Rigaud, Debbie. Simone Breaks All the Rules. Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-68172-1. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.
Simone Thibodeaux is tired of her overprotective Haitian parents, and when they arrange her prom date with a son of a suitable Haitian family, it is the last straw. She decides the end of her senior year at St. Clare Academy, a largely white, all-girls school, is the perfect time to start experiencing life. She enlists two classmates with similar parental issues, Indian-American Amite and Kira, the white daughter of a notorious lawyer. The trio dub themselves HomeGirls, and create a Senior Playlist of challenges and accomplishments, including going to a house party, cutting class, and changing up their style. And then there is prom. Simone works feverishly to keep her parents thinking she is going to prom with Ben, the polite Haitian boy, while lining up her own date with Gavin, a hot guy from the affiliated boys school. But why is it so hard to be herself around Gavin, and so comfortable to be with Ben? Readers will fall for Simone from the first pages. Her voice is fresh, humorous, and authentic. Anyone with parents will relate and sympathize with Simone and her girlfriends. However, along the way to ditching her parents, Simone comes to appreciate her Haitian heritage and culture, and realize how much she does love her mom, as trying as she may be. The book celebrates the value of good friends (and how not to lose them) and the families who love us. Haitian culture and Haitian Creole language are sprinkled throughout the book, deftly adding to the depiction of the New York area Haitian-American community.
THOUGHTS: This delightful rom-com is perfect for middle school as well as high school, with nothing more dangerous than a few chaste kisses, and clubbing occurs as a teen venue serving “mocktails.”
Cantor, Jillian. The Code for Love and Heartbreak. Inkyard Press, 2020. 978-335-09059-1. $18.99. 297 p. Grades 9 and up.
Emma Woodhouse thinks in numbers. For example, when her sister Izzy leaves for college all she can think about is the 2,764 miles that will be between them now while she’s at UCLA with her boyfriend, John. As she packs to leave, Izzy implores Emma to be more social in her senior year, maybe even get a boyfriend. Emma scoffs at this ridiculous idea, though, and decides just to focus on winning the New Jersey state coding competition with John’s younger brother and her friend George. With her coding skills, George’s graphic design and animation skills, and their senior leadership as co-captains, they think they have a real shot. Stanford would definitely take her seriously with that state championship on her resume. But even Ms. Taylor, her guidance counselor and coding club advisor suggests that Emma find more “social” activities to put on her resume because grades and coding club accolades won’t make her stand out at Stanford where thousands of brainy computer nerds apply. George wants to create a recycling app for the competition, but Emma decides she can accomplish both of her resume goals – win the state championship and do something more social – if they develop a unique dating app, one that mathematically pairs users with their perfect match right at their own school. It’s perfect – Emma can play matchmaker for all the school dances without actually going on dates herself in order to check off that “social” box on her resume, win the state coding competition, and ride off into the sunset at Stanford. “Numbers don’t play games,” as Emma explains, so what could go wrong, right?
THOUGHTS: Based on Jane Austen’s classic Emma, this book definitely fills a specific need in YA collections. Reluctant readers who are more into math and science will find this lighthearted romance enjoyable. Also recommended for students looking for a PG-rated romance with no cursing or sex, aside from an instance of some boys who try to use the dating app for the wrong reasons.
Alegre, Reina Luz. The Dream Weaver. Simon & Schuster Publishers, 2020. $17.99. 978-1-534-46231-1. Grades 5-8.
After drifting around the country following her father’s next big idea her whole life, twelve-year-old Zoey Finolio and her college-bound brother, Jose, land at the Jersey shore living with their maternal Cuban grandfather—one of the most stable homes since their mother’s death. Though Zoey loves her father, she revels in a summer at the beach, doing things most kids her age do and embraces the dream of saving Gonzo’s, her grandfather’s rundown bowling alley, from a developer. When she gets a chance to fill in as a bowler on a local team headed for a championship, Zoey sees it as an opportunity to not only savor friendship but also rejuvenate the boardwalk business. The familial relationships and friendships are nurturing and supportive throughout the book, but this book doesn’t resort to past solutions. Even after the valiant efforts of Zoey and her new friends, Pappy decides to unload the bowling alley and just manage it; Jose still wants to pursue his dream of being an engineer at college; and Zoey’s father continues to try his luck at a different job despite sacrificing his children’s stability. Zoey shows strength of character in expressing her feelings to her father and finds solace in her supportive brother, her new friends, and her new home with her beloved Pappy.
THOUGHTS: The close familial relationships and kind friend relationships are a delight to read. Zoey’s father’s behavior is abysmal and may be a form of bibliotherapy for some readers. In Chapter One, Zoey gets her period for the first time and the narrative explains her distress and how she deals with it, so using the book as a read aloud—at least the first chapter—may be uncomfortable.
Realistic Fiction Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia