a boyfriend who adores her, and she’s got a great group of friends. Home life, though is a bit more complicated. her older brother is in a second stint of rehab, her mom copes with glasses of wine, and her dad can’t deal or even be bothered to learn how to sign with Maggie, Harper’s little sister who is deaf. A regular visitor to the principal’s office for voicing her mind, Harper isn’t always a star student, but she has plans on getting a soccer scholarship. To entertain themselves friend couples Harper and Gin; Paisley and Benji; and Sara, a rival soccer teammate, and Alex make a game out of burglarizing each other’s houses, with some ground rules, of course. What seems like innocent, though sometimes embarrassing, fun turns deadly. With suspicions on one of their own, the game becomes a race of cat and mouse, and the stakes couldn’t be more serious.

THOUGHTS: Fans of mysteries will enjoy this somewhat predicable read, though the quick ending may be frustrating. Purchase for high school collections where character-driven mysteries are popular. Note: This title was first published by Poisoned Pen Press in 2017 and was republished by Sourcebooks Fire in 2019.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Ernshaw, Shea. Winterwood. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-46279-3. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

The Walkers, as legend says, are older than the woods themselves. The Wicker Woods, cursed and dangerous to enter unless it is a full moon. The Walker women do not fear the woods, as they know they sleep during the full moon and not to enter at any other time, for who knows what the woods will do when they are awake and watching…

Nora realizes all of these things, as she is a Walker. Although her nightshade has not yet come to her, she knows she is a witch like those before her. Nora is not afraid of the woods. And yet, one boy is missing and one boy is dead. What happens when Nora comes across the missing boy, alive in the woods 2 weeks after the terrible snow storm? What does this boy know about the boy who is dead? As the mystery unravels, Nora finds herself deeper and deeper in her struggle of learning the truth of this mysterious boy and solving the puzzle that lies within the heart of him.

THOUGHTS: An engaging fantasy that pulls you in as you learn more about Nora’s family and the mystery of the missing boy. This is a book you cannot put down as you hope to find out more about what truly happened on the fateful night when one boy went missing and the other met his death.

Fantasy/Mystery        Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – Hot Dog Girl; Every Moment After; Like a Love Story; Bloom; The River; Rough Magic; Between the Water and the Woods; Cyber Nation; The Raven’s Tale; Tell Me Everything; You Must Not Miss; Never Caught; You Owe Me a Murder; Love from A to Z; Serious Moonlight

Dugan, Jennifer. Hot Dog Girl. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. 978-0-525-51625-5. $18.99. 320 p. Grades 8 and up.

The summer before senior year should be carefree and fun-filled, but Elouise (Lou) Parker’s summer is off to an awful start. Magic Castle, the amusement park she has frequented since childhood and has worked at since last year, has announced this summer will be its last. To add insult to injury, Lou gets stuck with one of the worst jobs in the park. Again. She’ll play the role of the dancing Hot Dog Girl in the food court. The unflattering, hot, vomit-inducing costume is yet another reminder that she is just not crush-worthy. Her feelings for her crush Nick – the Pirate Diver in one of the park’s shows – will never be reciprocated, especially not when he’s dating Jessa, the girl who plays the princess at Magic Castle. Lou decides to revive her summer by secretly scheming to save Magic Castle via some questionable methods and rejuvenating her best friend Seeley’s love life by fixing her up on a date with the perfect girl. Lou’s scheming goes a little far, though, when she involves Seeley in her quest to break up Nick and Jessa. Subplots with family conflicts give the plot a little more substance, as well, but ultimately, this is a solid coming-of-age tale about love and facing inevitable change.

THOUGHTS: Laugh-out-loud funny at times and written in an authentic first-person teen voice, this book will appeal primarily to female readers looking for a fun summer read. The-dying-old-business-that-holds-so-many-childhood-memories-it-must-be-saved plot feels a bit stale, but the complex relationships are what make this book a good addition to teen collections, especially where there is a high demand for LGBTQ titles. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Moldover, Joseph. Every Moment After. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-1-328-54727-9. $17.99. 362 p. Grades 9 and up.

Cole Hewitt and Matt Simpson are well-known in their suburban New Jersey town, but it’s because they are some of just a few survivors of a tragic school shooting that happened in their first grade classroom when 18 of their classmates were killed. And that depends on one’s definition of “survivor;” the only reason – in Matt’s mind – that he survived is because he was home struggling with his diabetes that day. In the years since the shooting, the town has turned into a living memorial. Monuments both large and small pop up everywhere. The diner in town posts every failed gun control bill on its walls. The survivors themselves serve as living reminders, and the boys each handle it differently. Cole is reserved and awkward, not wanting people to recognize him as the boy in the viral photo from the shooting. Matt is wracked with guilt over not being there that day and constantly questions whether or not he is meant to live. Now they are graduating from high school, and a time in life that is scary enough for any teenager is exponentially more complicated for Cole and Matt. They must navigate family, love, and their friendship through the summer after high school carrying with them the after-effects of the tragedy that they will never forget. Told in alternating points of view between Cole and Matt, this book – which is Muldover’s debut novel – will appeal more to male readers, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

THOUGHTS: This book is heavy. Though not graphic, it obviously deals with matters of life and death. Additionally, just as a warning, it contains more offensive language than the average YA. However, the fact that it also deals with typical YA themes like love and friendship with MALE narrators is a huge plus for this book. Cole and Matt’s friendship is real and raw and touching, and this is one of the best male-narrated YA books I’ve read. I find it similar in style and tone to a John Corey Whaley novel. In an English or Social Studies class, this novel would pair well with a non-fiction book about a school shooting or gun control. Moldover focuses on the human element of a tragedy such as this, but still manages to touch on both sides of a deeply personal and passionate political debate without being overly political.

Realistic Fiction           Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Nazemian, Abdi. Like a Love Story. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 978-0-06-283936-7. $17.99. 413 p. Grades 9 and up.

It’s 1989. The AIDS epidemic evokes fear in the gay community, and Madonna’s music is at peak popularity. This is the New York City in which Art, Reza, and Judy live. Reza, originally born in Iran, just moved to Manhattan from Toronto. He and his mom and sister fled from Iran during the revolution, and now his mom is remarried. When he starts school, Reza quickly befriends edgy aspiring fashion designer Judy. Her best friend Art is the only known gay student at school. At first Judy misreads Reza’s fear of Art as homophobia, but Reza’s fears have more to do with himself. Reza’s known for some time he likes boys but is afraid to come out for multiple reasons, namely fear of his Iranian family’s reaction but also of contracting AIDS – which at this time was thought to be a disease that plagued only the gay community. As Reza starts dating Judy, he gets to know Art better and develops a secret crush on him. He also gets to know Judy’s Uncle Stephen who is gay too and suffers from AIDS. Stephen is an activist for AIDS research, and Art and Judy attend meetings and protests with him; eventually, Reza joins them, despite fear of what his parents would think if they found out. Art also introduces Reza to Madonna, and they all bond over their love of her music and the ideas for which she stands. Can Reza keep hiding who he really is – and his feelings for Art? Find out in this funny and moving coming of age novel about self-expression and owning who you are no matter your age, race, gender, or orientation. 

THOUGHTS: This book is more than just an LGBTQ love story. Because of its setting and Uncle Stephen’s position in the ACT UP activist group, it serves as a history lesson on the AIDS crisis and how far gay rights have come in the last 30 years. As a lifelong fan of Madonna, I found her role in this novel and the allusions to her songs particularly enjoyable as well. Current teen readers may not understand or appreciate these references as much, though it may serve as a good education for them on the Queen of Pop (Recently, a student actually asked me if Madonna was even still alive). Excellent addition to any YA collection, and possibly a good supplementary novel for health, history, or any class studying the AIDS crisis. Appealing to not only LGBTQ readers but also anyone fighting discrimination of any kind. The hopeful message to all readers is to “Express Yourself” no matter who your “True Blue” self is!

Historical Fiction           Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Panetta, Kevin, and Savanna Ganucheau. Bloom. First Second, 2019. 978-1-626-72641-3. 351 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Ari Kyrkos wants to move to the city with his bandmates to try and make their music career happen, but his parents want him to stay home and work full-time at their struggling Kyrkos Family Bakery. If he can find a qualified employee to replace him, maybe Ari can move without leaving his family in the lurch. Enter dreamy Hector Galeai, who has just finished his first year at culinary school and is in town to empty his Nana’s house. The boys bond over sourdough rolls, stargazing, and a road trip to the Maryland State Fair. But just when they connect physically, an accident at the bakery and misplaced blame drive them apart. Can Ari swallow his pride and reconnect with the boy he loves, delivering readers a happy-for-now ending to this sweet summer romance?

THOUGHTS: This winning graphic novel in beachy blues and greys is the perfect choice for readers seeking a romance with heart and a realistic conflict that doesn’t hinge on the characters’ sexual identity. Well-developed supporting characters, a recipe, and a playlist round out a delightful read.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Heller, Peter. The River. Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 978-0-525-52187-7. 253 p. $25.95. Grades 10 and up.

Dartmouth students Jack and Wynn, best friends who have just wrapped up a summer working as wilderness instructors in the Adirondacks, are now taking a month-long canoe trip through the lakes leading into the Maskwa River (Canada) and eventually the Hudson Bay. After smelling smoke for two days, they observe a potentially deadly forest fire. They do their best to warn other campers about the fire, including a couple they previously overheard arguing loudly on the lakeshore. But when they find him, the man is alone, injured, and claiming his wife disappeared in the night. Jack and Wynn double back to find her, touching off a chain of events that pits them against their fellow adventurers as well as the elements. This slim novel successfully blends elements of psychological suspense, survival, and transformative journeys. The prose is beautifully austere, with Jack’s and Wynn’s backstories filling in the calm stretches between whitewater and other perils. The River is a literary achievement that’s also a pageturner; it’s as taut as a spring-loaded snare trap! 

THOUGHTS: With main characters in their very early twenties, The River is an excellent crossover selection for readers who enjoy adventure stories with a tinge of menace. Comparable crossover thrillers include Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta and Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin.

Each year, seniors in Ridley High School’s Advanced Placement English Literature class participate in an end-of-year book club during the month between their A.P. exam and graduation. Recent selections include Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann and Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. I will definitely suggest The River as an option for next year’s book club!

Fiction (Crossover)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Prior-Palmer, Lara. Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race. Catapult, 2019. 978-1-948-22619-6. 288 p. $25.00. Grades 9 and up.

When Lara Prior-Palmer was nineteen, she entered the Mongol Derby, touted as the world’s toughest horse race, on a whim, and much to everyone’s surprise, including her own, she won, becoming the first female, and the youngest rider ever to do so. It’s telling that the title of the book uses the adjective “loneliest” rather than “toughest” to describe this race; not once throughout the entire 1,000 kilometer journey does Prior-Palmer allude to the toughness of the experience, while her solitude is palpable. With little hope of winning, let alone finishing the race, Prior-Palmer sets her expectations low, and when she is in close to last place at the end of the first day, it seems like a good plan. It is just this freedom from the trappings of competition, along with her ambivalence towards riding solo, that allows her to move up the ranks. Once she realizes that she’s doing well, however, she doesn’t shy away from her (somewhat shameful) need to remain at the top of the pack. She is an unusual narrator, given to philosophical musings, and starkly honest self-reflection, and writes very much in the vein of the 1950s Beat movement. Just like the race itself, the book is a meandering, introspective, yet gripping, narrative. Peppered throughout are quotes from the Tempest (the only book she brought with her), letters to her mother, Mongolian sayings and cultural references, and poetic descriptions of the landscape. This is not an endorsement for the Derby itself, nor is it a motivational guide to risk-taking and living life to its fullest; it is a no-nonsense, strangely compelling, almost epistolary exploration of this singular moment in Prior-Palmer’s life, told without hubris, but with a dash of dry British wit.

THOUGHTS: Prior-Palmer speaks often about her inability to fit in anywhere, and especially her frustration with the rigidity of the institution of education; her story, and her narration, will speak to those students who have similar feelings of frustration, isolation, and a touch of wanderlust, which, let’s face it, is most adolescents.

Memoir          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Snaith, Simone. Between the Water and the Woods. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-44020-7. 311 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up.

Magic, chivalry, monsters, secrets – these are just a few things that drive Simone Snaith’s debut novel, Between the Water and the Woods. We first meet the Bird family – Emeline, her younger brother, Dale, and Dada, their father – living a quaint country life in the small village of Equane. Their quiet lives are shattered, however, when Emeline and Dale encounter an Ithin, a monster of myth, living in the haunting woods across the moat. After reviewing the laws of the land, it is determined that the family must travel to the capital to tell the king in person about their encounter. The Birds, along with their driver, Fish, and their stowaway, Aladane (Dale’s good friend, with a serious case of FOMO), are unprepared for the ruthlessness of the world, and in short succession come across highway men, an assassin, a haughty Lash Knight, and a wealthy Sapient who is the potential heir to the throne. When they finally arrive in the capital, the villagers find themselves in the middle of a philosophical war between the Sapients – those who only believe in science and technology – and the Theurgists – those who believe deeply in magic, and the old tales. In the midst of all of this, Emeline discovers that she possesses true elemental magic, and has the ability to control water plants. She keeps it a secret, even from her family, for she knows that in the wrong hands, this knowledge could have potentially dangerous consequences for her and for her family. This is a rollicking adventure, with a courageous heroine at its heart who readers will root for. There is a sweet, chaste romance, as well, along with more serious treatment of class divisions, oligarchy, and, in a small way, the trappings of wealth. Readers will eagerly await the next installment.

THOUGHTS: A perfect book for fans of medieval tales of knights and chivalry, and for middle grade readers looking to graduate up to more complex fairy tales.

Fantasy          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Hulick, Kathryn. Cyber Nation: How the Digital Revolution is Changing Society. ReferencePoint Press, 2019. 978-1-682-82469-6. $29.95. 80 pg. Grades 6-12.

This stand alone title focuses on how digital technology is changing the way people interact, learn, and form their identities online. Broken into chapters focusing on relationships, society, information overload, identity dilemma, and future issues, this title is full of information and real life connections. Chapters are broken into subsections that highlight how easy it is to “hide” your true self while online – leading to cyberbullying, addiction, and overstimulation. Information is provided on how digital culture is affecting change in how people spend money and the need to have items “now.” Topics also addressed in brief detail include fake news, cybercrimes, censorship, and propaganda. The final chapter will hit home with students as it focuses on how the internet will greatly affect their future with virtual reality, AI, and how “smart” cities can help fix worldly problems. 

THOUGHTS: A great title for students researching the cause and effects of constant access to the internet and the future of digital access. A bit dry at times, the information is useful and applicable to the topic. The source notes, websites, and organizations available in the back of the book allow students to delve further into how the cyber world is shaping our lives.

302.30285 Social Interaction        Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Winters, Cat. The Raven’s Tale. Amulet Books, 2019. 368 p. $17.99. 978-1-419-73362-8.  Grades 9-12.  

1826, Richmond, Virginia. Seventeen-year-old Edgar Allan Poe longs to escape his foster father, John Allan. The Allans took in three-year-old Edgar when his parents died, and though his foster father showed some pride in Edgar for a while, that feeling has vanished in the face of Edgar’s writing, a talent in which businessman John Allan sees no future. Freedom is less than two weeks away, when Edgar leaves for college in Charlottesville. That’s if Edgar can make it that long. The situation worsens when Edgar’s muse physically appears in town, making residents fearful with her garish, increasingly raven-like appearance. Edgar–and John–know muses are real–John killed his own muse years ago by pushing her into a fire, and he’ll be damned if Edgar gives in to the same weaknesses. Edgar faces a devastating choice: obey his wealthy “Pa” and succumb to mindless business career, or follow the macabre muse he names Lenore and live penniless and shunned, unable to support himself let alone his secret love Elmira Royster. Yet Lenore is relentless: “Let them see me!” she demands. Edgar’s circumstances worsen at college as his foster father denies him adequate funds, and Edgar turns unsuccessfully to gambling. Many recognize his giftedness, including a second would-be muse, Garland O’Peale. Both O’Peale and Lenore hope for victory over Edgar’s soul, but neither will find this an easy fight. Edgar is young, tortured by death, and so very alone. 

THOUGHTS: Drawing on extensive research into Poe’s life, Winters crafts an elegantly written tale, told in alternating chapters from Edgar’s and Lenore’s points-of-view. The result is a novel appropriately suspenseful and macabre, weaving in Poe’s writing and creating an atmosphere which evokes a grim yet creative life that brings to mind the tortured Mary Shelley depicted beautifully in Lita Judge’s Mary’s Monster. Highly recommended for high school collections, this will entice many readers into a new or strengthened following of Poe’s horror writing.      

Historical Horror: Poe, Muses          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Enni, Sarah. Tell Me Everything. Scholastic, 2019. 282 p. $17.99. 978-1-338-13915-0.  Grades 7-12. 

Ivy thrives on art and photography, but people or the spotlight, not so much. She does well enough keeping to herself, though she’s just endured a boring summer without her best friend since fourth grade, Harold, by her side. Harold is an intelligent go-getter whose summer was spent at an Ivy League prep camp, an experience both exhilarating and sobering. Now Harold is diving into any class or club that he can, determined to impact the world, while Ivy prefers the newly minted anonymous art-sharing app VEIL. VEIL has made headlines nationwide, but it stays local, and wipes itself clean every Sunday. Though Ivy never posts any of her own artwork, she follows the posts eagerly, feeling curious about the artists and so inspired that she wishes to thank artists for the connection she feels. This desire to help and encourage others is Ivy’s strength, and she gives gifts, anonymously, then openly, to various people she has identified by their posts. But the pressure is high for Harold, and so, when Ivy discovers what she thinks is his secret, she decides to throw him a party. However, her assumptions about Harold, and her disregard for the “anonymous” label, create some horrible breakdowns in friendships. Meanwhile, a hateful anti-gay VEIL post has parents concerned and suing the creator, who unexpectedly folds the app. Where can Ivy go now?

THOUGHTS: Ivy is a likable character with a huge heart and talent, and thankfully, a strong friend in Harold.  Several adult characters, including Ivy’s art teacher and refreshingly, her parents, counsel her wisely and with compassion. Enni has a knack for current slang and a feel for how teenagers relate on and offline. The novel uses social media and art as a clever way to investigate anonymity, bravery, and character change. Though Ivy and Harold are sophomores, the novel feels written for junior high, and will work for grades 7-12.      

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Leno, Katrina. You Must Not Miss.  Little, Brown & Company, 2019. 294 p. $17.99. 978-0-316-44977-9. Grades 10-12.  

Six months ago, sophomore Margaret “Magpie” Lewis had a decent life. Normal family, close best friend Allison, and reasonable grades. But in one night, everything collapsed. She and Allison walked in on Magpie’s naked dad and aunt having sex, her mom retreated into alcohol, and her college sister Eryn kept her promise to leave if her mom ever got drunk again. To add to the pain, Magpie got drunk and was sexually assaulted by Allison’s boyfriend Brandon, and popular Allison immediately decimated Magpie’s social life. Now, a very depressed Magpie attends school, does no schoolwork, sits at the outcast lunch table, and is in danger of repeating her sophomore year. She holds her new social circle at arm’s length–Clare, whose father committed suicide; bisexual Luke; trans Ben; and Brianna, who is not allowed to live down a humiliating school incident. In a yellow notebook, Magpie creates Near, a place where her former life never fell apart, where everything is perfect, and she feels no pain, only happiness.  She believes in Near so strongly that she brings it to life, accessible via the shed in her backyard. It becomes not only a refuge, but a plan of revenge. Magpie introduces Clare to Near but quickly sees the difficulties. She instead uses Near to exact revenge on those who have hurt her–her father, her sister, Brandon, Allison (who escapes), and oddly, her teacher but not her mother. This is a slow read of an interesting premise whose details are not fleshed out well. Her alter-ego “Hither” warns her of consequences, but nothing more than exhaustion and migraines affect Magpie.  Magpie disappears into Near, but her teacher and her father return (with no memories), though they were all eaten by monsters like Brandon (who does not return). Then Allison herself chooses Near.

THOUGHTS: This is a dull read of a girl who gets temporary revenge that changes only Allison’s opinion of her, but Magpie never gets the help she needs to face reality.   

Fantasy          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Dunbar, Erica Armstrong, and Kathleen Van Cleve. Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away. Simon and Schuster, 2019. 254 p. $18.99. 978-1-534-41617-8. Grades 5-12.

Ona “Oney” Judge was born into slavery on George and Martha Washington’s estate.  At ten years old, she became Martha’s personal attendant, working to smooth all the details of Martha’s wardrobe, comfort, and volatile personality. But times were changing, and many in the country were pushing for laws to free slaves, whether immediately, gradually, or at the owner’s death. As evidenced by their letters, George’s views conflicted, but Martha’s did not; she clung to the life she had been born to expect, and slaves were part of that world. As a teenager, Oney accompanied Martha to Philadelphia, seeing a completely different world: a largely free black society, white servants, and making friends in the free black community. Upon learning that Martha planned to give Oney as a wedding gift to her granddaughter–a spoiled girl who grew into an incorrigible woman–Oney decided to escape. On March 21, 1796, at twenty-two years old, Oney chose the one time of day she was least needed, during dinner, and escape by walking from the estate onto a ship bound for Portsmouth. Enraged at the humiliation by a girl “brought up and treated more like a child than a servant,” (177) the Washingtons maintained that Oney “ought not to escape with impunity” (177). What follows is a pursuit thwarted by Oney’s stalwart resolution not to return to Mount Vernon to be freed: “I am free now and choose to remain so.” It was also thwarted by abolitionists: New Hampshire Governor Langdon, who tipped off Oney to a pursuer’s second attempt to take her by force, and by customs officer Joseph Whipple, who after meeting Ona communicated clearly to George Washington to consider abandoning slavery nationwide, follow the established laws (which Washington was sidestepping) and acknowledge the changing tide of opinion on slavery. Due to political changes and to George Washington’s death in December 1799, Oney was no longer pursued, but neither was she technically “free” unless freed by Martha or Martha’s descendants (she never was). Her life in New Hampshire was one of her own making–she chose to marry a free black sailor and raised three children–it was also a life of great poverty and hardship (she outlived her husband and children, and never learned of her Mount Vernon relatives again).

THOUGHTS: A little-known story of a young woman whose “audacity” to live free astonished leaders of our nation and certainly helped to push for anti-slavery laws. Many “supposed” thoughts are inserted into Oney’s (and others’) actions, “Maybe she closed her eyes and imagined her mother…maybe she thought about the new black church that was forming just a few blocks away…” (97). This is an uncomfortable interpretation on history that is more than overdone in the book, but it could serve to make these characters feel more real to young readers. A solid addition to middle and high school collections.               

Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Cook, Eileen. You Owe Me a Murder. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 9781328519023. 346 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10. 

Kim is on her way to Europe, but rather than being excited, she is miserable. Her ex-boyfriend is also on the trip, with his new girlfriend. When a friendly girl named Nikki starts talking to Kim on the plane, they find they have many interests in common, including being so mad at someone they could just kill them. Nikki proposes that she will kill Connor, Kim’s ex, if Kim kills Nikki’s mother. After the flight lands in London, Kim doesn’t give the conversation another thought, until Connor dies. Was it an accident? Or did Nikki really kill him? All doubts are erased when Kim receives a note: You owe me a murder. At first she shrugs it off; how can Nikki make her commit murder? But it soon becomes evident that Nikki has plotted this well, and Kim will have to out-think Nikki to be free of her control. The tension is high throughout the book, with red herrings and plot twists to keep readers guessing until the very end.

THOUGHTS: A taut psychological thriller that will captivate fans of One of Us is Lying.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Ali, S.K. Love from A to Z. Salaam Reads, 2019. 978-1-5344-4272-6. 335 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Oddity: When Zayneb gets suspended from school for (once again) defending her Muslim faith to her Islamaphobic teacher, her frustrated mother decides to send her to Doha, Qatar, to visit her aunt. Oddity: Adam, coming to terms with a diagnosis of MS, the disease that killed his mother, decides to drop out of college and return home to Doha, Qatar. Marvel: They notice each other in the London airport. Marvel: They speak on the plane to Qatar. Marvel: Her aunt works with his dad. They meet. There is attraction. But Zayneb is on her best behavior, trying to develop a more mellow personality than her outspoken activist self. Adam has yet to reveal his medical prognosis to his father. Can true love flourish under these conditions? This journal-style narrative switches viewpoints between Zaynab and Adam, slowly revealing the layers of their personalities. Intertwined is their devotion to their faith, which gently allows Ali to discuss Islamophobia, cultural appropriation and Muslim culture, including wearing the hijab and dating mores. Readers may be attracted by the plot but will be all the richer for having read the book.

THOUGHTS: A first purchase where romances are popular and an excellent addition to multi-cultural collections. 

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Bennett, Jenn.  Serious Moonlight. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-42514-9. 425 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up.

Birdie Lindbergh, mystery lover extraordinaire, is in something of a pickle. The boy she had both a wonderful and disastrous one night stand with just happens to be working at the same hotel where she has landed her first job. Daniel is everything Birdie is not – gregarious, charming, friends with everyone, and in Birdie’s estimation, uncomplicated. Despite their obvious attraction to each other, and Daniel’s solicitous behavior towards her, Birdie is floundering, unsure of her own feelings. Birdie, whose mother passed away when she was young, has lived under her grandmother’s conservative and overprotective thumb for so long, isolated from peers who her own age because of homeschooling, that she second guesses every interaction. When Daniel suggests they work together – strictly as friends – to solve a mystery at the hotel involving a hyper-famous mystery writer, she can’t resist. Jenn Bennett, just like magic-loving Daniel, masterfully utilizes misdirection throughout the novel; just when the reader thinks they know exactly what path Birdie and Daniel are going down, she veers off into an unexpected, but wholly welcome, direction. The secondary characters, particularly Birdie’s sweet natured grandfather, and her outrageous, larger-than-life auntie, are well developed and play vital roles in Birdie’s life. While Birdie is our main protagonist, it is actually Daniel who steals the spotlight over and over again – Birdie often comes off as a bit one dimensional. Daniel, on the other hand, with his outgoing, witty, and disarmingly nerdy personality draw readers in right away. A breezy, fun, and heartfelt romance novel.

THOUGHTS: This is a decidedly mature book, peppered throughout with cursing, and fairly graphic intimacy – recommended for an older YA audience.

Realistic Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

MG – This Promise of Change; Room 555; New Kid; Bach to the Rescue; Extraordinary Birds; The Woolly Monkey Mysteries; Get Informed–Stay Informed (series); The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise; The Stormkeeper’s Island; Today’s Hip-Hop; Pro Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Comebacks; A Win for Women; The Explosive World of Volcanoes; The Selma Marches for Civil Rights; Can You Crack the Code; George Washington’s Secret Six; The Book of Secrets; Shutout; Stolen Girl; Mirror, Mirror; Mind Drifter

Boyce, Jo Ann Allen, and Debbie Levy. This Promise of Change. Bloomsbury, 2019.  978-1-681-19852-1.  310 p.  $17.99  Grades 4-8.

Jo Ann Allen Boyce, one of the “Clinton 12” African-American teens who enrolled in an all-White Tennessee high school after the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, tells the story of her not-so-long-ago youth in this powerful nonfiction middle grade verse memoir co-written by Debbie Levy (I Dissent, 2017). The book features free verse as well as a variety of more formal poems, each well suited to the subject matter. For example, the villanelle, with its repeated phrasings, is perfect for expressing the way Jo Ann’s thoughts circle around as she ruminates about her first day in her soon-to-be integrated school in “The Night Before.” Boyce’s story focuses on the half-year she attended Clinton High School, which began relatively peacefully but quickly erupted into violence. Jo Ann’s optimism and courage in the face of hatred, and her conviction that prejudice is learned and can be unlearned, is at the heart of this moving book. Brief quotes from primary source material are sprinkled throughout the book. There is extensive backmatter, including information on the poetic forms used, a timeline, photographs, information on the collaborative writing process, and further reading.

THOUGHTS: This unusual book is standout nonfiction, a must-purchase for middle school and upper elementary libraries. Librarians will need to give some thought as to how they will catalog this important book and market it to teachers and young people, as it reads like a beautifully crafted verse novel but is scrupulously researched and written to the standards expected of a first-rate nonfiction title.

379.2 Civil Rights; Poetry          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Watson, Cristy. Room 555. Orca Book Publishers, 2019. 978-1-459-82060-9. $9.95. 116 p. Grades 7-9.

This book is about Mary’s love of hip-hop dancing and the extreme guilt and fear she feels due to her inability to visit her beloved grandmother in the nursing home. Mary, who goes by the nickname her Gram gave her – Roonie, spends most of the book practicing for a school-wide dance competition with her best friend, Kira. Also, their high school requires everyone to log community volunteer hours in order to graduate and Roonie is hoping to get assigned to do clerical work at the local dance school but because she was late handing in the paperwork, she was assigned to volunteer at the local hospital instead. Roonie is devastated about her volunteer assignment but she tries to make the best of it until she finds out she must work on the geriatric floor handing out magazines. The sights, smells, and sounds remind her of the nursing home Gram is in. Although she has severe anxiety, Roonie forces herself to follow through with the job and ends up meeting, Jasmine, the friendly woman in Room 555. Roonie learns that Jasmine belly dances, and they form a connection over their love of dance that gives Roonie the courage to keep returning to her assignment at the hospital. Roonie and Jasmine build a friendship over the next few weeks, and they help each other through some of life’s difficult challenges.  

THOUGHTS: This small book is a good addition to a middle school library’s high-low collection, and Roonie’s love of hip-hop dance may entice students with the same interest to read it.

Realistic Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Craft, Jerry. New Kid. HarperCollins, 2019. 978-0-062-69120-0. $21.99. 256 p. Grades 5-9.

Jordan Banks, an African American seventh grader, begins this graphic novel at his prestigious new school, Riverdale Academy Day School, or RAD for short, even though he’d prefer to be going to a high school that was art focused. His parents (mom especially) think that Jordan’s intelligence would be better addressed at RAD and are excited that he got accepted. Jordan and his father are concerned about the lack of diversity in the student body, and Jordan is anxious about making friends with students who are wealthier than him. Jordan’s father promises him they will revisit the idea of art school in 9th grade if he really feels like he can’t fit in at RAD. His fears come true when on his first day a classmate’s father shows up at Jordan’s apartment in an expensive car that looks out of place in the neighborhood. Jordan ducks down in the seat so his neighborhood friends don’t see him. The story portrays Jordan’s struggles with fitting in while remaining true to himself, and it does a great job of showing all of the microaggressions people of color face on a daily basis. This book makes us reflect on our preconceived ideas of race; even Jordan assumes he will immediately become friends with the handful of other African American students. There are black-and-white double-spread images of helpful life lessons that Jordan has illustrated; things like, tips for riding a city bus in a hoodie, how to do a good handshake, and judging kids by the covers of the books they read.

THOUGHTS: This is the perfect book to give to students who claim they don’t like graphic novels. I laughed-out-loud at one of the images because it was so clever. In the same vein as American Born Chinese, this book is a valuable resource for sharing what African American students experience in school and society in a non-preachy, funny way.

Graphic Novel          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

Jordan Banks loves sketching cartoons of his life and dreams of art school, but for his seventh grade year, his parents have enrolled him in a well-known private school, hoping for academic opportunities and social growth (since Jordan is one of the few students of color). Jordan’s dad maintains that Jordan may choose art school in a year or two, but Jordan’s mom is convinced that Riverdale Academy Day School is the best choice. Jordan complies, and discovers stereotypes (others and his own), endures microaggression–and even finds a way to laugh at them with new friend Drew, builds a variety of friendships (of many cultures), and keeps drawing his story. The tale of his first year is full of pathos and at times laugh-out-loud humor, as Jordan tackles soccer for the first time, considers the “meaning” of secret Santa gifts, and more. He reaches a breaking point when Drew is falsely accused of hitting bigoted student Andy, and when Mrs. Rawle (who consistently mixes up the names of all of the non-white kids) reads his sketchbook and wonders why he is so “angry.” Jordan brings to mind all the advice of his parents, grandfather, and more as he adjusts and thrives at Riverdale Academy. He and his friends bring out the best in each other and grow up, a day at a time (well, except for Andy).

THOUGHTS: Jordan is one of the most honest, likable characters in middle school fiction. Many will benefit from reading his story and have their eyes opened to microaggressions, stereotypes, and how to move beyond false assumptions. This graphic novel is a work of art in more ways than one, and a must-read for all middle school students and their teachers.       

Graphic Novel          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Angleberger, Tom. Bach to the Rescue!!! How a Rich Dude Who Couldn’t Sleep Inspired the Greatest Music Ever. Abrams Books for Young Readers. 2019. 978-1-419-73164-8. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

This book is centered around how Bach’s music came to be. Learning about the life of the Rich Dude and his inability to sleep at night transforms Bach’s Goldberg Variations. A story that may not be completely true, we learn how Goldberg was unable to put the Rich Dude to sleep with his music, which in turn kept everyone else awake. Promised a great deal of money, Bach wrote music for Goldberg to play for the Rich Dude, who loved the music and was able to sleep. Bach, in return, received the money he was promised.

THOUGHTS: An interesting tale, that while may not be true, depicts the possible creation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in a picture book format that is easy for students to understand.

786 Music          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


McGinnis, Sandy Stark. Extraordinary Birds. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019. 978-1-547-60100-4. 214 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

This debut novel features an eleven year old foster child, December, who believes she will one day become a bird and fly away from the foster homes that have caged her spirit. After December jumps out of a tree, she is removed from her foster home and placed with an elderly woman named Eleanor, also called the “Bird Whisperer.” December continues to feel her scar tingle and goosebumps that will turn into feathers during her stay with Eleanor while also discovering the perfect oak tree for “flying.” Eleanor treats December well, and allows her to help at a bird rehabilitation center with Henrietta, a red tailed hawk who cannot fly. But December encounters trouble at her new school – mean girls who pick on those who are different than them. December befriends one of their victims, Cheryllynn, and the two become close friends. December continues to discover who she really is, but when bad news is delivered to Eleanor, December decides that she must turn into a bird… and fast!

THOUGHTS: A great coming of age story of a girl discovering who she really is that will warm your heart. The characters are relatable, and the story moves along quickly. Multiple themes are prevalent throughout, along with a subtle reference to a transgender child. 

Realistic Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Markle, Sandra. The Woolly Monkey Mysteries: The Quest to Save a Rain Forest Species. Millbrook Press, 2019. 978-1-512-45868-8. $24.14 40 p. Grades 3-6.

If you haven’t heard of woolly monkeys, you’re not alone.  These rain forest “gardeners” are both elusive and essential to the life of the rain forest. Scientists in Peru’s Manu National Park and Reserve must work tirelessly to track them, painstakingly setting up cameras in the deepest parts of the forest. Author Markle investigates several of these scientists, what they’ve learned about woolly monkeys, and how they’ve learned it. The results have built a stronger understanding of rain forest life and how rain forests could best be strengthened and preserved. “The rain forest’s health is tied to the woolly monkeys, who have to eat, travel through the rain forest canopy, and drop their seed-filled waste to continually replenish the plant life” (35). Markle’s text, combined with the colorful page spreads and color photos, brings the scientists’ concerns to life for all of us new to the species. 

THOUGHTS: Well-presented with maps, photographs, and explanations of the scientists’ work, this book will fuel career ideas of science-minded students who love animals.  

599.8 Monkeys          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Get Informed–Stay Informed (series). Crabtree, 2019. 48 p. $9.95 (paper) $14.86 (hardcover) ea. Grades 5-8.

Hudak, Heather C. #MeToo Movement. 978-0-778-74971-4
—. Climate Change. 978-0-778-74970-7
—. Digital Data Security. 978-0-778-75345-2
—. Immigration and Refugees. 978-0-778-75347-6
Hyde, Natalie. Gun Violence.  978-0-778-75346-9
—. Net Neutrality. 978-0-778-74972-1
—. Oil and Pipelines. 978-0-778-75348-3
—. Opioid Crisis. 978-0-778-74973-8

These books are designed to be informative on their stated topic, while also guiding the reader to understanding information literacy truths. The information literacy instruction is interspersed with the background on the topic, either in entire chapters or in brief sidebars. Because Hudak’s Immigration & Refugees dedicates more space to the information literacy skills, it better prepares the reader to seek out and evaluate information sources. Segments such as “Where to Look” and “Critical Review” establish strong questions to consider when faced with new material. Hyde’s Oil and Pipelines, despite speaking of alternate viewpoints (such as the government), strongly emphasizes the disadvantages of pipelines (even the cover, which shows an oil spill).  

THOUGHTS: Overall, these are helpful sources for beginning background on a topic, but more importantly, for instruction on how to think about information and ideas. Includes Glossary, Source Notes, Find Out More, Index, and Teacher’s Guide online.  Teaching Resources available for download via Follett’s Titlewave for certain titles, including Climate Change, #MeTooMovement, Net Neutrality and Opioid Crisis

Titles Reviewed: Immigration and Refugees; Oil and Pipelines. 

Current Social Issues          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Gemeinhart, Dan. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise. Henry Holt & Company, 2019. 344 p. $16.99. 978-1-250-19670-5  Grades 3-6.

Five years ago, Coyote Sunrise and Rodeo (don’t call him Dad), refurbished a bus as a home and began their travels. It is Rodeo’s way of outrunning the memories of his wife and two daughters who died in a car crash. Coyote and her dad get along well, and she knows how to read him and how to behave (avoid melancholy, avoid memories, avoid the names of her mom and sisters). The love Coyote has for her dad is real and reciprocated. Then in a weekly phone call to her Grandma, Coyote learns that the public park in her old neighborhood is to be demolished. It’s the same public park where five days before the accident, she, her mom and two sisters buried a memory box and vowed to locate it in ten years. Suddenly, her need to save that box–and her need for memories–outweighs all else. She must use all her cleverness to get 3600 miles (from Florida to Poplin Springs, Washington) in just four days–without revealing the plan to Rodeo. Along the way, Coyote and Rodeo pick up others who need a ride: Lester who’s reconnecting with his girlfriend, Salvador and his mom who are looking for a new life with his aunt, Val who cannot stay with her family any longer, and Gladys….the goat. Yes, each has a part to play in Coyote’s would-be return home. As the hours–then minutes–count down, how long will it be before Rodeo puts the brakes on this terrifying idea of returning home?

THOUGHTS: A cleverly introspective and appropriately humorous look at grief, family, friendship, and belonging.     

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

For the past five years, twelve-year-old Coyote and her dad, Rodeo, have spent their days criss-crossing the country on an old school bus they’ve converted into a home. They travel anywhere their hearts desire – anywhere but to their hometown in Washington state. They haven’t returned home since the car accident that killed Coyote’s mother and two sisters five years ago. But, when Coyote learns from her grandmother that a park in her hometown is going to be demolished, she concocts a plan to get back home to retrieve a memory box she buried there with her mother and sisters before their deaths. Returning home is a “no-go” for Rodeo, so Coyote must figure out a way to get him to drive to Washington without realizing what he’s doing. On their journey, they pick up several passengers, including a mother and son escaping from domestic abuse, a musician looking for love, a teen fleeing a turbulent home life, a gray kitten, and a goat.

THOUGHTS: Coyote is a relatable and perceptive protagonist, and readers will be drawn in by her conversational style of storytelling. She is also multifaceted, and she is unafraid to share her true emotions. Readers will cheer Coyote on as she races the clock to get across the country to reclaim a piece of her past before the bulldozers bury it forever. This title will generate discussions about friendships, grief and loss, and the true meaning of family.

Realistic Fiction          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Doyle, Catherine. The Storm Keeper’s Island. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019. 308 p. $16.99. 978-1-681-19959-7. Grades 5-8.

Fionn Boyle should feel the sea, should have the ocean behind his eyes, but instead he fears it. Even the motion of the boat that delivers him and his older sister Tara to Arranmore Island makes him ill, a fact that Tara is happy to broadcast. Tara has been to the island before, so only Fionn is stunned to meet their grandfather, a curious, eccentric old man that locals refer to as “the Stormkeeper.” Fionn is about to realize the part his family–one of five families–plays in the history of the island. Each generation, Arranmore Island itself (a living thing that responds to Fionn’s presence by growing, breathing, even speaking to him) chooses a new Storm Keeper. Tara’s “boyfriend” Bartley Beasley has been primed by his grandmother to become the Storm Keeper by any means necessary, since she believes Fionn’s grandfather actively cheated her out of the power. Bartley seethes with anger at Fionn and his grandfather, even as the dark magic of Morrigan is waking to lay claim to the island and fight the good forces of Dagda, who saved the island eons ago. Fionn struggles with the loss of his father, before Fionn was born, to the sea itself–all Fionn has ever wanted was for his father to be here. The longing is so great, and greater on the island in the face of his father’s bravery. Before his grandfather succumbs to memory loss, he is able to guide Fionn to see his own history and accept his future as the new Stormkeeper. The novel ends just as the island has chosen Fionn and Morrigan begins her desperate rise against the island and its people. “It’s not fair,” Fionn says of his grandfather’s memory loss, and his grandfather does not dispute it. But he adds, “your greatest responsibility [is] to live a life of breathless wonder, so that when it begins to fade from you, you will feel the shadow of its happiness still inside you and the blissful sense that you laughed the loudest, loved the deepest, and lived fearlessly, even as the specifics of it all melt away” (248). 

THOUGHTS: This is an enjoyable fantasy that interweaves naturally with reality and will push readers to grab the sequel: The Lost Time Warriors (2020). Strongly recommended for fantasy readers.

Fantasy          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Mortensen, Lori. Today’s Hip-Hop. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-543-55444-1. $21.49. 32 p. Grades 3-9.

The book includes Hip-Hop, popping, locking, free styling, and fusion. The content is divided into chapters, and vocabulary words are in bold font defined on the page and also in the glossary. Cool facts intersect in boxes like the style in Hamilton Broadway show. Colorful images add to the text and demonstrate different dance moves such as the jackhammer. 

THOUGHTS: Additional books in the Dance Today series include Today’s Ballet, Today’s Street Dance, and Today’s Tap Dancing. This books could add to an area of interest to many students that may be lacking in collections. 

793 Dance          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Lyon, Drew. Pro Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Comebacks. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-543-55436-6. $21.49. 32 p. Grades 3-9.

Full color images throughout concise chapters allow readers to learn about numerous athletic feats such as the 2004 Boston Red Sox, 2016 Chicago Cubs, and standout players such as Ted Williams. Important terms are placed in red font and defined at the bottom of the page. Terms include comeback, RBI, walk-off, pennant, ligament, and are also included in the glossary. Students can continue to explore at facthound.com using a password included in the book.

THOUGHTS: Other books in the All-Time Greatest Comebacks series include Pro-Hockey, Pro-Football, and Pro-Basketball. The series covers a wide range of sports and demonstrates the importance of optimism and never giving up. These are also great books to have in the collection that encourage recreational reading. 

796 Sports          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Terrell, Brandon. A Win for Women: Billie Jean King Takes Down Bobby Riggs. Illustrated by Eduardo Garcia. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-543-54219-6. $23.49. 32 p. Gr. 3-9. 

This book relates the lasting friendship between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs after their 1973 historic tennis match and is told in a full color graphic novel format. The battle of sexes and gender roles was put to the test and the full color graphic novel details this appropriately. The book includes the legacies of the athletes. A glossary, additional reading, critical thinking questions, Fact Hound internet site links, and an index is included. 

THOUGHTS: Other books in this Greatest moments in sports graphic library series include Defying Hitler: Jesse Owens’ Olympic Triumph, Lake Placid Miracle: When U.S. Hockey Stunned the World, Showdown in Manila: Ali and Frazier’s Epic Final Fight, Calling His Shot: Babe Ruth’s Legendary Home Run, and Soccer Shocker: U.S. Women’s Stunning 1999 World Cup Win. These books demonstrate the impact that sports can have on world events and social issues. They can be used to encourage sports enthusiasts to learn more about history and history enthusiasts to learn about the impact that sports have made. 

Graphic Novel          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Harbo, Christopher L. The Explosive World of Volcanoes. Illustrated by Tod Smith. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-543-52947-0. $25.99. 32 p. Grades 3-9. 

Readers are in for a fact filled graphic novel adventure with Max Axiom that includes cones, calderas, and eruptions of volcanoes. Artwork is in full color format. Back matter includes additional facts about volcanoes, a lava flow experiment with detailed steps, discussion questions, writing prompts, glossary, further readings, “super-cool stuff,” and an index.

THOUGHTS: This is part of the new 4D adventures with Max Axiom. 4D content includes videos of lava flow in Hawaii, ruins of Herculaneum, video direction for the lava flow experiment, and a quiz. These additions do enhance the reading experience and can be used in anticipatory sets with students to add additional excitement. Presently there are 24 titles in the series. 

Graphic Novel          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Otfinoski, Steven. The Selma Marches for Civil Rights We Shall Overcome. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-515-77941-4. $24.49. 112 p. Grades 5-9.

Important individuals involved with the Selma Marches for Civil Rights taking place in 1965 have their name in a purple banner with their location and time. Featured individuals include: Geroge Wallace, Lyndon Johnson, John Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, Jim Clark, Lynda Blackmon, Frank Johnson, Viola Liuzzo, and Leroy Moton. The events feel like they are unfolding as you read. Backmatter includes an afterward leading up with milestones for each featured individual, a timeline, a glossary, critical thinking questions, internet sites, resources, and an index.

THOUGHTS: This book is part of the Tangled History set that currently includes 24 titles. The series presents vital events in history presented in an engaging and organized fashion. Most of the primary and individual photographs in this book are in crispy black and white colors. 

393 Social Issues          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Schwartz, Ella. Can You Crack the Code? A  Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography. Illustrated by Lily Williams. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19514-8. $21.99. 118 p. Grades 4-9.

The book introduces readers to the start of codes and ciphers leading all the way to the 2015 hack using malware known as a Trojan Horse. Illustrations, images, and special features add to the chapters. Ciphers and codes have been used by a wide range of individuals from Julius Caesar, to professional football players, classic fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes, and in Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Gold-Bug.” Important terms are place ind a bold font. A bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index conclude the book.

THOUGHTS: The book provides a lot of opportunities for readers to practice the codes that they learn about when reading. A lot of history is included when learning about codes. The book has connections to history, social studies, math, and computer science. 

652 Games and Activities          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Kilmeade, Brian, and Don Yaeger. George Washington’s Secret Six: the Spies Who Saved America. Viking, 2019. 978-0-425-28898-6. $17.99. 164 p. Gr. 4-9. 

Concise chapters with black and white illustrations make up this adapted version for young readers based off of the NYT bestselling book. Readers step into the conflicts facing the goal of American independence that Washington and the Patriots seek. While students will recognize the exquisite leadership skills of Washington, they may be unaware of the importance that intelligence from spies helped inform his choices. In addition, the great dangers that spies faced is detailed in the book. The “Secret Six” is also referred to as Culpher’s Ring. The book includes an afterword, appendixes that includes the pre-war lives of the spies and invisible ink, a detailed timeline, selected sources, and an index.

THOUGHTS: Can You Crack the Code? Is an excellent non-book to partner with this book, which is also featured in PSLA reviews. There are also fine fiction books to add to make a must visit display such as Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac, The Secret Coders series by Gene Luen Yang, or The Book Scavenger series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.                                                                                                    

973.4 United States History          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Tait, A.L. The Book of Secrets: An Ateban Cipher Novel. Kane Miller, 2019. 978-1-610-67827-8. $5.99. 248 p. Grades 4-8. 

Growing up as an orphan and taken care of at the monastery, Gabe has yet to leave the grounds. He feels that he has no choice but to leave when an injured man gives him a fancy book to keep secret and deliver to a persona that he has never heard of named Aiden. He has an hour to hide the manuscript, but this does not go as planned. He is helped by outlaws, but Gabe does not expect the outlaws to be women. How can Gabe repay the outlaws and also save the book from possible sinister intentions from leaders visiting the monastery? The adventure will continue with The Book of Answers.

THOUGHTS: This is the first American edition since the 2017 publication in Australia and New Zealand. The series would be perfect for fans of The False Prince series by Jennifer A. Nielsen or Rowan Hood by Nancy Springer. 

Adventure          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Ross, Jeff. Shutout.  Orca Books, 2019. 978-1-459-81876-7. $9.95. 148 p. Grades 7-12.

Alex is a skilled goalie for the hockey team. Chloe, his girlfriend, is very involved with art and acting, but attends his games. Alex is shocked when the principal wants to see him and believes that Alex is defacing the school with graffiti. The readers know that Alex is not behind the acts, but how can he prove his innocence for his reputation and chance to play hockey? 

THOUGHTS: This fast-paced mystery would also delight readers that enjoy sports or theater arts. There are currently 54 novels in the Orca Sports collection. Presently the teacher guide for this novel is not posted online at Orca Sports, but you could introduce the author using his website: http://www.jeffrossbooks.com/

Mystery          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. Stolen Girl. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-23304-9. $17.99. 208 p.Gr 3-8. 

What if you were unsure of your childhood and had memories of being with members of the Nazi organization? You’ve moved to a new area with your adoptive parents, and children tease you for having blonde hair and blue eyes? What is the truth of your history? This is the struggle that Nadia faces and will finally uncover her past.

THOUGHTS: This book is powerful. The backmatter shares additional information from this time period and experiences from the family of the author. Scholastic included a book trailer for this book in the Spring 2019 fair, and the link to the video will draw interest as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRWYmfeevWU

Historical Fiction          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Calonita, Jen. Mirror, Mirror: A Twisted Tale. Disney Press, 2019. 978-136801383-3. $17.99. 344 p. Grades 5-9. 

A lovely princess makes the best of times despite the loss of both of her parents and being shuttered from the world by a mean step-mother. The princess is lucky to escape death and find the home of the miners. Danger comes in the form of a poison apple. This is a pretty familiar fairy tale for students. Some of the parts are familiar, but not most in Mirror, Mirror. In the new novel, the king is distraught over the loss of his wife, married his wife’s sister, and then finally flees the kingdom distressed. Snow White meets a prince who wishes to speak with the Queen about the trade arrangements with his kingdom, before running to eventual safety and learning the true events that happened to both of her parents and the quest that she and her friends must complete. The classic characters are further defined, and the Magic Mirror develops more giving a clear image of the back story of magic. This novel contains continual fantasy and suspense to see how this tale will unfold with perspectives alternating between Snow and The Queen.

THOUGHTS: Page turning and deeply satisfying, this read shows familiar characters with a different take on a classic fairy tale. This is the sixth book in A Twisted Tale series. Students can write their version of the class tale before beginning the novel and compare all of the renditions. 

Fairy Tale, Adventure          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Kammer, Gina. Mind Drifter: Enemy Mind. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-496-55898-5. $19.99. 128 p. Grades 3-9

The last day of seventh grade at Emdaria North Middle School is significant as students take their personality skills tests. They quickly learn their student helper role for the year 2310. While Syah was eager to become a student artist, she was surprised to see that her role would be a counselor, also known as Mind Drifters. Syah will do her job in the MindLinkLab where counselors enter the mindscape of other students. Her best friend Joden has the role to assist in the science lab. The new roles seem to cause tension in their friendship and Kreo, Joden’s lab partner, is unkind. Syah sees a chance to enter Kreo’s mindscape, but it would be against the policies, and she is presented with a conundrum. Regardless of her choices she will have to face consequences, address bullying, concerns of privacy, and explore the realms of friendship.  

THOUGHTS: This is an engaging book. Three other titles are presently in the series: Dream Monster, Wicked Stepsister, and Reject Rebound. If the book is used in a classroom setting, there are questions for discussion in “Talk it Over” and writing exercises with Think and Write” sections. The book also includes a glossary and reference guide which would be helpful to preview with classes before starting the novel. The 4D content includes an interview from the author, Gina Kammer. This adds to the content included in the about the author section of the book, which sets the background for the book. 

Science Fiction, Adventure           Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD

YA – Thicker Than Water; The Sisterhood; White Rose; A Curse so Dark and Lonely; Parkland Speaks; With the Fire on High; Shout; Happy Messy Scary Love; Aurora Rising; Cicada; That Night

Deen, Natasha. Thicker Than Water. Orca, 2009. 978-1-459-82198-9. 128 p. $9.95. Grades 7-12.

Zack is an aspiring criminologist, so the recent disappearance of his friend Ella has him searching for answers. He’s keeping it secret that they had a disagreement that day, and worse, that after they parted, he saw Ella meet with his dad (their school guidance counselor) and get into his dad’s SUV. His dad hasn’t spoken a word, and Zack worries and imagines the worst, trying to piece together the truth while protecting himself and his dad. Zack’s friend Ayo Mohammad repeatedly offers logical perspective, and reminds Zack of his all-too-frequent over-reacting, likely due to crime show binging. Zack is on to something, but it isn’t what he thinks, and he needs a wake-up call in order to set things right. Ayo stands out as a solid friend and necessary voice of reason.

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the Orca Soundings series, this is a realistic story written at 3rd-4th grade level for young adult readers and worth considering for reluctant readers.

Mystery          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Grainger, A.J. The Sisterhood. Simon & Schuster, 2019. 978-1-481-42906-1. 298 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.  

Sixteen-year-old Welsh teenager Lil has withdrawn since the disappearance of her older sister, Mella, four months ago. She devotes most of her time to updating a blog about Mella, questioning her police officer aunt about the case, watching her single mom deteriorate, and having detailed conversations in her head with Mella. While biking one day as a terrible storm approaches, she stumbles upon a young woman who is unconscious and injured in the road. “Alice” is fearful and willing to run if Lil involves authorities, and Lil becomes determined to not let Alice down the way she feels she’s let her sister down. Lil takes Alice home, and she and friend Kiran debate the girl’s odd speech, intense fear, and slow reveal of the Sisterhood, led by the charismatic Moon. Soon it becomes clear that Mella is involved in the dangerous cult, and Lil must walk a fine line between exposing Alice and losing her sister. Lil’s devotion to her clearly difficult sister shows how a strong personality can mold and rule a family; Mella consistently turns the spotlight on herself, erupts in tantrums, and lately, vanishes at will. The secluded atmosphere lends itself to the story, though readers may wish for more details on the cult’s inner workings. Told largely from Lil’s perspective, the novel benefits from occasional slips into Mella’s mind, as well as frequent inside views of Moon and the Sisterhood.

THOUGHTS: This book will find an audience among those who find cults fascinating.

Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Wilson, Kip. White Rose. Versify, 2019. 978-1-328-59443-3. 358 p. $17.99 Grades 5-12.

Sophie Scholl was one of five siblings in a strong, close-knit family who watched as Hitler rose to power in Germany. This novel in verse gives Sophie a strong voice, showing her early teenage years as she and brother Hans were enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth. Their enthusiasm waned, then vanished, as they witnessed increasing restrictions and discrimination. Years passed and as university students in Munich, Sophie and her brother Hans and some like-minded students began the White Rose society, dedicated to spreading anti-Nazi messages. Hans wrote content for the leaflets, and Sophie found duplicating machines and all members found ways to distribute the leaflets. Such treasonous activity as free speech was punishable by death, a fate that she and Hans and friend Christoph Probst met in February 1943 (three other White Rose members were arrested, tried, and killed later the same year). Told primarily from Sophie’s perspective, the novel is strengthened by letters from Hans, boyfriend Fritz’s thoughts, and the clinical coldness of Robert Mohr, Gestapo investigator who tracked down their illegal activity. This book effectively shows Sophie’s steadfast and tenacious desire to make a difference, and her realization that simply remaining silent was akin to endorsement of Nazi beliefs.  

THOUGHTS: This is a suspenseful, powerful novel made richer for the paucity of words per page. Wilson illuminates the steel in Sophie’s mind and soul; her story should be should be widely read and remembered. Recommended for all middle and high school libraries.

Historical Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Kemmerer, Brigid. A Curse So Dark and Lonely. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19508-7. $18.99. 477 p. Gr. 8 and up.

Harper’s mother is dying of cancer, and her brother is in trouble with some loan sharks, but these are conflicts only revealed in the opening chapter of this Beauty and the Beast retelling. Life then gets even more complicated for Harper when she is swept from Washington, DC into a parallel fantasy universe, the kingdom of Emberfall. As in the original fairytale, Prince Rhen, heir to the throne, is cursed by an enchantress, a curse that can only be broken by falling in mutual love. Prince Rhen’s beast form only manifests each autumn though, making it seemingly easier to fall in love with him. However, also in a similar fashion to the original, Harper’s worry for her ailing family prevents her from fully committing to life in Emberfall. Likewise, politics and threats from neighboring kingdoms prevent Prince Rhen from wholly throwing himself into wooing Harper to break the curse, not to mention appearances by the enchantress Lilith who cast the curse, Rhen’s handsome and loyal Guard Commander Grey, and Harper’s cerebral palsy. Despite all the hurdles Harper and Prince Rhen face, the struggling kingdom of Emberfall and its people unite them with a common cause that propels this story, which is told in alternating points of view from Harper to Rhen. Harper’s cerebral palsy is almost never mentioned after the opening chapters, which was intentional on the part of the author to prove a point, though sometimes it simply feels forgotten. Regardless, Harper’s character is definitely strong and likable, and the friendships she forges with the people of Emberfall are a bright spot in the slower mid-plot before the book becomes unputdownable in the final 100 pages.

THOUGHTS: Far more violent than the Disney version and with its own very original plot, this fairytale retelling will be enjoyable for fans of both YA speculative AND contemporary fiction as the characters hail from both worlds.

Fantasy (Fairytale)          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area High School


Lerner, Sarah, editor. Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-84999-1. 192 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.   

This collection of poems, photos, essays, and journal entries by students that survived the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida will leave you feeling ripped apart and connected to each student at the same time. The anthology features a scrapbook like feel with handwritten entries, scraps of paper seemingly taped onto the page, as well as both student artwork and photographs. Although some entries are short with little detail, others vividly account what was experienced that day. There are several themes prevalent throughout their poems, stories, and speeches that will resonate with every reader. They include facing grief from the tragic loss of 17 Eagles, anger with the government for change not occurring fast enough, and betrayal that another school shooting resulted in the loss of life. Readers will also find messages of hope, love, and strength threaded throughout their first hand accounts. This book may be difficult for certain individuals who may struggle with the fear and uncertainty that follows a school shooting.

THOUGHTS: The handwritten pieces and images in the text allow you to feel connected to each student who survived the horrific events at MSD High School. The book allows all readers to reflect on the importance of protecting those you love and inspires us to work toward instituting change in our schools to make them safe places for learning.

371.1, Teachers & Teaching          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Acevedo, Elizabeth. With the Fire on High. HarperTeen, 2019. 978-0-062-66283-5. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Emoni Santiago loves to cook.  She has a natural connection with spices and flavors that evokes emotion, not just a good taste. Raised by her ‘Buela after her mother’s death and father’s return to Puerto Rico, Emoni has learned to use her passion for food in good times and bad. With her senior year looming and her future not far away, Emoni enrolls in Culinary Arts; it seems like an easy-A, but she soon learns that although she is a natural in the kitchen, she has a lot to learn. Meanwhile, Emoni’s structure begins to unroll with the entrance of new student, Malachi Johnson. With a smile that melts, Emoni’s rule of no dating is challenged. But Emoni has more than just herself to consider; she has her daughter, Emma (Baby Girl), too. On top of it all, Culinary Arts includes an immersion trip to Sevilla, Spain, over spring break. There, Emoni is challenged to find her way while remaining true to her own desires.

THOUGHTS: With the Fire on High shares present day struggles for many students through a universal topic: food. Acevedo takes the familiar and weaves an individual story of wants, desires, and the here-and-now. She looks at the struggles faced by many but does not dwell on any of the struggles. Instead, she gives realistic hope to readers through Emoni and an understanding that each choice one makes connects to their overall story, and one choice does not define a person. This novel is a wonderful addition to high school collections.

As a side-note, I did not love With the Fire on High like I did The Poet X.  Although I greatly enjoyed Fire, Poet X evoked emotions from me that I hadn’t felt in a while. I deeply connected with Xiomara, but not so much with Emoni, although I liked her story. I would have liked Acevedo to delve deeper into the social issues she skims in Fire.  I guess I wanted more.

As a second side-note, I love Acevedo’s audio recordings. The fact that she reads her work adds a layer of intimacy with the text and the characters that reading the words doesn’t give. I hope she continues to read her novels in the future.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elizabeth Acevedo has a hard act to follow:  herself. The Poet X, her debut novel, won an almost impossible trifecta of awards (The Printz Award, the National Book Award For Young People, and the Carnegie Medal).  However, her new release, With The Fire on High, does not disappoint. African-Latina-American Emoni is a senior in a Philadelphia charter high school and the mother of a two-year-old girl, Emma (“Babygirl”), whom she is raising with the help of her Abuela. Babygirl’s father, Tyrone, is a better parent then ex-boyfriend, and Emoni is slow to trust when a boy in her culinary arts class, Malachi, seems too good to be true. Becoming a chef is fiery, fierce Emoni’s dream . . . but she’s not sure what dreams are in her reach. Emoni’s struggles with parenting, families, relationships, school, college applications, and trying to decide what’s best for both her and her daughter’s futures are realistically portrayed in this fast-paced novel with short, snappy chapters. Recipes with more of a literary than culinary purpose are included, but they might work for bold-spirited cooks willing to interpret ambiguous and playful directions.

THOUGHTS: Vivid prose, well developed characters (including Emoni’s best friend, Angelica, who is a lesbian), and a narrative that includes but does not center on romance will have teen readers eating up this book. Highly recommended. 

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

This book made me hungry for Emoni to find success in her life. Despite having multiple roadblocks (becoming a mom as a teen, working while going to school, living with her grandmother who is nursing an injury), she finds a way to constantly strive for what’s best for herself and her daughter. She knows what she wants out of life, and that is to be a chef. She is even in a culinary arts class at school with the possibility of a week long apprenticeship in Spain, not that she can afford it. There is a truth to the balance of Emoni’s struggles at school, at home, and at work all while raising a three-year-old and navigating the balance of an amicable relationship with her daughter’s father and his family. 

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the urban fiction cannon that should be on a high school shelves. Emoni’s positive outlook in a less than desirable environment will motivate the less than inspired students. The addition of recipes and creative descriptions of the food she makes will make the readers hungry for more.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Anderson, Laurie Halse. Shout: A Poetry Memoir. Viking, 2019. 978-0-670-01210-7. 291 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up

Laurie Halse Anderson’s memoir of growing up in a shattered family and surviving a sexual assault at the age of thirteen is heart-wrenching and beautiful. Her father, a World War II veteran, suffered from memories of death and destruction during the war. Her mother, shattered from miscarriage after miscarriage of sons and abuse from her husband, tried to repair the torn family and be the “proper” pastor’s wife. Laurie and her sister were born out of heartache and desire. A desire for something more; a desire to move beyond the past into the present and future, but the past is hard to escape. As the daughter of a pastor, Laurie learned to accept what she had and developed a creativity that helped her through her days. Sharing her torn family life, she sheds light on situations often left undiscussed. As she moves from her shattered family, to her rape and then into her time in Denmark where she saw a family structure different from her own, Anderson highlights the hope within darkness. In Part II of Shout, she looks at the impact of her writing and her school visits. She addresses the censorship she has dealt with along with the numerous stories of assaults shared with her by students. Shout is a beautifully written memoir-in-verse that proves life and hope can grow from tragedy and hardship.  

THOUGHTS: Anderson once again delivers an emotional story of survival. Much like her novels, Shout forces readers to examine what they know (or think they know), and then face reality head on. She does not sugar coat the abuse and hardships of her family or glaze over her own rape at thirteen. Anderson’s overt style, without being in-your-face and vulgar, is breath-taking and much appreciated. This is a must have for all high school collections.

811 Poetry or 92 Memoir          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Written in free verse, Anderson delivers her own story in a powerful memoir. Shout has clear parallels with her first novel, Speak which make reading Anderson’s story that much more painful. She chose to tell her story beginning with an act of assault that she has had to live with, and the rest of the book is the journey Anderson takes to heal. She is fierce and effective at getting her point across in the current climate of our world.

THOUGHTS: This memoir should be required reading for all high school students and staff. It belongs on the shelf of every high school library to allow those who are victims an opportunity to heal and those who are lucky enough not to have been abused or assaulted a glance into the mind of someone who has and survived.  

Memoir          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Konen, Leah. Happy Messy Scary Love. Abrams, 2019. 978-1-419-73489-2. $18.99. 336 p. Gr. 7 and up.

Olivia Knight dreams of attending film school, but procrastinating on writing her horror screenplay is not helping her attain that dream. She’s failed to get into an NYU summer writing program and now must spend her summer in the Catskill Mountains with her parents while her friends have their dream summers. To pass time through her writer’s block, Olivia watches lots of horror films on Netflix and messages Elm, another horror film addict she meets on a discussion board where she goes by the name “Carrie” – after her favorite film, of course. When Elm suggests they exchange photos, self-conscious Olivia panics, especially when he sends his picture, and he’s cute! Assuming they’ll never meet in person anyway, since she’s from Brooklyn and he lives in North Carolina, Olivia sends back a selfie of her best friend Katie who is the traditional definition of attractive. Awkwardness averted… at least until Olivia shows up to her summer part time job in the Catskills to find Elm is working there as well. Though she wants to tell him the truth, the thought of trying to explain herself is more horrifying than her favorite films. As she admits, “Being close to people, being honest with them, not being afraid to fail – that’s the scariest thing of all.” So as Olivia and Elm’s real-life relationship develops, “Carrie” must also maintain their online relationship, all while trying to finish her screenplay and navigate a summer job for which she feels ill-equipped. Some surprises along the way create a Shakespearean comedy-like plot while exploring relevant and important themes for high schoolers such as body image, self-worth, breaking out of one’s comfort zone, and friendship.

THOUGHTS: A delightful summer read, this book will be fun for hardcore horror fans, but it’s not so full of jargon or allusions that non-fans can’t enjoy it.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Kaufman, Amie, and Jay Kristoff.  Aurora Rising. Alfred Knopf, 2019. 978-1-524-72096-4. 480 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up. 

Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have squarely secured their place as scions of young adult science fiction. Their sophomore series, The Aurora Cycle, like the Illuminae Files, propels readers once again into a wild conspiracy featuring a scrappy crew of space cadets, shadowy overlords, a girl who shouldn’t exist, and an intricate spider web of a plot. The crew’s leader is golden boy Tyler Jones, the highest ranked Alpha at Aurora Academy, who is primed to hand-pick his squad from the best of the best. His plan goes completely awry, however, when he discovers not only a generation ship thought to be lost two centuries earlier, but also a surviving passenger – Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley. Now Ty is saddled with a squad he had no say in – though fortunately for him, his twin sister, Scarlett, and his best friend, Cat, both choose loyalty to Ty over ambition – and a girl two centuries old who is much more than she seems. When Ty’s team is sent on their first humanitarian mission, it goes completely wrong, and sets off a chain of events that leave the squad questioning everything they thought they knew about their world, and running from the highest authorities in the galaxy, authorities who are determined to eliminate Ty’s crew, and capture Auri for their own nefarious purposes. Kaufman and Kristoff’s plot is twisty, complex, and fun as all get out. The story is told from multiple perspectives – not an easy feat, given there are seven unique characters – and crew members narrates their own chapter, in their own voice, with their own personalities shining through. This is a page-turning romp through space that will leave readers clamoring for book two.

THOUGHTS: While all of the characters are well-developed, Zila, the crew’s scientist, provides the most interesting perspective – she struggles mightily in social situations and has an underdeveloped sense of empathy, making it almost impossible for her to gauge and understand human emotions and motivations. Her chapters are often very short, very funny, and very poignant.

Science Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Tan, Shaun. Cicada. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019. 978-1-338-29839-0. Unpaged. $19.99. Gr. 6 and up.

For seventeen years, Cicada has worked in an office where it is mistreated and ignored. Although Cicada works harder than the humans, it cannot use a bathroom in the building (it must go downtown for a bathroom). It cannot afford rent, so it lives at the office. It does not receive any benefits or resources like the humans and is verbally and physically abused by the humans regularly. When Cicada decides to retire, it leaves without fanfare and goes into the unknown; it has no home, no money, and now, no job. At the top of the tall office building, Cicada stands at the edge. Has Cicada’s journey come to an end, or is it just beginning?

Tan’s illustrations are breathtaking. Using oil on canvas and paper, he creates a world of gray for Cicada. The illustrations enhance the abuse and mistreatment faced by Cicada. They evoke emotion from the reader as they intensify the symbolism of Cicada and its dismal life.  

THOUGHTS: Cicada is a timely (2019 is the year of cicada) look into mistreatment and cruelty. By addressing mistreatment, it highlights the spiral of cruelty beyond work into one’s home and personal lives. This YA picture book forces readers to consider social injustices and, through symbolism, dive deeper into the impact of society and how people are treated by governments, economics, and one another. As a minimalist picture book, it is an impactful case study for English and social studies courses into symbolism, human interaction, social justice, law and policy, mental health, discrimination, and more.  Highly recommended for all middle school and high school collections.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Balog, Cyn. That Night. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-67904-2. 320 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up. 

One year ago Hailey’s boyfriend Declan ended his life, and she has lived in a fog ever since. A stay in rehab only blurred her memories of the weeks surrounding Declan’s death. One thing is certain in her mind, though, Hailey knows Declan never would have killed himself. All she wants is to remember. It is Declan’s step-brother Kane, who has been Hailey’s best friend forever, that helps her begin to remember the last year. Kane and Hailey have a complicated relationship, but with the help of a box of Declan’s things, Hailey begins to remember the past as she tries to move on. She can’t understand why Kane’s on again of again girlfriend (and Hailey’s former best friend) won’t even look at her. As she tries to puzzle through her memories, this fast-paced mystery flashes between Hailey’s present grief and the year leading up to Declan’s death. The answers might not be exactly what Hailey was looking for, though.

THOUGHTS: Thriller fans will devour this unpredictable read. Recommended for high schools where mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD