MG – Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield

Rubin, Susan Goldman. Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield. Candlewick, 2020. 978-0-763-67994-1. 48 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

The true nursing hero of the Crimean War was born in Jamaica and wanted to help others with natural remedies, kindness, and good food since she was young. Mary Seacole is an unsung hero of the nursing world, and this book tells the story of Mary’s interest in medicine from a young girl, watching her mother, the doctress, and practicing on her dolls, pets, and herself to be able to follow in her mother’s footsteps. The frequent full-page illustrations are colorful and a way for a young reader to imagine what Mary’s life was like. Although her story has a lot of focus on healthcare, this book is just as much about prejudice in various countries during the 1800s. In 48 pages, the reader can learn about the tenacity of one person and her ability to help all in any way she could. There is a brief mention of the first modern war correspondent and how Mami Seacole’s fame spread through many countries. The book includes source notes and a bibliography.

THOUGHTS: If you have any biographical books on Florence Nightingale in your library, this needs to sit right beside it on the shelf. Mary Seacole’s story of determination and perseverance is one with which all students should be familiar. This book could find a home in elementary through high school libraries.

973 Biography          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Racism

Ganeri, Anita. Racism. Picture Window Books, 2020. 978-1-515-84542-3. 32 p. $20.54. Grades K-3. 

Racism can be a tricky topic to discuss, but this title handles the subject well and encourages conversation and reader participation. The text begins by describing how there are millions of people in the world, and they’re all different, coming from different countries, wearing different clothes, speaking different languages, and having different appearances. It goes on to describe how it is important to respect and value all people for who they are and to treat everyone fairly and equally. Racism is defined as a kind of bullying, and can include using hurtful words, intentionally leaving people out of activities, destroying a person’s property, or physically hurting someone. The authors describe how both adults and children can be racist, but racism is always wrong. They also include suggestions for combating racism, including taking time to get to know someone new, inviting people from different cultures into your classroom, and talking to teachers or other trusted adults if someone acts racist towards you. Throughout the text, italicized discussion questions are embedded. They ask things like “What makes you different?,” “How would you like people to treat you?,” “How would you feel if someone called you names?,” and “Who would you tell?” A Note for Caregivers at the end of the book includes strategies for approaching the topic of race with young readers, and a page of Group Activities offers ideas for extending the conversation. This book is part of an 8-title series called “Questions and Feelings About…”. Other titles include Adoption, Autism, Bullying, Having a Disability, When Parents Separate, When Someone Dies, and Worries.

THOUGHTS: This approachable title will work well for morning meeting conversations, particularly in primary classrooms. The built-in questions will generate authentic discussion and will prompt other social-emotional learning connections.

305.8 Ethnic and National Groups         Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MG – Saving Savannah

Bolden, Tonya. Saving Savannah. Bloomsbury, 2020. 978-1-681-19804-0. $17.99. Grades 6-8.

A prolific writer of nonfiction, Tonya Bolden (Maritcha, Cause: Reconstruction America 1863-1877, Take-Off: American All-Girl Bands During World War II to name a few) integrates her skill for facts into an interesting, less explored, narrative in Saving Savannah. Set in post-World War I Washington, D.C., the book focuses on Savannah Riddle, a fourteen-year-old Black girl whose family is part of the elite Black society. The story opens frivolously at a gala opulent with fashion and food and gradually builds to important period events and issues. This eye-opening ascent mirrors Savannah’s maturation from a popular, pampered schoolgirl to a woke young woman of substance. At a pivotal time, Savannah is searching for a more meaningful life connected to the world outside her social strata. She learns about Nannie Helen Burroughs’s School for Girls, a training school; and while volunteering there meets Lloyd, a young Black immigrant with socialist leanings. Lloyd introduces Savannah to the poverty and inequality suffered by some in her own city. She eventually gains the support and respect of her parents after the revelation of a family secret. Throughout Bolden’s book, her intense research is evident. Many of the locales and persons Savannah encounters are real or have a counterpart in reality. Saving Savannah shows the Black perspective during a tumultuous time that underscores discrimination in politics and society and culminates in the brutal riots of the Red Summer of 1919. Besides being a valuable history lesson about a period that resonates with the present, the main character’s transformation from a position of comfort to one of an invested citizen of the world and member of her race is a desire many of us hold today.

THOUGHTS: Like Harlem, Walter Dean Myers’s period piece, Saving Savannah allows students to experience the sights and people of a different time through the eyes of a likeable character. In a sizable appendix, the author supplies background with some photos on the significant movements and personages of the early 20th century Washington, D. C. Bolden touches on multiple issues: Woodrow Wilson’s color lines; the returning Black World War I veterans; the New Negro Movement spearheaded by Dr. Carter Woodson, Hubert Henry Harrison, and Marcus Garvey; the controversy around the Anthony Bill and women’s suffrage; colorism; and even cosmetics. Ideal companion piece for grade 8 American History classes. Teachers may want to use this book to approach discussions on racism and compare the historical perspective with current incidents.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, SD of Philadelphia

YA – Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From

De Leon, Jennifer. Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From. Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2020. 978-1-534-43824-8. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Though nothing at home is as it should be, fine is the one word that describes 15 year old Liliana. After her father takes off (again), her family is barely holding things together. Her mom seems to be living in a fog (if you can even call it that), and her younger brothers are hard to reign in and keep calm. Even her best friend is too distracted by a boyfriend to be an ear to listen. Unbeknownst to Liliana, before he left her father signed her up for METCO, a scholarship opportunity of sorts for city kids to attend “better” schools in the suburbs. Liliana (half Guatemalan, half Salvadorian) fit right in at her richly diverse school in Boston. Not only is her new school unbelievably white, Westburg is an hour bus ride away. Liliana gives it a chance, though, because it was her father’s dream. To fit in at Westburg, Liliana becomes Lili, but when she discovers some secrets about her father’s citizenship, she is even more torn between her two very different worlds.

THOUGHTS: This book will find a home with anyone who is sick of the “Where are you from?” or “What are you?” questions. Liliana’s story will personalize the more generalized immigration news stories for teens and will open their eyes to the struggles of undocumented citizens and the reasons so many flee to America for better opportunities. This is a must have for high school libraries looking to diversity their collections with contemporary issues.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – The Parker Inheritance; Amal Unbound; Becoming Madeleine; Ghost Boys; Sunny; Good Dog; The Hyena Scientist; Three Stars in the Night Sky; Thrilling Thieves; March Forward, Girl; The Truth as Told By Mason Buttle

Johnson, Varian. The Parker Inheritance.  Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018. 978-0-545-94617-9.  352 p.  $16.99  Gr. 5-8.

When Candice’s parents divorce, she has to leave Atlanta to spend what she assumes will be a boring and lonely summer in her mother’s tiny hometown of Lambert, South Carolina. Instead, Candice meets Brandon, a bookish boy who lives across the street, and the two are soon caught up in a Westing Game-inspired puzzle that’s launched by a letter Candice finds in her grandmother’s attic. The mystery leads the preteens, who are both African-American, deep into the history of Lambert’s racially segregated past.  As they uncover clues, the point of view shifts back and forth from the present to the past, following the story of another African-American Lambert family, the Washingtons. In addition to trying to solve the puzzle, Candice struggles with her family’s changing dynamics, and Brandon deals with bullying issues stemming from his unwillingness to conform to traditional models of male behavior.  

THOUGHTS:  The Parker Inheritance is a well-written and entertaining mystery that includes a lot of historical background. Johnson shines a light on racism, enabling readers to see for themselves that while great strides have been made, the battle for social justice is far from over. LGBTQ issues are also woven naturally into the story in a completely age-appropriate way.     

Mystery          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Candice isn’t happy about spending the summer away from Atlanta and her father. The family home is a victim of her parents’ divorce, and Candice and her mom are temporarily living in the home of her deceased grandmother. When she meets Brandon, a fellow bookworm living across the street, things start looking up. Going through a box of books her grandmother left her, Candace finds a letter outlining a mysterious fortune left to the town, in memory of an African American family forced to leave, if anyone can find it. Candace knows her grandmother ruined her reputation in the town trying to find the money, so she and Brandon set out to right the wrong, and find the money. A mystery worthy of The Westing Game, a book integral to the plot, The Parker Inheritance covers a variety of issues along the way, from discrimination to bullying to homosexuality, with age-appropriate sensitivity and without ever becoming so didactic as to spoil the story. This book will leave readers ready to research the history as well as pick up the many books mentioned. (Any readers who love The Dark is Rising and The Westing Game are friends of mine!).

THOUGHTS: This book is a must purchase.It excels as a mystery, let alone as an eye-opener to shameful discrimination past and present.  

Realistic Fiction/Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Saeed, Aisha. Amal Unbound. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018. 978-0-399-54468-2. 226 p. $17.99. Gr. 5-8.

Amal, a young Pakistani girl, is one of the top students in her village school and dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher.  Her confidence and dreams begin to shatter when her mother falls into a deep depression after giving birth to the family’s fifth daughter.  Amal learns for the first time how deeply entrenched gender roles are etched into the fabric of her local culture when she finds out she must leave school and take over as her family’s primary caretaker.  Then, an even more devastating turn of events leads to Amal being forced to leave home and become an indentured servant of the village’s feudal landlord. Amal, stuck in a system that could potentially keep her–and others like her– trapped for life, is willing to risk everything for freedom and justice. The ending is upbeat and highly satisfying.  

THOUGHTS:  This story shines a light on the gender discrimination, antiquated feudal systems, and horrific indentured servitude practices that still exist around the globe (including in dark corners of the United States). The novel is well written, and the pacing is perfect. Amal is a likeable and relatable protagonist who young readers will root for all the way to the end as she fights to return to her family, attend school, and follow her dreams. A highly recommended title for middle schools.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Voiklis, Charlotte Jones, and Lena Roy. Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Grandaughters. Farrar, 2018. 978-0-374-30764-6. 176 p. $19.99. Gr. 5-9.

This biography of the author of one of the most celebrated works of children’s literature of the 20th century begins with the story of L’Engle’s parents and ends just after the publication of A Wrinkle in Time. The portrait the authors paint of their famous grandmother is intimate and detailed, and includes extensive selections from the journals L’Engle kept as an adolescent and young adult. As the title suggests, L’Engle is portrayed as always striving, always changing, and always eager to learn and grow. However, the authors do not glorify or glamorize.  For instance, the authors explain that some family members–including their own mother–were hurt by the way L’Engle fictionalized their real-life experiences without giving any thought to how this might make them feel. Photographs are also included.

THOUGHTS:  L’Engle’s own words are what really make this biography special, and the authors do an excellent job weaving them smoothly into the text.  Highly recommended for middle school biography collections, and a possible purchase for elementary and high schools as well.

Biography          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley

Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Ghost Boys. Little, Brown, 2018. 978-0-316-26228-6. 214 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-8.

In this stunning novel by Rhodes (Towers Falling), 12-year-old Jerome Rogers is killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for the real thing. The story takes readers through two timelines:  Jerome’s life before his death, and after. The “before” story reads like a well-written school story, in which Jerome, a quiet, studious, boy, is bullied, yet dares to reach out and make a friend who is even more of an outsider than he is.  The tension mounts, however, as the reader already knows that the story has an ending that is beyond dreadful. In the “after” story, Jerome is a ghost. At first he is alone, trapped in his family’s apartment but unable to comfort them as they grieve.  However, at the trial of the white policeman who shot him, he discovers that his murderer’s daughter, Sarah, can see and hear him. Sarah gets to know Jerome and starts to gain a new perspective about race and privilege, and begins questioning her father’s side of the story.  Meanwhile, Jerome meets the ghost of Emmett Till and learns his horrific story. Emmett introduces Jerome to an entire army of ghosts of black boys who have met violent ends, all seeking justice and peace.

THOUGHTS: This book is perfect for kids who aren’t quite ready for The Hate U Give or Dear Martin. It pulls no punches, but its main characters as well as its intended audience are slightly younger, and the issues, questions, and fears it addresses are just right for late elementary and middle school students.  Very highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction (“Before” section)          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD
Fantasy Fiction (“After” section)                       

Reynolds, Jason. Sunny. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018. 159 p. 978-1-481-45021-8.  $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Sunny is a winner on the track.  But he feels like a murderer–of his mother, who died after giving birth to Sunny. His father (not Dad, but Darryl) makes Sunny run because his mother ran–and won. And Sunny runs so fast, he always wins his races. But it’s becoming a heavy burden. He loves being part of the Defenders track team, which includes newbies Ghost (Ghost, 2016), Patty (Patina, 2017) and Lu (Lu, forthcoming 2018). So what’s the problem? Sunny dislikes running. Even when he wins, he’d rather be dancing (something else his mother loved). His dad does not understand, but his homeschool teacher, Aurelia, does; they dance together for local hospital patients. When the pressure builds, Sunny quits mid-race. His coach brilliantly finds a new fit: Sunny can utilize his dance skill as the team’s first discus thrower. But what will be the fallout at home? Sunny writes his thoughts to “Dear Diary,” not a journal, not a notebook, and his vocabulary blooms in onomatopoeic words and phrases that help readers to feel the pulsing rhythms in his mind. Tickboom, whoosh, “happy to me feels like tweep, tweep, beedy bip bop booyow. That’s happy” (57). Sunny is going (new) places, and readers will enjoy getting to know him.

THOUGHTS: The novel is third in the very successful Track series; each of the novels can be read alone.   

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Gemeinhart, Dan. Good Dog. Scholastic, 2018. 290 p. 978-1-338-05388-3. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Brodie was a good dog. And now he’s in dog heaven. Memories of earthly life take a while to re-form, and while Brodie loves this new place of dogs, energy, running, and peace, something is bothering him. He quickly comes to realize that his boy, Aiden, is in trouble, and Brodie has to help him. The Monster (Aiden’s dad)–the shouter, the hitter, the drinker, the kicker (144)–is still determined to hurt Aiden. The other dogs say returning to earth can’t be done (“you’re done with the world, and it’s done with you”)–but they take him to Tuck, the oldest dog there, who says that while it can be done, it never ends well for boy or dog. But Brodie is a good dog. And Brodie is determined. And when he goes, Tuck accompanies him, for Tuck, also, has something left undone. When they arrive, Brodie and Tuck are quickly tracked by hellhounds (bad dogs desperate for any bit of soul of a dog, and Brodie and Tuck are literally shining examples, glowing with new soul). They also attract a street-smart, sarcastic cat named Patsy, who teaches them only some things they need to learn. Brodie knows his time is limited, and the suspense rings true as he tries to find Aiden and determine how to help, while still outrunning the hellhounds and continuing to be a good dog.

THOUGHTS: A fantastic fantasy tale with a strong focus on heroism, devotion, sacrifice, and forgiveness. Can a good dog make a difference? The answer is a resounding yes. Are angels real? You decide. Gemeinhart does a fine job exposing the good and the bad in many of the animal psyches (Brodie, Tuck, Patsy, Darkly), but misses a chance at showing the same in the human characters, who are all good or all bad. Brodie is the kind of friend every kid wants by his or her side. Share with readers who love fantasy, or dogs, or a good cry. The violence and threat of violence is strong, so recommend to older readers who are ready to handle it.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Montgomery, Sy. The Hyena Scientist. Photography by Nic Bishop. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 72 p.  978-0-544-63511-1. $18.99. Grades 5-8.

Hyenas have a bad reputation.  Throughout history, they’ve been regarded as the dirty, ugly and mean (1).  But Zoologist Kay Halekamp has worked for over three decades in Kenya’s Masai Mara wildlife reserve, and she sees so much more to these mammals.  They’re not hateful scavengers, but rather skilled hunters. They are extremely smart, social, clean and, unlike most of the mammal world, the females rule over all.  Females are more aggressive, and Kay and her team have tracked and named different behaviors which show detailed attention to hierarchy in the hyena clans. So many questions arise from observing these creatures, but they also inspire awe.  In fact, Kay sees even their skulls as an amazing “swiss army knife,” useful for breaking open bones and eating really fast–to avoid the ever-present lions, who steal more of the hyenas’ kills than vice versa.

THOUGHTS: Montgomery specializes in making scientists’ work and living creatures’ habits truly inspirational, and she does not disappoint here.  She shares not just Kay’s background, but also the brief stories of current members of her team: assistant and data manager Dee White; UC Davis grad Ciara; Michigan-born and Australia-bound Jared; and young Californian Amy, who tried for years to earn a position in Kay’s hyena program. The inclusion of their stories shows the variety of involvement a person can have as a scientist.  Many well-captioned photographs by Nic Bishop fill the pages, and each page gives a new reason for interest in these animals. This is a fantastic addition to middle school library shelves and to the Scientists in the Field series.

599 Mammals          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Chapman, Fern Schumer. Three Stars in the Night Sky: A Refugee Family’s Separation and Reunion. Gussie Rose Press, 2018. 48 p. 978-0-996-47254-8. $18.95. Grades 5-8.

Chapman’s earlier titles have focused on the Holocaust and her own mother’s story in surviving it. This book turns to Gerda Katz, a Jewish girl that her mother met and became friends with as they fled persecution alone, apart from their families. Helen and Gerda lost touch, but after reading Chapman’s novel of her mother, Is It Night or Day?, an eighth-grade class made it their mission to reunite these friends. Chapman details that reunion in Like Finding My Twin, and now tells Gerda’s story in her latest book. Gerda’s family (parents, two brothers, a sister) saw the dangers of the Nazi regime and, after her brothers spent time in a concentration camp (one was killed), her brother Fritz made it his mission to save his family. His efforts secured twelve-year-old Gerda emigration to the United States, specifically, Seattle, where she would remain for the duration of the war, horribly homesick and worried for the fate of her family. They wrote weekly letters, then the letters stopped. For five long weeks, Gerda waited. Then a letter came from Fritz explaining that he, their sister and parents were part of the 100,000 Jews granted asylum in the Dominican Republic. Their lives were saved, but their way of life was gone, lost in a hot, agrarian culture whose dictator desired the Jews solely for lightening the skin color of his countrymen. Gerda’s story is well-explained with maps and plenty of primary source materials.

THOUGHTS: At 48 pages, this unintimidating title will attract readers. It is worth reading to marvel at Gerda’s brother Fritz, of whom Gerda says, “I don’t know any other man like him. We’d be dead if it weren’t for Fritz (33). This is a good look at the strength of immigrants.

940.53 WWII Holocaust          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

DuMont, Brianna. Thrilling Thieves: Liars, Cheats, and Cons Who Changed History. (The Changed History Series) Sky Pony Press, 2018. 177 p. 978-1-510-70169-4. $16.99. Grades 5-12.

DuMont chronologically focuses on big-time thieves in her third book in the Changed History series.  She begins with the Venetians, who famously stole Constantinople’s bronze horses (they were later stolen from Venice, then re-stolen by the Venetians, who kept a better hold on them the second time) and many further treasures to make themselves a world-class city.  Moving through time, she focuses on Elizabeth I, whose thievery through Sir Francis Drake on the high seas helped to build foundering England into a mighty naval power–and also doomed many into slavery. Robert Smalls appears as a thief of a ship used to earn himself and other slaves their freedom.  Madame Cheng proved women could handle a pirate ship–and some 70,000 men under her rule on the high seas–and inspire fear in all nations (all in about three years). Each entry is written in engaging tones easy for a middle schooler to read (and often humorous). In fact, the writing hurts itself by not sounding more research-oriented; but DuMont includes her sources and additional reading.

THOUGHTS: A strong nonfiction choice that should attract attention to the other titles in the series, including Famous Phonies: Legends, Fakes and Frauds Who Changed History (2014) and Fantastic Fugitives: Criminals, Cutthroats, and Rebels Who Changed History (While on the Run!) (2016).   

920 Collective Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Beals, Melba Pattillo. March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 214 p. 978-1-328-88212-7. $16.99. Grades 5-12.

In Warriors Don’t Cry (1995), Melba Pattillo Beals has written movingly about her difficult and life-changing experience as a 15-year-old teenager, one of the nine African-American teenagers chosen to integrate the all-white Little Rock High School in 1957.  In this book, she details her growing up years until the year she attended Little Rock High School, and shows readers a picture of a precocious girl understanding far more than she was given credit for, and constantly questioning why treatment of African-Americans was so unfair, where did the rules come from (were they in a rule book issued from heaven?) and why didn’t God put an end to it now?  If we’re all supposed to share, why don’t the white people share anything?  Melba was also prone to anxiety, especially as she overheard stories of the Ku Klux Klan in her neighborhood, or worse yet, witnessed them herself (as she did at age five, when four Klansmen entered their church and hanged a man from the rafters); she felt safe only in her home and church, and after the hanging, only at home.  Her own abduction and escape, at age 11, by Klansmen, is appropriately frightening without detailing the sexual threat which she herself did not understand at the time. She knew that “unless things changed a lot–unless we had a big, big Little Rock miracle, I had to get out of that city if I ever wanted to be somebody and be free” (147).   Her grandmother (whom she calls her best friend, and who homeschooled Melba through asthma episodes) exhibited a strong Christian faith when she counseled Melba with her questions, and Melba relied on that faith to make it through her questions and her amazing experience in fighting segregation. From her grandmother she learned strength and faith: “There is no crying, no whining, no complaining.  There is just march forward, girl. You have to make sure that you are contributing to our journey forward, not sitting on the side of the road whimpering” (155).

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful depiction of Southern life under Jim Crow, from an insightful young girl who lived it. Melba has simultaneously published an adult version of this title, entitled I Will Not Fear (2018).  Any of her works is worth putting into the hands of students; this title is well-suited for middle schoolers.

Biography         Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Readers are taken back to the 1940s and 1950s when the author grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. There are primary photographs and detailed artwork to support the text throughout the twenty chapters. Joys include family moments, gardening, listening to music, and attending Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Unfortunately, when Beals was five the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) ruined their safe location and placed Mr. Harvey, a church member and their friend, around a rope to die a painful death. Events like grocery shopping were difficult because Beals and her family were not treated with kindness simply due to the color of their skin. Beals did not understand all of the “whites only” signs and yearned to be treated equally. Another terrifying time was when Beals was walking home from Gilliam Park at eleven years old and was picked up by Klansmen, forced to ride in the back of their truck, then go to a party with at least 50 Klansmen, where one wanted her for his “dessert.” While Beals wants the best schooling, the results of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 helped to put this in motion. The epilogue provides an insight to when Beals was one of the nine students who were part of the integration at Central High School in 1957. The book concludes with a note to the readers and acknowledgments.

THOUGHTS: Chances are that your faculty and staff will remember the powerful memoir Warriors Don’t Cry. March Forward, Girl introduces younger students to the experiences and time period when Melba Pattillo Beals was a child. This book is a necessity for our students and library collections.

Biography          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD

Connor, Leslie. The Truth as Told By Mason Buttle. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. 328 p. 978-0-062-49143-5. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Twelve-year-old seventh grader Mason Buttle stands out in his school–for his severe dyslexia, his overactive sweat glands, and his large size and height. These trouble him, but his internal struggles trouble him more. Since his mother died in a car accident, Mason lives in “the crumbledown” house with his grandmother and uncle Drum on their family’s disused apple grove, parts of which his uncle has sold to developers. Both grandma and Uncle Drum have loads of experience and common sense which have been flattened by depression in the face of loss. School provides endless bullying, especially from neighbor Matt Drinker and friends, who daily pelt Mason with lacrosse balls and/or mushy apples. And, fifteen months ago, his best friend Benny Kilmartin died when he fell from the treehouse he and Mason enjoyed so much. Lieutenant Baird “of the Pee Dee,” continues to question Mason about the accident, certain that Mason (who is as honest and loyal as the day is long) isn’t telling the complete story. With the help of school social worker Mrs. Blinny and her speech-to-write software, Mason is slowly writing more for the Lieutenant. Mason makes a new friend in a completely opposite kind of boy, the tiny, curious, indoor-loving Calvin Chumsky (another bully target). The two create a new, secret hideout from the Buttle’s abandoned root cellar, decorating it to resemble the caves of Lascaux complete with wall paintings. Then Calvin goes missing, and Mason is again suspected. More than anything, he wants to know what happened to Benny and to Calvin. How the positive parts of his life overcome the darkness is the subject of this insightful book, where friends and family do make all the difference.

THOUGHTS: Connor expertly crafts a unique menagerie of characters who impact Mason’s life and finally pull together in the aftermath of tragedy. Despite the heaviness of Mason’s reality, this is ultimately an uplifting tale of how truth and loyalty win the day.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA Fiction – Wolf Hour; Unearthly Things; Book of Dust (Bk. 1); Hell & High Water

Holmes, Sarah Lewis. The Wolf Hour. New York: Scholastic, 2017. 978-0-545-10797-6. 320 p. $16.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Sarah Lewis Holmes has written an interesting, if overly long, take on classic fairy tales.  Using the familiar tropes of the wicked witch, the haunted wood, and the wayward child, Holmes spins the stories of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood on their heads.  The story is told from three perspectives: Magia, the daughter of a woodcutter; the Pigs – Biggest, Little, and Littlest; and Martin, a wolf. Magia’s dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps and chop the special wood from the trees in the Puszka, the dark forest that borders her home.  Magia’s mother has other plans for her though; she wants Magia to use her prodigious singing talents to make a name for herself in the city.  While Magia is happy that her singing soothes her mother’s pregnancy pains, she does not want to make a career out of it.  The Pigs’ dream is to get their mother back; they have been told by the witch that the only way to do so is to play out their story, over and over again: get chased by the wolf, take shelter in the house made of bricks, trick the wolf into climbing into the chimney where he falls to his death into a pot of boiling water. Martin’s dream is to stay safe in his tower of books and find the safety and love that he experienced before his mother was killed by a human.  Martin’s mother always warned him to stay away from stories, because they can suck you in, and you can lose yourself, and so Martin was raised on books of facts.  And then there’s the witch, the puppetmaster holding all of the strings.  Eventually, the characters all find themselves in the same story, and, for better or worse, need to figure out how to extract themselves in order to set things right.  THOUGHTS:  While the book definitely lags in the middle, and Holmes takes her time getting to the real meat of the story, her premise is clever, and the characters are well-drawn.  The love that each of these characters (other than the witch, perhaps) feels for their families is palpable and heartbreaking. Hand this book to lovers of fairy tales, and those who enjoy a slow-burning plot.

Fantasy        Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Gagnon, Michelle. Unearthly Things. Soho Teen, 2017. 978-1-61695-696-7 278p. $21.99.  Gr. 8 and up.

After Janie’s parents are killed in an accident, she is shipped off to a family in San Francisco, her dad’s best friend, supposedly. She is thrown into a world where buying an $800 dress seems to be the norm, while back home in Hawaii, that money could have paid a lot of bills. Janie is sent to a private school where everything seems foreign; she can’t even wear comfortable shoes to school. Things get pretty sinister and creepy as there seems to be a ghost in the house that is bothering Janie more than the other residents in the house. The motivations of her benefactors come into question.  Between that and the haunting, Janie does not feel safe anymore, but what can she do?   THOUGHTS: This is a fast-paced book that is more than a little sinister with plot twists galore. It is a retelling of Jane Eyre, that moves quickly. Students who have not read Jane Eyre would still enjoy this suspenseful tale.

Horror; Suspense      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Pullman, Philip. The Book of Dust. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-37581-530-0. 464 p. $22.99. Gr. 7-12.

Fans of Pullman’s classic His Dark Materials series will be delighted to re-enter the world of Lyra Belacqua. Set several years before The Golden Compass, Dust focuses on Malcolm, a twelve year old boy working at his parents’ inn on the River Thames. In his spare time, Malcolm helps the nuns with odd jobs around the local priory and takes care of his precious boat, La Belle Sauvage. The quiet of his little town is disrupted when the nuns take in orphaned baby Lyra, and Malcolm and his daemon Asta begin to pay special attention when curious visitors begin to frequent the inn. One of those visitors is Hannah, who befriends and exchanges information with Malcolm, and works to decipher the mysterious alethiometer device. Another guest is one less kindly; a strange man and his disfigured hyena daemon, who Malcolm believes is trying to kidnap Lyra. When a terrible storm begins to flood the town, Malcolm must set out on La Belle Sauvage to protect Lyra at any cost. THOUGHTS: A rich, absorbing fantasy set in the familiar, parallel world crafted by Pullman so many years ago. This exhilarating read is the beginning of another trilogy.

Fantasy     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Pullman, Philip. La Belle Sauvage. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 9780375815300. 449 pp. $22.99. Gr. 8 and up.  

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series has always been a favorite of mine and countless other fantasy fans. The long wait since the publication of The Amber Spyglass is rewarded with the first novel in Pullman’s new companion trilogy, The Book of Dust.  La Belle Sauvage is a welcome return to the fantastical, alternate world of England in the early 20th century.

This story follows 11-year old Malcolm Polstead, a charming and observant boy who works in his family’s inn near Oxford. By chance he finds a clue meant for a Resistance spy, who is working against the totalitarian Magisterium. The clue leads him to a friendship with Dr. Hannah Relf, a master of the alethiometer and the spy’s local contact in Oxford.  Intrigue builds as many characters come to town in search of information about a mysterious baby who has been left under the care and protection of nuns in the village. Malcolm and a local servant girl, Alice, become the protectors of baby Lyra as she comes under threat from agents of the Magesterium and a flood of biblical proportions. The three children and their daemons take refuge in Malcolm’s trusty boat, La Belle Sauvage, in search of Lyra’s father Lord Asriel.  THOUGHTS: Readers will be more than satisfied with this captivating adventure tale with terrific and complex new characters, an intriguing plot and the promise of more adventures to come. One of my favorite books of 2017.

Fantasy      Nancy Summers, Abington School District


Landman, Tanya. Hell and High Water. Candlewick Press, 2017. 978-07636-88752.  $17.99 312 pp. Gr. 7-12.

Caleb Chappell and his father make a living as traveling performers of Punch and Judy shows in 1752 England.  Caleb admires his father Joseph, who has creative, technical and moral understanding, so it is a blow when his father is wrongly imprisoned.  Rather than death, Joseph is sentenced to be sent to the colonies.  For Caleb, it feels like death.  But his father tells him to find his aunt (unknown to him) who will care for him, and he will find him again, “come hell or high water.”  His aunt and cousin Letty accept him, unlike the rest of the town who suspects him of everything due to his skin color.  Survival in their small town of Tawpuddle is dependent upon dangerous sailing trips and the wishes of nobleman Sir Robert Fairbrother.  Then Caleb is shocked to find his dead father’s body washed ashore, identifiable only by his ring.  But while Caleb summons help, the ring is stolen and the man buried, meant to be forgotten.  But much, much more is amiss, and Caleb’s determination to prove the man was his father leads him to unearth a landslide of secrets and power in this small seaside town.  THOUGHTS: A well-crafted and twisty tale with the right amount of suspense, atmosphere and characterization (even the puppets) to intrigue readers. With a focus on unmasking racism, sexism and the power of class structure to determine one’s fate, this is not to be overlooked.  

Historical, Mystery      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area School District

YA Fiction – You Bring the Distant Near; Lives of Desperate Girls

Perkins, Mitali. You Bring the Distant Near. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. 9780374304904. $17.99 320 p.  Gr. 7 and up.

Told through the alternating voices of the Das sisters and their daughters, You Bring the Distant Near is the story of three generations of women in a Bengali family, who immigrated to the United States. The bond between Sonia and Tara Das is explored as they each struggle to find their own place in America, all while obeying the cultural traditions of their family. Supportive and united, each sister takes a separate path in life, which leads Tara to success as a film star back home in India and Sonia into a full embrace of an inclusive American culture and a happy interracial marriage in New York.  Their daughters, Chantal and Anna, in turn have very different upbringings, but all the threads of this family’s disparate experiences come together when Anna is sent back to the US to finish high school.  Beautifully written with well-drawn and complex characters, the novel realistically portrays the nuanced relationships between the women.  The rich Bengali culture weaves through the three generations, influencing each of the women in different ways.  Thoughts: Strongly recommended as an addition to your collection of novels on the immigrant experience, filled with positive messages about acceptance, integration, and identity.

Realistic Fiction           Nancy Summers, Abington School District

Perkins, Mitali. You Bring the Distant Near. Farrar Straus Girox, 2017. 978–0374-30490-4 304p. $17.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

We hear the stories of five Bengali- American women in three different generations, spanning from the era of mini-skirts until just after the tragedy of 9/11.  Perkins weaves their stories together beautifully.  All of them question what it means to be Bengali or what it means to be American and each comes up with their own answers for themselves.  Some of the stories are heart-breaking, but most are easy to empathize with.  A family tree at the beginning is a good key, but because it is there, the long-term romances are easy to foretell if they will end in marriage.  THOUGHTS   This is a great book that will bring a diversity of characters to your library.  It is also a beautifully told story.

Realistic Fiction      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Common, MacKenzie. The Lives of Desperate Girls. Penguin Random House, 2017. 9780143198710. $16.99. 304 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Tragedy befalls two girls in rural Northern Ontario, but the reaction of the police and the public is different in each case.  When pretty and wealthy Chloe Shaughnessy goes missing the police investigate in earnest, and the townspeople hold vigils for her safe return. A few days after her disappearance,  the body of  Helen Commanda, a girl from the reservation, is found in the woods. There is no public outcry about this crime, and when the police find no obvious clues, her case is placed on the backburner.   Chloe’s best friend Jenny, now friendless and depressed, becomes obsessed with Helen’s murder and the entrenched racism against the natives in their town. Jenny takes up with the high school bad boy, and together they set out to discover what really happened on the night Helen died. But as the police continue to focus on Chloe’s disappearance, Jenny is equally determined to protect Chloe’s secrets. Thoughts: The novel broaches some serious issues including date rape, racism, and substance abuse, but the character and plot development fall a little short.  A secondary choice for older teens who appreciate realistic fiction with a hard edge.

Mystery        Nancy Summers, Abington School District

YA Realistic Fiction – Mr. 60%; Saints & Misfits; We Come Apart; Grit

Barrett Smith, Clete. Mr. 60%. Crown Books, 2017. 978-0-5535-3466-5. 192 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Meet Matt, aka “Mr. 60%”, a nickname earned thanks to just-passing grades and Matt’s habit of doing the bare minimum both academically and socially to graduate high school. The only time he engages in conversation is when he’s completing a “transaction” with a classmate. Instead, he spends his time looking for more creative places to stash his “merchandise” at school so when his nemesis, the vice principal, and the on-campus cop conduct random drug searches, they turn up nada.  Everyone thinks Matt is destined to be a high school dropout, yet what they don’t know is that Matt feels like he has no other choice; he’s only selling drugs to pay for medicine to help ease his uncle’s pain in the wake of a fatal cancer diagnosis. With his mother in jail, his dad never having been in the picture, and living in trailer #6 at the local trailer park with his dying uncle, Matt has limited options and no one to turn to.  When the school board develops a new policy requiring seniors to participate in at least one student activity club in order to graduate, Matt is forced to see he’s not as alone as he thought.  There just might be a friend he can lean on when times get unbearable.  THOUGHTS:  Mr. 60% reminds adult readers, educators especially, that our children are more than what we see on the surface, and reminds teen readers that they’re not alone, that a classmate passing them in the hallway might have it worse than they do.  Despite its somber tone and overwhelming sense of helplessness readers may feel for Matt; there is still a note of hope throughout the story: the fellow classmate whose offer of friendship helps her just as much as it helps Matt and his uncle, the guidance counselor willing to try over and over again to offer Matt options to help him graduate even though he doesn’t seem to appreciate it, the police officer who keeps trying to warn Matt of his impending future should he not change his drug-dealing ways, among others. My only complaint is the abrupt ending; the conclusion needed at least one more chapter to feel complete. Teens and adults alike will appreciate the realistic characters and the how real Matt’s life is portrayed, and the short length is perfect for reluctant readers. 

Realistic Fiction            Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley SD


Ali, S.K. Saints and Misfits.  Salaam Reads, 2017. 978-1-4814-9924-8. 328 p.  $18.99  Gr. 7-12.

Janna sees people as fitting into three different categories:  saints, misfits, and monsters.  She herself is a misfit:  a Muslim girl who chooses to wear the Hajib, struggling to fit in to a variety of different places and with different people, including two families, since her parents are divorced (and have very different views on religion). Janna has a crush on Jeremy, who isn’t Muslim; he’s a misfit, too, if only because he’s willing to consider dating her.  Then there are saints: people so perfect and good, like her brother’s girlfriend, they make Janna feel like she’s lacking.  Finally, there’s the monsters.  Janna tries not to think about the monster in her life; a monster who pretends to be a saint.  He’s the brother of one of Janna’s friends, and she’s afraid to tell anyone the truth, that he tried to sexually assault her once, and she’s afraid he might do it again.  THOUGHTS:  The sensitive subject matter is handled frankly and yet not too graphically, so that this book is accessible to middle as well as high school readers.  This well written book is an important addition to school library collections both because it features a Muslim heroine, and because it empower girls who have been assaulted.

Realistic Fiction               Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Crossan, Sarah and Conaghan, Brian. We Come Apart. Bloomsbury, 2017. 978-1-68119-275-8. $17.99. 320p. Gr. 9+.

Sarah Crossan teamed up with Brian Conaghan to write in verse from two points of view. Both Jess and Nicu lead desperate lives. Jess lives in a dysfunctional home with a despicable stepfather who beats Jess’ mom and forces her to be an accomplice. Jess lives in fear of her stepfather, but it doesn’t stop her from acting out by stealing things. On her third arrest, she is forced to do community service which is where she meets Nicu, who is also performing community service. Nicu and his family have recently emigrated from Romania to England into the time of Brexit and open racism. We see through his broken-English what it is like for a teenager of color to endure racism from not just his classmates, but his teachers and society in general. Nicu also has the weight of an arranged marriage in his near future to contend with. The story begins with a hesitant friendship between Jess and Nicu and slowly transforms into love. Jess fights the relationship from the beginning, hiding it from her friends, and not step to Nicu’s defense when people attack him because of his Romanian heritage. This book reminded me of Crossan’s, The Weight of Water and the publisher likens it to Una LaMarche’s Like No Other.  THOUGHTS: I read this book quickly due to its being written in verse, but also because I wanted to find out what would happen between Jess and Nicu. It’s rated 9th grade and above due to the domestic violence and a brutal racist attack on the street, although I would consider letting 8th graders read this book. I enjoyed reading about Nicu’s perspective of moving to a country in the throes of Brexit and overt racism all the while living with old-fashioned parents that insist on an arranged marriage. I enjoyed the ending, but I can already hear my students complaining that it lacked the happy ending they seem to enjoy.

Realistic Fiction, Verse            Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


French, Gillian.  Grit.  HarperTeen, 2017.  978-0-06-264255-4. 294 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Seventeen-year-old Darcy Prentiss has a wild reputation that precedes her. Most of her classmates believe she is promiscuous, and she is often found drinking and taking dares at parties. The police think she knows more than she is letting on about the disappearance last summer of her former best friend, Rhiannon, and it soon comes to light that she is also hiding another secret for her cousin, Nell. As the story unfolds, mysteries that seemed totally unrelated are woven together, and the truth behind Darcy’s actions is unveiled. Teen readers will easily be able to relate to and empathize with Darcy, making this a great choice for high school libraries.  THOUGHTS: My only criticism of this title is the fact that I had a hard time figuring out what the main story line was. Did I want to know what happened to Rhiannon last summer, or did I want to discover Nell’s secret? Was I more interested in the love connection between Darcy and a boy named Jesse than I was in either of these mysteries? However, regardless of the complex plot (which all ended up weaving together in the end), Darcy proved to be an extremely relatable and likable character.  I felt for her, and I admired her courage; therefore, I needed to keep reading to find out what happened to her and everyone else. A beautifully written title, perhaps more suited towards older adolescents due to its evocative language and sexual references.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD


YA – Dead Inside; Midnight at the Electric; The Hate U Give; Wildman

Etler, Cyndy. Dead Inside. Sourcebooks, 2017 . 9781492635734. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

A grim and shocking memoir of a young girl’s harrowing experiences in a juvenile rehabilitation facility. Ignored by her mother and abused by her stepfather, fourteen-year-old Cyndy Etler finds a degree of acceptance with a wild crowd on the rough streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut. When she runs away from her dysfunctional home, she is forced by her family into an addiction treatment center called Straight Inc., which operated dozens of centers up and down the East Coast. For sixteen months, Cyndy endures a complete loss of freedom and grueling discipline at the cult-like institution. The abusive mental and physical tactics employed at the center are truly frightening. Cyndy details the bizarre and cruel routines and punishments of the staff and older inmates who had the goal of forcing obedience and compliance from all new recruits. Under the relentless pressure, Cyndy turns from rebellious and disbelieving newbie to brainwashed graduate.  It is incredible how an institution like Straight Inc. managed to exist for years, escaping the scrutiny of child welfare officials. The program was finally shut down in the 1990s. However, similar places still exist for troubled youth today. It was only after years of commitment to AA and her time at University of Massachusetts that Cyndy was finally able to escape the shadow of her experience at Straight, Inc. She currently works as an educator and advocate for troubled teens.  Thoughts: For older teens who enjoy gritty, real life stories such as A Child Called It. Too graphic for younger readers.

362.29, Rehabilitation                       Nancy Summers,  Abington SD


Anderson, Jodi Lynn. Midnight at the Electric. HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-06-239354-8. $17.99. 174 p.  Gr. 7 and up.

Adri Ortiz is on her way to Mars. Selected as a colonist in the year 2065, Adri arrives in Kansas, the home of space program, for final training before launch. She has been housed with a here-to-fore unknown relative, an elderly cousin. When Lily, 107, attempts to befriend Adri, she is told by Adri, “I’m not really a friendly kind of a person. I’m not charming or anything. I’m, like, the opposite of that.” During the downtime waiting for training sessions, Adri explores the old house and comes across a postcard from Lenore to Beth, dated 1920. Curious, Adri questions Lily, who vaguely remembers some letters her mother used to read. Adri tears the house apart to find the letters and unravel the mystery. However, finding the letters only leads to more questions; questions Adri desperately needs answered before she is launched into space. The story is narrated from multiple viewpoints throughout time, corresponding to the documents Adri is reading. The reader, along with Adri, becomes emotionally involved with these strangers from the past, as the various threads eventually come together in a lovely, heartbreaking story. THOUGHTS:  This novel deservedly received multiple starred reviews. The evocation of the Dust Bowl during one storyline is stunning, and the themes of bravery, acceptance, and love are beautifully conveyed. Plus, there is a Galapagos tortoise who maintains continuity through the generations of the story. A must purchase for secondary collections.  

Fantasy, Science Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Jodi Lynn Anderson latest work, Midnight at the Electric is a wonderful rabbit hole of a novel. We begin with Adri Diaz, in the year 2065.  Things are looking bad for the Earth, and Adri is part of an elite group chosen to colonize Mars. When she is sent to live with an elderly cousin she didn’t know existed while she completes her training, she stumbles across a mystery, of sorts, about the former owners of the farmhouse. When Adri finds a diary written by Catherine Godspeed, the perspective switches. We learn about Catherine’s life during the 1930s dust bowl; she, her mother, Beth, and her little sister, Beezie, are struggling to survive, and when her mother almost dies in a dust storm, she decides it’s time for Catherine to learn the truth about a few things she’s been keeping secret. Catherine is given a bundle of letters written to her mother from her best friend, Lenore, in 1919. Lenore lives in England, and she is reeling from the death of her beloved brother, Teddy, killed in a battles during World War I; writing to Beth, and spending time in an abandoned cottage on the outskirts of her family’s property are her only outlets. Both Catherine and Lenore’s stories end abruptly, and with no resolution, which infuriates Adri. Determined to discover what happened to these women, she searches the house, visits the town library, and the archives. Will Adri discover the secrets of the past before she leaves Earth forever?  This is a fascinating blend of science fiction and historical fiction. Anderson has painted a convincing picture of a crumbling and doomed Earth, but with a hyper-laser focus on Adri, she avoids tumbling too far into doom and gloom; we can put all of our attention on Adri’s search, her hilarious and heart-warming relationship with her cousin, Lily, and on the intersection of Adri’s, Catherine’s, and Lenore’s stories. The novel ends on a bittersweet note that may wrench a tear or two, especially if you have a thing for tortoises.

Science Fiction; Historical Fiction      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. New York: Balzer & Bray, 2017. 978-0-06-249853-3. 464 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Starr Carter is leading a double-life.  There’s the Starr Carter who attends an exclusive private school with mostly white students, has a long-term boyfriend, who is also white, and who faces daily microaggressions.  Then there’s the Starr Carter who lives in a poor neighborhood overrun by gang violence, who has a father who used to be a gang member, and who is best friends (or is she?) with Khalil.  Starr thinks she has a handle on navigating these two worlds until the night she witnesses Khalil’s murder at the hands of a police officers.  Angie Thomas has written a provocative, moving, and often times enraging book that feels incredibly current, given the multiple deaths of unarmed black men in the last few years, and the resultant simmering anger across the nation.  Starr is a heroine of our time; her indecision, her fear, and her rage, are realistic; never do we, the reader, forget that she is just a sixteen year-old girl who has a monumental weight on her shoulders. Her support network, her family, her boyfriend, her friends, are extremely well-drawn; there are no caricatures here.  From feeling like an outsider wherever she is, to embracing, and melding, both selves into a confident young woman who finds her voice, Starr’s evolution is glorious to behold.  Get this book into as many hands as possible.  THOUGHTS: This is one of my top 10 books of the year so far.  Not only is it incredibly timely, it is also beautifully written.  Starr is a character that everyone can see themselves in – the impulse to hide parts of yourself in order to just get through the day is universal. While this is not an easy book to read, it will hopefully inspire empathy in those who do read it; an extremely worthwhile book for allies and advocates alike.

Realistic Fiction     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Angie Thomas’s highly anticipated debut inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement more than lives up to the hype. Sixteen year old Starr lives in a poor neighborhood but attends an exclusive prep school. She finds that she is two people; one at home and one at school. One night after a party, Starr witnesses the unprovoked murder of her black friend Khalil at the hands of a white police officer. The murder makes national headlines, and Khalil is soon pegged as a thug and drug dealer. As protests ring out across her neighborhood, Starr is unwillingly thrown into the front lines, and finds her home and school lives colliding. As the media continues to paint Khalil as a gangbanger and make excuses for the shooting officer, Starr knows that only her voice can speak for Khalil – even if she’s afraid to use it. THOUGHTS A timely and intimate portrait of racial injustices from the eyes of a black teenage, this incredibly important story sheds light on police brutality, judicial racial bias, and white privilege, among other things. Starr is a relatable, believable, and fierce protagonist. If you buy one book this year, make it this.

Contemporary Fiction    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Balzer & Bray/HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-062-49853-3. 444 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Starr Carter leads two separate lives. Though she lives in a poor neighborhood, Starr attends a fancy suburban prep school. She is conscious of how she talks differently, and at times the struggle between her two worlds weighs on Starr. After reconnecting with her childhood best friend Khalil, Starr witnesses his death at the hands of a police officer. Unarmed, the news of Khalil’s death goes viral, and Starr is thrust in the middle of a national headline she isn’t sure she wants to be part of. In order for Starr to reconcile her feelings about Khalil’s death, she needs to figure out which world she wants to live in and for what she stands. Fortunately, Starr has a strong family that will help her through this tragic situation.  THOUGHTS: This book is necessary, and teens will feel at home with Thomas’s honesty over Starr’s struggle. While the language may make some adults uncomfortable (strong language and themes), this novel could have been ripped right from today’s headlines. Teens need real stories that are relevant to their own lives to help them process their feelings and fears. Thomas’s The Hate U Give should be required reading for anyone interested in social justice, social issues, or today’s world.

Realistic Fiction        Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District


Geiger, J. C.  Wildman. Disney-Hyperion, 2017. 9781484749579. $17.99. 336 pp. Gr. 9-12.

Sometimes it may look like you have it, the perfect life, until you get thrown off course and need to recalibrate. So it goes for Lance, a graduating teen who has life mapped out for him until his father’s Buick decides to break down in the Pacific Northwest wilderness. Suddenly he finds himself saving passengers, getting in fights, jumping trains, and unleashing the “Wildman” inside him. More important than those adventures, though, is his confrontation with identity and love and his future choices. Lance is in for one wild ride!  THOUGHTS: Definitely geared to the older high school crowd, this novel is lacking in a few areas, but is overall a satisfying read. The author’s debut novel has plenty of his personal knowledge mixed with some interesting, complex characters. What the story misses from leaps of logic and lacks in diversity are balanced by some creative plot points and well written settings.

Realistic Fiction, Action/Adventure     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD






YA Historical FIC – Dreamland Burning; American Traitors; The Pearl Thief; Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue

Latham, Jennifer.  Dreamland Burning.  Little, Brown and Company, 2017.  978-0-316-38493-3. 371 p.  $18.99.  Gr. 8 and up.

In the early 1920s, Will Tillman is a teenage boy coming of age in Tulsa during the era of race riots and Jim Crow laws.  He wants to become a righteous man, but in order to do so, he must make some difficult decisions between the evening of May 31 and the afternoon of June 1, 1921, when white rioters loot and burn the African American section of Tulsa known as Greenwood.  Almost a century later, seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase begins asking questions when a skeleton is unearthed on her family’s property.  Through alternating narratives, readers learn how Will and Rowan are connected through time and how sadly, the negative attitudes of some people towards African Americans persevere even today.  THOUGHTS: This title is an excellent addition to any school where U.S. history is taught.  Not only does it present a gripping account of one of the most violent (and heretofore largely overlooked) racial conflicts in our country’s history, but it also raises monumental questions about how far we have come, or perhaps haven’t come, as a country.  While the book highlights the stark realities of the state of our country, it still manages to inspire hope and assure readers that the love and courage of a few unsung heroes far outweighs the evil and cowardice of others.  Pair this with other titles that expertly address the issue of racism, such as Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee, Paul Volponi’s Black and White, or Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Historical Fiction     Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD


Landis, Matthew. The League of American Traitors. Sky Pony Press, 2017. 9781510707351. $16.99. 256p.  Gr. 7 and up.

The League of American Traitors takes place in the present, but there’s an alternate reality that’s been happening for the past 240-years between two secret societies: The Libertines and The League of American Traitors. These groups are made up of the descendants of America’s traitors and America’s patriots since the Revolutionary War and most of society has no idea that they have been dueling to the death for the past 240 years. The Libertines are determined to end the bloodlines of America’s traitors, and, unfortunately for Jasper, he is the last direct descendant of America’s most notorious traitor, Benedict Arnold. The story and action begins with the death of Jasper’s dad, not only making Jasper an orphan, but also putting him next in line to be convicted and condemned for his ancestor’s sins, which he finds out the hard way. Jasper, and the reader, go on a fast-paced journey to try and clear Arnold’s name and avoid having to duel. There is attempted kidnapping, a violent clash on the streets of Philadelphia, a boarding school that doubles as a dueling academy, and lots of history that both Jasper, and the reader, learn about. THOUGHTS: This book is touted everywhere as National Treasure meets Hamilton. I can’t speak to that since I haven’t seen either, but that might be a selling point when book-talking this to students. The author is a Social Studies teacher in my district, and he includes notes at the end discussing the accuracy of the historical information included in the book. Despite the dark theme (gun violence, dueling, murder), the book also has light-hearted realistic teen banter that made me laugh. The League of American Traitors is a book I will recommend to my middle school students (7th – 9th) who are fans of action-packed books from authors like James Dashner, Dan Brown, and Richard Paul Evans or students who like some history with their fiction.

Historical Adventure      Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Wein, Elizabeth. The Pearl Thief.  Hyperion, 2017. 978-148471716-5. 326 p.  $18.99  Gr. 8 and up.

The Pearl Thief, a prequel to Code Name Verity, features Julie Beaufort-Stuart a few years before she became a spy. For Verity’s legion of fans, it is especially poignant to witness Julie’s coming of age, since it is impossible to forget her ultimate fate. For those who have yet to read Verity, the book works just fine as a stand-alone. Fifteen-year-old Julie, a minor noble, returns to her ancestral home for the summer holidays and quickly finds herself at the center of a mystery when she is attacked and wakes up with no memory of the incident.  The local police are eager to blame the “Travellers,” an ethnic group (similar and somewhat related to Romany peoples) native to Scotland. But Julie is adamant that they are not to blame; in fact, a Travellers family rescued her. Julie develops a strong attachment to Ellen, a Travellers girl her own age. Their relationship not only foreshadows the deep bond that develops between Maddie and Julie in Verity, but also offers a subtle but deep subtext on issues surrounding sexual preference and gender fluidity. The appearance of a (rather macabre) dead body and the disappearance of priceless pearls heighten the mystery element, but this book is much, much more than a whodunnit.  THOUGHTS: The writing is elegant, nuanced, and complex, and the subject matter is appropriate for younger as well as older teens. Recommended for fans of Code Name Verity and any reader looking for something meaty and thought-provoking; a strong purchase for high school libraries; an additional purchase for middle school libraries looking to acquire books for students with higher reading levels.

Historical Fiction, Mystery           Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Lee, Mackenzi. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2017. 978-0-0623-8280-1. 528 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

Eighteen year old Henry “Monty” Montague is no stranger to scandal. As the son of an earl, Monty’s flagrant vices do not quite fit the gentlemanly life that’s expected of him. His love for drinking, gambling and cavorting with both men and women have gotten him expelled from school and infuriated his mean father, who often takes out his anger with his fists. So Monty looks forward to a year away with his best friend Percy, who he also happens to have a massive crush on, as they venture on their Grand Tour of Europe. But trouble always seems to find Monty, and soon he, his sister Felicity, and Percy are caught up in political scandal, pirates, and alchemy as they make their way across Europe. As Monty explores the countryside and opens up to his friends, readers will surely see a part of themselves in Felicity, Percy or Monty. THOUGHTS: While this story may seem just like any other YA romance, this is one of the few mainstream teen books to feature a bisexual protagonist. Lee creates an incredible enthralling and fast-paced story that hooks readers in the first few pages. Not only does Lee explore gender identity in the 1800s, but readers will also learn about race relations, disability, and feminism during the time period as well. A delightful, well researched read.

Historical Fiction      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School