YA – The Cost of Knowing

Morris, Brittney. The Cost of Knowing. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44545-1. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Despite trying his best to hold things together, sixteen year old Alex Rufus is struggling. Since the death of their parents, he and his little brother Isaiah have grown apart, barely interacting with each other in their Aunt Mackie’s house. Alex has his girlfriend Talia but constantly worries that he’ll do something wrong to ruin their relationship. At work Alex would prefer to remain in the back washing dishes while wearing rubber gloves than be out front scooping ice cream and interacting with customers. At the same time, Alex and Isaiah’s neighbor Mrs. Zaccari makes initially subtle and increasingly frustrating comments about neighborhood crime and what the Shiv concert coming to the area will mean for their safety. Alex is one touch from losing his carefully constructed exterior. Since the death of his parents, Alex gets a glimpse of the future when he touches anything. Usually something simple and easily dismissed, things become complicated when Alex visualizes an unreadable expression on Talia’s face – the sign of a breakup – and unbearable when he has a vision of his brother’s death. Burdened with the knowledge that he he can’t stop the inevitable, but determined to fix his relationship with Isaiah, Alex races to reconnect with his brother and learns that the two may not be as different as he thought.

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Alex from the beginning as he works against “his curse.” Many readers will be able to suspend reality enough to believe this mostly realistic fantasy. Recommended for high school collections where compelling, character driven titles are in demand.

Fantasy (Paranormal)          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Magical Realism
Realistic Fiction

MG – Almost There and Almost Not

Urban, Linda. Almost There and Almost Not. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-47880-0. 211 p. $17.99. Grades 5-7.

Eleven year old California Poppy doesn’t know if she is coming or going. Her widowed father is heading to Alaska for a salmon fishing job and takes her to Minnesota to stay with Aunt Isabelle, who should know more about taking care of a “bra needing” child than he does. It turns out that Aunt Isabelle is not really the nurturing type and is too busy working on a meatloaf recipe for the Great Meatloaf Bake Off. So California finds herself traveling to Michigan to live with Great Aunt Monica. Her great aunt, still grieving for her late husband, broke her hand and needs help with her research on Eleanor Fontaine, an author of etiquette books from the 1920s. Aunt Monica wants to complete her husband’s planned biography of his author-ancestor and asks California to read Fontaine’s Proper Letters for Ladies and to practice writing letters to become familiar with the author. Callie soon realizes that there are two ghosts in the house: a dog who enjoys playing with her and a refined lady named Eleanor, who dissolves into a pile of dust when she gets upset. Aunt Monica is not aware of these guests, so her niece takes care when talking to them. Eleanor begins to share her story with the young girl, who notices that the ghost seems to be getting younger each time she appears.  California soon learns the truth about her father’s whereabouts and Eleanor’s secret. Just as Callie feels she has come to terms with her father’s absence, her struggles in school and having periods, she overhears a conversation that changes her life forever.

THOUGHTS: Urban has written a very engaging story about loss, grief, and resilience. Although the text is not lengthy, a lot happens and one cannot help but root for the likeable main character who narrates the story. Readers will enjoy California’s letters to Aunt Isabelle, her father, and the Playtex Company. This sensitive but humorous tale is a solid choice for upper elementary and middle school collections.

Fantasy          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

When California Poppy is 11 years old, she is dropped off at her Aunt Monica’s house while her father claims to look for work in Alaska. During her stay, she plays with the ghostly dog and talks to the ghostly woman who haunts her aunt’s home, a woman who turns out to be California’s Great-Aunt Eleanor. Eleanor teaches California about all the etiquette she thinks a proper lady should know, and California begins to unearth details about Eleanor’s past, which is not as simple as the old woman wants it to seem. As a relationship between the girl and the ghost develops, California also grows closer to her Aunt Monica by helping with research for Eleanor’s biography. Eventually, these relationships help California to confront the reality of her father’s abandonment and allow her to begin to heal in her new, more stable life.

THOUGHTS: This story, told in the first person by California herself, is about the life of two young girls who are trying to figure out who they are in a grown-up world. Magical realism, historical fiction, and a love of family and friends weave together in this book to create the story of a girl who has a lot to learn, but also a lot to offer the world. The ghosts in this book are friendly rather than scary. Kids and teens who are wise beyond their years, and those that deal with family troubles and long for a better, more stable life, will find it easy to relate to California.

Fantasy          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – City of Secrets

Ying, Victoria. City of Secrets. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11448-3. 252 p. $22.99. Grades 5-8.

In the city of Oskar there is a switchboard that connects more than just phone calls. Ever Barnes, an orphan, hides in the switchboard building and protects a secret that not even he knows. When the owner of the switchboard brings his daughter Hannah to see how it works, she discovers Ever and is instantly intrigued. When a secret society threatens to kill Ever and take the secret for themselves, Hannah, Ever and a switchboard worker must go to great lengths to protect the secret and the city.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel delivers a beautiful storyline and will captivate readers who love adventure and spy stories! Both of the children in the story play a vital role, and it is a breath of fresh air to see a girl protagonist. This graphic novel does not disappoint!

Graphic Novel          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

MG – Pine Island Home

Horvath, Polly. Pine Island Home. Holiday House, 2020. 978-0-823-44785-5. 228 p. $16.99. Grades 4-6.

Having lost their parents in a tsunami in Thailand, the four McCready sisters are in search of a new home. However, no one in their extended families is willing to take them and Fiona, the oldest, is worried that the girls will be split up and sent to different foster homes. Finally, an unknown relative named Aunt Martha, who lives on Pine Island in British Columbia, happily agrees to have them move in with her. When the girls arrive, they learn from a cantankerous neighbor named Al that their aunt died a few days before. Fourteen year old Fiona decides that they will keep this a secret from the authorities and take care of themselves in their aunt’s house with the help of  the school principal. Al, a rejected suitor of Aunt Martha, reluctantly agrees to pretend to be their guardian and fends off requests from the authorities for official paperwork. The girls enjoy their life on Pine Island. Marlin develops her cooking skills, Natasha has an adventure while bird watching, young Charlie encounters the neighborhood bear, and Fiona meets a boy. Then, one day a social worker comes to their front door. Will the girls have to leave their home? Will they be sent away from each other?

THOUGHTS: This story is classic Horvath with its eccentric characters and culinary references. She has created characters who show strength and resilience as they experience both happy and heartbreaking moments. Fans will enjoy this one, but may feel that there are some loose ends in the plot and hope for a sequel. Suitable for middle grade collections.

Realistic Fiction           Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

MG – Brave Like That

Stoddard, Lindsey. Brave Like That. HarperCollins Publisher , 2020. 978-0-062-87811-3. 272 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Cyrus’ dad has always been a hero. As a kid he was a star football player, and as an adult he is a firefighter who is not afraid of running into burning buildings. Everyone thinks Cyrus is following in his father’s footsteps, but deep inside Cyrus loves music instead of football and longs to sneak away to the rescue to walk a dog that showed up at the fire station out of the blue, just like Cyrus did eleven years ago. Maybe worse than that, Cyrus wants to ditch his football star friends and befriend the new boy, Eduardo, who is bullied but doesn’t waiver from who he truly is inside. Can Cyrus be brave and find the courage to be his true self?  With the help of a stray dog, new friends, and his family, join Cyrus on his journey to be brave and become his authentic self.

THOUGHTS: This story is a must purchase for your middle grade collection. It deals with the topic of bullying in a gentle but firm way. Brave Like That also addresses the issue of ailing grandparents (Cyrus’ grandmother had a stroke and cannot speak as she used to) and acceptance.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

Tags: bullying, friendship, family, aging grandparents