YA – Ace of Spades

Abike-Iyimide, Faridah. Ace of Spades. Feiwel & Friends, 2021. 978-1-250-83488-1. 440 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

In Ace of Spades readers enter the private world of Niveus Academy where everything is expensive and perfect, until it isn’t. This YA thriller follows two characters, Chiamaka and Devon, who could not be more different; however, they are both struggling with the same issue. They both are being harassed by a mysterious person known only as Aces. Chiamaka and Devon are worried about what this person could reveal for different reasons, but they decide to team up to figure out who is behind all of the text messages.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing, well told thriller that will keep the reader hooked from the beginning to the end. The set up for the reveals throughout the book are so well crafted, and the ending just leaves the reader wanting more. Highly recommended for any YA reader, or any thriller fan!

Thriller/Mystery          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Not My Problem

Smyth, Ciara. Not My Problem. Harper Teen, 2021. 978-0-062-95714-6. $17.99. 359 p. Grades 9 and up.

Aideen Cleary has problems. She’s not doing so well in school, her best friend Holly has been drifting from her for the last couple years, and her mom’s occasional drinking binges that make her unfit to parent have Aideen worrying that social services will come knocking on their door any day now. But when she catches her enemy, Meabh Kowalska, throwing an embarrassing hissy fit in the locker room at school, she sees an opportunity to focus on someone else’s problems for a change. Aideen thinks over-achieving Meabh’s problem of just finding more time in her schedule is an easy problem to fix, but Meabh insists on a fool-proof solution. So she asks Aideen to push her down a set of stairs in exchange for a favor she can call in at any time. Though Aideen hesitates at first, given their history, Meabh is pretty easily able to convince Aideen to give her a good shove. Meabh’s ankle effectively sprained, the problem seems solved. Except for the witness to it all, a classmate named Kavi, who swears to secrecy but sees potential in the exchange he just witnessed. The next day, he brings Aideen a friend of his in trouble and asks her to help solve the problem, much like she did for Meabh yesterday. Thus begins Aideen’s semester of stunts, shenanigans, and some new relationships. Aideen’s life might be spiraling out of control, but fixing others’ lives and collecting favors in return seems like a good deal for her. For now.

THOUGHTS: Aideen is foul-mouthed but laugh-out-loud funny in this sophomore novel from the author of last year’s The Falling in Love Montage. Some Irish colloquialisms might trip up teen readers here and there, but it’s part of the experience of reading this story set in Ireland. A story with romance though not necessarily a book I’d classify as romance, I highly recommend this book for YA collections looking to add  LGBTQ+ representation. Aside from a couple sentences mentioning Aideen’s coming out at a young age as difficult, the characters in this book are, as Aideen says, “super woke,” so this book is not about Aideen’s struggles coming out or dealing with bullying because she identifies as lesbian. Her fading friendship with Holly and budding new friendship with Kavi takes just as much (if not, more) of the narrative as her slow-burn enemies-to-lovers relationship with Meabh. Aideen’s complicated relationship with her mom and her mom’s alcoholism and poverty also dominate much of the narrative. While cliche, it’s definitely accurate to say this book has a bit of everything.

Realistic Fiction         Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – They Wish They Were Us

Goodman, Jessica. They Wish They Were Us. Razorbill, 2020. 978-0-593-11429-2. 327 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

As a student in an exclusive private school on Long Island, Jill and her five best friends should be living their best lives as seniors and members of the elite group The Players. They have unlimited money and the world at their feet. But there’s a shadow hanging over their lives: the story of what happened to their friend, Shaila. During their freshman year, Shaila was murdered by one of their own – Graham, her boyfriend and a member of The Players. Three years have passed since her murder and most of The Players seem content to honor Shaila in their memories and move on. But Jill starts getting text messages from Graham’s sister, Rebecca, and she quickly realizes that there may be more to the story than she originally thought. Despite her better judgement, Jill contacts Rebecca and becomes consumed with finding out the truth of what happened to her best friend. Unfortunately, while her investigation might bring justice for Shaila, the truth could end up ruining Jill’s life and turning her perfect world inside out.

THOUGHTS: While at times a little predictable, Goodman’s book delivers a punch that will draw in young readers. The plot is full of drama, scandal, and a glimpse into the privileged lives of the young elite. High school librarians should purchase Goodman’s book as it will be a popular choice for young adult readers, especially those who are fans of One of Us Is Lying and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder.

Mystery/Thriller            Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

Kim, Jessica. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! Kokila, 2020. 978-0-525-55497-4. 306 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.

A sleek pixie cut is just the change Yumi Chung needs to start seventh grade. What she gets, instead, is the perm her mother wants. Such is the life of Yumi Chung–overruled by the adults in her life at every turn. So when she hears her family can no longer afford to send her to her private school, Yumi is elated. But her thoughts of freedom are short lived as her mother informs her that she will have to ace the Secondary School Admission Test in two weeks in order to get a scholarship. Instead of the summer Yumi had planned–watching Youtube videos of her favorite comedian, Jasmine Jasper, and writing jokes in her Super-Secret Comedy Notebook–she will now have to attend tutoring sessions in order to pass the test. One afternoon as she is leaving tutoring, she stumbles upon a new comedy club in her neighborhood, and it is offering a comedy camp for teens taught by none other than Jasmine Jasper. A case of mistaken identity finds Yumi attending the camp and having the time of her life. But when she is found out, how will Yumi explain to her parents, her fellow comedy campers, and Jasmine Jasper? Will shy Yumi Chung finally find her voice and stand up for herself?

THOUGHTS: Middle grade students will sympathize with Yumi. She is picked on at school, she has an older sister who is an actual genius who she is always being compared to, and her parents refuse to listen to what Yumi wants. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! is an Own Voices novel about family and friends that stands out in the crowd.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Yumi Chung’s goal in life is to become a stand-up comedian. That vision does not fit with her traditional Korean-American family who value hard work (see their struggles to maintain their Korean barbeque restaurant in a gentrified neighborhood) and education (see their older, more perfect daughter who excelled at school and now is on track to becoming a doctor). Yumi sees her family’s financial difficulties as a way out of attending the posh private school where she has no friends and finally being able to reinvent herself. No such luck! Mrs. Chung persuades the principal of Winston Preparatory Academy to give Yumi a chance at winning a scholarship. She only has to cram for it at a Korean prep class with Mrs. Pak. Turns out the hogwon is right near a comedy class for young people hosted by Yumi’s Youtube  idol, Jasmine Jasper. Yumi inserts herself into the class through a case of mistaken identity. Author Jessica Kim blends just the right amount of pathos and humor to make Stand Up, Yumi Chung! a entertaining read. Drawn by her desire to make people laugh and perform, Yumi gets sucked into a web of lies that are difficult to unravel. While she is busy making a mess and cleaning up after herself, she forms a stronger bond with the sister she used to envy and a clearer understanding and appreciation of her parents’ sacrifices and efforts. She also is able to make her dreams come true by boosting the business at her parents’ failing restaurant with a series of schemes to promote it, including a comedy night. Lots of lessons threaded throughout this story make it endearing to a wide audience: self-identity, problem solving, appreciation of family, and the importance of trying after failing.

THOUGHTS: The hunt for a solid story that infuses humor­­­­­­­ is hard to find (Front Desk by Kelly Yang and It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel! by Firoozeh Dumas comes to mind). Stand Up, Yumi Chung! can be in that category. A reader doesn’t need to be Korean-American to appreciate the pressure to fulfill a parent’s dreams, but the Asian references will resonate with Asian-American students and educate non Asian-American ones. The rabbit hole Yumi falls down is relatable to any middle school student floundering with being impulsive and making decisions.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – Admission

 Buxbaum, Julie. Admission. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-1-984-89362-8. 304 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Chloe Berringer is the daughter of beloved sitcom star, Joy Fields, whose classic show is now in production for a new season. Chloe’s parents send her and her younger sister to Wood Valley School, a prestigious and expensive private school in Los Angeles, the setting of Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things. Among the academic elite at Wood Valley are Chloe’s crush, Levi, and her best friend, Shola, a Nigerian American. Levi and Shola both have high aspirations for Ivy League colleges, but Chloe is just an average student. When her mom and her venture capitalist dad hire an admissions counselor to help her get into the selective Southern California College, Chloe is happy for the assist. But before long, the college admission cheating scandal blows up and Chloe and her mom are at the forefront. Seemingly taken directly from the Lori Laughlin case, the story feels a bit derivative. As the story begins neither Chloe or her mother are very sympathetic characters, they are both supremely entitled, clueless and a bit unlikeable. Though white privilege, wealth and educational inequality, drug addiction and undocumented immigrants are all mentioned, the novel seems to gloss over them lightly with the peripheral characters serving as a way to highlight those issues. Chloe and her family do eventually experience the consequences of their actions which allows them to make significant adjustments to their thinking and behavior as the story unfolds.

THOUGHTS: Admission is a quick and easy read that seems more suited for a summer beach read than a hard look at some of the substantive issues that are presented. But I do believe that this will be a popular title with high school students on their own path to college admissions. I will certainly be adding this title to my school’s collection.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Daughter of a beloved sitcom star, Chloe Wynn Berringer has lead a privileged life. At best an average student at prestigious private school Wood Valley, Chloe (and her parents) has her heart set on attending a selective southern California college. Her counselor advises Chloe to consider other options that aren’t such a reach, but to keep up appearances Chloe’s mom hires a private admissions counselor that guarantees his work. Chloe isn’t totally sure she needs that much help, but she’s nervous, so she gladly obliges with his sometimes seemingly outlandish requests. Told in reverse Chloe’s story begins with a knock on her door. The FBI is there to arrest her mother for her involvement in a college admissions scandal, and Chloe may face charges too. Shocked, Chloe thinks back to the beginning (these days she has plenty of time to think), filling readers in on how she got to this point. The public outrage and her best friend’s reaction leave Chloe feeling completely alone. Her little sister, who is not the same average student, gives Chloe some advice which helps her accept all that has happened and her life for what it now is.

THOUGHTS: This quick read will have appeal to many high school students who may be on their own college admissions paths. Though tied to the admissions scandal, the isolation that Chloe experiences mirrors the way many teens may feel after suffering consequences of poor decision making. It is difficult to ignore the parallels to the 2019 national college admissions scandal, but high school readers, especially fans of Buxbaum will enjoy this newest novel. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD