Can’t Look Away

Cooner, Donna.  Can’t Look Away.  New York: Point, 2014.  978-0-545-42765-4.  264p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9 and up.
Sixteen-year-old Torrey Grey is famous on the Internet for her YouTube videos about fashion and beauty.  She has thousands of followers; however, her whole world comes crashing down when her younger sister is hit and killed by a drunk driver.  Her online followers begin to bash her after a video is leaked portraying Torrey shouting at her sister minutes before the accident.  As Torrey’s family struggles to deal with the grief, her father moves them from Colorado to Texas, and Torrey has the opportunity to start over at a new school.   While she desperately wants to fit in with the popular crowd, she finds herself drawn to Luis, an outcast, whose father owns a funeral parlor.  She also begins to develop a bond with her dorky cousin, Raylene.  Ultimately, Torrey must choose between the popularity and fame of her former life and a new normal, and she must also decide how she is going to handle her grief both online and in real life.
Realistic Fiction   Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School
Besides the accurate portrayal of high school social dynamics, there are many other aspects of this book that will appeal to readers and make it a good addition to any school library.  First, as Torrey is coming to terms with the loss of her sister, there are many references to Day of the Dead, making the book an excellent multicultural addition that would support any Spanish curriculum.  In addition, any of today’s tech-savvy teens will be able to relate to the collision of the virtual world and the real world, as well as the presence of cyberbullying in the book.  Lastly, the strength of the characters in the aftermath of tragedy will tug at the heartstrings and will appeal to fans of Gayle Forman and John Green.


Of Scars and Stardust


Hannah, Andrea. Of Scars and Stardust. New York:  Flux, 2014.   978-0738740829. 336p. $9.99. Gr. 7-12.

If you like psychological thrillers and don’t want to have everything all wrapped up neatly at the end, then this book is for you. Claire is a fifteen year old who has heard stories about the wolves she can hear in her hometown and grows more afraid and fearful of them once she discovers her younger sister bleeding in a cornfield. The story takes some strange twists and turns as Claire is sent to live with her aunt in New York City for two years. When Claire finds out that her sister is missing, she returns to her home and investigates along with her old crush, Grant, only to discover even more disturbing secrets. 

Reading about Claire and uncovering the secrets that surround her is a page tuner. Readers want to know what is going on. Where is Ella, and why did she run away? Are the wolves real or just in Claire’s head? And just when you think you have figured out what is going on, the rug is pulled out beneath you.  Saying anything more about the plot would not be fair to readers or the author, but it was an interesting ride to say the least.

Realistic Fiction       Marian Kohan, Erie School District

The Year of Lauren Oliver…Panic and Rooms


Oliver, Lauren.  Panic.  New York: Harper, 2014.  408p.  978-0062-014559. $17.99.  Gr. 9+.

Carp, New York, is a dead end town full of desperation, broken dreams, and dead ends.  Everyone dreams of getting out, but that is easier said than done when money is scarce and opportunities are rare.  The teens in Carp have designed their own way to beat their boredom and give one person the chance to escape.  Each student pays a $1.00 fee every day of the school year and the graduating seniors have the chance to compete for the prize by entering the game of Panic.  No one knows who the game makers are; no one talks about the illegal game to adults, and rule breakers are penalized to the fullest degree.  The game involves deadly challenges, ending with the final competitors competing in a car joust.  The current pot is worth $67,000.00, and Heather and Dodge both desperately need the money.  Dodge is out for vengeance.  He is playing for his sister, who was severely handicapped during the game two years age.  Heather enters the game after her boyfriend breaks up with her, but the money becomes a lot more important when she runs away from home with her 10 year old sister.  As secrets and tension rise, each character has to decide just how far they are willing to go and what they are willing to give up in order to be declared the winner.

This was one of those books where I couldn’t make any emotional connections to the characters.  Heather came across as slightly immature, even though she takes on responsibilities that no kid should.  She takes advantage of Bishop, who is one of the few people that genuinely cares about her.   The description of the book portrays the storyline to be comparable to the cut throat type of competition found in The Hunger Games, but I did not find that to be the case.

Realistic Fiction     Melissa Daugherty, Sharon City Schools 



Oliver, Lauren. Rooms. New York: Ecco, 2014. Print. 978-0062223197. 320 p. $25.99. Gr. 11+.

Lauren Oliver, who began her career as a young adult author, has written an engaging gothic novel aimed at expanding her fan base to adults. With Rooms, she has hopefully reached a whole new audience for her works while still pleasing her more mature young adult fans. The story takes place in an old country house owned by the recently deceased Richard Walker. His family, including his alcoholic ex-wife, grown-up daughter Minna and her young daughter Amy, and teenage son Trenton, return for his funeral and to claim their inheritance.  The story is told from the perspective of all of the main characters- including the two ghosts that inhabit the old house. Alice, the older of the two, begins the narration, and it is her voice that is strongest throughout the novel. She and Sandra, the other ghost, were former owners, and the reader slowly learns their stories and why they haunt the house through frequent flashbacks, a technique used throughout the book with all of the characters. Both ghosts, and the living, must come to terms with their troubled pasts in order to move on. Trenton, a sullen teenage outcast, feels the ghosts in the house. Many teens will relate to Trenton, whose story takes center stage when he begins communicating with a third ghost and mysterious young girl. There are a few sexual references and scenes, yet I would highly recommend this title to more mature young adult fans of Lauren Oliver, and to anyone who enjoys a satisfyingly chilling ghost story.

Paranormal Fiction         Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School

This is the first book that I  read by Lauren Oliver, and I was supremely impressed with both her writing style and her storytelling ability. She paints lovely pictures with her words, and her writing is definitely a step above most other young adult authors. Thus, it is only natural that she has evolved into the realm of adult fiction. Immediately after reading this book, I picked up Before I Fall and was again treated to her beautifully lyrical writing style. Rooms showcases her writing and is even more descriptive than Before I Fall. I loved how each character was given his or her own voice throughout the book. It made me sympathize with each one, even though many of them, at first, seemed extremely unsympathetic. Since many teens struggle with empathy, these back stories are important and highlight the need of all individuals to see beyond the simple veneers that we show to the world. One must dig deeper to discover why the characters act the way they do, which is something that we all should do with each person that we meet and with whom we engage. I recommended this title to a teacher, and he also enjoyed the book and is now interested in other titles by Oliver. I cannot wait to recommend this to my book club for next October, as it is the perfect selection for a lead-up to Halloween!

Edge of Nowhere…a must have


Smelcer, John E. Edge of Nowhere. Fredonia, NY: Leapfrog, 2014.  ISBN 978-1-935248-57-6.  $9.99. Gr 7 and up.

When Seth is 14, his mother is killed in a car accident.  Blaming his father and grieving over his mother, he falls into a depression, gaining weight and losing himself in video games and solitude.  Fishing season begins in the spring of his 16th year, and he boards the boat with his father, Jack, a commercial fisherman, Lucky, their deckhand, and Tucker, the family’s dog.  Jack is disappointed in his son and argues with him over his choices.  The last night of the trip, they have another heated exchange, ending with Jack at the helm, and Seth going to bed. Awakened in the middle of the night by rough seas, Seth realizes Tucker is not in the bunkhouse with him.  He goes up on deck to find the dog.  A raging storm is hammering down on the small commercial fishing boat.  Seth manages to grab Tucker just as a wave grabs both boy and dog and seep them overboard. Pulling into port in the morning, Jack realizes Seth and Tucker are missing.  Frantic, he begins his search to find the only remaining member of his family.  Washing ashore, Seth and Tucker have to survive by hunting and gathering throughout the Aleutian Islands.  Tapping into his Native Alaskan heritage and the stories his paternal grandmother told him as a child, Seth keeps himself and Tucker alive.  This story about survival and coming of age is a unique one, creating a sense of remorse on both the part of parent and child.  The author does an amazing job creating empathy at all ends.

This novel, one filled with suspense and determination keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.  Relationships between parents and their children often become strained in teenage years.  This book talks about the strain grief may have on that relationship. Seth gives up much of his food and shares it with his dog. Educators may use this as a resource to teach culture and ancestry, and its importance in the lives of students today.  The reader’s guide in the back of the book gives valid discussion questions, including the role of technology in the lives of teenagers today.  Even more, Seth relies on the stories of his grandmother to help in his survival.  She tells the stories of salmon and its eggs, and as Seth remembers the story, he turns that story into valuable information, feeding him and his dog one more time.  Students studying native cultures to the United States can gain some insight as to why cultures and heritage tend to die off.  This book was difficult to put down and at one point had my stomach in knots.

Adventure        Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School

Surrounded by Sharks…new from Michael Northrop


Northrop, Michael. Surrounded by Sharks. New York: Scholastic, 2014. 978-0-545-61545-7. 208p. $17.99. Gr. 5-8.

Davey feels trapped; he’s stuck sleeping on a cot in a hotel room shared with his parents and younger brother while on a family vacation to an island resort.  So, when he awakens early, he decides to slip out to explore the island.  Finding a secluded beach posted with a “No Swimming” sign, he relaxes with his favorite book. Tempted by the waves rolling ashore, he decides to walk along the beach.  Wading isn’t swimming, he rationalizes.  However, as he walks through the waves, Davey wades too far, is captured by a rip current and is swept out to sea.  Clinging to an empty water cooler bottle, Davey strategizes about how to return to shore or attract the attention of passersby.  Soon, he has a bigger problem—a much bigger problem.  He has attracted the attention of several sharks.  Meanwhile back on shore, his family, resort officials, fellow vacationers and the police are all engaged in a search for Davey.  Will they realize where he is?  And if they do, will they reach Davey before the sharks make their move?

Realistic Fiction; Adventure      Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

Surrounded by Sharks is more than just a pulse-pounding suspenseful story pitting boy vs. shark.  Chapters alternate among several points of view:  Davey, Brando (Davey’s younger brother), Drew (a British teen staying at the resort with her family), and the tiger shark stalking Davey.  This narrative technique increases the tension and suspense as readers experience Davey’s stress and fear, Brando’s growing worry for his brother, and Drew’s increasing interest in locating Davey.  Northrup uses the chapters told from the point of view of the tiger shark not only invoke a sense of danger closing in on Davey, but also to impart knowledge and scientific facts about species.  The chapters are short and easily keep the attention of the reader, making this an appealing choice for reluctant readers.

The Rule of Three


Walters, Eric.  The Rule of Three. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014. 978-0374-355029. 405 p. $17.99 Gr. 5-12.
Adam Dailey and his best friend, popular procrastinator Todd, are bantering in study hall one morning, Adam doing most of the work, when the power goes out.  Immediately, everyone notices that cell phones are affected, then basic needs like electric.  School’s out, but few can leave because the computer systems of modern cars have been hit as well.  For once, Adam’s ’79 Omega brings him great pride as one of the few drivable cars.  Adam hates that his dad was traveling since he suspects there’s more to the story than simple power outage, and he’s correct. (By the end of book one, we still haven’t heard from his dad.)  Retired neighbor Herb acts with skills and knowledge that show his government job likely involved more than the “paper pushing” he’s always described.  With Adam’s mom as the police captain and Herb as the forward-thinking planner for basic needs, safety, crowd control, and more, Adam is well-placed to survive and to have an influence on the future of his neighbors and his world.  Adam’s and Todd’s humorous exchanges cover a deep friendship not seen often enough in literature. Adam’s and Herb’s relationship—Adam the youthful optimist and Herb the jaded pragmatist—quickly becomes one of mutual respect (Adam has the pilot’s knowledge for the ultralight he and his dad were building).  Adam’s growth as a young man making life-altering decisions is well-done, as are the detailed steps for rebuilding and securing a world forever changed.  Slow-paced, though with much action by the end, as the neighborhood has mostly banded together and works to resist serious attacks from outside.  Excellent as a survival story without the dystopian effects, of interest to preppers and those interested in military or police response.  Book 2 of the series to be published January 20, 2015.
In our high school, readers were drawn to this book by the cover, and fans of The 5th Wave and dystopian tales have been interested as well.  One reader compared it to Under the Dome and Jericho television series.

Realistic Fiction (Adventure/Survival)         Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

Let’s Get…New YA Realistic Fiction


Alsaid, Adi.  Let’s Get Lost. New York: Harlequin Teen, 2013. 978-0-373-21124-1. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 11 and up.

Leila is seventeen years old and on the ultimate road trip to visit Alaska and see the Northern Lights.  Along the way Leila meets four teenagers who she attempts to help with their own issues.  The novel is broken up into five chapters with each character retelling their own backstory and accepting help from Leila.   Hudson is a young mechanic who fixes Leila’s car in Vicksburg , Virginia, and after a brief romantic encounter, she leaves Hudson as suddenly as she drove into town.  In Kansas, Leila meets a young woman, Bree, who has been orphaned and is on her own road trip to find herself.  The two girls get into trouble with the law, but after a night of mischief, Leila helps Bree understand the importance of family.  Bree is reunited with her estranged sister and finds the importance of family.  Elliot meets Leila when she nearly runs him over in Minneapolis after being dumped at prom.  The two teenagers work together to prove Elliot’s love for his unrequited love, Maribel.  The last teen, Sonia, has been stranded at the Washington/Canadian border and must now smuggle wedding rings across the border to help a friend in need.  The final chapter is Leila’s story about her own lost love and the struggle to move on with life.  Leila is a mystery up until the last chapter with the first 4/5ths of the story told entirely in the third person point of view.

Realistic                 Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Leila’s story is slowly revealed through her interactions with the four very different strangers she meets during her cross-country road trip to Alaska.  The main character, Leila, is never the focus of the story, but instead acts as the catalyst for change in the lives of those she meets.  This title is recommended for grades eleven  and up because of the teens’ reckless situations with driving, drinking, a night in jail, and no strings attached romantic relationships.  Fans of John Green’s Paper Towns will find similarities with the story line and content but will enjoy the story for its own unique examination of a life.



Betts, A.J. Zac and Mia. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 978-0-544-331648. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Zac and Mia are two teenagers that are too old for the children’s ward at their local Australian hospital, but the youngest people on the adult wing receiving cancer treatment.  Life outside of the hospital was very different for the two teens and without their treatments to bond them they would never have met let alone become friends.  The two teens start their friendship by tapping on their shared wall and carrying on Facebook conversations.  One day Mia disappears suddenly, and then reappears just as suddenly in Zac’s life asking for his help.  During their time apart Mia has lost her leg to cancer and must re-enter the hospital for the infection that has spread but wants to take one final trip while they are both well enough to travel.

Realistic         Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Readers who are fans of John Green’s Fault in Our Stars will find similarities with the storyline and content but will enjoy the story for its own unique blend of romance and realistic fiction.  This book has recently been published but has already become a fan favorite at my local high school.  Students have shared that they enjoy the story while also learning about a different culture, Australia, and what teens in another country like to watch on TV, eat, and live their day-to-day lives.  A great addition and a must have for high school libraries looking for readalikes to Fault in Our Stars.



Han, Jenny. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. 978-1-44242-670-2. 368p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Lara Jean  has been in love.  She has been in love more than once.  Each time Lara Jean falls in love she pours out all of her feelings into heartfelt love letters but does not give those letters to anyone, especially her great loves.  Each time Lara Jean falls in love it is a crush and by writing her letters she is able to deal with her feelings. This has always worked for her until one day her letters go missing.  Lara Jean quickly learns that the letters were mailed, and when one of her crushes, Peter, reads his letter the two team up to mend both their broken hearts.  Peter has been unable to get over his ex-girlfriend, and Lara Jean is trying to ignore the boy next door, Josh, who used to date her sister, Margot.  Readers will be rooting for Lara Jean and all of her relationships not just with boys but her sister, father, and friends.

Realistic               Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Jenny Han fans will not be disappointed with her newest novel and will eagerly await the sequel.  Lara Jean is a very likable character and is relatable to many teenage girls regardless of their own romantic lives.  The struggles she faces in life growing up half Korean, dealing with her mother’s death, and the complications of teenage love are realistically depicted and relate-able.  Popular with fans of Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins, this a must have for high school libraries.  The title is a good fit for romance and realistic fiction fans and would be a good addition for high school collections.



Kenneally, Miranda. Breathe, Annie, Breathe. Sourcebooks Fire: New York, 2014. 978-1-40228-479-3. 320p. $16.99. Gr. 11 and up.

The fifth installment of the Hundred Oaks series focuses on Annie picking up the pieces of her life after the sudden death of her high school boyfriend.  Annie resolves to run the Music City Marathon in memory of her late boyfriend, Kyle.  The training is hard, but dealing with her grief is even harder.  Six months of intense training has helped to get Annie physically ready for the race, but meeting her trainer’s brother, Jeremiah, causes Annie to examine if she is mentally ready to race and move on with her life.  Readers will root for Annie to race and love again.

Realistic                Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

The series Hundred Oaks focuses on a different sport in each book and appeals to mostly female readers but gives enough sports background to keep all students engaged.  Kenneally has written several books in the last two years and all have been wildly popular with my students.  Annie is a strong female character and will be relatable to teens that have suffered loss of any kind.  A great addition and a must have for high school libraries in need of sports fiction.

Realism in History…New YA Fiction


Shecter, Vicky Alvear. Curses and Smoke. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014. 978-0-545-50993-0. 324 p. $17.99. Grade 7 and up.

Set just one month before the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Curses and Smoke is the story of a young girl, Lucia Titurius, and her childhood friend, Tages.    As Lucia’s father, the owner of a failing gladiator school, is preparing for her upcoming marriage to a much older but very wealthy man, she reconnects with Tag as he returns from Rome to take over his father’s responsibilities as medic.  Lucia and Tag find themselves in an awkward place with her the head of the household and Tag still a lowly slave.   However, the two quickly find love.  As the volcano begins to erupt, so does their romance and determination to be together.  Lucia’s character struggles with the role of women in Italian society and often tries to go beyond just being a woman with no voice.  Although rich with vocabulary with Latin roots, the story feels unrealistic at times.   This was a quick fun read and could be recommended for lower readers or those, like me, interested in Pompeii.

Historical Fiction, Romance    Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School



Connor, Leslie. The Things We Kiss Goodbye. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2014.  978-0-06-089091-91. 356 pages.  $17.99.

At first glance this might seem like a typical teen romance novel, but one quickly realizes that it is so much more.  Author Leslie Connor tackles the tough, but real, subject of abusive relationships and explores how teens often find themselves helplessly stuck in these tricky situations.  Being a Greek American female, Bettina Vasilis was raised with little freedom, so she cautiously enters a relationship with basketball star Brady Cullen treading the waters of dating lightly, knowing any wrong step could cost her the freedom she’s longed for.  When Brady begins to leave Bettina with bruises, she’s afraid that her father will blame her.  After Brady humiliates Bettina in front of his friends, she seeks solace in the parking lot of a nearby industrial park.  This is where she meets the handsome and mysterious “Cowboy.” Bettina’s life changes as she spends more and more time with Cowboy and their unusual friendship grows to be more. Connor explores other forms of abusive relationships through Bettina’s friendships and home life showing that there isn’t just one type of abuse.  However, for as realistic as this novel is, there are only three adults who have active roles in the story and some of Bettina’s friendships seem underdeveloped.

Realism     Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area HS

Who I’m Not…new YA Realistic Ficiton


Staunton, Ted.  Who I Am Not. Victoria: Orca Book Publishers, 2013. 978-1-4598-0434-0. $12.95. 186p. Gr. 8 and up.

Danny has gone by countless names during the last few years, but that’s normal when you’re working with a conman.  Soon his life changes though; Harley is shot.  Danny now finds himself sitting in front of child services attempting to lie his way out of the keying incident.  He refuses to be placed back in foster care; never to revisit the “bad times”.  That’s when he decides to become Danny Dellomondo, missing kid.  When he’s reunited with the Dellomondo family, his acceptance is immediate and unquestioned even though he doesn’t resemble the real Danny all that closely.  His family may be willing to move on and look to a prominent future, but Detective Griffin refuses to let the case rest.  Ty, Danny’s drug-addict brother adds a certain nefarious element to the situation as well, so Danny continues to plan his escape as soon as he has the money.  In the end readers may find themselves wondering, who’s conning whom?

Realistic Fiction    Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

Danny is a despicable yet likable character.  Orphaned at a young age, he has experienced his share of abuse and mistreatment.  When Harley enters the story, he convinces Danny’s guardians to sell the boy, and Danny becomes an integral part of every con.  While he doesn’t trust anyone, he slowly opens his heart to Gillian.  Possibly because of her name, but something stronger than a simple connection to character from his favorite children’s story.  Gillian is living a life shrouded with rumors of her father’s promiscuity and squander, so she understands keeping secrets and maintaining anonymity. The two seem to be a perfect match, but destiny may not agree.

Out of the Easy


Sepetys, Ruta. Out of the Easy. New York: Philomel, 2013. 978-0-399-25692-9. 346p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

It’s 1950. World War II has ended.  The Cold War is just beginning. McCarthyism is on the rise, and life in New Orleans is one big party.  At least it seems that way for everyone except Josie Moraine, who’s living a life less than perfect.  Josie dreams of escaping the stigma of being the daughter of a French Quarter prostitute whose mothering has left Josie caring for herself since the age of twelve.  Josie dreams of a life outside of the Quarter, a life at Smith College, in New England, that will allow Josie to become Josephine and put the past behind her, but first she must get in to Smith and figure out a way to pay for it.  With support from Patrick, her employer’s son; Jesse, her biker friend; Willie, the brothel madam, and Cokie, Willie’s right-hand- man, Josie’s dreams might come true, that is until the murder of a wealthy, Memphis contractor on New Year’s Eve threatens to end everything and sent her down a path less than respectable because they “call this place ‘The Big Easy’, [but] shoot, ain’t nothin’ easy about it” (328).

Sepetys eloquently describes life in 1950s New Orleans through the life of Josie Moraine, a life that has not been innocent, yet Josie projects an innocence about her through her choice in friends, personality, and dreams.  Although lacking is some areas, Out of the Easy is a wonderful exploration of growth, life, and how one choice can change everything.  This is an excellent novel for teens and adults alike.

Historical; Realism         Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City