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

YA – When You Were Everything

Woodfolk, Ashley. When You Were Everything. Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-1-524-71591-5. $17.99. 385 p. Grades 9 and up.

Cleo hasn’t spoken to her best friend, Layla, in 27 days. Everywhere she goes in her hometown of New York City, the ghost of their friendship lurks. Tired of torturing herself, Cleo comes up with a plan to erase all memories and associations of Layla by creating new memories surrounding her triggers like the park where they first met and the diner they frequented. A good plan in theory, all of Cleo’s meticulous plotting is rendered moot when she is not only forced to see Layla at school but also – even worse –  assigned to tutor her in English. Cleo tries desperately to figure out Life-After-Layla, but being forced to see her makes it difficult. It seems like her memory erasure plan might work when she decides to go back to Dolly’s Diner alone and runs into Dom – a cute boy she met at a party a few months ago with Layla – and Sydney – another girl in her class. However, Cleo explains, “My faith in friendship has been shaken, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get it back.” This novel is written in an alternating timeline from the present to the months leading up to Cleo and Layla’s break-up, revealing that Cleo is not completely innocent in the unraveling of their friendship.

THOUGHTS: Cleo narrates, “Girls wage endless wars with their voices, tearing you apart without touching you at all.” So many YA novels feature these epic female friendships, but for many girls this is not reality. In our culture where the expression “BFF/Best-Friends Forever” is thrown around like an expected fact of life, this book is an extremely important read for all girls. Female friendship break-ups can be just as heartbreaking – if not worse – than a romantic break-up, especially as teenagers when talk of the friendship lasting “forever” occurs much more frequently than in a high school romantic relationship. Woodfolk’s narrator is not perfect, but she is real, and her narration is raw and emotional. There are tons of songs and poems to help with the catharsis of emotions after a romantic break-up; Ashley Woodfolk has written a rare one for the friendship break-up with this novel.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA Historical Fiction – Burn Baby Burn

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Medina, Meg. Burn Baby Burn. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2016. 978-0-7636-7467-0. 310pp. $17.99. Grades 8 and up.

In this gripping coming-of-age novel, Meg Medina brings 1977 New York City vividly to life with a potent backdrop of disco, the Son of Sam murders, women’s lib, arson, and civil unrest. In her senior year of high school, Nora López is looking forward to turning 18 and saving enough money to move out on her own, escaping her needy Mima and increasingly volatile younger brother, Hector. She’s excited about her new boyfriend Pablo (the cute stock boy at the bodega where she works), though the specter of a killer at large looms over their stolen moments together. Medina includes the murderer’s notes to law enforcement, one of the ways she ramps up the tingly sense of unseen danger around each corner. Meanwhile, Mima faces a layoff and Hector’s mood swings turn violent, just two more secrets that Nora tries to keep from Pablo and her best friend, Kathleen. Many readers will identify with Nora’s economic worries and her longing for a better future. At one point, Nora describes her friends as “beautiful in the face of fear”; it’s exactly how readers will think of Nora herself. THOUGHTS: With a strong historical setting and fully realized characters, this novel is a must-read.

Historical Fiction           Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

 

“Maybe the things that scare us seem more powerful than they truly are when we keep them secret” (269).  It’s summer 1977 in Flushing, Queens.  It’s one of the hottest summers on record and the evil that lurks in the city is on the prowl.  It’s the summer of Son of Sam, and Nora Lopez worries about her long brown hair attracting the serial murderer, but that’s just the cherry.  Arsonists have taken to the city and during a city-wide blackout, businesses are looted and burned to the ground.  As Nora witnesses her troubled, pyro-loving brother burn down the neighborhood pharmacy, her fears of failure, family, and her future finally force her to face herself and the lies she’s been telling to protect her family from shame.  As Nora draws strength from within, she finally faces her broken family and future with inner-strength.  THOUGHTS: With a backdrop of disco, the Son of Sam murders, women’s liberation, and cultural tensions, Burn Baby Burn is a wonderful piece of historical fiction that reminds readers that everyone faces difficulties, but it’s how one stands up to those challenges that allows the future to unfold.

Historical Fiction     Erin Parkinson, Beaver Area MS-HS

Audacity

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Crowder, Melanie.  Audacity.  New York: Philomel Books, 2015.  978-0-399-16899-4. 389 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

Clara Lemlich is a Russian-Jewish immigrant living in the Lower East Side of New York City during the early 1900s.  Forced to work in garment factories in order to provide for her family, Clara is appalled by the horrendous working conditions for young female immigrants.  Although she has always dreamed of going to college and becoming a doctor, she soon finds herself torn between this goal and her new dream of improving working conditions for all factory workers.  Written in verse and based loosely on the life of Clara Lemlich Shavelson, a leading figure in a massive strike of NYC garment workers in 1909, this story celebrates the tremendous power of people working together towards a common goal.  To further ignite discussion, the book includes a historical note about the real Clara Lemlich, an interview with some of her living family members, a glossary of Jewish and Russian terms, and a list of selected sources for further study.

Historical Fiction    Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

This book touches on a broad range of topics in U.S. history and could therefore be used to supplement curriculum in areas such as the persecution of Jews, workers’ rights, women’s history, labor unions, immigration, and Ellis Island.  It could be paired with a nonfiction title such as Albert Marrin’s Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and its Legacy.  Although the uprising of the 20,000 referred to in Audacity happened in 1909 and the Triangle fire was a few years later (1911), it would be a great lead-in to this topic.  It could also be paired with Michelle Markel’s Brave Girl, although this picture book is targeted more towards lower elementary students.  Because there are not many titles for young adults on this topic, this is an excellent addition that will help fill in gaps in any historical fiction collection.

 

Oh, Yeah! Audrey…new from Tucker Shaw

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Shaw, Tucker. Oh Yeah, Audrey! New York: Amulet, 2014. 978-1-4197-1223-4. 256p. $16.95. Gr. 9 and up.

When her mother died, sixteen-year-old Gemma Beasley began to fill her time by creating and maintaining “Oh Yeah, Audrey!”, a blog devoted to all things Audrey Hepburn.  A huge fan of the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Gemma decides to organize a day out in New York City organized around aspects of the film.  Together with Trina and Bryan, two online acquaintances she has met through her blog, she plans to explore the city, beginning outside Tiffany & Co., and ending with a midnight screening of the film. At first, everything goes according to plan-Gemma slips away from home, her father none the wiser, and all her online friends make it to New York.  But her plans are soon disrupted by the unexpected appearance of Dusty, a wealthy boy who had in previous weeks found her blog online and communicated with Gemma about Hepburn in order to complete a school paper.  Gemma finds herself drawn to the charismatic Dusty and deserts her other friends in order to embark on a glamour-filled tour of the city with him.  As the day progresses, Gemma, like Holly Golightly, discovers some difficult truths about trying to reinvent yourself in the big city.

Realistic          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

It is not necessary to be an Audrey Hepburn fan or a viewer of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in order to understand the plot of Oh Yeah, Audrey!.  That being said, having seen the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s will definitely increase the reader’s comprehension of the nuances and references made in the story.  The novel is designed to be a light and quick read that incorporates topics as varied as celebrity worship, romance, friendship, self-discovery, and grief (as Gemma is struggling with the recent death of her mother).  For the most part, the novel succeeds in meshing together these themes, though a few of the lessons Gemma learns along the way are not handled by Shaw with much finesse.  The other aspect of the story that I just had trouble accepting was the character name Dusty—I associate the name “Dusty” with characters in old black and white westerns, not today’s contemporary teens.  But other readers may not have this problem. Recommend to students looking for a lighter, quick read.

Mafia Girl

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Blumenthal, Deborah. Mafia Girl. Chicago: Albert Whitman & Company, 2014. 978-0-8075-4911-7.  $16.99. Gr. 8 and up.
Gia is New York’s current cutting-edge bad girl.  Circulating rumors affiliate her family, and father more importantly, to the mob, so kids at school either revere or avoid her.  She only has two genuine friends she can trust, Ro and Clive.  When she’s joyriding with her bestie Ro in a borrowed car, Officer Cross or “McHottie” pulls them over and issues multiple citations as Gia’s conspicuous flirting and crude mouth build sensual tension.  At the station, Super Mario, the family lawyer, smooths over the incident, but Gia can’t get the young, gorgeous officer out of her head.  Her innocent schoolgirl crush soon turns to obsession as she stalks him at his local hangouts, hoping for a hot and steamy makeout session.  When she confides in Clive, he helps her look into her crush’s past with the help of his hacking skills and father’s state-of-the-art computer only to discover a shocking secret link between the two families that may doom the star-crossed lovers before they have a chance at real intimacy.
While it’s tempting to view Gia as a pampered diva, there’s an underlying sweetness about her character shown subtly in the way she interacts with Clive and her family.  Accustomed to getting what she wants, Michael Cross is a unique ambition since he refuses Gia’s advances in spite of his own growing attraction.  Irreconcilable family backgrounds, promiscuous rendezvous, and intense passion all speak to the excitement and ardor of first love.

Realistic Fiction    Christine Massey, JWP Middle School