YA – The Headmaster’s List

de la Cruz, Melissa. The Headmaster’s List. Roaring Book Press, 2023. 978-1-250-82738-8 . 400 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Earning a coveted top spot on the elite Headmaster’s List at Armstrong Prep, senior Spencer Sandoval’s future plans seem to be falling into place. Some people’s family’s have to donate buildings to get them on the list, but that’s not a big problem in L.A. When a high speed car crash ends in tragedy, leaving Chris Moore – son of a Armstrong teacher – dead, Spencer wishes she could remember the details. Why was she in the car with her ex Ethan, who she caught cheating at the party; Chris, an underclassmen; and Tabby, a newer transfer student? Missing the first week of classes definitely wasn’t part of Spencer’s plan. Upon her return to school, Spencer gets plenty of unwanted attention and everyone wants to know what she can’t remember. Perhaps more than anyone else, classmate Peyton Salt wants an exclusive interview to propel her – and her podcast Get Salty – into fame. Recovering from her injuries means Spencer can’t play field hockey, and no one seems to look away new scar on her face. While her new service dog Ripley helps keep Spencer’s emotions in check and wake her from recurring night terrors, she also notices the pitying glances that come her way despite her best friend Olivia’s attempts to shield Spencer. Ethan, who admitted to causing the accident, couldn’t have meant it, and now he’s being charged as an adult. Spencer has a nagging feeling if she just could remember something, all would be resolved. Teaming up with Jackson Chan, Ethan’s best friend, who is helping Spencer catch up from her absence gives Spencer the sense of purpose she’s been missing – and hope that she’ll fill in the pieces of that night.

THOUGHTS: Readers looking for a puzzle will appreciate Spencer’s unreliable narrative as she tries to remember (and accept) what happened and her part in it. Recommended for high school collections where mysteries with memory gaps like We Were Liars and Monday’s Not Coming are popular.

Mystery, Realistic Fiction

Elem./MG – The Lost Things Club

Puller, J. S. The Lost Things Club. Little, Brown and Company, 2021. 978-0-759-55613-3. $16.99. 219 p. Grades 4-7.

Leah is looking forward to spending summer vacation in Chicago with her aunt, uncle, and cousin, just like she does every year. When she arrives at their apartment, however, she notices something is different; her younger cousin, TJ, affectionately known as “hedgehog,” is not his normal self. He isn’t talking. As Leah spends time with her aunt and uncle and some kids from the neighborhood, she begins to realize the reason that TJ isn’t talking is the terrible shooting that happened in the spring at TJ’s elementary school. Even though Leah doesn’t completely understand why TJ is struggling, she vows to help him face his feelings and come back to himself and his family. Through Leah’s summer adventures with TJ, she begins to understand that stories can be much more than silly make-believe. Stories can be a way to heal after trauma, as well as a way to communicate the experiences of others and help everyone practice empathy and understanding.

THOUGHTS: This book deals with the sensitive topics of school shootings, survivor guilt, and PTSD in a way that older elementary and middle school students can understand. It illustrates the terrible toll that such events can take on young survivors, their families, and the surrounding school community, while also portraying those that are struggling with dignity and hopefulness. Ultimately, this book highlights the essential empathy-building benefits everyone can reap from coming together and sharing stories.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley 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