MG – Beyond Me

Donwerth-Chikamatsu, Annie. Beyond Me. Antheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-481-43789-9. 291 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

This novel written in verse is about eleven year old Maya who lives in Japan with her American mother and Japanese father. Follow Maya as she lives through the events of March 11, 2011, the day a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Maya and her family are among the lucky ones who live outside of Tokyo, far enough away from the center of the earthquake, tsunamis, and subsequent radiation leaks. As Maya sits by and watches her family do things to help, Maya feels helpless.  Rescuing a cat that she finds out was abandoned after the quake, planting radiation absorbing sunflowers, and making 1,000 paper cranes with her friend Yuka help to give her a purpose as she waits for the next aftershock to hit.  

THOUGHTS: This book is told from an eleven year old’s point of view and really highlights the stress and worry kids feel when a natural disaster happens. I like that Maya’s mother helps her find ways she can help in a crisis. 

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Upper Dublin SD

Elem. – Flooded:  Requiem for Johnstown

Burg, Ann E. Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-54069-7. 313 p. $16.53. Grades 3-6.

Gertrude Quinn is a spirited young school girl, looking forward to singing at Decoration Day.  Daniel Fagan is planning a summer spent outdoors, maybe even sneaking a swim in at the private late at the top of King’s Mountain. Monica Fagan is looking forward to traveling the world, especially if it means she’ll leave Daniel and his pranks behind. Joe Dixon is waiting for the perfect moment–the perfect moment to tell his father he isn’t working at the company store but instead bought a newsstand, and the perfect moment to propose to his true love, Maggie. William James has been collecting words for a long time, and he’ll get a chance to use them when he reads an original poem at Decoration Day. George Hoffman wishes his pa would let him quit school so he can go to work to help his family of 10. In Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown, Ann E. Berg tells a tale of the lives that were being lived before the disaster on May 31, 1889, that took the lives of more than 2,200 people, including 99 entire families and 396 children. We follow six main characters as they prepare for the Decoration Day celebration, disappointed by the rain but oblivious to the calamity about to unfold. We see the flood as experienced by these characters, and we also witness the aftermath. The flood is the catalyst, but it is not the main character. Instead, Burg has chosen to tell a tale of lives lived, lost and saved.

THOUGHTS: The character development and storytelling will attract students who may not know about the Johnstown flood, and it will likely encourage students to read more about this catastrophe.

Historical Fiction        Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

MG – The Canyon’s Edge

Bowling, Dusti. The Canyon’s Edge. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-49469-4. 301 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Are you likely to die in this situation? is a question Nora asks herself often after surviving a shooting at a restaurant on her birthday which claimed her mother’s life. Nora and her dad trek into a canyon in the middle of the desert one day to get away from life for a few hours and spend time doing what their family loved to do – hike and explore. But when a flash flood suddenly strikes, Nora’s dad is swept away moments after saving her life. Nora is now left with absolutely nothing, not even her backpack, and must battle her inner demons and various canyon hazards to find her dad…. and a way out. Alone in the desert Nora must overcome her past in order to save her future.

THOUGHTS: A must have for your collection and for fans of Hatchet! Finally a story where a female protagonist overcomes the odds in a survival story. Bowling brings the emotion in this novel in verse and teaches us that we are more capable than we think. Bowling wrote this book to honor a family of nine that perished in a flash flood a day after she visited the same spot with her family.

Graphic Novel        Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA – Turtle Under Ice

Del Rosario, Juleah. Turtle Under Ice. Simon Pulse, 2020. 259 p. $18.99 978-15344-4295-5 Grades 9-12.

Teenage sisters Rowena and Ariana have drifted apart since the unexpected death of their mother several years ago. Rowena has thrown herself into soccer, becoming a respected top athlete on her team. Fearing change, Ariana has retreated into…nothing, and risks failing school. The sisters’ closeness has become a barrier as they both fear moving on, and as they both communicate less, and less honestly. Their father has remarried a woman they also love, and the family is incredibly hopeful about the arrival of their new half-sister. However, Maribel suffers a miscarriage, and the loss is too cruel for the sisters. “Our sister’s heart stopped beating/like our mother’s, unexpectedly/on a day that was otherwise/normal” (53).  Ariana vanishes, which leaves Rowena feeling angry and abandoned. This novel in verse is narrated by both sisters as they try to come to terms with this new grief, in addition to the unending grief of losing their mother. Slowly, both sisters discover that their grief has led them to close themselves off to others. Rowena tracks down Ariana at an art exhibit, where Ariana shows a painting “Turtle Under Ice” in memory of their mother. The relief comes very slowly as both girls see hope in Ariana’s art.

THOUGHTS: Del Rosario has a way with creating beautiful images with her words: “Our family…/is a frayed string of lights/that someone needs to fix/with electrical tape./It’s the electricity/that can’t get to us/because Mom’s bulb/has burned out,/so now the whole string is dark./But without the lights turned on/does anyone even notice/that we are broken?” (43-44). Ultimately, the insightful thoughts aren’t enough to save this novel from the monotonous weight of the crushing grief and depression, and the cover does little to draw in all but the most curious of readers. Recommended where novels in verse or multiple narrators are in heavy demand.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Novel in Verse

MG – When You Know What I Know

Solter, Sonja. When You Know What I Know. Little, Brown & Company, 2020. 212 p. $16.99. 978-0316-53544-1 Grades 5-8.

Ten-year-old Tori is struggling with the aftermath of sexual abuse by her once-favorite uncle. She feels shame, anger, loss, sadness, and fear. She tells her mom, who is reluctant to believe her, and her grandmother takes her uncle’s side. Since her single mom relied on Tori’s grandmother and uncle for any childcare for Tori and her eight-year-old sister Taylor, the family strain increases. Their responses make Tori feel worse: “Maybe I shouldn’t have told,” and her secret is building a wedge between her and her friends as well. This novel told in verse reveals her confusion and pain without being specific about the incident. Eventually, another girl accuses her uncle of abuse, and Tori finds a freeing yet sickening feeling of vindication, along with support from her mother and grandmother.  By novel’s end, she discovers she is able to forget the incident for a few hours. The memories still return, “But still./A day like today…/It’s possible./I know that now.”

THOUGHTS: Solter’s novel provides acknowledgement of sexual abuse of young people and the difficulty of not being believed when speaking up; this honesty will provide hope for survivors as well. The content, in no way explicit, is appropriate for upper elementary and middle school readers. The Author’s Note states, “My hope for this book is that readers will be encouraged to tell their own truths, and–if someone doesn’t believe them at first–to keep on telling until they get the help they need. Healing takes time…[and] is not only possible, it IS where all of our stories are going” (208).

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Novel in Verse

YA – Clap When You Land

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

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

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

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

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

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

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

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