YA FIC – Beartown; The Closest I’ve Come; Perfect Mexican Daughter; Dark Breaks the Dawn

Backman, Fredrick. Beartown. Atria Books, 2017. 978-1501160769. 432 p. $26.99. Gr. 10 and up.

I am not an avid sports fan, but Fredrick Backman’s latest novel is about so much more than just a little hockey town in Sweden and the goal of having their club win the junior championship. Though not marketed necessarily to teens, it would be an engrossing read for young men and women alike as it touches on many different issues that they face as young adults. The main plot centers on the relationships between the players, the coaches, the general manager and his family, various sponsors and other community members. The town’s devotion to the local hockey club borders on the fanatical, and some begin to question their allegiance once a violent act takes place and becomes known to the town. Thus, there are multiple characters, but each is so unique that the reader does not have trouble navigating through their various lives.  Backman is a masterful storyteller.  The novel surprises the reader constantly, especially after starting out a bit predictable. The themes are strung together and fall perfectly throughout the plot, as the characters and their actions keep you engrossed until the end. THOUGHTS: I highly recommend this title to mature teens who will take time to contemplate the various actions of the characters. There is drinking, sex, and some violence, so make certain that you are sharing it with the appropriate audience.

Sports      Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy


Aceves, Fred.  The Closest I’ve Come. Harper Teen, 2017.  978-0-06-248853-4. 310 p. $15.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Marcus Rivera is growing up in a dysfunctional home in Tampa with his distant mother and her abusive boyfriend.  The family is barely getting by, and Marcos is not getting most of his basic needs met at home.  Though he has his crew of friends who have his back at school and in the rough neighborhood where they live, he still feels lonely and disconnected.  When Marcos is selected to join a support group for troubled kids with potential, he meets some new friends who open up new perspectives to him. The Closet I’ve Come is a thoughtful and moving story about resilience, friendship and the search for belonging.  It touches on the some dark topics including abuse, poverty and the appeal of drugs that trouble the rough neighborhood of Maesta.  Marcus’ ruminations about these realities are enlightening , but also humorous at times and readers will be rooting for Marcos to realize his potential.  THOUGHTS: A positive novel about overcoming difficult circumstances that would appeal to fans of Walter Dean Myers,  Jason Reynolds and Matt DeLa Pena.

Realistic Fiction         Nancy Summers, Abington School District


Sanchez, Erika L. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 978-1-52-470048-5. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Julia is outspoken, impulsive, and confrontational. More than anything, she wants to move out of her parents house, go to college in New York City, and become a famous writer. Her parents, who immigrated from Mexico, do not understand why Julia isn’t more like her older sister Olga. Olga attends a local community college, lives at home, and comes home every night to help her mother and father around the house. Julia can’t help who she is, and can’t do anything to show her parents that she will never be a perfect daughter like Olga. When Olga is hit and killed by a bus, the thin string holding the family together is completely broken. Julia’s mother spends days in bed, her father refuses to speak, and Julia is left picking up the pieces of her broken family. But Julia is deeply affected by her sister’s death too, and sadness spirals into deep depression. When Julia can’t sleep, she sneaks into Olga’s room and discovers a few items that reveal Olga might have been hiding a secret before her death, and Julia focuses her limited energy on discovering who her sister was – and why she was hiding it from her family. THOUGHTS: This book expertly explores many tough issues like abuse, immigration, suicide, and gang violence in an authentic teen voice. Julia’s story, while difficult, is one that belongs on your YA shelves.

Contemporary     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Larson, Sara B.. Dark Breaks the Dawn. Scholastic, 2017. 978-1-3380-6869-6. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Sara B. Larson’s Dark Breaks the Dawn is a fast-paced, dark YA romance based on the story of Swan Lake. In order to save Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom from King Bain, the nefarious and ruthless ruler of Dorjhalon, the Dark Kingdom, newly crowned Queen Evelayn must do what her parents could not – end the war between the kingdoms. In both kingdoms, children come into their full magical abilities at age eighteen – those in Eadrolan can harness the power of light, and are at full strength at the summer solstice; those in Darjhalon can harness the dark, and are at their full strength during the winter solstice. Evelayn is not only new to her powers, but also new to ruling a kingdom. With the help of her advisors, and her too-good-to-be-true love interest, Lord Tanvir, she concocts a plan to trap King Bain and kill him. Meanwhile, over in Dorjhalon, Bain’s son, Lorcan, raised in the shadows of his father’s wrath and cruelty, seems to have plans of his own. THOUGHTS: There is very little character development here (the good guys are really good, the bad guys are really bad), and there are some gaping plot holes (for example, if Bain is truly 300 years old, why wait until now to make war against Eadrolan?), but readers probably won’t care, because this action-packed, slim novel will suck them in, and the ending will leave them begging for the next installment. Hand this to fans of Sarah J. Mass and Leigh Bardugo.

Fantasy      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

MS – The Return; The Enemy Above; Rescued

Johnson, Varian. Spirit Animals: Fall of the Beasts: Book 3 The Return. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0545-84207-5. 186 p. Gr. 3-8.

The Greencloaks and their new friends are divided into two groups. The dark Wrym infection continues to get worse for Conor. Meilin struggles to trust Kovo, despite Takoda being helpful. When trying to find the Evertree on boat they struggle until they come across Pirates while sailing the Sulfur Sea. The Pirates are much different from the tales they have heard as they group contains all well groomed female Pirates. The other group has disguised themselves as servants. Abeke is assigned as servant to Kirat, new spirit animal partner with Cabaro, and she thinks that she can truly help Kirat. The bond with Spirit Animals continue to lessen and the book concludes leaving high levels of suspense.  THOUGHTS: This book has endearing moments of others remembering those that they have lost and those that  they look up to. Some characters from other books show up in surprising ways. The compelling series continue with another novel.

Fantasy; Adventure   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School


Spradlin, Michael P. The Enemy Above: a Novel of World War II. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-85782-6. 232 p. Gr. 4-6.

The year is 1942, and twelve year old Anton often hears artillery in his home of Ukraine. His father joined the Polish army three years ago, and now his 19 year old Uncle Pavel wishes to fight against the Nazi’s. Bubbe (grandmother) tells Anton to hide when they overhear a sound. They eventually escape to a cave. While there Anton befriends Daniel who saw the Nazi’s take his mother and sister, he wonders where God was during that nightmare. It is becoming more dangerous for the adults to explore from the cave at night to locate water. Anton and Daniel are tasked to explore the cave and find water and also a way out. Will they survive and get past Gestapo Colonel Karl Von Duesen who takes delight in rounding up Jews like a hunting sport?  THOUGHTS: The Enemy Above is perfect for fans of survival or historical fiction. Scholastic produced an engaging book trailer:  http://www.scholastic.com/bookfairs/books/book-trailers/enemy-above

Historical Fiction (WWII)    Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School


Schrefer, Eliot. Rescued. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-65503-3. 261 p. Gr. 7-12.

You might think if your pet orangutan accidentally eats your finger that your bond with the pet would shatter. This in not the case for John and his orangatang, Raja, that his father got for him while overseas at work. Growing up together an hour away from Atlanta, the divorce of his parents finds John moving to Oregon with his mother. Raja will stay with his father.  While the plan was for John to regularly visit his father, this did not occur.  Years later when John’s  father has to move, he can no longer keep the orangutan and finds a new home for Raja called “Friendly Land.”  Even after being separated from Raja for years, John has not lost his brotherly bond or ability to sign with Raja. John deeply desires a better life for Raja. John finds himself on a wild car ride and plane trip to return Raja home. John’s mother, a teacher, uses her savings to attend the flight back with John and Raja. Ultimately she allows John to decide if Raja should remain in a safer environment or reenter his natural homeland. Readers will find themselves   considering what they would do if they were in a similar situation and reflect upon what it means to be “rescued.” A question and answer session with the author concludes the book encouraging readers to learn more. Rescued is the third novel in acclaimed Schrefer’s Ape Quartet and the novels can be read in any chosen order.  THOUGHTS: Present information about habitat found in Indonesia and Sumatra can add to discussion leading readers to ponder if there a point that industrialization can go too far. Those who grew up reading Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan (Harper Collins, 2012) will be extra delighted to journey John and Raja.

Realistic Fiction   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School