YA – Of Curses and Kisses

Menon, Sandya. Of Curses and Kisses. Simon Pulse, 2020. 978-1-534-41754-0. 361 p. $18.99. Grades 6-12. 

Princess Jaya Rao, heiress to India’s last royal family, has always put duty first. Young Indian women should conform, they should not cause a scene or do anything like fraternizing with boys or using foul language that would hurt the family’s image. When her younger sister Isha is pictured in tabloids drinking and kissing a mechanic, the family’s name is in jeopardy. Jaya and Isha leave for Aspen to an elite boarding school called St. Rosetta’s to try and let the whole thing blow over. The thing is, St. Rosetta’s is currently the school of Grey Emerson, or Lord Northcliff, of the family with which the Raos have been feuding for generations. Jaya knows that Grey leaked the photos to ruin their family, and now she knows just the way to get back at him: make him fall in love and break his heart.

THOUGHTS: An artful Beauty and the Beast retelling done only the way Sandhya Menon can. Get a glimpse into the life of the aristocracy, traditions and all, and learn how to let yourself be happy.

Fantasy (Realistic, Fairytale)          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – Kind of a Big Deal

Hale, Shannon. Kind of a Big Deal. Roaring Brook, 2020. 978-1-250-20623-7. 400 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Back in high school, Josie was kind of a big deal. A talented actress, she left school early to take Broadway by storm. Only, it didn’t quite work out the way it was supposed to. Now, a Broadway failure with monumental credit card debt, she’s living in Missoula, Montana, working as a nanny and trying to recapture that magnificent life she remembers, back when she was a big deal. After impulsively purchasing a romance novel one day while taking her adorable charge, Mia, to the park, Josie opens the book (the first she’s read since The Scarlet Letter in school) and shortly finds herself experiencing the plot from inside the story. A la The Wizard of Oz, the story is peopled with individuals she passed around town: customers in the bookstore, the sales clerk, individuals in the park. Josie is both fascinated and terrified by the experience: she likes the take-charge person she is in the story, but struggles to get back to reality and make sure Mia is safe. But the adventure is addictive, and once Josie finishes reading the first book, she’s back for more. As Josie genre-jumps, the experiences work as bibliotherapy, assisting her in assessing her life, and realizing she needs to move on from high school, and let her supportive best friend and her boyfriend move on as well. But, it turns out, the creative muses are not done with Josie, and when she gets wrapped up in one book too many, she will need to rely on all the skills and knowledge she has gained to save herself, as well as others trapped in the world of stories. Hale presents a delightful YA story. Josie is an appealingly sweet character, and her journeys inside the books will be amusing to any reader. Like Josie’s book hopping episodes, the plot refuses to stand still, continually twisting in another direction until the surprise ending. While Josie is on the cusp of adulthood, the book is refreshingly free of sex, profanity, and other vices. Like on the stage, Josie is the star, and she is all the story needs. Readers will cheer for her to realize she is a big deal, in the story of her own making.

THOUGHTS:  Hale’s YA entry is a bubbly read with a deeper message. Dedicated readers will enjoy the genre spoofs (the dystopian ordeal is far and away the best segment), but it will be interesting to see if students not yet through high school can relate to Josie needing to walk away from those years and move on. I hope so! I want more Hale YA books.

Fantasy (Realistic)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Middle Grades Sci-Fi/Fantasy – Firefly Code; Hawking’s Hallway; Seventh Wish


Blakemore, Megan Frazer. The Firefly Code. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016. 978-1-61963-636-1. 340p. $16.99. Gr. 3-7.

Megan Frazer Blakemore author of The Water Castle (2013)  has written another timeless modern twist of science fiction and fantasy found throughout her latest novel The Firefly Code. The setting is a utopian community named Old Harmonie. Turning 13 years old is a significant day where those learn if their DNA is natural or designed. For example, parents can opt to dampen undesirable traits found in their children. The other special event on their 13th birthday is that they reveal their latency or skill. Mori’s great-grandmother was an important scientist with the founding of the community, and Mori’s friend Theo finds inspiration there.The five main characters are about to learn truths they did not imagine. How will they handle reality?THOUGHTS: The book makes readers think about self-modifications. What makes it okay to modify not more than 30 percent of the DNA? This is a book to suggest to readers that adore science fiction work of Lois Lowry or S.A. Bodeen that feature a dystopian society.

Science Fiction      Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School



Shusterman, Neal. and Eric Elfman. Hawking’s Hallway (Accelerati Trilogy Bk. 3). Los Angeles: Disney, 2016. 978-142314805-0. 361p. $16.99. Gr. 6-8.

Magical items are with Edison. Mitch’s father helped the Accelerati steal hundreds of millions of dollars which was one cent from every bank account. This action of his father deeply troubles Mitch. On top of this, the time left to save the world is fourteen days. Nick’s father and brother have a mind wash to forget about him. Is there any way that they can recall what really took place?  At this point the characters get to see both the good and bad parties in action. THOUGHTS: This book is necessary for your libraries so that students can continue with this engaging series. The book is creative and can spark readers to learn more about inventors and inventions and they just might make their own!

Fantasy       Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School



Messner, Kate. The Seventh Wish. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016. 978-1-61963-376-6. 228 p. $16.99. Gr. 6-8.

Charlie is a passionate about Irish dancing, but misses her older sister Abby, who is away at college. Charlie is encouraged to ice fish with hopes to win a contest so she could use the prize of money towards her feis in Montreal. While fishing not too far out on the ice, Charlie hears the small fish that she catches ask her to have a wish if she will release the fish. At first she wishes not to have a fear of ice and for a certain boy to like her. When her mother applies for a full time nursing positing, Charlie goes out to find the fish and make another wish. Her mother complains about having to send more money to Abby for her textbooks. Her third and fourth wishes are for her friends. One is that Dana will do well with her language test, and the other is that Drew finds success during basketball tryouts. Once again Charlie is off to find the wish granting fish with emerald eyes. Her family is rocked when they receive a call that Abby is ill due to heroin. With her mom’s nursing background it makes her daughter’s decisions harder to handle. While at the treatment center, Charlie sees fellow dancer Leah there visiting her mother. The next wish is that Abby gets better and has the insurance cover the treatment. Her sister drives Charlie to the dance competition and is appalled to learn that Abby took her remaining money and has not returned. Abby has overdosed and is now at the Albany Medical center. At this point Charlie is done wishing. THOUGHTS: Messner’s All the Answers was one of the titles that I reviewed last year for PSLA and found students gravitate towards that book. Unfortunately, the statistics show that the use of heroin for young people is increasing. While not the only focus of the book, the element allows a window for discussion of this important topic.

Realistic Fiction; Fantasy         Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

MS/HS Realistic Fiction – Saving Hamlet; Free Verse; Two Summers


Booth, Molly.  Saving Hamlet.  New York: Hyperion, 2016.  978-1-48475-274-6.  $17.99.  352p.  Grade 7 and up.

Former high school soccer star Emma Allen needs to reinvent herself after a team party disaster and a major summer theater equipment malfunction.  Emma gets her waist-length hair cut into a super-short, super-chic, pixie style, and suddenly, things begin to change.  Emma’s behind-the-scenes stage crew role has grown; after a classmate moves, she is named the stage manager of the school’s annual fall Shakespeare play.  Emma’s best friend, Lulu, is dealing with her own difficulties; she is put on lockdown by her conservative parents after being caught kissing another girl.  Lulu also blames Emma, in part, for her being cast as Ophelia in the school’s Production of Hamlet (Lulu desperately wanted the title role).  Josh, a handsome school athlete who gets the role of Hamlet, is terrible.  Emma and the other directors begin trying desperately to save what appears to be a cursed production.  

One evening, after a long day of rehearsals, Emma is distracted and falls through the stage’s trap door.  The fall takes Emma back in time to the Globe Theatre in 1601.  At the Globe, Emma is mistaken as a boy, which gives her the ability to observe the original Shakespeare production.  She is able to travel between the two worlds via the trapdoor and brings what she has learned from that production to the present day.  In the end, she also brings her knowledge of present day Hamlet to save the Globe’s production of the show.  THOUGHTS:  This enjoyable book seems to have it all; a school play, romance, time travel, and teen drama.  Emma is highly likeable, the characters are diverse without being stereotypical, and anyone who has ever been involved in school theater can agree that the story rings true.  I would recommend this book for all junior or senior high school libraries.  It may actually help to make Shakespeare “cool” again.

I enjoyed the fact that Emma is not an actor; this book gave well-deserved recognition to the people behind the scenes in a theatre production.  The book also touched on some of the deeper themes in Hamlet, and students who are reading the play for school might enjoy the insight Saving Hamlet can give.  Two of the characters in this book are gay, and the treatment of these characters is excellent; the characters are shown to be typical high school age students who have the same hopes and trials that any teen would have.  Emma is a witty and intelligent young lady.  I hope we see more of her in the future.

Realistic Fiction; Fantasy              Susan Fox, Washington Park School



Dooley, Sarah. Free Verse. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016. 978-0399-165030. 335 pp. $16.99. Gr. 6-9.

Sasha lives in the grimy coal-town of Caboose, West Virginia, a place she and her older brother Michael can’t wait to leave.  But Sasha’s mother ran off when she was five, her father died in a mine accident when she was eight, and Michael just died fighting a fire.  It’s too much for one thirteen-year-old to manage, and Sasha struggles with anger and the foster system and this…place.  Fortunately for her, foster mom Phyllis stays steady and encouraging through Sasha’s rages and disappearances, and distant relatives she never knew live just next door.  She struggles and grows, thanks to careful, caring adults, and thanks to her discovery of poetry.  But when another tragedy occurs, will it all be too much?  THOUGHTS: A strong, finely told novel, the poetry and the prose delight and reveal Sasha’s character incredibly well. This is beautiful poetry and a strong award contender.  Recommended for middle school readers and up.

Realistic Fiction    Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



Friedman, Aimee. Two Summers. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-1-338-03571-1. 355p. $7.99. Gr. 7-10.

Summer Everett can barely contain her excitement; she is going to spend her summer visiting her artist father in France! Since her parents divorced several years earlier, her relationship with her father hasn’t been close; he’s not much of a communicator. But, Summer’s looking forward to reconnecting with him, despite her mother’s qualms about the trip. Right before boarding her plane to France, Summer receives a phone call from an unknown caller. Should she answer the call? It is at this point that the storyline of Two Summers diverges. In one storyline Summer doesn’t answer the call and continues on her journey to France. In the other storyline, Summer answers the phone only to discover that her father is cancelling her visit, and she will have to stay at home in Hudsonville, New York over the summer. Though the settings for both storylines could not be more different, in both, Summer will find romance, discover a passion for photography and learn family secrets long hidden. THOUGHTS: This quick and enjoyable read is perfect for readers who enjoy contemporary YA lit with a dash of romance. The alternating parallel storylines will keep readers engaged as they discover how Summer’s snap decision not to answer a phone call might change some elements of her summer vacation, but other parts of her vacation seem destined to occur, not matter what her location.

Realistic Fiction         Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS