YA – The Personal Librarian

Benedict, Marie, and Christopher Murray, Victoria. The Personal Librarian. Berkeley Books, 2021. 978-0-593-10153-7. 341 p. $27.00. Grades 11-12+.

The broad genre of historical fiction needs to specify all the long, lost stories of yore that focus on little known historical figures. The fictionalized retelling of J. P. Morgan’s personal collection of books, artwork, and other materials that eventually became the Pierpont Morgan Library through the curation of his personal librarian, Belle de Costa Greene was sensational. Belle worked as a librarian at Princetown before returning to New York City to live with her family and work for Morgan as a curator of his magnificent collection. Her position took her to foreign cities, elite parties, and other exclusive events that Black women often were not at liberty to experience during that time. Some scenes include romantic descriptions. Belle also has an abortion without her consent, which can be triggering for some readers.

THOUGHTS: Some of the character building took longer than typical YA books might. But for the student who has a love of history, arts, women’s rights, and Black rights, this is the perfect story to get lost in before doing their own research on the Pierpont Morgan Library and who Belle de Costa Greene was and how her work at the turn of the 20th century still has ripple effects today.

Historical Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Blackout

Clayton, Dhonielle, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon. Blackout.  Harper Collins, 2021. 978-0-063-08809-2. 256 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12

Blackout, a young adult novel for teens, is comprised of six interlinked stories that celebrate Black love and friendship during a citywide power outage. The citywide blackout causes the characters to go into a tailspin. Their friendships and relationships are tested and changed- and in some cases, begin anew. These six short stories are beautifully interconnected, and readers will fall in love with every character in the novel. The reader meets Jacorey (a gay athlete who has yet to come out), Tammi and Kareem (exes who run into each other at a job interview), Nella (who gets a boost of self-confidence from her Grandfather and a new acquaintance), Lana and Tristian (who are lost in the public library), Kayla (who already is in a relationship but may want something different), and Seymour and Grace (who share a ride through the city). All six stories celebrate young love and friendship and are written with authenticity and heart.  

THOUGHTS: What an anthology! Not only is the novel’s premise beautiful, but the characters are so well developed that their voices are shining through on every page. With the collaboration of six of the most influential women in current YA literature, the novel celebrates coming of age in one of the most vibrant cities in the world: New York City! Blackout is also available as an audiobook, which is just fantastic! The only downfall is that the anthology ended. It leaves the reader craving more stories from each of these characters. 

Short Stories          Marie Mengel, Reading SD
Realistic Fiction

A collection of short stories written by acclaimed authors are woven together as each story is set during a blackout during the summer in New York City. Some stories are not completed in one section, but bounce back and forth which could be challenging for some readers to comprehend. Although the flow of some stories isn’t constant, it helps connect all the stories and characters as experiencing something universal: love and a summer night in NYC when the lights are bizarrely out. All stories celebrate love in many diverse ways. The stories almost took on the feel of novellas, as some stories stretched a bit longer with characters that were easy to relate to or to cheer on from the sidelines. The details about New York City are highlighted artfully throughout each story that isn’t often seen in YA fiction. The book ends with bonus content from all six authors that provides further context into their work. 

THOUGHTS: If you already have YA short story collections like Let it Snow on your shelves (or always off your shelves), this is a great addition for high school libraries looking for fiction that tells stories of Black love and LGBTQ+ love without a focus of oppression. 

Short Stories          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD
Realistic Fiction

MG – City of the Plague God

Chadda, Sarwat. City of the Plague God. Disney-Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-368-05150-7. 400 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7. 

Sik, a thirteen-year-old Iraqi-American, lives with his mother and father in New York City, running a family deli specializing in middle-eastern food. He and his parents mourn his older brother, Mo, who was killed while traveling in Iraq. Alone in the deli one night, Sik encounters two scary guys in the back alley, eating rats and talking in rhyming couplets. Then Sik meets their boss, an insect infested, maggot producing 10-foot monster who proceeds to demolish the deli looking for something he says Mo stole from Iraq. If that wasn’t weird enough, Sik is saved by a pint-sized ninja, who turns out to be Belet, the new girl in his class at school. And if THAT isn’t weird enough, Belet is the daughter of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. Ishtar explains to Sik that his nighttime visitor was Nergal, the Mesopotamian god of war and plague, and New York City has just become an immortal battle zone. Another entry from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint introduces middle grade readers to really ancient mythology – stories from the Fertile Crescent. The original super hero, Gilgamesh, appears in the story, having renounced his former violent ways. This story is not for the faint of heart. Bugs, blood, and bile dominate in this action-packed adventure. Characters come back from the dead, and Sik must visit the underworld in his pursuit of Mo’s mysterious treasure. Learning about Sumaria was never so much fun! Sik is a charming character who cares deeply about his family, and resents his brother for dying, while Belet desperately wants a family like the one Sik treasures.

THOUGHTS: Those students who may have previously eschewed the RRP family of books will be drawn in by the delightful grossness of this story. Readers may not run for a translation of Gilgamesh, but they will undoubtedly be more receptive to learning about Mesopotamia in history class.

Fantasy (Mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Ground Zero

Gratz, Alan. Ground Zero. Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-24575-2. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

Brandon, 9 years old, suspended from school for fighting, is spending the day with his father, who works at the Windows on the World Restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. He sneaks away from his dad to run an errand when a plane flies into the building. It is September 11, 2001. Brandon’s life has changed forever. Decades later, and a world away, Reshmina, a young Afghan girl, also lives with the fallout of that horrific day. Life in rural Afghanistan changed drastically when the US armed forces came to push back the Taliban. While no one likes the American soldiers, most Afghans fear the Taliban as well. Alan Gratz’s take on the 9/11, attack follows the two young people, alternating between their stories. While Brandon fights for his life as he tries to escape the burning tower, Reshmina struggles with the burden of Pashtunwali, providing aid to those who request it. Reshmina comes across an American soldier injured during a Taliban ambush. Despite her hatred of the Americans, she cannot leave him to die after he asks for help. The move places her family in danger; her twin brother has begun working with the Taliban and threatens to notify them of the soldier’s presence at their home. It won’t surprise any reader that the soldier is Brandon, 18 years later. There is nothing subtle about this book. Gratz had a point to make, and he hammers it home. The two stories aren’t just parallel, but painfully structured to be identical stories – an event in one story is mirrored by a similar event in the other narrative. And Gratz does not couch his opinion that everything the US did in Afghanistan was wrong and hurtful. While the current generation of readers looks for books set around 9/11, Gratz, a master of historical fiction adventure, who single handedly has converted young readers to historical fiction fans, falls a bit flat with this story. Gratz fans will want to read it, but it will not replace gems like Refugee or Projekt 1065.

THOUGHTS: Purchase where Alan Gratz is popular, but readers may be disappointed.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Iconic America (Series NF)

Iconic America. ABDO Publishing, 2020. $23.00 ea. $138.00 set of 6. 48 p. Grades 5-8.

Burling, Alexis. Hollywood. 978-1-532-19090-2.
Kallio, Jamie. The National Mall. 978-1-532-19091-9.
Decker, Michael. New Orleans. 978-1-532-19092-6.
Ventura, Marne. New York City. 978-1-532-19093-3.
Decker, Michael. US Route 66. 978-1-532-19094-0.
Ventura, Marne. Walt Disney World. 978-1-532-19095-7.

Walt Disney World is the history behind not only Disneyworld and Disneyland but also the history and story of Walt Disney himself.  This book follows Walt Disney from growing up until he came up with the idea for the amusement parks, as well as how the parks have grown and changed over the years from the time it was created until today. The book features photos with clearly labeled captions, as well as further evidence sections where students can go to a website to find more information. The further evidence sections also ask the students questions related to what the chapter was about, which can be helpful to assist the students in continuing their research. The book features a timeline, a stop and think section, glossary, as well as online resources and an index.

THOUGHTS: Overall this is a great book for students to use for research. The information is clearly laid out and easy to follow along with additional information found throughout. Highly recommended for students.

791.06 amusement parks    Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy