MG – Freestyle

Galligan, Gale. Freestyle. Graphix, 2022. 978-1-338-04581-9. Unpaged. $24.99. Grades 3-7.

Cory Tan’s break dance team is about to compete in a big competition, and all eight members are excited. The team captain, Tess, is pushing the group harder than ever before to the point where it causes some strain in the group. Cory causes even more strain when his parents check his grades and ground him until he gets his grades back to acceptable levels. His punishment means the dance crew has to rehearse without Cory. His parents hire a tutor named Sunna, a classmate of Cory’s who is a bit of an outcast at school. She constantly is writing intensely in a notebook and barely talks to anyone. After a rocky first tutoring session, Cory discovers that Sunna has a secret: She has incredible yo-yo skills! Sunna uses yo-yo moves to help him learn geometry and in the process, Cory becomes hooked on yo-yoing. Instead of devoting what little free time he has to the dance team, he starts hanging out with Sunna outside of tutoring to work on his yo-yo moves. Eventually, Cory discovers that Sunna’s parents also have very high expectations of her which leaves her feeling like she is never good enough. Cory and Sunna have to figure out how to fit this budding friendship into their already packed lives while also navigating their parents’ and friends’ expectations of them.

THOUGHTS: The newest book from Galligan, the author responsible for the illustrated adaptations of the beloved Babysitters Club graphic novels, is a must-purchase for middle grade libraries. Featuring a diverse cast of characters living in New York City, this book shows that pre-teens from all backgrounds struggle with parental acceptance and peer pressure. The book is fun and full of heart.

Graphic Novel          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – When You Get the Chance

Lord, Emma. When You Get the Chance. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-78334-9. 308 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Millie Price always has known that she was most comfortable singing and performing on stage. Her dream is to become a major Broadway star, and she has remained dedicated to this dream. The one thing she is not sure of is who her mother is. When she was a baby, her mother dropped her off with her father and disappeared. Millie is now ready to discover just who her mother is and has recruited her best friend Teddy to help with this mission. It is the summer before her senior year, and Millie takes on an internship working for a NYC talent agency. This is the perfect spot for her to launch her Millie Mia mission that will lead her to discovering more than she could imagine.

THOUGHTS: This was such a fun book! Romance, friendship, family, milkshakes, and Broadway musicals! I recommend this book for those readers who are into a less intense realistic read.    

Romance          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

YA – Love, Decoded

Yen, Jennifer. Love, Decoded. Razorbill, 2022. 978-0-593-11755-2. $18.99. 303 pp. Grades 7-10.

Love, Decoded by Jennifer Yen paints a world of Superbia, a Manhattan prep school, family life in a five-story brownstone with an elevator, and the fashionable and edible haunts of wealthy young New Yorkers that mixes Kevin Kwan’s Crazy, Rich Asians PG with Jane Austen’s Emma. Gigi Wong is a matchmaker-in-training with her Great-Aunt Rose in the backroom of her Chinatown shop, Rose and Jade. A computer coding whiz, sixteen-year-old Gigi convinces Auntie Rose to let her digitize some of the biodata on her clients. In first-person narration, Gigi describes her close friendship with next-door neighbor, Chinese and white, Kyle Miller; he is her confidante and go-to person, but nothing more (cue predictability). As a volunteer at the Suzuki Youth Center, the beautiful and magnanimous Gigi takes under her wing mentee, Etta, a Filipino-American scholarship student. Gigi learns to appreciate Etta’s exuberance and guilelessness and introduces her to a make over, exclusive restaurant openings, and demonstrations of privilege. In turn, Etta, an anime and video game aficionado, teaches Gigi how to use the subway, to buy clothes on a budget, and to appreciate the sacrifices Gigi’s chauffeur Fernando makes to be at the Wongs’ beck and call. Etta’s difficulty fitting in at Superbia also provides Gigi with the idea for her entry in a Junior Coding Contest. Using her novice matchmaking skills, Gigi enhances her program Quizlr into one that matches compatible friends. When former friend, Joey Kwan, returns from Singapore looking new and improved, Gigi thinks she has found a match for Etta. As the deadline for the contest approaches, Gigi has her pals try out her app only to find out that it has gone viral producing glitches in the program and serious problems for Gigi and her teacher, Ms. Harris. All gets neatly resolved with Gigi gaining new insight into what she truly wants for her future. Most readers will be treated to this world where teens wear original designers, dine at the trendiest restaurants, have their own credit cards, achieve high grades and awards, converse honestly and comfortably with their parents, and find their true love. Who wouldn’t want to escape there?

THOUGHTS: There are so many reasons this story is irritating, yet readers feel compelled to read it to the end. It fits all the stereotypes: wealthy prep school students can buy anything; the main characters are always going to the latest, best restaurants or ordering in their favorite foods; the narrator takes care to describe in detail their designer outfits and make up. Gigi knows the right things to say to maintain her sweet girl demeanor. She is supposed to be beautiful, smart, and popular, but no other girlfriends enter the story but her mentee, Etta, and through her, Gigi’s ex-friend, Anna. Perhaps Love, Decoded is an example of why we read fiction: to escape into a different world unlike our own. For that reason, Love, Decoded may become a seller among older middle school and younger high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Isla to Island

Castellanos, Alexis. Isla to Island. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-534-46923-5. 192 p. $12.99. Gr. 4-7.

Until Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1959, Marisol enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Cuba with her devoted parents, delighting in the sights, lush surroundings, and delicacies of her beloved island home. But to protect her amidst food shortages and increasing violence, her parents make the heart wrenching decision to send their daughter to Brooklyn with “Operation Peter Pan” in 1961. The transition from “isla to island” is not an easy one for Marisol. She faces a language barrier, bullies, and her first taste of winter. Author/illustrator Alexis Castellanos depicts early scenes in Habana in bright, appealing colors, but Marisol’s world becomes a dismal black and white when she arrives in New York City. Spots of color (a blossom here, a book there) emerge as she acclimates to her new surroundings, but adjusting takes time and plenty of tears. Luckily she is cared for by an older couple who, though they cannot replace Marisol’s family, are very kind. For example, the woman shows Marisol how to use Kotex pads when she gets her first period, and they take her to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens greenhouse to support her love for nature. A hopeful ending hints at Marisol’s bright future.

THOUGHTS: This exceptionally lovely, mostly wordless graphic novel, which turns on a too-little-known historical event, is not to be missed!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Accused: My Story of Injustice (I, Witness series)

Bah, Adama. Accused: My Story of Injustice (I, Witness series). Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01663-2. 112 p. $16.95. Grades 5-8.

Adama Bah immigrated to the United States when she was two years old. Her father had come to work in the United States two years prior from Guinea. As a student she attended public school, until seventh grade when she went to an Islamic boarding school to learn more about her religion. Then, September 11, 2001, happened. Upon her return to New York City for Ramadan break, Adama experienced cruelty and hate from strangers because of her dress which identified her as Muslim; she was 13. On March 24, 2005, Adama’s nightmare of hatred and cruelty reached a horrific level. She was ripped from her home and taken into custody, but she did not know why. She was identified as a terrorist and suicide bomber, but no one could share any evidence to these acts except that she was a practicing Muslim. She was stripped of her rights, her family, her pride, and her religion. At the age of 17, she was released back to New York City under the watch of a federal ankle bracelet. Her father, through all of this, was deported. She, as the eldest child, was now responsible for the well-being of her family in New York City and Guinea. She quit school to work but still faced daily hatred, cruelty, and bigotry.  Adama was granted asylum in 2007, but she still fights hatred and bigotry to this day. 

THOUGHTS: This is a fantastic addition to middle school biography collections. The cover is not the most appealing (it appears juvenile), but the book itself is eye-opening. I’m glad I gave it a chance. The print is large with lots of white space (again somewhat juvenile in appearance), but the content is engaging and a very quick read. This is a great text to teach perspective and current U.S. history. It is one of several titles currently available in the I, Witness series.

Biography          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – The Year I Flew Away

Arnold, Marie. The Year I Flew Away. Versify, 2021. 978-0-358-27275-5. 285 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Marie Arnold establishes herself as a gifted storyteller, weaving realistic setting with a magical tale involving a talking rat, wishes, and witches. Ten-year-old Gabrielle Jean’s Haitian family sends her to live with her uncle and aunt in Flatbush, a busy neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, until they can save enough funds to join her. She looks forward to the American Dream, but it doesn’t take long before it is shattered. Classmates make fun of her accent; she feels strange and left out. Though Carmen, a Mexican-American girl, is anxious to be her friend, Gabrielle still feels incredibly lonely and unmoored from her friends and immediate family in Haiti. These bleak feelings motivate her to make a deal with the witch, Lady Lydia, in Prospect Park. Lady Lydia gives Gabrielle three magic mango slices. Each one represents a wish; each wish granted brings Gabrielle closer to Lady Lydia capturing her essence. With the first mango slice, Gabrielle loses her accent, making her better understood and accepted by the other students. The second mango slice is even more powerful. After eating it, Gabrielle not only erases her memories of Haiti but also entails the added consequence of losing her entire Flatbush family. Seemingly, Gabrielle’s wishes have been fulfilled. Her classmates believe they have known Gabrielle forever and believe she was born in America, but, of course, she cannot be happy without her aunt, uncle, the toddler twins, and teen-age cousin. It troubles her that she can no longer communicate in Haitian Creole. Rocky, a rat Gabrielle encounters on the street, nicely translates for her and helps Gabrielle problem solve how she will outwit Lady Lydia (though Rocky has its own unfulfilled wish to be a rabbit). As the school looks forward to Culture Day, Gabrielle tries to resist the last mango and still save her family. She knows she needs the help of a good witch to counteract this bad witch who desires a homogenous Brooklyn where perfection is everyone is the same. Arnold whips up a twenty-first century fairy tale to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion that blends American patriotism, pride in and acceptance of differences, and appreciation of one’s heritage.

THOUGHTS: If Kate DiCamillo is an author who demonstrates the beauty of language, then Marie Arnold is an author who demonstrates the beauty of storytelling. Accessible, genuine, and creative, Ms. Arnold weaves an unusual tale (sometimes I had to stretch my believability especially when Gabrielle cozies up to vermin who wishes to be a rabbit) that builds to a crescendo of patriotism, pride in one’s culture and heritage. Realistically, most sixth grade students may not have the ability to wax eloquently about their backgrounds, yet Arnold has Gabrielle come to the realization that a person can be an immigrant loyal to the country of one’s birth and equally be an American, loyal to a new country. An added bonus is the character of Mrs. Bartell, the solicitous school librarian who happens to be Haitian-American and helps Gabrielle every step of the way.

Fantasy          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Magic Realism

YA – Take Me Home Tonight

Matson, Morgan. Take Me Home Tonight. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-481-49898-2. $18.99. 405 p. Grades 9 and up.

Dubbed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets The Babysitter’s Club by the author herself, Take Me Home Tonight is a 12-hour romp through New York City filled with mishaps around every corner. Best friends and theater kids Kat and Stevie just want theater director Mr. Campbell to post the cast list for the first production of their senior year when he unexpectedly decides he needs another weekend to finalize the cast. Then, Stevie’s dad predictably backs out of her birthday dinner plans. Kat tries to cheer up her disappointed best friend and fix this frustrating Friday (in more ways than one, unbeknownst to Stevie) by deciding that she and Stevie sneak into New York City and take the dinner reservation instead of Stevie taking her mom like her dad suggested. (They’ll also go see Mr. Campbell’s play while they’re there, though Kat doesn’t tell Stevie about that part at first). The girls devise an elaborate plan, using their friend Teri as a cover, and leave their suburban Connecticut town for an adventure in the Big Apple. Secrets, step siblings, a destroyed cell phone, and a really charismatic dog get in the way though. Will their friendship survive the night?

THOUGHTS: There is something – which I can’t put into words –  about a Morgan Matson book that just feels a notch above the rest. Readers can always count on certain elements in her books, and this one is no different – there is a trip, a dog, some romance, and of course, the “Easter Egg” characters that pop in from her previous books (mini-spoiler alert: there are SEVERAL previous characters in this one, and they play slightly bigger roles than usual!). And there’s some surprisingly fun action in this one, too, a bit of a departure from the author’s norm. This comedy of errors is a must-have for your YA contemporary collection, especially if you have any other Matson books.

Realistic Fiction         Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – Lore

Bracken, Alexandra. Lore. Disney Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-484-77820-3. $18.99. 480 p. Grades 9-12.

Lore Perseus is trying to live a normal life, but as a descendant of the Greek hero Perseus, it’s not that simple. Every seven years, a new Agon begins. During this time, nine Greek gods walk the Earth as mortals as a punishment from Zeus. These gods are hunted by the descendants of the ancient Greek bloodlines. If a god is killed by a mortal during an Agon, the mortal hunters will inherit their power and immortality. Although Lore walked away from that world after her family was murdered, her past is catching up with her. When she is approached by a childhood friend and the god Athena, Lore strikes up an alliance hoping to avenge the death of her family and finally escape the Agon forever. Set against the backdrop of modern day New York City, Lore must confront her past, figure out who she can trust, and ultimately save the world from both old gods and new.

THOUGHTS: This book has been described as a mix between The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and I would absolutely recommend it to readers that are fans of Rick Riordan and Greek mythology. In addition, Lore is a standalone fantasy novel which may appeal to readers who are not looking to commit to a series. The main character, Lore, is a strong and powerful female determined to take control of her own life. The fast-paced story is full of action, and the surprising plot twists will keep readers on their toes!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Lore Perseous wants to be a normal teenage girl living in New York City. She wants to forget that she is from an Ancient Greek bloodline, descended from Perseus himself. However, the brutal reminder of who she is becomes apparent as the Agon begins its next cycle after seven years. The Agon, which started as a punishment from Zeus for past rebellions, is a time in which nine Greek gods and goddesses are forced to walk on Earth as mortals. During the seven days of the Agon, if a god or goddess is killed by a descendant of an ancient bloodline, the descendant seizes that god’s powers and immortality. For her own sanity and protection, Lore is determined to ignore the Agon as she has horrible memories of what happened to her family during the last one. The Fates have other plans for her when two people seek her out: Castor, a childhood friend, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war. Athena offers Lore an alliance in an attempt to stop one god from becoming all-powerful. Joining this alliance means she could possibly end the horrors of the Agon forever, so Lore is tempted. She knows, however, binding to Athena could come at a deadly cost and wipe out the rest of the Perseous bloodline forever. By rejoining the hunt, Lore is leaving her fate in the hands of a powerful goddess who is not always known for keeping her promises.

THOUGHTS: Alexandra Bracken’s book is a heart-pounding adventure that leaves the reader at a cliffhanger with the end of every chapter. Readers should have a basic knowledge of Greek Mythology to get the most out of this book, but fans of Zeus and all the rest are sure to love this tale. This book is a fantastic purchase for high school libraries, especially with students who read Percy Jackson in middle school and are now looking for something more advanced.

Fantasy/Adventure        Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – I Think I Love You

Desombre, Auriane. I Think I Love You. Underlined, 2021. 978-0-593-17976-5. $9.99. 309 p. Grades 9 and up.

Emma loves love, particularly romantic comedies. She wants to make film her life’s work, and winning the NYC-LA Student Film Festival and a full scholarship to study film would convince her parents that it’s a worthwhile pursuit. The fact that the love story she wants to tell is a female-female relationship is also important to her as it might finally help her come out to her parents as bisexual. Just as she enlists her friend group’s help and is prepared to start making the gay rom-com of her heart, their friend Sophia comes back from spending a year in Paris and messes it all up. Not only have they never gotten along, as two of the only queer girls at school, classmates constantly try to pair them up, which is super annoying and cliche. Now Sophia, also a film geek, wants to enter the film festival too, but with an artsy, angsty film a-la Paris because she hates love, which is understandable after her parents divorced. The friend group splits into two film-making teams, and a rivalry ensues, but when the filming stops and Emma and Sophia are thrown together in social situations – some orchestrated by their friends – they can’t help but see each other through a different lens… pun intended.

THOUGHTS: A loose retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, this is a mostly lighthearted and fun queer romance told in alternating points of view. While some readers may find the subplot drama unnecessary and the way these friends treat each other frustrating at times, the main plot involving Emma and Sophia and the laugh-out-loud moments redeem its status as a solid choice for your LGBTQ+ students.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

MG – In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks

Brown, Don. In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks. Etch / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. 2021. 978-0-358-22357-3. 121 p. $21.99. Grades 6-9.

Don Brown excels at creating graphic nonfiction that introduces pivotal events in U.S. history to young readers. His previous titles explore the 1918 flu pandemic, the Dust Bowl, Hurricane Katrina, and more. Now, with the twenty-year mark approaching, In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers captures the tragedy, heroism, and aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. Panels depicting the day of the attacks feature chalky, muted tones that represent the ash covering “Ground Zero” and the smoky hallways of the Pentagon. Bright orange flames also appear throughout. Expository text accompanies the artwork, along with first-person speech bubbles from eyewitnesses, first responders, George W. Bush, soldiers, and survivors. As the subtitle suggests, the author’s timeline incorporates the months and years after 9/11, including the grim victim recovery efforts, the massive clean-up, and the invasion of Afghanistan. Highly controversial topics, such as “enhanced interrogation” of suspected terrorists, are also briefly mentioned.

THOUGHTS: Don Brown’s books leave readers wanting to know more, which is a good thing; they are introductory overviews of events that will hopefully lead young readers to further, more comprehensive sources.

973 American History          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD
Graphic Nonfiction

Don Brown has done a fine job of bringing to light current events and injustices through his graphic expository non-fiction works (Hurricane Katrina, Syrian refugee crisis). In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers is no exception. With his characteristic realistic monochromatic drawing style, he sketches out the horror of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, for a generation who have not lived through it. The action at the start relies heavily on what took place, rather than the cause. Brown takes the readers through the first strikes, the search and rescue and recovery efforts, and the United States government’s retaliation for the attacks. When possible, he names significant people to the event, like the film-maker Jules Naudet, who just happened to be creating a documentary on firefighters that fateful day. The author relates the courage and anxiety of the first responders, the survival and deaths of the victims, and the anguish of their families. He mentions the attacks on the Pentagon and the crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, but goes into more detail for his title theme. In brief, easily understandable prose, Brown describes President Bush’s and the American government’s decision to retaliate against al-Qaeda, the agency they believe to be responsible for the attacks. Throughout, the author remains objective and factual, whether reporting on the inhumane torture of the government’s main suspect in an effort to find Osama bin Laden or in the inconclusive report of “weapons of mass destruction.” The book includes the rebuilding of Ground Zero and the year anniversary memorial. In an afterword, Brown records information about America’s embroilment in a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the capture of Osama bin Laden in 2011, and lists of statistics on those involved in the tragedy at the World Trade Center. This carefully researched, concise report on 9/11 and its aftermath would be an apt companion to Alan Gratz’s Ground Zero, a fictionalized account of the attack on the Twin Towers. Though it tells of a horrific event in American history, it also shows the resilience, hope, and kindness of humanity.

THOUGHTS:  Brown’s even-handed approach to the 9/11 tragedy and his insertion of human connections (like the names of the police officers buried and the photo of a missing victim) make this book both factual and poignant. Even younger readers can grasp what happened in this graphic text, and older readers can use the extensive source notes to nudge them to find out more.

Graphic Nonfiction          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia