MG – The Fort

Korman, Gordon. The Fort. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-62914-9. 239 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

After a violent hurricane rips through their town, Evan and his friends decide to explore the destruction and see if their fort in the woods has survived. Unfortunately, the fort is destroyed, but the weather has unearthed something even better not too far away. The boys discover an underground bomb shelter, complete with canned goods, a record player, a TV – basically everything they need to make the ultimate clubhouse! The group decides to keep the fort a secret between the five of them. They hang out at the fort quite often, spending a lot of time with each other; however, each of them is hiding another secret besides the fort. Evan is worrying about his older brother and hoping he doesn’t succumb to drugs like their parents. Jason is trying hard not to reveal the fort to his girlfriend and her police officer father. Mitchell is trying to get his OCD under control. And CJ is sleeping at the fort every night to escape physical abuse from his stepdad. Ricky, who has not known these guys as long as they have known each other, knows something is amiss and begins to put the pieces together, determined to help them out. When some older boys get suspicious about where the friends are spending their time and an investigation begins, Ricky knows he has to work quickly to keep his friend group (and the fort) safe.

THOUGHTS: Gordon Korman’s 100th book does not disappoint. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character to get everyone’s perspectives. The friendship between the boys is heartwarming and supportive, especially in the face of the obstacles they all have in their lives. This book is a must-purchase for middle grade libraries.

Realistic Fiction            Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Growing Pangs

Ormsbee, Kathryn. Growing Pangs. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-30129-6. 249 p. $20.99. Grades 4-7.

As a homeschooled kid with bright red hair, freckles, and crooked teeth, Katie knows she is a little different from most kids her age. But as long as she has her best friend Kacey, none of that matters. The pair head off to spend their summer at Camp Aldridge, and that’s when things begin to change. Katie notices that Kacey gets very jealous when Katie hangs out with other people at camp. When they both start at their homeschool co-op for the year, Katie’s circle of friends continues to grow while Kacey shrinks back into the sidelines of Katie’s life. One aspect of Katie’s life that hasn’t gotten smaller is the “buzzing” in her mind. The buzzing orders her to accomplish tasks like turning a faucet on and off ten times. If she completes the task, nothing bad will happen to Katie or the people in her life. When Katie finds out she needs oral surgery and that Kacey is moving away before their friendship can be repaired, the buzzing gets louder and louder. Katie realizes she needs help from her parents to take control of her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

THOUGHTS: Katie is insightful for her age yet also relatable. Her struggles mirror the pressure and anxiety tweens face every day. This semi-autobiographical graphic novel will most definitely appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier and the Sunny series.

Graphic Novel           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA FIC – A Long Way Down; When Its Real; Turtles All the Way Down

Reynolds, Jason. A Long Way Down. Atheneum, 2017. 978-1-4814-3825-1. 306 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

The day before yesterday, Will’s older brother Shawn was shot and killed. Will experiences intense grief: “the new empty space, / where you know / a tooth supposed to be / but ain’t no more.” But, Will lives by the neighborhood code: don’t cry, don’t snitch, get revenge. So he retrieves his brother’s gun from its hiding place and heads for the elevator, prepared to seek justice for Shawn’s death. Most of the novel takes place over the roughly one-minute, eight-story elevator ride that follows. At each floor, the elevator stops and someone from Will’s past steps on. First is Buck, wearing his own RIP Buck t-shirt. Next is a girl, Will’s friend Dani who was shot and killed when she was just eight. As the elevator descends, and the Will’s deceased friends and family members join him, he begins to question the necessity and wisdom of vengeance. The book closes on a chilling note, leaving readers to ponder some big, unanswered questions.  THOUGHTS: In this poetic, thought-provoking, and intriguingly structured novel-in-verse, Jason Reynolds depicts the ripple effects of violent crime on the young man left behind.

Realistic Fiction       Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District


Reynolds, Jason. Long Way Down. Antheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2017. 978-1-481-43825-4. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

The rules in Will’s neighborhood are simple: 1. Crying, don’t. 2. Snitching, don’t. and 3. Revenge, do. But Will’s decision to avenge his brother’s murder is anything but simple. As Will travels down the elevator with Shawn’s gun (Shawn had a gun?!) tucked into his waistband, he is prepared to murder his brother’s killer. New passengers slow his ride at each floor. Readers will quickly understand each of these passengers is dead, he or she is connected to Will, and they each have something to tell him before he steps off on the ground floor.  THOUGHTS: Having recently listened to All American Boys and a Jason Reynolds interview about his writing, I knew I had to read Long Way Down. Readers of all types will be drawn into Will’s story and devour this fast-paced novel in verse. Though tough topics and violence are depicted, this is a book for many readers, especially those who are reluctant.

Realistic Fiction     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District


Watt, Erin. When It’s Real. New York: Harlequin, 2017. Print. 978-0373212521. 416 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

This novel starts out like a Disney channel movie, which is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your view of Disney made-for-TV movies, and, like most Disney movies, the novel ends up being a sweet romance that will capture the attention of any teen girl or boy who enjoys teen dramas. Oakley Ford has been breaking teenage hearts since he landed on the music scene as a young adolescent. But, in his older teen years, he has hit a rut and needs something in his life to get him motivated to write and perform. His publicists decide that he needs a “wholesome” girlfriend to change his image in the media. Enter Vaughn Bennett, whose sister works at the media firm and who catches the eye of Vaughn’s team. They tell her they will pay her to be Oakley’s girlfriend, and since she and her sister are raising their younger brothers after the death of their parents, she decides it’s something she must do for her family. The usual ensues- Oakley annoys and intrigues Vaughn, Vaughn annoys yet arouses something in Oakley that makes him want to write music again. The characters are interesting if a bit predictable, and the plot suffers from the same misfortune, but teens will eat up the romance between Oakley and Vaughn. There is drinking, drug use, and sexual references, which does cause the novel to venture out of the realm of the chaste Disney film. THOUGHTS: This is another romance to add to your collection for those who love Sarah Dessen but are looking for a more exciting location and a variety of characters not generally found in Dessen’s novels. Recommended for high school libraries.

Romance     Lindsey Meyers, Shadyside Academy


Green, John. Turtles All The Way Down. New York; Dutton Books, 2017. Print. 978-0525555360. 304 p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Anything with John Green’s name on it will cause excitement among young adults everywhere, whether they read his books or watch his humorous, yet instructional, videos. Turtles All The Way Down does not veer far from his standard fare of engrossing teen dramas, but it does offer a unique and honest glimpse into the life of one dealing with severe anxiety and OCD, and how her struggle affects those around her. Aza Holmes is our tragic hero, trying to manage her OCD and anxiety while living a “normal” life. She spends time with her mom (her dad passed away when she was younger), hangs out with her friend Daisy, and does well in school. She also, however, constantly changes a bandage on her hand, fears catching bacteria, especial C.Diff, and tumbles constantly into “thought spirals.” When billionaire Russell Picket goes missing, Daisy convinces Aza to help her investigate the disappearance, mostly to acquire the $100,000 reward. Aza knows his son from a summer camp when they were younger, and a chance meeting rekindles their friendship and begins to lead to something more. But, can Aza maintain a relationship while managing her OCD?  John Green does an excellent job of portraying Aza. Her inner dialogues perfectly exemplify one with OCD, and the constant state of helplessness one finds oneself in when dealing with intrusive thoughts and irrational actions. THOUGHTS: John Green has once again given us an intriguing story of a unique (or is it?) teen experience. Highly recommended for young adults and adults who deal with teens struggling with mental health issues.

Realistic Fiction       Lindsey Meyers, Shadyside Academy


Green John. Turtles All the Way Down. Dutton Books, 2017. 978-0-525-55536-0. 286 p. $19.99. Gr 9-12.

John Green’s long-awaited new novel is here, and it’s his best one yet. Sixteen-year-old Aza and her best friend Daisy take notice when local billionaire Russell Pickett disappears. The reward for information in his case is a hundred thousand dollars, and Daisy is sure their sleuthing will lead to clues and ultimately to the reward. After all, Aza spent summers at “sad camp” with Russell’s son, Davis, after his mom and her dad died, so reconnecting with the Pickett family isn’t hard. As Aza and Davis reconnect and begin to fall for each other, Aza’s always present anxieties and compulsions begin to spiral, and readers are shown what it’s like to live every day consumed by claustrophobic, obsessive thoughts. Aza’s voice is raw and heartfelt, and Green also throws in a hefty dose of nerdery and humor that will win over teen and adult readers alike. THOUGHTS: Green’s latest is an unflinching, honest look at mental illness that is at times challenging to read, but will linger with readers long after finishing.  If you buy one book this year, it should be this.

Realistic Fiction      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Realistic Fiction Grades 7 and up – Every Last Word; Beyond Clueless


Stone, Tamara Ireland. Every Last Word. New York: Hyperion, 2015. 355 p. 978-1484705278. $17.99 Gr. 7-12.

Samantha McAllister is one of the remaining five “Crazy Eights”—the most popular girls in her school. She’s pretty, popular and just set a county record for the butterfly in swimming. She’s also OCD and desperate to keep her secret from everyone despite her weekly therapist visits and all-too-frequent obsessive thought trains. If word gets out, if the Crazy Eights are imbalanced, everything will change, and she will lose status, friends, and sanity. Amidst this pressure, she meets Caroline, who listens without judging and introduces her to Poet’s Corner, a well-hidden room lost between the stage and custodian closet, and she is hooked. She begins writing and sharing poetry in the twice-weekly meetings, all the while keeping Caroline and Poet’s Corner a secret. She also meets and falls for AJ, a guitar-strumming poet and music lover. Unfortunately, this is the “Andrew” that she and the Crazy Eights bullied so badly in fourth grade that he changed schools. They confront this past, and slowly, they fall in love, and Sam realizes she’s gaining control over her life, apart from the Crazy Eights. Then a surprise twist makes her rethink everything.  THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful novel about coming to terms with change in oneself and others. Sam has some tremendous help from her mom and therapist, but it’s clear that her real growth comes from her own choices. This is a good look at “Pure-O”—showing more thought-driven obsessive OCD versus compulsive behaviors. The social results are positive for Sam, and it’s certainly a hopeful book about the strength needed to fight mental illness and to make peace with oneself.

Realistic Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School




Alsenas, Linas. Beyond Clueless. New York: Amulet Books, 2015. 978-1-4197-1496-2. 249 p. $16.95. Gr. 8 and up.

This is an engaging story to which many teens will relate. Before becoming the new girl in a girls’ Catholic high school, Marty was very comfortable hanging out with her best friend, Jimmy. Now, not only is Marty sent to a different high school, but Jimmy, no surprise, has hooked up with a boyfriend, Derek, and is now hanging out with two of Derek’s gay friends, Kirby and Oliver, leaving Marty feeling like the fifth wheel. When Marty successfully auditions for the school musical, Into the Woods, and gets the role of Little Red Riding Hood, she also gets lots of attention from Felix, who comes from the boys’ school and, as it turns out, appropriately plays the role of the Wolf, not only in the school production but in Marty’s superficial back-stage romance with him as well. Not coincidentally and as the book’s title implies, Marty is oblivious to the interest Oliver shows her, as the themes of mistaken identity and parental and inter-personal relationships play out in parallel fashion in the teenagers’ lives and in the production of Into the Woods. THOUGHTS: This quick, light read, with completely likable characters, is a welcome change for readers who want to enjoy a book about teenage friendships.

Realistic Fiction         Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B

Toten, Teresa. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B. New York: Delacorte Press, 2015. 978-0-553-50786-7. $17.99. 289p. Gr. 8+.
Adam Spencer Ross.  Meds:  Anafranil 25 mg 1 x per day; Ativan as needed 4-6.  Primary presenting compulsions: ordering, counting, magical thinking (re: clearing rituals).
Adam struggles with the same issues other 15-year-olds encounter: divorced parents, a challenging step-brother, and making friends.  He also has more critical issues including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and a mother who hordes mass quantities of accoutrements.  With the help of his small group therapy sessions and individual counseling with Chuck, Adam believes he’s adequately coping with life.  Then enters Robyn Plummer, and Adam’s overwhelming desire to save her compels him to follow her home, through the cemetery, where he learns her mother committed suicide.  While Robyn is older and incredibly beautiful, she is drawn to Adam, someone she can finally confide in with honestly.  Masked in the superhero identities chosen during group session, Batman (Adam), Robin (Robyn), and the rest of the lovable group of mavericks venture to town, exploring the realm of the Catholic Church, friendships, and first love.  Adam truly believes he can save Robyn, but suddenly he’s getting worse.  In order to be a hero, he will have to sacrifice his beloved and be candid with the people who care about him.


Adam is an incredibly charming and endearing character.  Readers will cheer for him as he helps his friends overcome problems and comforts his step-brother “Sweetie” during recurring meltdowns.  His indelible strength and compassion for others make him simply irresistible.  Readers will learn more about the complexities and hindrances of OCD, the poignant intervals of debilitating agony relieved with surprising moments of clarity and humorous witticism.  Fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars will enjoy Toten’s latest book.

Realistic Fiction    Christine Massey, JWP Middle School