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

YA – Kent State; Parachutes; The Lucky Ones; The Dark Matter of Mona Starr; A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

Wiles, Deborah. Kent State. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-35628-1. 144 p. $17.99. Grades 7 and up.

May 4, 1970. Sandy Scheuer, Bill Schroeder, Jeff Miller, Allison Krause. “Four dead in Ohio.” (“Ohio” by Neil Young, Performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young). At a time when much of the nation was protesting the war in Vietnam and invasion of Cambodia, students at Kent State had had enough. Beginning with campus protests on Friday, May 1, 1970, and the burning of the ROTC building to the burning of buildings in the town of Kent on Saturday, May 2, 1970, the protests in Kent culminated with the killing of four students and wounding of nine others on Monday, May 4, 1970, by the Ohio National Guard. Where were the protectors? For a war being fought around the globe, the Kent State shootings “brought the war home to American soil” (145). Author Deborah Wiles relives this fateful time in American history in Kent State.  Shared through conversation by those who experienced this horrific event, Wiles explores the event from the perspective of student protestors, student bystanders, black students, townies, and National Guard members as they converse and share their memories of this fateful event. Each voice is unnamed and poignant as their memories and understanding of those fateful days is shared. Using different print types, readers are immersed into the conversation as a listener, another bystander, hearing history come alive by those who lived it. Wiles explains in “A Note about May 4 and This Story,” how she used primary source documents and oral histories from the archives at both Kent State University and Kent, Ohio, to create a conversation of memories, hardships, fear, and regret. “What might have happened? We have no answers for that. We have only this moment, now. We can make decisions to be informed as citizens, not accepting what we hear or see or read until we’ve dug deeper on our own, for context, for truth. We can listen. We can share. We can make commitments to the tenets of democracy that say we have freedom of speech, press, assembly, and petition in our public places” (146).

THOUGHTS: This is a must-have for all middle school and high school collections. Deborah Wiles brilliantly brings to life the tragedy of Kent State that not only engages readers in a turbulent time of American history but also forces readers to question what they know about history in order to better understand its application today. Wiles does not sugar-coat the violence of the period, nor does she ignore the various voices and experiences of those living in Kent as they experienced the protests. Much like her use of primary sources in The 60s Trilogy, Wiles’ use of primary sources to create a conversation of past experience leads to an understanding of the event while leaving the reader wanting more. This is a fabulous historical fiction novel to pair with informational texts about Vietnam and Kent State.

Historical Fiction        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

After conducting extensive research, Wiles recreates the chaos of Kent State University‘s campus on May 4, 1970, with distinct narratives (protestor, Guardsman, townie, student) to share many perspectives. An anti-war demonstration turned violent and resulted in the killing of four students and wounding of nine others. The fear and confusion, anger and sadness of those involved is portrayed through short snippets of free verse which encourages readers to approach history by considering many viewpoints. Each narrator is unnamed, and readers feel connected to their stories. Narratives are displayed in various fonts to differentiate.

THOUGHTS: This historical fiction belongs in high school libraries and would pair well with an American history reading collection of major events, especially those that may not receive as much attention.

Historical Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Yang, Kelly. Parachutes. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-94108-4. 496 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up.

Yang begins this “story of [her] heart” with a letter to readers and a trigger warning about the book’s content (sexual harassment and rape).

Due to her posh lifestyle in Shanghai, Claire Wang may seem oblivious to many of the typical woes of being a teenager. Claire holds a lot of pressure on her seventeen year old shoulders. Her father has a not so secret mistress – she actually reached out to Claire on WeChat – and her mother, hides her dissatisfaction by spending money on fancy clothes and trips to upscale restaurants. Family pressure and preparation for the gaokao (Chinese college entrance exam) drive Claire’s life; she doesn’t understand how teens in American movies seem to have so much free time, as her days are dictated by endless hours of homework and tutoring. Despite all of these outward pressures, Claire manages to spend time with her boyfriend and a group of friends. After an unfortunate assignment result and despite Claire’s wishes, her parents decide she should be foreign educated, attending American Preparatory school in LA, where she will live with a host family. Afterwards, Claire will “stand out” upon her return to China, and as an added bonus, she’ll avoid the gaokaos, having a better shot at getting into one of the UCs. Dani lives in East Covina, CA and is a student at American Preparatory, where she participates in band and shines on the Debate Team. Like her grandmother and great grandmother before her, Dani and her mom both work as maids, and Dani does not shy away from the hard work. This helps them afford living expenses and send $500 a month to family in the Philippines. It isn’t easy being a maid to the elite students of American Preparatory, but Dani needs the money to be able to travel to the Snider Tournament for debate and to afford Yale, the college of her dreams. To help the family with increasing expenses, Dani’s mom decides to rent out their spare room to a nice girl from China who will attend school with Dani: Claire. Told in alternating narratives, Dani and Claire don’t interact much; they are from entirely different worlds. Despite drastically different circumstances, Dani and Claire must learn to live together and even learn how to understand each other.

THOUGHTS: Parachutes is a beautiful YA novel that intertwines two painful narratives. This is a must have for all high school library collections. Be sure to read the author’s note too!

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Lawson, Liz. The Lucky Ones. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-593-11849-8. 352 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

“The Lucky Ones is a book about what happens after the news cameras leave and the reporters stop calling.” May McGintee is a “lucky one,” though she feels like anything but lucky. Wracked by PTSD, May is also angry. She’s the only survivor to walk out of the band room on the day when her twin brother and closest friends are killed during a school shooting. Feeling guilt, an immense amount of loss, as well as constantly fearing for her safety, no one could possibly understand how May feels – even after eleven months and therapy sessions. She finds ways to process her anger, but others see them as destructive. Zach’s life hasn’t been the same for the last eleven months either but for a very different reason. Zach is angry too. As a result of his mom’s decision, he lost everything, and his home, the only place he can be himself, is being vandalized. It doesn’t help that his mom is never home, and his dad is an absent parent, barely able to get himself out of bed or even get dressed. Zach and May each have one friend that sticks with them through everything. With their support, Zach and May just might be able to find a way to move forward.

THOUGHTS: This book tackles a heavy topic, well-covered in the young adult genre, but the fresh approach of looking at the aftermath when news cameras have moved onto the next big story gives this debut a worthy spot in high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Gulledge, Laura Lee. The Dark Matter of Mona Starr. Amulet Books. 2020. 978-1-419-73423-6. 192 p. $22.99. Grades 8+.

High schooler Mona Starr suffers from depression, which feels like an encompassing fog of “Dark Matter” that invades every crevice of her thoughts. It makes Mona feel overwhelmed, alone, and insignificant. Her best friend Nash has recently moved to Hawaii, but at his and her parents’ urging she begins seeing Dr. Vega, a therapist who helps Mona study her Matter and forge a path toward health. After emergency surgery to correct a rare condition, Mona also learns to embrace the support of her “Artners:” her partners in Art, though not without some additional growing pains. “Maybe art can help transform embarrassment and suffering into insight,” Mona realizes, “one heartbreak at a time.” Some readers will find Mona’s progress frustratingly halting, but depression is a very frustrating disorder and that is realistically portrayed here. Laura Lee Gulledge’s pencil-shaded illustrations, with golden spot color, are so stunningly evocative that readers will catch themselves just staring at the pages. Her portrayal of Mona’s internal world is brilliant, especially the panel that captures how it feels to be an introvert.

THOUGHTS: The Dark Matter of Mona Starr is an intimate, moving depiction of Mona’s journey toward emotional and physical wellness, embracing her unique self, and accepting the loving support of people who care most about her. Gulledge even includes a Self-Care Plan template at the close of the book so her readers can implement some of the practices that guide Mona in her journey.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Jackson, Holly. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. Delacorte Press. 2020. 978-1-984-89636-0. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Pippa Fitz-Amobi is a good girl: high achiever, faithful friend, devoted daughter, and big sister. So it’s a bit out of character for her to solve a murder for her senior capstone project, especially because it’s one that’s already been solved. Five years ago, high school senior Andie Bell disappeared from their small town of Fairfield, Connecticut. Her body was never found, but the remains of her boyfriend, Salil “Sal” Singh, were discovered in the woods along with evidence that he had killed Andie and then committed suicide out of guilt. Pippa’s instincts, honed on true crime podcasts and documentaries, tell her that Sal is innocent. She aims to raise enough doubts about Sal’s guilt to convince the police to revisit the case. With the help of Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, Pippa susses out one lead after another, untangling clues and connections hidden within interview transcripts, journal entries, and text messages. Meanwhile someone with much to lose is watching their every move — and he (or she?) is unafraid to follow through on threats against what Pippa holds dearest when she refuses to stop digging. Holly Jackson skillfully weaves the elements of a solid mystery into her debut: suspense, red herrings, breathless amateur surveillance, and even a spooky dark alley. A huge twist, revealed just when the crimes have seemingly been solved, propels the pace right to the final page.

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans, take note: You’ll be hooked from the “Murder Map” that appears on page 29! This fast-paced whodunnit is perfect for fans of Karen M. McManus’ thrillers, especially Two Can Keep a Secret. Note that this novel’s potentially sensitive topics include suicide, sexual assault, and an animal in peril.

Mystery          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – The Moon Within; Build It Environmental Science; Roll with It; Deconstructing Powerful Speeches

Salazar, Aida. The Moon Within. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019. 978-1-338-28339-6. 240 p. $17.99. Grades 3 to 7.

The Moon Within is a book in verse about, Celi, a soon-to-be twelve-year old girl and the struggles all of that entails. The main story is about the changes her body is going through and her impending “moon” (her Mima’s euphemism for her period). Mima insists on celebrating her daughter’s puberty and wants to have a moon ceremony with family and friends in her women’s group. Mima remembers the shame she felt when she first got her period, and she wants to ensure that Celi doesn’t feel shame, plus she wants to celebrate a coming-of-age ritual that might have been celebrated by their ancient ancestors. Celi’s family lives in Oakland, CA, but she is bi-cultural (Puerto Rican/Mexican) and multi-racial (Indigenous, African, and European). Celi’s best friend Magda is questioning her gender and eventually works up the courage to begin living as Marco. Marco’s parents hold an interesting ceremony where they welcome his authentic self and ask Celi for her support. Celi, who though Magda was just a tomboy, is surprised by the transformation of her best friend but is accepting. The problem begins when Celi’s crush Ivan isn’t as accepting of Marco’s transition forcing Celi to choose between the two of them.

THOUGHTS: This story reminds me of Planet Middle School. It will appeal to primarily female students due to the subject matter (puberty/periods and budding romance). The story was written primarily in English with Spanish words throughout. For non-Spanish speakers those words can be figured out easily with context clues.

Realistic Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Build It Environmental Science. Nomad Press, 2019. $17.95 ea. $71.80 set of 4. 128p. Grades 4 – 6.

Perdew, Laura. Biodiversity. 978-1-619-30751-3.
Latham, Donna. Biomes. 978-1-619-30739-1.
Latham, Donna. Garbage. 978-1619-30747-6.
Reilly, Kathleen. Planet Earth. 978-1-619-30743-8.        

Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth with Environmental Science Activities for Kids is a beautifully designed book with a lot going on. Each chapter is laid out in a similar format. They begin with a comic strip (with diverse characters), an age-appropriate essential question, boxes with “words to know” which are also included in a glossary in the back of the book, call-outs with “did you know” facts, full color photographs, extra online material that can be accessed through a QR code, and several pages of activities at the end. The activities include “consider this” information and questions as an end-of activity follow-up. The QR codes that I checked all worked, but the back of the book also includes a resources page to access the online material in an alternative method. It also includes an index and a geologic time scale. This book is one of four in an environmental science set.

THOUGHTS: This is the type of book I would have loved when I was younger. It is not only a great addition to a K-6 library, but the quality of the information and the activities would make it an excellent book for elementary science teachers.

577 Ecology          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Sumner, Jamie. Roll with It. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-44255-9. 250 p. Grades 4-7. 

Twelve-year-old Ellie has cystic fibrosis, but she doesn’t let being wheelchair bound stand in the way of her dreams of becoming a world-famous baker. Ellie pours over cookbooks, looks up recipes on her iPad, and whips up all kinds of baked goods for her mother. But, when her grandfather’s dementia becomes too much for her grandmother to handle on her own, Ellie and her mother move mid-school year from Tennessee to Oklahoma. This means starting over in a new middle school, and standing out as the “new girl in the wheelchair.” Ellie also struggles with making friends, navigating cliques, and convincing her mother she doesn’t need a full-time aide. Despite facing a serious health setback, Ellie’s spunky and confident personality shine through, and readers will cheer her on as she adjusts to life in her new surroundings. 

THOUGHTS: Ellie’s realistic struggles with navigating middle school drama, fitting in at a new school, making new friends, and coming to terms with an ailing grandparent’s condition will ring true to many readers. While being in a wheelchair is definitely part of who Ellie is, she doesn’t let this reality define her. Sumner is the parent of a child with cystic fibrosis, and she has created a story that makes it clear that students with disabilities are just regular kids with the same hopes, dreams, and longings as their classmates. This should find a place in most middle-grade collections and will be popular with fans of Wonder and The War that Saved My Life

Realistic Fiction          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Sjonger, Rebecca. Deconstructing Powerful Speeches. Crabtree Publishing Company, 2019. $9.95 ea. $39.80 set of 4 (paperback). 48 p. Grades 5-9.

Abraham Lincoln: The Gettysburg Address. 978-0-778-75253-0.
James Baldwin: The Cambridge Debate Speech. 978-0-778-75254-7.
Susan B. Anthony: On a Woman’s Right to Vote. 978-0-778-75255-4.
Tecumseh: Speech at Vincennes. 978-0-778-75256-1.

Deconstructing Powerful Speeches is a series you may not realize that you need in your school library collection until you page through each volume. These books occupy a unique space at the intersection of pivotal American historical events and landmark persuasive speeches. Author Rebecca Sjonger presents a thorough case that the spoken word is a powerful tool for change. By making an effective argument (with a claim, evidence, warrants, and an appeal), a speaker can influence the thinking of his or her audience. Because there are no audio or video recordings of speeches as old as the Gettysburg Address, students and historians must employ primary source analysis skills to determine the creator, date, intended audience, purpose, and more. Plentiful, color-coded analyses of speech excerpts amply demonstrate just how to do so. Ongoing sidebar features such as “Digging Deeper” and “Deconstruct It” encourage readers to pose further questions and think more critically about rhetorical devices and the art of persuasion. Page layouts include full color artwork, photographs, and additional primary source documents. Each volume closes with modern figures, such as Barack Obama and Beyonce, who have delivered speeches meant to sway their audiences.

THOUGHTS: With engaging text and easily reproducible pages, the possibilities for classroom connections are abundant, from introductory speech classes to AP English Language and Composition.

324, Speeches and Addresses           Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Wildheart; Soaring Earth; A Circle of Elephants; Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse; Lizzy Legend; The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA; Searching for Lottie

Bertagna, Julie, and William Goldsmith, Illustrator. Wildheart: The Daring Adventures of John Muir. Yosemite Conservancy, 2019. 978-1-930-23893-0. 128 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

As a boy in Dunbar, Scotland, John Muir was sent to school in 1841 when he was just three years old, but he longed to be outside, playing and learning amongst the wild things that he loved. Years later, after a family move to Wisconsin, an eye injury nearly robbed John of his sight but inspired his true calling: exploring and preserving nature. As part of his campaign to protect America’s forests and natural features, he co-founded the Sierra Club and helped to create our National Parks. He also went camping with President Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite for four days in 1903, inspiring “Teddy” to preserve 148 million acres of land! William Goldsmith’s rough, energetic sketches are appropriately tinted in natural shades of rust, moss green, berry, and ice-blue. The characters’ body postures imply the mood and action more distinctly than any detailed facial expressions (which are generally lacking). A handful of Scottish expressions may confuse readers (e.g., “Ta” for thanks) but ample context clues and a helpful Glossary will assist in deciphering them. 

THOUGHTS: This middle-grade graphic biography of the first modern environmentalist, told in a first-person voice, will inspire readers to cherish our precious planet, and to take action to protect it! John Muir’s legacy is a treasured reminder that “We are part of nature, and its wild heart is part of us.” Additional information for interested readers is available at the webpage for the John Muir National Historic Site

Graphic Novel / Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Engle, Margarita. Soaring Earth. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-42953-6. $18.99. 192 p. Grades 7+.

Margarita’s idealism and longing to see the world are described beautifully in verse in this companion memoir to Enchanted Air. In this book Margarita is now a young adult in high school and beyond. It is set during the tumultuous Vietnam War Era, and the war and protests, Civil Rights movement, moon landing, and the Grape boycott and strike are described. Although younger readers might not have the knowledge to fully appreciate those historic events, Margarita’s struggle with fitting in and finding out who she is will resonate with everyone. Margarita finds herself at ground-zero of the hippie/free speech movement when she enrolls at UC Berkeley for college. She struggles with her fears of not being perfect, especially with her writing, and she finds out that the prestigious university turns out not to be a great fit for her which leads to her dropping out and drifting around CA and NY on a path of self-discovery. Her longing to travel the world, especially her beloved Cuba, which has been closed to her due to the Cold War, and the prejudices she experiences due to her Cuban heritage are also examined. Margarita Engle is the 2017-2019 Young People’s Poet Laureate.

THOUGHTS: It isn’t necessary to have read Enchanted Air to appreciate this beautifully written novel in verse. It would be perfect to use for a social studies book club during a 1960s unit.

Memoir; Verse          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Dinerstein, Eric. A Circle of Elephants. Disney Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-01658-2. $16.99. 260 p. Grades 4-8.

13-year old Nandu, a Tibetan, was found as a two-year old orphaned in the jungle being guarded by a pack of dhole (a type of wild dog). He was adopted by Subba-Sahib, the good man who runs the Royal Elephant Breeding Center at the edge of the Borderlands in Nepal. Nandu has a special relationship and empathy with the animals of the jungle but he considers the tusker, Hira Prishad, the bull elephant he oversees, his brother. The story of Nandu and the horrors of the Ivory Trade is described in such a beautiful and realistic way that it is easy to forget that this is a work of fiction. The earthquake at the beginning of the book is a bad omen: the harbinger of drought and the return of Maroons (poachers) who are looking for ivory in the tusks and horns of the elephants and rhinos. In addition to the mutilation of animals for their ivory, there is a side story about young girls being sold into slavery (it is not explicit sex slavery, but it is implied) which may be difficult for younger middle grade readers. The book examines the relationship between humans and other animals and as Nandu believes “that our purpose in life is to look out for each other.”

THOUGHTS: This book will enlighten the reader about the evils of poaching and how it is possible for people to have meaningful relationships with animals, especially elephants. A Circle of Elephants is the sequel to What Elephants Know but it wasn’t necessary to have read that story to enjoy this book. This beautifully written story would be a great addition to any library.

Realistic Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Vaught, Susan.  Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-42501-9. 309 p. $17.99. Grades 5 and up.

Jesse is not like the other kids in her middle school – she’s extremely temperamental, with a proclivity towards hitting people she dislikes; she doesn’t always bathe on a regular basis; she’s “on the spectrum”; and her mother is a Master Sergeant stationed overseas in Iraq. Needless to say, she’s not the most popular girl in school, which doesn’t bother her in the least. What does bother her, however, is the group of bullies – Rykyer (aka: Jerkface), Chris, and Trisha (aka: the cockroaches) – who harass her on a daily basis and never seem to get in trouble for it. When Jesse’s father, a teacher at the high school, is arrested and accused of stealing money for the library fund, Jesse, along with new kid, Springer, take it upon themselves to investigate. Springer is Jesse’s foil – a big, non-confrontational, soft-spoken boy who doesn’t believe in violence. They share a love of puzzles, outside the box thinking, and Sam-Sam, Jesse’s beloved Pomeranian. Jesse pushes Springer to fight for what he believes in, and Springer grounds Jesse when she goes into a panic spiral; in fact, he’s one of the only people in her life that truly seems to accept her exactly as she is. Vaught has created two very different, yet equally compelling, protagonists; it is easy to feel Jesse’s anger and frustration towards her bullies, as well as Springer’s kindness and compassion when he stands up for Jesse. Equally well-drawn are Jesse’s mother, who instills in Jesse a deep well of inner strength, and Jesse’s great-aunt Gus, who spends the majority of the book exasperating Jesse’s father. Though Jesse’s bullies come off more as caricatures than three-dimensional characters, and their antics become disturbingly malevolent in tone and action, they serve to further Jesse and Springer’s resolve, as well as their bond; their friendship is truly the grounding force in this middle-grade novel, and readers will find themselves rooting heartily for both of them.

THOUGHTS: A perfect novel for outside the box thinkers, lovers of mysteries, and literally kick-butt female protagonists. With absolutely no romance, and a beautifully crafted platonic friendship between members of the opposite sex, this is a book that you can comfortably hand to a 9 year old, as well as a 14 year old.

Realistic Fiction         Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Smith, Matthew Ross. Lizzy Legend. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-42024-3. 236 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

13-year-old Lizzy Trudeaux loves basketball and spends hours each day practicing her ball-handling and shooting skills. One day, she receives a mysterious phone call from a robot asking her what her wish is, and she wishes to never miss another shot. When this dream surprisingly comes true, she finds herself signing a contract to play for the Philadelphia Bells, a nearby professional basketball team. It’s not long before she becomes a media sensation. Will she, however, be able to continue her dominant performance when her wish is reversed? A fast-paced sports fantasy, this title will resonate particularly with young female athletes.

THOUGHTS: While the premise of this story is a bit unbelievable, the relatable characters, encouraging message, and fast pace of the story make this a solid selection for middle school collections. Lizzy may have gotten to where she is with a little help from her wish, but she is an extremely hard worker regardless. She’s also tough and courageous, putting her heart and soul out on the court even after her wish is reversed. Lizzy is definitely a role model for young girls, showing that with a little hard work and determination, they can do anything they set their minds to. The short chapters are broken up by interviews and imaginative social media posts throughout the story, making the book very accessible to young readers.

Fantasy Fiction (Sports)           Julie Ritter, PSLA


Woods, Brenda. The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019. 978-1-524-73709-2. 194 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Twelve-year-old Gabriel Haberlin, white resident of the small, post-WWII town of Birdsong, South Carolina, is ecstatic when he receives a brand new Schwinn bicycle for his birthday. On his very first ride, however, he runs a red light and is nearly struck by a car and killed. Luckily, Meriwether Hunter, an African American veteran, pushes him out of the way just in time. Feeling indebted to Meriwether, Gabriel convinces his father to offer Meriwether a job at his auto shop. The two soon become friends, and Meriwether teaches Gabriel to view the world through the eyes of others.  In doing so, Gabriel witnesses the unfairness and powerlessness experienced by African Americans living under Jim Crow laws in the segregated South, and for the first time in his life, he begins to question the way of the world. A realistic and thought-provoking coming-of-age story, this book has a lot to teach young readers about the post-WWII South.

THOUGHTS: Use this book in a history class to reinforce topics like segregation,  Jim Crow laws, the 761st Tank Battalion, and the KKK. History buffs will also enjoy simply comparing post-WWII life to life today, as there are plenty of references to prized possessions of the past, including a Buick Roadmaster and a Kodak camera with film. Additionally, this story will appeal to fans of Rita Williams-Garcia. Definitely consider purchasing this authentic, eye-opening work of historical fiction.

Historical Fiction          Julie Ritter, PSLA


Ross, Susan L. Searching for Lottie. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-44166-2. 170 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

When twelve-year-old Charlie must research a family member for a school project, she decides to focus on her namesake, her great aunt Lottie (short for Charlotte). Lottie disappeared during the Holocaust, and because she was Jewish, her family presumes that she was killed. Through her research, Charlie discovers that she and Lottie have a lot in common. They are both sensational violin players, and they could both be described as brave and determined. The more she learns, the more adamant she is to figure out what exactly happened to Lottie. Did she perish during the Holocaust as her family always thought, or did she miraculously survive? Readers will be just as curious as Charlie to solve this puzzle and won’t be able to stop turning the pages until all of their questions are answered.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful selection for middle school readers.  Charlie is an extremely relatable character who experiences many young adolescent norms throughout the story, including sibling rivalry, close friendships, a crush on a boy, and nerves during a musical audition. This would be a great complement to any Holocaust unit, or it could be used to introduce a project on genealogical research. References to Jewish culture present even more opportunities for learning. The short chapters and fast-moving narrative make it easily accessible, and the level of suspense will most certainly make readers want to finish the book. Give this to mystery lovers, history buffs, or students who want to learn more about genealogical research or Jewish culture.

Historical Fiction          Julie Ritter, PSLA

YA – Thicker Than Water; The Sisterhood; White Rose; A Curse so Dark and Lonely; Parkland Speaks; With the Fire on High; Shout; Happy Messy Scary Love; Aurora Rising; Cicada; That Night

Deen, Natasha. Thicker Than Water. Orca, 2009. 978-1-459-82198-9. 128 p. $9.95. Grades 7-12.

Zack is an aspiring criminologist, so the recent disappearance of his friend Ella has him searching for answers. He’s keeping it secret that they had a disagreement that day, and worse, that after they parted, he saw Ella meet with his dad (their school guidance counselor) and get into his dad’s SUV. His dad hasn’t spoken a word, and Zack worries and imagines the worst, trying to piece together the truth while protecting himself and his dad. Zack’s friend Ayo Mohammad repeatedly offers logical perspective, and reminds Zack of his all-too-frequent over-reacting, likely due to crime show binging. Zack is on to something, but it isn’t what he thinks, and he needs a wake-up call in order to set things right. Ayo stands out as a solid friend and necessary voice of reason.

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the Orca Soundings series, this is a realistic story written at 3rd-4th grade level for young adult readers and worth considering for reluctant readers.

Mystery          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Grainger, A.J. The Sisterhood. Simon & Schuster, 2019. 978-1-481-42906-1. 298 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.  

Sixteen-year-old Welsh teenager Lil has withdrawn since the disappearance of her older sister, Mella, four months ago. She devotes most of her time to updating a blog about Mella, questioning her police officer aunt about the case, watching her single mom deteriorate, and having detailed conversations in her head with Mella. While biking one day as a terrible storm approaches, she stumbles upon a young woman who is unconscious and injured in the road. “Alice” is fearful and willing to run if Lil involves authorities, and Lil becomes determined to not let Alice down the way she feels she’s let her sister down. Lil takes Alice home, and she and friend Kiran debate the girl’s odd speech, intense fear, and slow reveal of the Sisterhood, led by the charismatic Moon. Soon it becomes clear that Mella is involved in the dangerous cult, and Lil must walk a fine line between exposing Alice and losing her sister. Lil’s devotion to her clearly difficult sister shows how a strong personality can mold and rule a family; Mella consistently turns the spotlight on herself, erupts in tantrums, and lately, vanishes at will. The secluded atmosphere lends itself to the story, though readers may wish for more details on the cult’s inner workings. Told largely from Lil’s perspective, the novel benefits from occasional slips into Mella’s mind, as well as frequent inside views of Moon and the Sisterhood.

THOUGHTS: This book will find an audience among those who find cults fascinating.

Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Wilson, Kip. White Rose. Versify, 2019. 978-1-328-59443-3. 358 p. $17.99 Grades 5-12.

Sophie Scholl was one of five siblings in a strong, close-knit family who watched as Hitler rose to power in Germany. This novel in verse gives Sophie a strong voice, showing her early teenage years as she and brother Hans were enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth. Their enthusiasm waned, then vanished, as they witnessed increasing restrictions and discrimination. Years passed and as university students in Munich, Sophie and her brother Hans and some like-minded students began the White Rose society, dedicated to spreading anti-Nazi messages. Hans wrote content for the leaflets, and Sophie found duplicating machines and all members found ways to distribute the leaflets. Such treasonous activity as free speech was punishable by death, a fate that she and Hans and friend Christoph Probst met in February 1943 (three other White Rose members were arrested, tried, and killed later the same year). Told primarily from Sophie’s perspective, the novel is strengthened by letters from Hans, boyfriend Fritz’s thoughts, and the clinical coldness of Robert Mohr, Gestapo investigator who tracked down their illegal activity. This book effectively shows Sophie’s steadfast and tenacious desire to make a difference, and her realization that simply remaining silent was akin to endorsement of Nazi beliefs.  

THOUGHTS: This is a suspenseful, powerful novel made richer for the paucity of words per page. Wilson illuminates the steel in Sophie’s mind and soul; her story should be should be widely read and remembered. Recommended for all middle and high school libraries.

Historical Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Kemmerer, Brigid. A Curse So Dark and Lonely. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19508-7. $18.99. 477 p. Gr. 8 and up.

Harper’s mother is dying of cancer, and her brother is in trouble with some loan sharks, but these are conflicts only revealed in the opening chapter of this Beauty and the Beast retelling. Life then gets even more complicated for Harper when she is swept from Washington, DC into a parallel fantasy universe, the kingdom of Emberfall. As in the original fairytale, Prince Rhen, heir to the throne, is cursed by an enchantress, a curse that can only be broken by falling in mutual love. Prince Rhen’s beast form only manifests each autumn though, making it seemingly easier to fall in love with him. However, also in a similar fashion to the original, Harper’s worry for her ailing family prevents her from fully committing to life in Emberfall. Likewise, politics and threats from neighboring kingdoms prevent Prince Rhen from wholly throwing himself into wooing Harper to break the curse, not to mention appearances by the enchantress Lilith who cast the curse, Rhen’s handsome and loyal Guard Commander Grey, and Harper’s cerebral palsy. Despite all the hurdles Harper and Prince Rhen face, the struggling kingdom of Emberfall and its people unite them with a common cause that propels this story, which is told in alternating points of view from Harper to Rhen. Harper’s cerebral palsy is almost never mentioned after the opening chapters, which was intentional on the part of the author to prove a point, though sometimes it simply feels forgotten. Regardless, Harper’s character is definitely strong and likable, and the friendships she forges with the people of Emberfall are a bright spot in the slower mid-plot before the book becomes unputdownable in the final 100 pages.

THOUGHTS: Far more violent than the Disney version and with its own very original plot, this fairytale retelling will be enjoyable for fans of both YA speculative AND contemporary fiction as the characters hail from both worlds.

Fantasy (Fairytale)          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area High School


Lerner, Sarah, editor. Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-84999-1. 192 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.   

This collection of poems, photos, essays, and journal entries by students that survived the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida will leave you feeling ripped apart and connected to each student at the same time. The anthology features a scrapbook like feel with handwritten entries, scraps of paper seemingly taped onto the page, as well as both student artwork and photographs. Although some entries are short with little detail, others vividly account what was experienced that day. There are several themes prevalent throughout their poems, stories, and speeches that will resonate with every reader. They include facing grief from the tragic loss of 17 Eagles, anger with the government for change not occurring fast enough, and betrayal that another school shooting resulted in the loss of life. Readers will also find messages of hope, love, and strength threaded throughout their first hand accounts. This book may be difficult for certain individuals who may struggle with the fear and uncertainty that follows a school shooting.

THOUGHTS: The handwritten pieces and images in the text allow you to feel connected to each student who survived the horrific events at MSD High School. The book allows all readers to reflect on the importance of protecting those you love and inspires us to work toward instituting change in our schools to make them safe places for learning.

371.1, Teachers & Teaching          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Acevedo, Elizabeth. With the Fire on High. HarperTeen, 2019. 978-0-062-66283-5. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Emoni Santiago loves to cook.  She has a natural connection with spices and flavors that evokes emotion, not just a good taste. Raised by her ‘Buela after her mother’s death and father’s return to Puerto Rico, Emoni has learned to use her passion for food in good times and bad. With her senior year looming and her future not far away, Emoni enrolls in Culinary Arts; it seems like an easy-A, but she soon learns that although she is a natural in the kitchen, she has a lot to learn. Meanwhile, Emoni’s structure begins to unroll with the entrance of new student, Malachi Johnson. With a smile that melts, Emoni’s rule of no dating is challenged. But Emoni has more than just herself to consider; she has her daughter, Emma (Baby Girl), too. On top of it all, Culinary Arts includes an immersion trip to Sevilla, Spain, over spring break. There, Emoni is challenged to find her way while remaining true to her own desires.

THOUGHTS: With the Fire on High shares present day struggles for many students through a universal topic: food. Acevedo takes the familiar and weaves an individual story of wants, desires, and the here-and-now. She looks at the struggles faced by many but does not dwell on any of the struggles. Instead, she gives realistic hope to readers through Emoni and an understanding that each choice one makes connects to their overall story, and one choice does not define a person. This novel is a wonderful addition to high school collections.

As a side-note, I did not love With the Fire on High like I did The Poet X.  Although I greatly enjoyed Fire, Poet X evoked emotions from me that I hadn’t felt in a while. I deeply connected with Xiomara, but not so much with Emoni, although I liked her story. I would have liked Acevedo to delve deeper into the social issues she skims in Fire.  I guess I wanted more.

As a second side-note, I love Acevedo’s audio recordings. The fact that she reads her work adds a layer of intimacy with the text and the characters that reading the words doesn’t give. I hope she continues to read her novels in the future.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elizabeth Acevedo has a hard act to follow:  herself. The Poet X, her debut novel, won an almost impossible trifecta of awards (The Printz Award, the National Book Award For Young People, and the Carnegie Medal).  However, her new release, With The Fire on High, does not disappoint. African-Latina-American Emoni is a senior in a Philadelphia charter high school and the mother of a two-year-old girl, Emma (“Babygirl”), whom she is raising with the help of her Abuela. Babygirl’s father, Tyrone, is a better parent then ex-boyfriend, and Emoni is slow to trust when a boy in her culinary arts class, Malachi, seems too good to be true. Becoming a chef is fiery, fierce Emoni’s dream . . . but she’s not sure what dreams are in her reach. Emoni’s struggles with parenting, families, relationships, school, college applications, and trying to decide what’s best for both her and her daughter’s futures are realistically portrayed in this fast-paced novel with short, snappy chapters. Recipes with more of a literary than culinary purpose are included, but they might work for bold-spirited cooks willing to interpret ambiguous and playful directions.

THOUGHTS: Vivid prose, well developed characters (including Emoni’s best friend, Angelica, who is a lesbian), and a narrative that includes but does not center on romance will have teen readers eating up this book. Highly recommended. 

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

This book made me hungry for Emoni to find success in her life. Despite having multiple roadblocks (becoming a mom as a teen, working while going to school, living with her grandmother who is nursing an injury), she finds a way to constantly strive for what’s best for herself and her daughter. She knows what she wants out of life, and that is to be a chef. She is even in a culinary arts class at school with the possibility of a week long apprenticeship in Spain, not that she can afford it. There is a truth to the balance of Emoni’s struggles at school, at home, and at work all while raising a three-year-old and navigating the balance of an amicable relationship with her daughter’s father and his family. 

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the urban fiction cannon that should be on a high school shelves. Emoni’s positive outlook in a less than desirable environment will motivate the less than inspired students. The addition of recipes and creative descriptions of the food she makes will make the readers hungry for more.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Anderson, Laurie Halse. Shout: A Poetry Memoir. Viking, 2019. 978-0-670-01210-7. 291 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up

Laurie Halse Anderson’s memoir of growing up in a shattered family and surviving a sexual assault at the age of thirteen is heart-wrenching and beautiful. Her father, a World War II veteran, suffered from memories of death and destruction during the war. Her mother, shattered from miscarriage after miscarriage of sons and abuse from her husband, tried to repair the torn family and be the “proper” pastor’s wife. Laurie and her sister were born out of heartache and desire. A desire for something more; a desire to move beyond the past into the present and future, but the past is hard to escape. As the daughter of a pastor, Laurie learned to accept what she had and developed a creativity that helped her through her days. Sharing her torn family life, she sheds light on situations often left undiscussed. As she moves from her shattered family, to her rape and then into her time in Denmark where she saw a family structure different from her own, Anderson highlights the hope within darkness. In Part II of Shout, she looks at the impact of her writing and her school visits. She addresses the censorship she has dealt with along with the numerous stories of assaults shared with her by students. Shout is a beautifully written memoir-in-verse that proves life and hope can grow from tragedy and hardship.  

THOUGHTS: Anderson once again delivers an emotional story of survival. Much like her novels, Shout forces readers to examine what they know (or think they know), and then face reality head on. She does not sugar coat the abuse and hardships of her family or glaze over her own rape at thirteen. Anderson’s overt style, without being in-your-face and vulgar, is breath-taking and much appreciated. This is a must have for all high school collections.

811 Poetry or 92 Memoir          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Written in free verse, Anderson delivers her own story in a powerful memoir. Shout has clear parallels with her first novel, Speak which make reading Anderson’s story that much more painful. She chose to tell her story beginning with an act of assault that she has had to live with, and the rest of the book is the journey Anderson takes to heal. She is fierce and effective at getting her point across in the current climate of our world.

THOUGHTS: This memoir should be required reading for all high school students and staff. It belongs on the shelf of every high school library to allow those who are victims an opportunity to heal and those who are lucky enough not to have been abused or assaulted a glance into the mind of someone who has and survived.  

Memoir          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Konen, Leah. Happy Messy Scary Love. Abrams, 2019. 978-1-419-73489-2. $18.99. 336 p. Gr. 7 and up.

Olivia Knight dreams of attending film school, but procrastinating on writing her horror screenplay is not helping her attain that dream. She’s failed to get into an NYU summer writing program and now must spend her summer in the Catskill Mountains with her parents while her friends have their dream summers. To pass time through her writer’s block, Olivia watches lots of horror films on Netflix and messages Elm, another horror film addict she meets on a discussion board where she goes by the name “Carrie” – after her favorite film, of course. When Elm suggests they exchange photos, self-conscious Olivia panics, especially when he sends his picture, and he’s cute! Assuming they’ll never meet in person anyway, since she’s from Brooklyn and he lives in North Carolina, Olivia sends back a selfie of her best friend Katie who is the traditional definition of attractive. Awkwardness averted… at least until Olivia shows up to her summer part time job in the Catskills to find Elm is working there as well. Though she wants to tell him the truth, the thought of trying to explain herself is more horrifying than her favorite films. As she admits, “Being close to people, being honest with them, not being afraid to fail – that’s the scariest thing of all.” So as Olivia and Elm’s real-life relationship develops, “Carrie” must also maintain their online relationship, all while trying to finish her screenplay and navigate a summer job for which she feels ill-equipped. Some surprises along the way create a Shakespearean comedy-like plot while exploring relevant and important themes for high schoolers such as body image, self-worth, breaking out of one’s comfort zone, and friendship.

THOUGHTS: A delightful summer read, this book will be fun for hardcore horror fans, but it’s not so full of jargon or allusions that non-fans can’t enjoy it.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Kaufman, Amie, and Jay Kristoff.  Aurora Rising. Alfred Knopf, 2019. 978-1-524-72096-4. 480 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up. 

Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have squarely secured their place as scions of young adult science fiction. Their sophomore series, The Aurora Cycle, like the Illuminae Files, propels readers once again into a wild conspiracy featuring a scrappy crew of space cadets, shadowy overlords, a girl who shouldn’t exist, and an intricate spider web of a plot. The crew’s leader is golden boy Tyler Jones, the highest ranked Alpha at Aurora Academy, who is primed to hand-pick his squad from the best of the best. His plan goes completely awry, however, when he discovers not only a generation ship thought to be lost two centuries earlier, but also a surviving passenger – Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley. Now Ty is saddled with a squad he had no say in – though fortunately for him, his twin sister, Scarlett, and his best friend, Cat, both choose loyalty to Ty over ambition – and a girl two centuries old who is much more than she seems. When Ty’s team is sent on their first humanitarian mission, it goes completely wrong, and sets off a chain of events that leave the squad questioning everything they thought they knew about their world, and running from the highest authorities in the galaxy, authorities who are determined to eliminate Ty’s crew, and capture Auri for their own nefarious purposes. Kaufman and Kristoff’s plot is twisty, complex, and fun as all get out. The story is told from multiple perspectives – not an easy feat, given there are seven unique characters – and crew members narrates their own chapter, in their own voice, with their own personalities shining through. This is a page-turning romp through space that will leave readers clamoring for book two.

THOUGHTS: While all of the characters are well-developed, Zila, the crew’s scientist, provides the most interesting perspective – she struggles mightily in social situations and has an underdeveloped sense of empathy, making it almost impossible for her to gauge and understand human emotions and motivations. Her chapters are often very short, very funny, and very poignant.

Science Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Tan, Shaun. Cicada. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019. 978-1-338-29839-0. Unpaged. $19.99. Gr. 6 and up.

For seventeen years, Cicada has worked in an office where it is mistreated and ignored. Although Cicada works harder than the humans, it cannot use a bathroom in the building (it must go downtown for a bathroom). It cannot afford rent, so it lives at the office. It does not receive any benefits or resources like the humans and is verbally and physically abused by the humans regularly. When Cicada decides to retire, it leaves without fanfare and goes into the unknown; it has no home, no money, and now, no job. At the top of the tall office building, Cicada stands at the edge. Has Cicada’s journey come to an end, or is it just beginning?

Tan’s illustrations are breathtaking. Using oil on canvas and paper, he creates a world of gray for Cicada. The illustrations enhance the abuse and mistreatment faced by Cicada. They evoke emotion from the reader as they intensify the symbolism of Cicada and its dismal life.  

THOUGHTS: Cicada is a timely (2019 is the year of cicada) look into mistreatment and cruelty. By addressing mistreatment, it highlights the spiral of cruelty beyond work into one’s home and personal lives. This YA picture book forces readers to consider social injustices and, through symbolism, dive deeper into the impact of society and how people are treated by governments, economics, and one another. As a minimalist picture book, it is an impactful case study for English and social studies courses into symbolism, human interaction, social justice, law and policy, mental health, discrimination, and more.  Highly recommended for all middle school and high school collections.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Balog, Cyn. That Night. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-67904-2. 320 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up. 

One year ago Hailey’s boyfriend Declan ended his life, and she has lived in a fog ever since. A stay in rehab only blurred her memories of the weeks surrounding Declan’s death. One thing is certain in her mind, though, Hailey knows Declan never would have killed himself. All she wants is to remember. It is Declan’s step-brother Kane, who has been Hailey’s best friend forever, that helps her begin to remember the last year. Kane and Hailey have a complicated relationship, but with the help of a box of Declan’s things, Hailey begins to remember the past as she tries to move on. She can’t understand why Kane’s on again of again girlfriend (and Hailey’s former best friend) won’t even look at her. As she tries to puzzle through her memories, this fast-paced mystery flashes between Hailey’s present grief and the year leading up to Declan’s death. The answers might not be exactly what Hailey was looking for, though.

THOUGHTS: Thriller fans will devour this unpredictable read. Recommended for high schools where mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The Poet X; Muse of Nightmares; Children of Blood and Bone; I Stop Somewhere; Emergency Contact; The Brilliant Death; Blood Water Paint; A Very Large Expanse of Sea; The Vanishing Stair; Two Can Keep a Secret; Even If I Fall; Famous in a Small Town

Acevedo, Elizabeth. The Poet X. New York: Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2018. 978-0-062-66280-4. 368 p. $17.99. Gr 9-12.

Fifteen year old Xiomara Batista feels invisible and hates that the attention given to her is through cat calls and comments about her curves. Her parents, who immigrated from Puerto Rico, see only her flaws, and her genius twin brother has his own secrets. So Xiomara writes, pouring her heart and soul into her leather notebook. When she is paired with Aman in science class, Xiomara begins to crush – hard – on her lab partner, and a romance blossoms. Although her devoutly Catholic mother has forbidden Xiomara to date, she and Aman sneak around, and Xiomara begins to share her poetry with him, which makes her feel alive. Invited to a slam poetry club, Xiomara discovers The Poet X inside her, and finally feels seen.

THOUGHTS: This is an incredible novel in verse that is worthy of all the awards its won. Xiomara’s voice is raw and real, and readers – especially teen girls – will see echoes of the sexism that plagues women everyday. The narrative is believable and Acevedo’s words a treasure.

Novel in verse         Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Unseen around her neighborhood except for the beautiful curves that draw unwanted attention, Xiomara Batista is invisible. Her parents, Puerto Rican immigrants, are quick to point out Xiomara’s flaws, especially her strict Catholic mother. It doesn’t help that Xiomara’s twin brother is basically a genius. Writing is the only place that allows Xiomara to express herself openly, but she doesn’t share this side of herself easily. When lab partner Aman shows her attention, she falls quickly and easily abandon’s her mother’s rules – no matter how much pain this may cause Xiomara. For the first time in her life, Xiomara experiences the freedom that her poetry brings her, and she’s ready to discover who she is meant to be. 

THOUGHTS: Beyond the verse style, readers will love Xiomara’s spark and the relationships she has with her family and friends. This beautiful novel in verse is a must have for high school collections.

Novel in verse         Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Taylor, Laini. Muse of Nightmares. (Strange the Dreamer, #2) Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-0-316-34171-4. 528 p. $19.99. Gr. 9-12.

Taylor’s knack for lyrical storytelling shines once again in this follow up to 2017’s Strange the Dreamer. Sarai and Lazlo are dealing with the aftermath of the events at the end of Strange. Lazlo is a newly discovered God, while Sarai’s ghost lingers on after she fell to her death. Sarai and her siblings face a new threat – Minya and her army of ghosts, intent on destroying those in Weep who harmed her. Taylor dives deep into the backstory of Weep and Minya, showing where her unseated rage and vengeance come from. Mysteries from the first book are explored, and questions are answered, but the focus here is on the love between Lazlo and Sarai. How can Sarai remain when tied so strongly to Minya, and how can immortal and ghost remain together?

THOUGHTS: Readers must have read Strange the Dreamer to understand this story. As with previous works, Taylor writes with a haunting beauty and creates a complex fantasy world. Recommended for fantasy fans.

Fantasy         Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Adeyemi, Tomi. Children of Blood and Bone. (Legacy of Orïsha, #1) Henry Holt and Company, 2018. 978-1-250-17097-2. 544 p. $18.99. Gr 9-12.

The most anticipated young adult  book of the year lives up to the hype! Zélie Adebola’s mother was killed in front of her by the ruthless King Saran after he vowed to cleanse magic from the land of Orïsha. Zélie’s mother was a Reaper, and like Zélie and the other maji, had snow white hair. Left alive, Zélie grows up secretly training for combat, hellbent on vengeance against King Saran. The king convinces his people that magic is to be feared, and even his own son, Inan, believes magic is a power to be eradicated. But Saran’s daughter, Amani, grows weary of her father’s practices, and escapes the cruel kingdom for a better life. Meeting up with a reluctant Zélie and her brother Tzain, the three are given the task of securing a relic that will restore magic to Orïsha. But hunted by Inan, they are in constant danger and must use their wits, strength, and even magic to survive.

THOUGHTS: This is a West-African inspired fantasy that unlike most YA fantasy, features all black characters. Adeyemi does not shy away from racially charged violence and injustices that rivals the present day. Zélie is a flawed but likeable narrator, and Adeyemi’s story is strong, with incredible world building, a fast paced narrative, and incredibly complex characters. A must for any library! A sequel will be published in June 2019, and a movie is already in the works.

Fantasy          Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Carter, Te. I Stop Somewhere. Feiwel & Friends, 2018. 978-1-250-12464-7. $17.99 Gr. 10-12.

In an effort to start over in a new place, Ellie Frias wants nothing more than to blend in, or better yet, fade into the background. She achieves her goal, to the point that no one except her father notices when she goes missing. In fact, she had attracted the attention of wealthy and predatory Caleb Brewer, who toys with her emotions, then in an act of planned brutality with his brother, rapes and kills her. Ellie hovers in-between, watching the boys repeat their assault on other young women, feeling she must be there both so that the girls are not alone, and until she (her body) is found. In a once up-and-coming town now dying for industry and full of empty houses being bought, re-sold, or demolished by the Brewers’ father, the atmosphere is empty of much hope. The pace lags at times as Ellie remembers, serves as a witness to brutality, and offers sage insights much too wise for her age but not her horrific experience. A few (of the many) young women come forward to press charges, each rightfully fearing the backlash. The boys are finally charged with assault of several young women, as well as the murder of Ellie, but only the murder charge holds, after the girls’ reputations and motivations are relentlessly blamed.

THOUGHTS: A bleak, brutal, and thought-provoking look at rape culture (“we don’t call it murder culture”) for mature readers.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Choi, Mary H. K. Emergency Contact. Simon and Shuster. 978-1-534-40896-8. $17.99 394 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Penny is more than ready to start college in Austin and leave high school and her small town behind. She’s never quite fit in at home, and when she meets her new roomate, Penny is forced to socialize for the first time in ages. Jude is outgoing, friendly, and drags Penny along every time she goes out. On a trip to the local coffee shop, Penny meets Jude’s “Uncle Sam,” who works as a barista and baker. After a strange encounter a few days later when Penny helps Sam through a panic attack, he gets her number to use for his emergency contact. A thoroughly modern digitally-focused relationship begins as Penny and Sam reveal themselves to each other through texts and emails and develop a clear connection. Penny is not the warmest character; she is prickly and self-obsessed. Penny is depressed about her lack of friends, is overly critical of her young and attractive mother, and she seems to be wallowing in trivial matters when Sam is the one with serious family relationship and financial problems. With Sam’s chaotic life and Jude’s attitude against her friends dating her family members, Penny and Sam keep their online relationship a secret. This book is an honest and raw look at the budding friendship between two awkward loners who fit perfectly online but have a hard time translating that to real life.

THOUGHTS: A realistic romance with believably flawed characters and clever dialogue.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Capetta, Amy Rose. The Brilliant Death. Viking, 2018. 978-0-451-47844-3. 330 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

Teodora di Sangria, the daughter of a powerful lord of Vinalia, is a strega who has the magical ability to turn men into objects. Although this has been a very useful way to do away with her family’s enemies, she must keep her powers secret, as streghe have been mysteriously disappearing from Vinalia for years. Everything changes, however, when the Capo (the ruler of Vinalia) poisons Teo’s father and the heads of the other four most powerful families in the kingdom, and demands that each family sends a son to the capital. Determined to transform herself into her brother and take his place as their family’s representative, Teo enlists the help of Cielo, another strega with transformative powers. Will Teo be able to hone in her magical abilities to complete this transformation and fool everyone in the capital? Will she be able to find the antidote and save her father – and all of the other streghe – before it’s too late? A captivating read, this story will hook readers with its action-packed plot full of magic, murder, and politics.

THOUGHTS: This book has a great deal of potential for sparking timely discussions about gender roles and gender perception. Teo struggles with the idea that despite her powers and intelligence, being a girl prevents her from being a respectable representative for her family. When she starts to develop feelings for Cielo, their constant transformations from male to female make for an interesting dynamic between the two. Give this book to fans of Julie Kagawa’s Talon series or Sara Larson’s Dark Breaks the Dawn.  Readers will eagerly await the sequel in this duology.

Fantasy          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD


McCullough, Joy. Blood Water Paint. Dutton Books, 2018. 978-0-735-23211-2. 289 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Living in Rome during the Renaissance, Artemisia Gentileschi is a talented painter. Because she is a woman, however, her father signs all of her paintings. In the interest of making more money off of her work, her father hires a tutor to work with Artemisia. When her tutor rapes her, most people choose to look the other way, as a woman’s word doesn’t mean much in 17th-century Rome. Encouraged by the stories of brave women in the Bible, which her deceased mother used to tell her, Artemisia decides to stand up for herself and speak her truth anyway. Find out whether or not justice is served in this inspiring title.

THOUGHTS: This book would make for an excellent study in gender roles and/or women’s rights. It would also make a great supplement to any curriculum on Renaissance art, order and justice in ancient Rome, or religious studies. Give this to fans of Stephanie Hemphill’s Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials if they are looking for a read-alike.

Historical Fiction          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD


Mafi, Tahereh. A Very Large Expanse of Sea. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-0-062-86656-1. $18.99. 320 p. Gr. 9 and up. 

It’s 2002, one year after 9/11, and Shirin is at yet another new school. With only two and a half years until she can go to college and make her own life, she’s faced with starting over – again. On the first day her English teacher butchers her name, and even though she has no accent he insists she must be mistaken – this is Honors English, not ESL. Tired of dealing with awful people and ignorant stares, Shirin has learned to withdraw. It doesn’t help that Shirin’s older brother Navid easily makes friends. When she is paired with Ocean in Bio, Shirin’s tough exterior begins to soften. Faced with countless reasons of why she doesn’t let her guard down, Shirin slowly begins to make friends and fall for Ocean. Not everyone understands her defenses, though, especially Ocean.  

THOUGHTS: This subtle romance takes teen readers (many of whom weren’t even yet born) back to 2002 and shows them what it means to be Muslim American in the post 9/11 era. Mafi writes a strong Muslim American teen who readers will adore and root for.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Johnson, Maureen. The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2). Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-33808-2. $17.99. 384 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Stevie is back at Ellingham Academy after her nemisis, Edward King, convinced her parents it was safe to return. Now, indebted to Senator King, Stevie is to be there for David, his son, as he deals with the death of Hays and the disappearance of Ellie. She’s also promised Larry, the security guard, no more tunneling or detecting, but that’s what brought Stevie to Ellingham in the first place, the disappearance and murder of Iris and Alice Ellingham, and tough habits are hard to break. Now, Stevie also has the task of research assistant to Dr. Fenton, author and Ellingham researcher. As she fact-checks Dr. Fenton’s materials, Stevie is drawn back into the tunnels, where she finds more than she can handle. With the work for Dr. Fenton and her own sleuthing, Stevie soon discovers the truth behind the Ellingham kidnapping, but is it too late?  

THOUGHTS: Amazingly fabulous! Maureen Johnson is a genius. This is the perfect follow-up to Truly Devious. A must-have for all libraries and must-read for all mystery lovers.  

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Unwillingly removed from Ellingham Academy by her parents, Stevie finds herself in luck when Edward King (her friend’s not so secret father) assures them Stevie will be safe. All he asks in return for helping Stevie is that she “look out for” his son David, who has been adrift since Hays’ death and Ellie’s disappearance. Stevie quickly reunites with her friends and makes promises she can’t easily keep. Still determined to solve the Ellingham case, her real reason for being at Ellingham, and learn what happened to her friends, Stevie works as a research assistant to local professor Dr. Fenton. With new questions, evidence, and heightened security all over campus, mystery proves to be too enticing. 

THOUGHTS: Once again Johnson will dazzle readers with the mystery of her puzzled narratives. Fans will anxiously await the final installment of the Truly Devious series, as this one ends on a cliffhanger as well.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


McManus, Karen M. Two Can Keep a Secret. Delacourte Press, 2019. 978-1-524-71472-7. 336 p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

With their mother Sadie away for the next four months, twins Ellery and Ezra are on the way to their grandmother’s house in Echo Ridge. Echo Ridge is a place Sadie mostly avoided since turning eighteen and where the twins never have spent any time. If the bad omens since their arrival mean anything, it seems like the past is coming back to haunt Echo Ridge. A huge true-crime fan, Ellery has always been curious about her aunt’s disappearance and the unsolved murder of an Echo Ridge homecoming queen five years ago. When mysterious threats start appearing around town, Ellery races against time (and her grandmother’s fears), determined to get some answers. 

THOUGHTS: This small town is full of secrets, and no one will predict the ending. Readers will not be disappointed in McManus’s second novel. This one is a must-have for high school mystery fans, and it will fly off of the shelves!

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

When their mother enters rehab, Ellery and Ezra must leave their life in California to live with their grandmother, who they have barely seen in their 17 years. Known for the amusement park Murderland, now Fright Farm, Echo Ridge, Vermont, has a history of murder and disappearance, one of whom was Ellery’s and Ezra’s aunt, Sarah. Now, after the death of popular teacher, Mr. Bowman, Echo Ridge is on high alert. When messages appear threatening the homecoming court, which includes Ellery, fear of the past resurfaces. With the disappearance of homecoming queen, Brooke, Ellery is determined to figure out how Aunt Sarah disappeared, who killed Lacey Kilduf, and what happened to Brooke, while also uncovering the mystery surrounding her own family. Meanwhile, Malcolm Kelly, is trying to figure out why his brother Declan, the man believed to have killed Lacey Kilduf, has returned to Echo Ridge. Trying to protect Declan and himself, and survive his step-family, Malcolm joins Ellery in her pursuit of the truth. As they piece together the past and current disappearances and murders, they soon realize that there’s more to Echo Ridge than meets the eye.

THOUGHTS: Two Can Keep a Secret is a wonderful mystery that keeps readers guessing to the very end. Seamlessly intertwining storylines leave the reader on edge throughout. The mix of mystery and realistic family situations allows the reader to connect with Ellery and Malcolm and invest fully in the novel. McManus is a masterful mystery writer. Highly recommended.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area

After their mom was sent to rehab, again, twins Ellery and Ezra are shipped off to live with their grandmother that they never met. The small town in Vermont that Ellery and Ezra now call home has had its fair share of misfortune. When their mom, Sadie, lived there a generation earlier, she was crowned homecoming queen on the same night that her own twin sister went missing. Further tragedy struck five years prior when the homecoming queen was found murdered, and the case was never closed. As Ellery, a true crime enthusiast, digs into what may have happened to the homecoming queen five years ago, threats are made toward this year’s homecoming court. There is a healthy dose of relationships, even some queer, teenage sarcasm, and twists to make this a worthy read for teens.

THOUGHTS: I didn’t fall for McManus’ sophomore novel as hard as I fell for her first, One of Us Is Lying, simply because this story had more storyline to remember and to wrestle with. For fans of teen centered dramatic thrillers, this is a must read. For everyone else, you can certainly get wrapped into the storyline within a few pages.  

Realistic Fiction; Mystery            Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Johnson, Abigail. Even If I Fall. Inkyard Press, 2019. 978-1-335-54155-0. 346 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

One year ago Brooke’s life was shattered when her older brother confessed to killing his best friend. Outcast by their entire town, Brooke and her family are left to navigate their lives but do so more like passing ships than the close-knit family they used to be. Brooke’s mother puts on a happy face when visiting Jason on the weekly family day but walks around in a daze otherwise. Brooke’s father copes by spending extra hours in his woodshop, and her little sister has all but stopped talking. Previously dreaming of becoming a professional ice skater, the only place Brooke finds any peace is on the ice at the rink where she works, though her boss and co-workers don’t give her any breaks. Brooke isn’t sure how to keep going when she sees the only other person who might understand her pain. One year ago Heath lost his older brother when Brooke’s brother killed him. Torn by love for their brothers, Heath and Brooke begin a cautious friendship. Conflicting emotions run high, though, and they may be too lost to help each other.

THOUGHTS: Full of strong emotions, this is a great read for fans of realistic fiction with a little bit of mystery and romance. Readers will race through this novel in hopes of getting answers to the many questions it poses. Perhaps, most importantly is the question of what exactly happened the night Calvin died? A must purchase for high school libraries. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Mills, Emma. Famous in a Small Town. Henry Holt & Company, 2019. 978-1-250-17963-0. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up. 

Sophie loves everything about her small town and is a proud member of the Marching Pride of Acadia which has been invited to march in the Rose Bowl Parade. Amidst a summer of fundraising for the trip, spending time with her best friends, volunteering at the library, and babysitting the neighbor kids, Sophie meets August. Even though August doesn’t know who Megan Pleasant is (Acadia’s claim to fame when she made it big after being on America’s Next Country Star), Sophie works to convince August of Acadia’s appeal. Still, her friends aren’t sure August deserves to be added to their WWYSE (where would you spend eternity) text thread. Alternating between the last summer before senior year and a text thread with her sister (who doesn’t come home from college for the summer), Sophie’s story unfolds. 

THOUGHTS: Much more than the slow burning romance this book seems, friendship and mystery take center stage among the banter of friends. A must purchase for high school fans of realistic, character-driven romances.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – Ebb and Flow; Can I Touch Your Hair; Call of the Wraith; The Booth Brothers; Bonnie and Clyde; The Pros of Cons; The Spirit of Cattail County; Deep Water; World of Robots; Captain Superlative

Smith, Heather. Ebb and Flow. Kids Can Press, 2018. 978-1-771-38838-2. 232 p. $10.99. Gr. 5-8 and up.

Last year Jett and his mom moved to a new town for a fresh start, and he struggled to fit in. Against better judgment, Jett became friends with Junior, a troubled boy with a rough home life. Junior likes trouble, and usually Jett goes along with him to seem like a friend. As Junior and Jett become closer, they share details about their lives that no one else knows. Though feelings of guilt plague him at times, Jett likes seeming cool in Junior’s eyes.

Now Jett is on his way to spend the summer with his grandmother after a “rotten bad year” (7). Being away from home gives Jett the space he needs to think about what he did and learn some lessons on forgiveness. With his grandmother’s regular reassurances, Jett begins to learn the meaning of friendship and forgiveness – of others and of himself. In free verse vignettes, Jett shares his story switching between now and then to give readers a full picture of his life and regrets.

THOUGHTS: Though on the outside it appears to be a traditional book, approachable free verse vignettes fill the pages with Jett’s story. Ebb & Flow is an excellent example of character development and providing readers with sparse details as well as text structure. Give this book to a struggling or reluctant reader, a reader who likes a non-traditional structure where the story isn’t linear, or read it aloud to a whole class. Upper elementary and middle grade readers will enjoy this story about the choices we make and the true meaning of friendship and forgiveness.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Latham, Irene, and Charles Waters. Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship. Carolrhoda Books, 2018. 978-1-512-40442-5. 39 p. $17.99. Gr. 4 – 7.

I’d like to start with a quote from Elizabeth Bird from her review of this book for School Library Journal:

For a long time… there has been an unspoken understanding amongst white parents that when it comes to race, the less said to children the better… This belief persists, flying in the face of studies that have shown that kids aren’t blind… And if you don’t offer guidance of any sort to them as they age, then you’re allowing the world with all its messages and lessons to do the teaching for you. So children’s books… can actually try their hand at confronting race head on in a format for the young. (Feb. 21, 2018)

This book by two authors and two illustrators takes place in a 5th grade classroom. Two students, who the authors based on themselves, are partnered for a poetry project. They make an unlikely pair – one is shy, and the other can’t stop talking. In the beginning they decide to each write a poem about shoes, hair, and church. Each voice shares their different views on mistakes that children make when they assume or don’t understand, on racial inequality, and on how larger social issues affect their interactions with other children. As a reader, it is an often sad or uncomfortable experience, seeing racial tension through the eyes of children so young. There is subject matter here that should be discussed in school and at home, and “Can I Touch Your Hair?” is a good way to get these conversations started.

THOUGHTS: I think individually, some of these poems would be good for much younger grades. For example, the title poem would be very fitting for 1st-2nd grades. However, the book addresses other heavy topics, such as the “n- word” and police brutality toward African-Americans. Unfortunately, some 7th graders may be deterred by the style of the pictures, which make it look like it may be intended for younger grades, but the subject matter is right on target.

Poetry          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School


Sands, Kevin. Call of the Wraith. New York: Aladdin, 2018. 978-1-534-42847-8. 494 p. $18.99. Gr. 6+.

Christopher Rowe wakes up in an unfamiliar bed, on an unfamiliar farm – with no memory of who he is or how he got there. The family who found him says he was in a shipwreck, stranded in ice, possessed by a demon — and saved by a witch. As Christopher regains his strength and gets his bearings, he learns that strange happenings are occurring around the farm, and local children have been taken by a mysterious specter known as The White Lady. Curious that Sybil O’Malley – the witch who saved his life – may hold some answers, Christopher sets out to question the witch as well as a former witch hunter, Edmund Darcy. Along the way, Christopher reunites with friends Sally and Tom and his trusty apothecary sash. But the mystery of the White Lady and the missing children is much more dangerous than they can imagine. Determined to find and free the missing children and his missing memories, Christopher, Tom, and Sally are once again thrust into an adventure full of puzzles, pirates, and daring rescues.

THOUGHTS: The fourth installment in Sand’s The Blackthorn Key series does not disappoint – it may even be the best one yet. This series is engaging for reluctant readers, relatable to tweens, and just a well-written, adventurous series that deserves a place on all library shelves.

Historical Fiction          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Langston-George, Rebecca. The Booth Brothers: Drama, Fame, and the Death of President Lincoln. Capstone, 2018. 978-1-5157-7338-2. 112 p. $23.49. Gr. 3-7.

Capstone expands their Encounter: Narrative Non-Fiction Stories series with a volume that focuses on the story of brothers Edwin and John Wilkes Booth. Though both were actors, their lives took vastly divergent paths. Edwin became a well-regarded interpreter of Shakespearean works, performing mainly in Northern cities. A supporter of the Union, he counted abolitionists among his friends. John Wilkes was a flamboyant Southern actor, known for his athleticism on stage and a well-known ladies man off stage, as well as an outspoken supporter of the Confederacy. As it became clear that the South would be defeated, John Wilkes, together with a ragtag band of conspirators, began to plot the assassination of President Lincoln. The book opens with a chapter featuring John Wilkes on the run following the assassination and then goes back in time, tracing the childhood and diverging paths of the Booth brothers. Readers will not only learn about the brothers, but also the era in which they lived. The text is supplemented by numerous photos and illustrations.

THOUGHTS: This engaging title will have readers hooked from the opening chapter when they meet John Wilkes Booth cold, injured, and on the run from the authorities following the assassination. The text is enhanced by the inclusion of numerous high-quality photos. Recommended for researchers or history fans.

973.7 American History          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD


Buckley, James, Jr. Bonnie and Clyde. Simon & Schuster, 2018. 978-1-4814-9549-3. 147p. $18.99. Gr. 5-7.

This biography focuses on notorious 1930’s criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Readers will learn about the the childhood and family life of both Bonnie and Clyde and the Depression Era in which they were active criminals. Clyde Barrow first began committing petty crimes in his teens. His motivation was likely money. He grew up in a poor family and was not interested in holding down a traditional job. Bonnie Parker also grew up in a poor family. She dreamed of escaping poverty and becoming famous. When the two met, it was seemingly love at first sight. Though Clyde did spend some time in prison, he did not change his ways. Upon parole he was soon planning crimes with some criminal pals. This group became known as the Barrow gang, and Bonnie soon hit the road with them as they traveled the midwest, burglarizing businesses and holding up banks. They occasionally took hostages and when confronted, turned to murder. As their fame increased, pressure from law enforcement became relentless. Eventually, a gang member flipped on them, resulting in the authorities ambushing and killing Bonnie and Clyde.

THOUGHTS: While the text of this book was quite informative and engaging, the book suffers from lack of any photos. This is odd, given that the author stresses how Bonnie and Clyde shot to fame and notoriety in large part due to photos of the pair being published in newspapers. The book would have also benefited from the inclusion of a map, given that the Barrow gang did a great deal of traveling on their crime sprees. That said, readers with an interest in history will likely enjoy this title.

364.15 Crime           Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD


Cherry, Alison, et al. The Pros of Cons. Point, 2018. 978-1-338-15172-5. $18.99. 341 p. Gr. 6+.

Three girls walk into a convention hall. It’s not a joke, but it is a rollicking good time. Cassie has come with her father to the taxidermy convention. She has no desire to pursue taxidermy, but quality time with her father is hard to come by, so she attends the convention with the hope of having him notice her. Vanessa is thrilled and excited to be attending the We Treasure Fandom fan-fic convention, not only to improve her writing, but to meet her online girlfriend for the first time. Phoebe is attending the Indoor Percussion Association convention. Throw in a toddler beauty pageant, and you just know chaos will ensue. Nothing goes as planned for any of the girls, but all is not lost.  A mix-up of scalpels and percussion mallets, and crossover interests bring the three girls together when they need it most, forging a supportive friendship that brings about a satisfying conclusion to their convention weekend. This book examines friendship in all its many, confusing forms: when your best friends start dating; when family issues intrude; when two people have differing expectations of a friendship; or when you want to befriend your archenemy. Issues of divorce and sexual identity are also deftly handled, leaving readers with a warm feeling.

THOUGHTS:  A solid purchase for middle school and up, this is a rare book with middle-teen protagonists dealing with appropriate feelings and issues.  

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Piontek, Victoria. The Spirit of Cattail County. Scholastic, 2018. 978-1-338-16705-4. $16.99. 275 p. Gr. 4-6.

Sparrow Dalton has led an unconventional life in Beulah, Florida. She and her mother lived in the family home on the edge of the swamp, a house many in the town claim is haunted. And maybe it is. Sparrow can see spirits, and her best – and only – friend is Boy, a long dead spirit. But when Sparrow’s mama dies, her contented life is disrupted. Now Sparrow lives with cantankerous Aunt Geraldine, who is planning on selling the Dalton family home and moving Sparrow into town. Aunt Geraldine also has high expectations of behavior that Sparrow consistently fails to meet. Sparrow takes solace in Boy, reasoning that if he can be a ghost, so can her mother. Lucky for Sparrow, a chance interaction with some local kids at her mother’s funeral leads to, possibly, friendship. Unfortunately, the Castos are not the kind of people Aunt Gertrude finds appropriate, but Sparrow is grateful for their interest in her, and gamely goes along with their plot to find Sparrow’s father. This is a delightfully atmospheric book, filled with spirits, cemeteries and dark, creepy swamps. Sparrow’s grief is offset by the antics of her new friends, and a delightful teen fortune teller. Sparrow learns how to be a friend, and in the end, learns about Aunt Gertrude’s past, and the two work to put their relationship on solid ground.

THOUGHTS:  A solid purchase for middle grade libraries. Strong characters and a creepy setting are sure to make this book a hit.   

Fantasy (Paranormal)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Key, Watt. Deep Water. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2018. 978-0-374-30654-0. $16.99. 264 p. Gr. 4-8.

Summers, now that Julie’s parents are divorced, mean time with dad, helping him run his dive shop and scuba diving business. When Julie arrives, she notices that her father seems to have let the business slide. So she agrees to go along with her dad when he books a difficult customer for a large fee. But everything about the dive seems off from the very beginning. The obnoxious father and petulant son, whom Julie knows from school, are arguing as they enter the shop, and are less than pleased when Julie’s dad decides not to dive because he feels ill, and has 12-year-old Julie guide them  instead. Julie is a competent diver, but feels out of her depth trying to keep the fractious pair safe and adhering to standard dive protocol. The dive quickly falls apart, but the struggles under the water are only the beginning of a life and death adventure for Julie and her clients.

THOUGHTS: Another outstanding action/adventure by the author of Terror at Bottle Creek. Key obviously knows his subject, and complements the breathtaking adventure with lyrical descriptions of diving, and battling Mother Nature.  However, the death of a character is handled somewhat nonchalantly.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


World of Robots. Bellwether Media, 2018. $19.95 ea. $119.70 set of 6. 32 p. Gr. 3-6.

Noll, Elizabeth. Factory Robots. 978-1-626-17687-4.
Noll, Elizabeth.
Flying Robots. 978-1-626-17688-1.
Noll, Elizabeth.
Medical Robots. 978-1-626-17689-1.
Noll, Elizabeth.
Military Robots. 978-1-626-17690-4.
Noll, Elizabeth.
Police Robots. 978-1-626-17691-1.
Noll, Elizabeth.
Space Robots. 978-1-626-17692-8.

Middle grade students interested in robots will be drawn to this informative set. Each volume opens with a short scenario illustrating the featured robot in action. The ensuing pages provide information about the development and use of the robot, accompanied by copious photographs. Text features include captions, information boxes, table of contents, glossary, index and a To Learn More page, directing readers to other books. However, for internet resources, readers are directed to Factsurfer, the publisher’s proprietary search engine. Billed as a safe, secure search engine, searches generally provide three results.  

THOUGHTS: While these books may not provide enough material for researchers, they should be satisfying for pleasure reading.   

670.42, Factory          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD
629.113, Flying
610.285, Medical
623, Military
363.2028, Police
629.8, Space
 


Puller, J.S. Captain Superlative. Disney-Hyperion, 2018. 978-1-369-00427-5. $16.99. 245 p. Gr. 4-7.

“Captain Superlative! Champion of Deerwood Park Middle School, here to defend honor, justice, and the forces of good!” This was Janey’s first sighting of the unknown superhero stalking the halls of her school, dressed in a silver swimsuit, tights and a cape. Captain Superlative prepares study guides, opens doors, and helps lost students. Janey watches with awe, curiosity, and a pulling need to know more about this crazy, yet amazing, student. Janey’s superpower is invisibility; she strives to not be noticed, particularly by Dagmar, middle school queen and reigning bully. Janey soon unmasks Captain Superlative, only to be pulled into her orbit as superhero sidekick. As Janey assists Captain Superlative in her many missions each day, she begins to blossom and soon realizes her life is much fuller and happier. But, as astute readers realize from the opening chapter, all is not well with Captain Superlative. This young girl is very ill. When Janey, whose mother died four years ago from cancer, learns her friend is similarly afflicted, she lashes out, feeling betrayed that she opened her heart to her new friend, only to suffer another loss. But as good always triumphs over evil, Janey forges a new path forward to carry on Captain Superlative’s mission. While it is unlikely a student would be able run around school in a mask and cape, this book will make you wish they could. Middle school in all its angsty agony is well depicted, from mean girls to trend followers, to uneasy boy-girl relations. Family issues are touched upon, not deeply but with enough substance to make you consider what burdens some students carry.

THOUGHTS:  A must purchase for middle grade and middle school collections. You may know how this book is going to end from the first pages, but the ride is so very joyous. Carry On, Citizens! Good wins out!   

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG/YA – Rebound; From Twinkle, with Love; Martin Rising: Requiem for a King

Alexander, Kwame. Rebound. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 978-0-544-86813-7. 414 p. $16.99. Gr. 6-9.

It’s 1988, and Charlie Bell is spending the summer with his grandparents in Washington, D.C. after the death of his father.  Wanting only to get lost in his comics, Charlie (Chuck according to his grandfather) is put to work around the house, woken up early to go on walks to the lake and taken to the Boys & Girls club where Granddaddy works.  Having lost his love of the game, Chuck works with his cousin, Roxie, to strengthen his basketball skills which in turn allows him to come to terms with his grief. When Chuck makes a poor choice, he realizes the importance of love, friendship, and family.  

THOUGHTS: Receiving four starred reviews, Rebound follows the Bell family before Josh and Jordan.  Alexander’s novel-in-verse once again explores the human experience of grief, loss, love, friendship, and family that readers loved in The Crossover.  This is a must-have for all middle school libraries.  It will fly off the shelves.

Realistic Fiction; Sports          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

In Rebound, Alexander returns to the Bell family, featured in his Newbery-award-winning book The Crossover, providing readers with the backstory of dad, Chuck. In the summer of 1988 Charlie Bell is a tormented 12-year-old. His father had suddenly died of heart failure, and he cannot find a way through his grief. He starts skipping school and acting out. His mother finally dispares and sends him off to his grandparents for the summer. Granddaddy provides the tough love Charlie desperately needs, and cousin Roxie starts shaping up his basketball game as well. As Charlie (now Chuck) reminisces, this was the summer he learned to rebound on and off the court. While the poetry is not as dynamic as The Crossover, the story is well-plotted and familiar characters are introduced, including mom C.J. The book stands well on its own, although readers familiar with The Crossover will enjoy watching the relationship between Chuck and Crystal develop.

THOUGHTS: A must purchase where Alexander’s other books are popular.

Realistic Fiction; Sports          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District


Menon, Sandhya. From Twinkle, with Love. New York: Simon Pulse, 2018. 978-1481495400. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Sandhya Menon’s sophomore novel, From Twinkle, with Love, features another charming female protagonist looking to escape from the box her classmates, parents, and society at large has put her in. Meet Twinkle Mehra, aspiring filmmaker, and “groundling,” (aka: social outcast), who dreams of getting her best friend, Maddie Tanaka, back from the “silk feathered hats” (aka: popular click). She thinks she’s hit upon the perfect scheme when Sahil Roy (twin of Neil Roy, Twinkle’s long time, and long-shot, crush) asks if she wants to team up with him to make a film for their school’s Midsummer Night arts festival. Twinkle is naturally shy and non-confrontational – two things about herself she wishes she could change – and she decides that putting herself out there in such a spectacular fashion is the only way for her to rise up from groundling status. Unbeknownst to Twinkle, this is all part of Sahil’s masterplan to finally get Twinkle to notice him, and to steal the limelight from his superstar twin. The two hit it off immediately, but Twinkle won’t allow herself to give in to her growing feelings for Sahil until she can uncover who her secret admirer is – the mysterious “N,” who has been emailing her for several weeks. Obviously, drama, romantic tension, and other teenage shenanigans ensue, leaving Twinkle teetering on the edge of a potentially disastrous decision. This is a breezy novel, with sitcom-like problems and tidy resolutions, and often unrealistically mature explorations of feelings. However, if you’re a fan of rom-coms, slapstick comedy, and sweet first time love, this is a perfect book for you.

Thoughts: While some of the supporting characters can come off as fairly one dimensional, Twinkle’s grandmother, Dadi, is possibly the most dynamic character of the bunch. A fanatical new ager, who support Twinkle in all of her endeavors, she offers insightful and/or fanciful advice, and is a wonderful counterpoint to Twinkle’s absentee parents.  

Realistic Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Pinkney, Andrea Davis, and Brian Pinkney.  Martin Rising: Requiem for a King.  Scholastic, 2018. 9780545702546.  128 pages. $19.99. Grades 4-7.

Pinkney takes us on a lyrical journey through the weeks preceding and the days following the death of Martin Luther King in a series of what she calls “docu-poems.”  The book begins with a prelude about Henny-Penny of fairy tale fame who plays the role of the Greek Chorus, as explained by Pinkney in her author’s note. Henny Penny appears throughout the text and in one poem tries to stop time in an effort to prevent the fatal events that will occur. This tribute focuses on the events surrounding the Memphis sanitation worker strike and the protest marches and speeches that King undertook in their support.  She makes use of the strike’s phrase “I am a Man” in several poems. On April 3, King returned to Memphis to further help the workers’ cause and gave his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. He was assassinated the following day. The poems before Martin’s death have chapter headings of “Dawn” and “Daylight,” while those that discuss events after the assassination are labeled “Darkness.” These serve as metaphors of the fight for civil rights. The title of each poem includes the date and events are presented chronologically. The final series of poems are presented under the heading “Dawn” once again and include a poem on the creation of Martin Luther King Day, which keeps his spirit and dreams alive. Pinkney includes a timeline of MLK’s entire life in the back matter with a more detailed listing of the events that took place in 1968, which are the main focus of this book. In the author’s note, Pinkney suggests that these poems could be performed out loud or read silently. Brian Pinkney’s expressionist illustrations are done in watercolor, gouache, and India ink. In the Illustrator’s note, he explains that he wanted them to convey the emotions of the events, rather than just a realistic portrait. The back matter includes a brief synopsis of King’s life in prose, accompanied by photographs. This will help those unfamiliar with all the details of his life and the sanitation strike to understand this text better. Source notes are also included.

Thoughts:  This is an excellent example of creative nonfiction, but is more importantly a moving and fitting eulogy of a famous American. This book should be a part of every library’s collection.

811.6   Poetry          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

YA FIC – See All the Stars; The Opposite of Innocent; Meet the Sky; And She Was; The Belles; Spinning Silver; Driving by Starlight; Mapping the Bones; Spill Zone: The Broken Vow; The Broken Girls; Fragments of the Lost; My Real Name is Hanna; Jazz Owls

Frick, Kit. See All the Stars. McElderry Books, 2018. 978-1-534-40437-3. 320 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

THEN it’s the summer before junior year, and Ellory has everything going for her – three best friends who are her whole universe, a boy she meets and starts to falls for, and plans for her future.

NOW it’s the star of senior year, and Ellory’s world has imploded because of secrets. Following an extended suspension (reason unknown), she has to start over all alone back at Pine Brook High School. Outcast and feared by most, Ellory walks the halls and suffers through classes while wrecked with guilt over everything she’s lost.

Told in alternating time periods, readers will piece together the destruction of Ellory’s life as she knew it.

THOUGHTS: The mystery of Ellory’s junior year definitely will encourage readers to devour this book. Give See All the Stars to fans of realistic mysteries and fans of multi- or unreliable narrators like We Were Liars! PS – It’s also locally set on the West Shore of South Central, PA!

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Sones, Sonya. The Opposite of Innocent. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-0-062-37031-0. 272 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Lily has grown a lot since Luke left two years ago, and her childhood crush has deepened. Though Luke is older, he is perfection in Lily’s eyes. When Luke moves in with Lily’s family until he gets on his feet, she feels like the stars have aligned. Her friends don’t understand her crush on an older guy and are distracted by more age appropriate love interests.

As Lily spends more time alone with Luke, she knows their love is real. Even if they can’t be seen on a date in public, Lily dreams of one day. At first the secrecy is exciting. Eventually Lily catches up to her friends’ opinions and questions Luke’s intentions, but it may be too late to save herself from heartbreak.

THOUGHTS: A must-read for fans of dark romances, readers are drawn into this intense, page-turning verse novel. Mature relationships and underage drinking make this most suitable to high school readers.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Hoyle, McCall. Meet the Sky. Blink, 2018. 978-0-310-76570-7. 256 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

There’s no doubt that Sophie is a hard worker. She’s a good student, and she does everything she can to ease the pressures at home. Ever since the accident that destroyed her family, Sophie has put her dreams – her life – on hold to take care of her sister and help their mom run the family business, caring for the animals.

When Finn Sanders returns to town, Sophie knows there’s no way she’ll let him get close to her again. Finn doesn’t seem to understand why Sophie is so annoyed with him. Unbeknownst to Sophie, Finn has experienced hardships of his own. In the chaos of of mandatory evacuation, Sophie is separated from her family and becomes trapped on the island with Finn. They must work together in order to survive, but personalities will clash as they struggle to beat the storm.

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Sophie and Finn as they race through the roaring storm, desperately trying to survive. The intensity of the storm mirrors the emotions both characters face as they come to terms with their situation and the past years of their lives. This character driven novel is great choice for any middle or high school library.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Verdi, Jessica. And She Was. Scholastic, 2018. 978-1-338-15053-7. 361 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

When her mom casually dismisses Dara’s shot at achieving her dreams by providing a copy of Dara’s birth certificate, she questions why and takes matters into her own hands. Her mind reveling at the what ifs, Dara doesn’t expect confronting her mom will lead her to discover that her whole life is built on lie, or that the one person who has been there for everything isn’t who she thought. When faced with a copy of her daughter’s birth certificate and two unfamiliar names listed as parents, Dara’s mom Mellie finally reveals she is transgender. Outraged at being kept in the dark, Dara gets what little information she can about her birth mother’s family and sets off on a road trip with neighbor and best friend Sam to learn about from where she comes. As Dara gets closer to meeting her extended family, Mellie shares details of her story – their story – with Dara in a series of emails. Not yet ready to forgive Mellie’s betrayal, Dara goes against her wishes to discover the life she could have lived. As Dara learns more about her family and her mom, she has the opportunity to make her own decision about what path her life will take. Mellie’s reasoning will be obvious to readers before Dara, but for the first time in her life the ball is in Dara’s court.

THOUGHTS: Mellie’s story of transitioning is raw and honest and sheds some light onto an area of YA lit that is growing. Trigger warning: Mellie has her reasons for shielding herself and Dara from the extended family; their conservative viewpoints are quite obvious and sometimes extremely offensive/insensitive. And She Was will be an excellent addition for high schools looking to diversify or expand their LGBTQ+ collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Deracine, Anat. Driving by Starlight. New York: Godwin Books, 2018. 978-1-250-13342-7. 280 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Meet Leena and Mishail, teenage girls living in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia; best friends who have an “us against the world” mentality, and whose relationship is the driving force behind Anat Deracine’s debut, Driving by Starlight. Leena and Mishail feel the burden of being a woman in Riyadh, where so many things are haraam – forbidden – and where a woman can’t do anything without the permission or escort of a male guardian, leaving the two girls to plot small rebellions in order to push back against these unjust laws. Both girls are in precarious positions socially and politically – Leena’s father is in prison for leading an insurgency against the government and its harsh laws against women, leaving her and her mother to fend for themselves; and Mishail’s father is Minister of the Interior, meaning there is no room for rule breaking in her household, as it could jeopardize her father’s place in the government. The two are inseparable, insisting, over and over, that “nothing they do can touch us.”  Their bonds of friendship are put to the test, however, with the addition of a new girl, Daria, to their class – Daria, who is half American, who has lived in New York, who has kissed boys, and who fans the sparks of Mishail’s rebelliousness into flames. And when Leena snags the attention of the boy Mishail’s crushing on – a boy who admires Leena’s father, and is determined to continue his work – it sends them spiraling further and further apart. While some of the Saudi Arabian laws and terms are hastily explained, it doesn’t get in the way of what’s at the heart of this story: the bonds of women, and the power of female unity. Although the culture, laws, and customs may be unfamiliar to Western readers, the love, angst, fear, rage, and helplessness that accompany female friendships will resonate with all readers.

THOUGHTS: This book wonderfully highlights Saudi culture and customs, and readers will come away with a better understanding of what life is truly like for the women who live there. A worthy addition to all middle and high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Clayton, Dhonielle. The Belles. New York: Freeform, 2018. 978-1-484-72849-9. 448 p. $17.99. Gr. 8-12.

Camille Beauregard and her sisters have been raised as Belles, powerful beings who have the ability to manipulate beauty and save their fellow citizens “from a life of unbearable sameness” (12). At her debut, Camille wows the crowd and the royal family with her creativity and poise, but is disappointed when her sister is picked as the Queen’s favorite, securing the coveted role of royal Belle. Camille begins working in a tea shop transforming local patrons, but a mysterious change in circumstances soon brings Camille to the palace. Under the tutelage of the Princess, Camille’s powers are tested – as is her loyalty to the crown. As time passes, Camille begins to see dark undertakings in the castle and questions her role as Belle. But being a Belle is all she knows, and Camille must confront the evasive history of the Belles in order to move forward.

THOUGHTS: Clayton does an excellent job of weaving class, race, and gender politics into her story and allowing readers to reflect on our own beauty obsessed world. This is an enthralling, unique fantasy with rich characters and vivid world-building. Perfect for fans of the Uglies series.

Fantasy          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

The citizens of Orleans revere beauty, but they are all cursed with gray skin, red eyes, and hair like straw. Only the Belles, the blessed descendants of the Goddess of Beauty herself, have the ability to help them achieve the glamorous appearances they crave. Camille is part of the latest generation of Belles, well trained in the art and science of transformation. She is excited to be called to the kingdom with her sisters to learn which one of them will be chosen the favorite: the Belle who will serve the royal family and the courtiers of Orleans. The Belles themselves are all beautiful, but in different ways; they have various skin, hair, and eye colors. But Camille and her sisters soon learn there is a dark underside to the world of Orleans, and the glamorous life they long imagined for themselves is not at all their new reality. Separated from each other and unable to access reliable information, all of the Belles struggle to make sense of the world they find themselves in, a world nothing like the one they have been preparing and planning for. Camille is physically exhausted by the demands made on her, and tormented by the moral dilemmas she faces when the horrid Princess Sophia orders her to do things she finds increasingly unconscionable. The ending is satisfying, but will leave the reader eager for the next installment.

THOUGHTS: This is a fast-paced, fun, and yet thought-provoking read. Orleans is reminiscent of The Capitol in The Hunger Games, with its emphasis on outrageous fashion. There is much to dissect here concerning the value of beauty and the dangers of objectifying the human body, especially women’s bodies. The fact that the book features a gorgeous dark-skinned girl on the cover, and includes descriptions of various skin colors as beautiful, is also an important positive aspect.  Highly recommended for high school libraries and for middle school libraries seeking fiction with appeal to older readers.

Dystopian; Fantasy          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Novik, Naomi. Spinning Silver. New York: Del Rey, 2018. 978-0399180989. 480p. $28.00. Gr.  9 and up.

Naomi Novik takes us on a journey of female empowerment and collaboration, magic and mayhem, in her newest novel, Spinning Silver, loosely based on the fairytale, Rumpelstiltskin. Meet Miryem, Wanda, and Irena – three very different women from very different backgrounds, but whose stories twist and intertwine, as they each battle their own particular demons. Miryem, a Jewish moneylender (two marks against her, as far as her neighbors are concerned), who is exceedingly good at her job; her demon comes in the form of the Staryk king, a beautiful, cold – figuratively and literally – fey creature obsessed with obtaining gold at all costs. When he takes Miryem for his wife against her will, after she succeeds in turning Staryk silver into gold, she must use all of her wit and cunning to not only survive, save her family and the rest of the villagers from a perpetual winter. Wanda lives with her demon of a father, a brutal drunkard who find any excuse to beat and berate Wanda. When she becomes a servant in Miryem’s household, she allows herself to visualize a life for herself and her two brothers beyond her father’s clutches. Irena, invisible daughter of a duke, who has little to recommend herself to members of the opposite sex (at least, according to her father), unexpectedly becomes Tsarina, when Mirnatius, the spoiled and entitled Tsar, insists on marrying her; however, he is quite literally a demon, or at least is possessed by one – a fire demon, determined to devour Irena, who carries Staryk blood in her veins. She, too, must fight for her life, and after a chance meeting, she and Miryem become accomplices, combining the powers of their intellect and sheer lust for life, to concoct a plan to conquer Mirnatius and the Staryk king. This is a breathless, epic tale, showcasing exactly what a woman is capable of when you threaten her, and the people she loves. All three protagonists are exceedingly well-rounded, each with a unique voice and perspective, and each given a chance to shine. Particularly captivating is the shift in Wanda’s relationship with her two brothers – initially cold and distant, and then, after her eldest brother, Sergey, runs afoul of the Staryk and almost dies, blindingly loving – and, in turn, their connection to their deceased mother, who seems to live on in as a white tree in their yard.  Fans of Novik’s Uprooted will not be disappointed with this second fairytale retelling.

THOUGHTS: While this is an adult novel, all of the female protagonists are around eighteen years old, and will resonate strongly with young readers. These are smart, capable women who use all of the resources at their disposal to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles – they’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Fantasy          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Yolen, Jane. Mapping the Bones. New York: Philomel Books, 2018. 978-0-399-25778-0. 417 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Survival and family are at the forefront of Jane Yolen’s Mapping the Bones, a Holocaust story loosely based on Hansel and Gretel. Twins Gittel and Chaim, and their parents, have been relatively lucky so far; they have a fairly spacious apartment all to themselves in Lodz, the Polish ghetto they’re living in, they’ve managed to stay fed, and while there’s always danger lurking in the form of Nazi soldiers, they all know how to keep a low profile. Then the Norenberg’s come to stay with them – a German-Jewish family, who are not used to dealing with any hardship – and all of their lives are changed forever, as the fates of both families are inextricably entwined. The story takes place in three central locations, and the action is divided up accordingly: in the ghetto; on the run in Bialowieza Forest; and at Sobanek, a labor camp for Jewish youth. At the heart of everything are Chaim and Gittel; they are two sides of the same coin, and have a deep-rooted connection that began in the womb. Chaim does not speak – he limits himself to five words at a time, except when he’s writing, or reciting, his poetry; poetry is his life blood, and for him, it is his duty as a witness to the horrors of war to write, and write, and write. Gittel is their spokeswoman – she is infinitely adaptable, personable, and clever, and because she narrates half of the chapters (they’re titled “Gittel Remembers”), we know that at least she survives. Nothing about this story is easy – because we see everything through Chaim’s lyrical lens, life (and death) in the ghetto and at Sobanek is painted in vivid, often brutal, detail; the conclusion of the book is especially gruesome. While Chaim and Gittel are phenomenally fleshed out, the supporting characters are less so, and many of them come off as one-dimensional.  This is particularly true in the case of Sophie and Bruno Norenberg; we never really get to know Sophie, though she seems innocuous enough, but Bruno is the quintessential spoiled brat – greedy, selfish, and weak-minded, it’s easy to dismiss him as a coward and a villain. Except that we need to remember that he’s just a 12 year old boy, thrust into the most horrific situation imaginable, with absolutely no adult guidance. As readers, let’s save our ire for those who truly deserve it. Despite this, Mapping the Bones is an honest, compelling, and, at times, hopeful take on the Holocaust told by a master storyteller.

THOUGHTS: This book is categorized as juvenile fiction, but because of its often graphic portrayal of violence, and Yolen’s mature and complex language, this is better suited for older adolescent readers.

Historical Fiction (Holocaust)          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Westerfeld, Scott. Spill Zone: The Broken Vow. Illustrated by Alex Puvilland.  First Second Books, 2018. 231 p. 978-1-626-72150-0. $22.99. Grades 7-12. (Series: Spill Zone, #2)

Three years ago, Addison’s world changed when another world mysteriously and powerfully entered ours; it killed her parents and left her younger sister Lexa unable to speak. Addison supported herself and Lexa by photographing inside the off-limits Spill Zone that Poughskeepie has become, trying hard to think only of the effort to live, and not to dwell on the nightmarish creatures and images stamped on her mind from her encounters. Book 1 brought Addison her big break: an art collector willing to pay her for not only her photographs but also for retrieving a unique object from the Spill Zone. Addison daringly accomplishes the task, but she has been left changed. No one can explain to her what has happened, until a North Korean agent, Don Jae, recognizes in her the same changes he has encountered in himself and in his country. Their zone is dead, but this zone is alive–and about to make an audacious move. Will Addison and Don Jae make the right decisions to help their world, or simply invite more terror? Meanwhile, Addison and Lexa struggle to come to terms with Lexa’s doll, which has its own power over Lexa since the Spill–but why? Westerfeld (sci-fi creator of Uglies and Leviathan and more) has created a horrifically twisted world where humans and hope still live. Puvilland’s art enhances this striking and fearful tale.

THOUGHTS: For anyone interested in science fiction and graphic art.  With volume 1, this duo is a must-have in either genre.

741.5 Graphic Novel, Dystopian          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


St. James, Simone. The Broken Girls. Berkley, 2018. 326 p. 978-0451-47620-3 $26.00  Grades 9-12.

Idlewild Hall in Vermont.  In 1950, it was where unwanted, troubled, or troublesome girls were sent, where embarrassment and illegitimacy could be hidden.  Visitors were few, teachers were strict (and mostly uncaring), and the rumors of the ghost Mary Hand were prevalent. If you were at Idlewild for very long, Mary Hand would visit you, and you would remember. This is where four classmates, out of necessity, share with each other the turmoil that brought them to Idlewild, and forge a friendship that is stronger than this awful place–or do they?  Then one of them disappears. She’s officially listed as a runaway, but her three friends know something different.

Vermont 2014, Fiona Sheridan writes fluffy freelance pieces for small-time newspapers.  It’s nothing at all like the in-depth reporting her world-renowned father, Malcolm Sheridan, has accomplished.  His name still brings awe to those in the industry. But Malcolm, like Fiona, has changed in the twenty years since his daughter Deb was murdered, her body found near Idlewild Hall. Deb’s boyfriend was convicted of the murder, but doubts still linger in Fiona’s mind. Something still feels wrong. Now, Fiona hears of an investor attempting to restore Idlewild Hall–crumbling buildings and ghostly stories be damned–and she decides to write a story about it. But who is this investor, and why Idlewild, why now? St. James tells her story from multiple perspectives: each of the four girls in 1950, and Fiona in 2014. The result is an insightful and appropriately suspenseful story linking the past to the present.

THOUGHTS: A clever crossover novel that will appeal to YA and adult audiences. St. James successfully mixes modern suspense, gothic horror, and shameful history into a page-turner with believable characters and an ending clever enough to match the journey. Not to be missed by any gothic or suspense fan.

Mystery, Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Miranda, Megan. Fragments of the Lost. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018.  369 p. 978-0399-55672-2 $17.99 Grades 7-12.

Jessa Whitworth feels completely awkward and fully grief-laden in her ex-boyfriend’s room, three months after their breakup, and two months after his death. But Caleb’s family is moving, and his mother insists that Jessa clean it out, saying it’s too painful for her, and that the room is full of Jessa, anyway. Since Jessa feels the blame from most of the community for his death (why did he go to her track meet the night he died? If he hadn’t, maybe he wouldn’t have crashed into the river….), she feels this could be a sort of penance, and maybe she deserves it. But Jessa finds that his room is full of her, and too many items bring back happy or painful memories.  The memories leave her wondering if their relationship was all that she thought it was, or if she misread herself and Caleb completely. Was Caleb hiding something from her? Why (she realizes now) was he one person with her, and another person with everyone else? And is it just grief compelling his mother to ask this of her, or does she have another motive? Jessa finds herself questioning Caleb, his past, and her own instincts. This suspenseful tale is slow in the revealing of secrets that Jessa didn’t know, and what she uncovers will surprise her.

THOUGHTS: A good choice for fans of Natalie Richards (Six Months Later, One Was Lost) who like a bit of romance and a strong female character who grows through adversity. Jessa is a likable, realistic narrator who is able to see her own shortcomings and overcome them.

Realistic Fiction, Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Masih, Tara Lynn. My Real Name is Hanna. Mandel Vilar Forge. 2018. 978-1-942134-51-0. $16.95. 208 p. Gr. 7-12.

Hanna Slivka lived a normal life, exploring her town, going to school, and giggling over her crush Leon. Everything was fun and normal until Hitler’s army crossed into the Soviet-ruled Ukraine and took over. Now, her life is going to change as Hitler and the Gestapo declares that her town, and many others, need to be shtetele, or Jew-free. Hanna and her family will soon face challenges that they did not expect – cold and dirty stares and comments from neighbors they have known for years, limited food and supplies, and running to stay alive. Thankfully Hanna has one good neighbor, Alla, who assists as much as she can, helping with the simplest things, such as creating a pysanky egg. Hanna and her family flee to the underground caves to hide, fighting against Hitler’s army and their own minds and bodies as negativity, despair, and starvation set in. The fight to survive may be more difficult then the fight against the actual army, but Hanna and her family will do anything to live on and tell their story.

THOUGHTS: A true-based story of one of the only surviving Ukrainian families during the Holocaust. Hanna’s tale is heartbreaking and gripping, leaving the reader with a sense of fear that needs to be told again and again not to forget the lost souls of the Holocaust.

Historical Fiction (Holocaust)          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


Engle, Margarita. Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots. New York: Atheneum, 2018. 978-1-5344-0943-9. 179p. $17.99. Gr.  7 and up.

In Jazz Owls, Margarita Engle has put a spotlight on a little known slice of history, the Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots, that unfortunately will resonate in today’s increasingly xenophobic political landscape. In the summer of 1943, a group of white, American sailors went roving the streets of Los Angeles assaulting and humiliating Latino men and teenage boys, specifically any man or boy wearing a zoot suit, a style of clothing that was perceived as “other”, and therefore, dangerous; none of the sailors were arrested, but the victims were rounded up and arrested “for their own safety.” This novel in verse focuses on one Mexican-American family, in particular three siblings – Marisela, 16; Lorena, 14; and Ray, 12; they’re eldest brother, Nicolás, is off fighting overseas. Marisela and Ray love to dance, and especially love the Latin music popular in some of the clubs; Lorena, more introspective, is a reluctant accomplice to their nighttime entertainment. A violent altercation a lake sets the tone early on – it is clear, by Engle’s use of two reporter’s perspectives (simply addressed as “Reporter #1” and “Reporter #2”), that anyone perceived to be Mexican will be treated as a threat.  Indeed, the siblings all get arrested after this incident, even though they were merely bystanders, and had nothing at all to do with what happened. Each sibling internalizes this ordeal, as well as the riots, differently – while she’s angry and scared, Marisela just wants to be free to dance and fall in love; Lorena is furious and outraged, especially after the riots, which she points out should be called the “Sailor Riots”, as they’re the perpetrators; and Ray, as one of the subjects of these vicious attacks, feels “peeled,” but ready to fight. There are some wonderful moments in this book, with Lorena in particular, whose character development is the most dramatic, but overall, the writing feels a little haphazard, and will most likely leave younger readers confused about the time period rather than curious. If, instead of the two characters of the reporters (who often come off sounding like cartoon villains twirling their moustaches) Engle had put in snippets from actual primary sources, she would have accomplished the same thing in a more authentic way.

THOUGHTS: While Margarita Engle has done a service to history by giving voice to these horrific race riots, this books needs some context, and would be best as an in-class read paired with articles and/or photos from the time period.

Historical Fiction (1943)           Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

YA Realistic Fiction – Mr. 60%; Saints & Misfits; We Come Apart; Grit

Barrett Smith, Clete. Mr. 60%. Crown Books, 2017. 978-0-5535-3466-5. 192 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Meet Matt, aka “Mr. 60%”, a nickname earned thanks to just-passing grades and Matt’s habit of doing the bare minimum both academically and socially to graduate high school. The only time he engages in conversation is when he’s completing a “transaction” with a classmate. Instead, he spends his time looking for more creative places to stash his “merchandise” at school so when his nemesis, the vice principal, and the on-campus cop conduct random drug searches, they turn up nada.  Everyone thinks Matt is destined to be a high school dropout, yet what they don’t know is that Matt feels like he has no other choice; he’s only selling drugs to pay for medicine to help ease his uncle’s pain in the wake of a fatal cancer diagnosis. With his mother in jail, his dad never having been in the picture, and living in trailer #6 at the local trailer park with his dying uncle, Matt has limited options and no one to turn to.  When the school board develops a new policy requiring seniors to participate in at least one student activity club in order to graduate, Matt is forced to see he’s not as alone as he thought.  There just might be a friend he can lean on when times get unbearable.  THOUGHTS:  Mr. 60% reminds adult readers, educators especially, that our children are more than what we see on the surface, and reminds teen readers that they’re not alone, that a classmate passing them in the hallway might have it worse than they do.  Despite its somber tone and overwhelming sense of helplessness readers may feel for Matt; there is still a note of hope throughout the story: the fellow classmate whose offer of friendship helps her just as much as it helps Matt and his uncle, the guidance counselor willing to try over and over again to offer Matt options to help him graduate even though he doesn’t seem to appreciate it, the police officer who keeps trying to warn Matt of his impending future should he not change his drug-dealing ways, among others. My only complaint is the abrupt ending; the conclusion needed at least one more chapter to feel complete. Teens and adults alike will appreciate the realistic characters and the how real Matt’s life is portrayed, and the short length is perfect for reluctant readers. 

Realistic Fiction            Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley SD

 

Ali, S.K. Saints and Misfits.  Salaam Reads, 2017. 978-1-4814-9924-8. 328 p.  $18.99  Gr. 7-12.

Janna sees people as fitting into three different categories:  saints, misfits, and monsters.  She herself is a misfit:  a Muslim girl who chooses to wear the Hajib, struggling to fit in to a variety of different places and with different people, including two families, since her parents are divorced (and have very different views on religion). Janna has a crush on Jeremy, who isn’t Muslim; he’s a misfit, too, if only because he’s willing to consider dating her.  Then there are saints: people so perfect and good, like her brother’s girlfriend, they make Janna feel like she’s lacking.  Finally, there’s the monsters.  Janna tries not to think about the monster in her life; a monster who pretends to be a saint.  He’s the brother of one of Janna’s friends, and she’s afraid to tell anyone the truth, that he tried to sexually assault her once, and she’s afraid he might do it again.  THOUGHTS:  The sensitive subject matter is handled frankly and yet not too graphically, so that this book is accessible to middle as well as high school readers.  This well written book is an important addition to school library collections both because it features a Muslim heroine, and because it empower girls who have been assaulted.

Realistic Fiction               Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Crossan, Sarah and Conaghan, Brian. We Come Apart. Bloomsbury, 2017. 978-1-68119-275-8. $17.99. 320p. Gr. 9+.

Sarah Crossan teamed up with Brian Conaghan to write in verse from two points of view. Both Jess and Nicu lead desperate lives. Jess lives in a dysfunctional home with a despicable stepfather who beats Jess’ mom and forces her to be an accomplice. Jess lives in fear of her stepfather, but it doesn’t stop her from acting out by stealing things. On her third arrest, she is forced to do community service which is where she meets Nicu, who is also performing community service. Nicu and his family have recently emigrated from Romania to England into the time of Brexit and open racism. We see through his broken-English what it is like for a teenager of color to endure racism from not just his classmates, but his teachers and society in general. Nicu also has the weight of an arranged marriage in his near future to contend with. The story begins with a hesitant friendship between Jess and Nicu and slowly transforms into love. Jess fights the relationship from the beginning, hiding it from her friends, and not step to Nicu’s defense when people attack him because of his Romanian heritage. This book reminded me of Crossan’s, The Weight of Water and the publisher likens it to Una LaMarche’s Like No Other.  THOUGHTS: I read this book quickly due to its being written in verse, but also because I wanted to find out what would happen between Jess and Nicu. It’s rated 9th grade and above due to the domestic violence and a brutal racist attack on the street, although I would consider letting 8th graders read this book. I enjoyed reading about Nicu’s perspective of moving to a country in the throes of Brexit and overt racism all the while living with old-fashioned parents that insist on an arranged marriage. I enjoyed the ending, but I can already hear my students complaining that it lacked the happy ending they seem to enjoy.

Realistic Fiction, Verse            Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

French, Gillian.  Grit.  HarperTeen, 2017.  978-0-06-264255-4. 294 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Seventeen-year-old Darcy Prentiss has a wild reputation that precedes her. Most of her classmates believe she is promiscuous, and she is often found drinking and taking dares at parties. The police think she knows more than she is letting on about the disappearance last summer of her former best friend, Rhiannon, and it soon comes to light that she is also hiding another secret for her cousin, Nell. As the story unfolds, mysteries that seemed totally unrelated are woven together, and the truth behind Darcy’s actions is unveiled. Teen readers will easily be able to relate to and empathize with Darcy, making this a great choice for high school libraries.  THOUGHTS: My only criticism of this title is the fact that I had a hard time figuring out what the main story line was. Did I want to know what happened to Rhiannon last summer, or did I want to discover Nell’s secret? Was I more interested in the love connection between Darcy and a boy named Jesse than I was in either of these mysteries? However, regardless of the complex plot (which all ended up weaving together in the end), Darcy proved to be an extremely relatable and likable character.  I felt for her, and I admired her courage; therefore, I needed to keep reading to find out what happened to her and everyone else. A beautifully written title, perhaps more suited towards older adolescents due to its evocative language and sexual references.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD