Elem. – Starting Over in Sunset Park

Pelaez, Jose & Lynn McGee. Starting Over in Sunset Park. Tilbury House Publishers, 2021. 978-0-884-48844-6 p. 40. $17.95. Grades 1-5. 

Brooklyn, New York, can be a lonely and intimidating place for an eight-year-old girl. Especially a girl that moves to the United States for the first time and speaks very little English. Starting Over in Sunset Park is the story of an immigrant girl finding her place in a vastly different environment than what she had previously known. Jessica and her mother Camila moved from the Dominican Republic into a crowded apartment in Brooklyn to live with cousins. With the apartment feeling a bit crowded, Jessica’s mother finds work making holiday decorations in a factory so that they can afford their own place to live. Jessica also feels isolated in her new school, the playground is challenging to play in, and she cannot understand the English she hears all day long. Throughout the story, the reader feels Jessica’s intense longing for her previous home and the desire to feel accepted and comfortable in this new place. Little by little, Jessica and her mother adapt to their new home, and thanks to an incredible experience, mother and daughter are inspired to make the best of their situation. Starting Over in Sunset Park will resonate with any reader who has experienced change and begun anew.

THOUGHTS: Starting Over in Sunset Park is a lovely picture book that embraces immigration, change, and overcoming obstacles. Jessica and Camilia’s journey is compassionate and full of hope. With the inclusion of the Spanish Language, this picture book would resonate strongly with anyone who has ever made a home in a new country and learned a new language.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

MG – Glitter Gets Everywhere

Clark, Yvette. Glitter Gets Everywhere. Harper, 2021. 978-0-063-03448-8. 308 p. $15.15. Grades 5-8.

Kitty has barely had time to process her mother’s illness and death from cancer. Her dad can’t possibly be serious about taking her and her older sister, Imogen, from their home in London to New York City for four months. Everything that reminds her of her mum is in London. If they leave, will she be leaving her mother’s memory also? And as if it isn’t already awkward being the new kid with the funny accent, how is she supposed to explain to the PTA moms that her own mum will not be joining them on the committee for the Halloween dance? New York City seems destined to be a disaster, but just because so much is new doesn’t mean Kitty has to say goodbye to the old. Maybe some distance is just what Kitty needs to start the healing process.

THOUGHTS: It can hit a school hard when a student loses a parent, and unfortunately, it happens all too often. Glitter Gets Everywhere is an excellent book to have on your shelves for that student who needs to read about grief in a way that does not tie it up in a neat bow, but rather shows that it is messy, ongoing, and devastating, and like glitter thrown into the air, reminders are everywhere. But like Kitty, they too can find a way to make their new reality the new normal.

Realistic Fiction                            Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

YA – Cool for the Summer

Adler, Dahlia. Cool for the Summer. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-76582-6. $18.99. 255 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Larissa Bogdan returns to her New York suburb school on the first day of her senior year after a whirlwind summer in the Outer Banks, and before she even heads to her first class, her obsessive crush for years, popular football player who never knew she existed, Chase Harding, saunters over to her locker and suddenly starts talking to her. He claims she looks different, and so does her best friend Shannon. She’s got a new haircut and a tan, sure, but her fresh glow is more likely coming from within. Afterall, she just had an unexpectedly amazing summer-long fling with Jasmine Killary, her mom’s boss’s daughter who she shared a house with over the summer. But now out of nowhere, Chase Harding seems interested in her, and before she can even process it, who walks into her school but Jasmine. They haven’t spoken since the last night they spent together in the Outer Banks. Larissa can’t figure out why she’s suddenly going to her school, or why she’s pretending not to know her, and there’s no time to dwell on it while Chase Harding is flirting with her and asking her out. Larissa SHOULD be on Cloud Nine dating Chase, but everywhere she goes, there’s Jasmine, reminding her of last summer. How can she enjoy finally dating Chase, the boy of her dreams since middle school, when she can’t stop thinking about Jasmine?

THOUGHTS: Told in an alternating timeline from the present to the previous summer, readers follow Larissa along in the present while also seeing her summer with Jasmine unfold in the past tense. This is a laugh-out-loud yet also emotional story of love and self-discovery. A good addition for YA LGBTQ collections as Larissa thinks she is bisexual, but she’s still figuring herself out and doesn’t necessarily ascribe to a label by the story’s end, which is an important thing for young readers to see.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – Love Is a Revolution

Watson, Renee. Love Is a Revolution. Bloomsbury YA, 2021. 978-1-547-60060-1. 304 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

Nala agrees to attend an open mic night with her cousin, not really expecting to find love. She meets Tye Brown, an activist and Nala is… not; Tye wants to spend his summer doing community service, and Nala wants to hang out and try new ice cream flavors. Nala makes the decision to tell a couple white lies to Tye, and that ends up spiraling into something she did not expect. Will Nala come clean to the guy of her dreams or keep the lies going? The best part about this novel is the body positivity and Nala’s friend group. While this is a YA romance, there is a larger message about being true to yourself and loving yourself for who you are.

THOUGHTS: I adored everything about this book and these characters. I loved the way Renee Watson develops her characters, and her writing style makes this book so easy to read. Highly recommended for any high school collection.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Charming as a Verb

Philippe, Ben. Charming as a Verb. Balzar + Bray, 2020. 978-0-062-82414-1. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Ben Philippe has yet to write something that I don’t fall in love with almost immediately. Henri Haltiwanger in Charming as a Verb is no exception to the rule. Henri attends a prestigious private school in New York City, on scholarship, and is surrounded by classmates who have more money and connections than he does. Henri’s positive attitude, charm, and hustle drive him to be a star debater, friendly with just about all the students, and manages and works his own dog walking empire. When it’s time to apply for colleges, his dream school, Columbia, seems just out of reach, despite being blocks away. Along the way Henri makes a friendship he didn’t think he would, and a decision or two that seem out of character, but Philippe maintains a realistic pulse on teenage life.

THOUGHTS: High school libraries looking to enhance their realistic collection with a story told through the lens of someone who fits in from an observer’s perspective but really doesn’t feel a sense of belonging should add this book to their collection. A relatively light read with a happy ending can go a long way after a year like 2020.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Clap When You Land

Acevedo, Elizabeth. Clap When You Land. Quill Tree Books, 2020. 978-0-062-88276-9. 432 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Because of a terrible tragedy, two sixteen year old girls suffer an unimaginable loss. Though they’re half sisters, Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios have never met; they don’t even know of the other’s existence. When Camino arrives at an airport in the Dominican Republic to pick up her Papi for the summer, she sees a crowd of people in tears. The plane he was on went down over the ocean, and Camino’s future plans of attending medical school in the US vanish in an instant. Despite the utter hole her Papi’s disappearance leaves in Camino’s life, she holds onto hope that he will be found alive. Who else will protect her from El Cero, a local pimp who starts hanging around and following her. In New York Yahaira suffers a similar loss, though her grief is overshadowed by guilt and anger. Because she learned one of her Papi’s secrets, Yahaira gave up playing chess and rarely spoke to her father for the past year. Yahaira struggles to see her Papi as the man she grew up idolizing, as the man her local Dominican community in New York sees. Her mother is also experiencing similar mixed emotions, and she is adamant that Yahaira’s father be returned to the states, though his wishes were to be in the Dominican. As Yahaira learns more about her father and his time away from her, she becomes more determined to know more.

THOUGHTS: Told in alternating chapters of verse, do not miss out on this newest Acevedo book! It is a must have for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Camino and Yahaira live in two different worlds; Camino in the Dominican Republic as an apprentice to her healer aunt, and Yahaira, a chess champion, in New York City. Camino dreams of attending Columbia University and lives for summers when her father, who works in NYC, returns to DR. Yahaira cannot escape who she is and the unspoken truths that surround her. Connected by a secret, completely hidden to one and unspoken by the other, a plane crash reveals the truth and connects these two together forever unleashing a world of pain, hope, and family.

THOUGHTS: Told through alternating, novel-in-verse chapters, Acevedo explores one family in two separate worlds: one of wealth and one of poverty. One of hope and one of want. One of love and one of anger. Yet it is not always clear which world each character lives in. The exploration of the haves and have nots as defined by the characters alternates within each story as each girl grapples with the world in which she lives. Throughout the story, Acevedo explores a variety of issues facing each character: sexual orientation, sex trafficking, abuse, loss, desire, and hope. Readers will connect with the characters of Camino and Yahaira even if their situations are a window.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD