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