YA – Zara Hossain Is Here

Khan, Sabina. Zara Hossain Is Here. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-58087-7. 256 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Moving through Tae Kwon Do patterns is the calm after the storm Zara can’t seem to find anywhere else in her life. Constant microaggressions leave her feeling frustrated and alone. Despite living in Corpus Christi, Texas since she was a baby, Zara is the only Muslim girl in her private Catholic school. Though her father is a respected physician, Islamaphobia isn’t anything new to Zara. Her family still is waiting for their green card approval (nine years later), so she tries to remain under the radar. While presenting her US history paper (on the inequities and indignities of the US immigration system), Zara faces questions from her classmates like “why do we have to take care of everyone else in the world?” and “What about all the illegals that are flooding our country?” Zara actually was talking about legal immigration – like her own family’s – but no one seems to care. When things go too far, and Zara’s dad reacts to defend their family, the Hossain’s immigration status is put in jeopardy. Zara’s family is ready to move back to Pakistan but recognizes that Zara, who really doesn’t remember their home country, will not have the same educational and life opportunities. And Zara may face just as much prejudice in Pakistan, since she identifies as a bisexual female.

THOUGHTS: In Zara, Khan presents a character who is sick of accepting the ignorance of others and who fights for what she believes. Readers will adore and root for Zara and her family. A must have for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, SD

YA – You’d Be Home Now

Glasgow, Kathleen. You’d Be Home Now. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-0-525-70804-9. 400 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

For her whole life Emory’s family has been well-known in the town of Mill Haven. Her great great grandfather founded the mill that employed many of the town’s families for generations. But the mill has been abandoned for some time, and people have very different opinions about what should become of the space. Emory also is the little sister of Joey who overdosed and passed out while his best friend Leonard caused a life altering car accident, one that devastated their small town and Emory’s family. Now Emory is known as someone who was in the car when Candy died. Joey is on his way back from rehab, and their older sister Maddie is away at college. With workaholic parents who aren’t always around, Emory is tasked with keeping an eye on Joey who has been given some pretty serious restrictions to keep him “on the right path.” Always feeling invisible in the shadow of her perfect sister and self-destructive brother, Emory has been a good girl, a rule follower. But Emory needs someone to see her. Next door neighbor Gage, who Emory has had a crush on, shows her attention, though secretly, and it feels good for someone finally to notice her even if not out in the open. Despite some questionable choices, Emory is managing and keeping an eye on Joey. Until she isn’t. Secrets are brought to light, Joey disappears, and Emory loses herself. Will she pick up the pieces and figure out who she wants to be before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Emory and Joey while cringing at some obvious warning signs. Glasgow writes a compelling, character driven novel that shines light on addiction’s impact on family, friends, and community. Teens will appreciate the authentic portrayal of serious issues.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, SD

Elem. – War

Letria, Jose Jorge. War. Greystone Kids, 2021. 978-1-771-64726-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 4 -6.

With sparse words and dark pen and ink drawings, Jose Jorge and Andre Letria offer a haunting portrayal of war. The book imparts a strong sense of unease and sorrow with war being depicted as a non-feeling, cold presence delighting in the misery of the citizens it affects. The work delivers a powerful anti-war message, examining the sobering human impact of the ravages of war. A picture book best saved for older grades. 

THOUGHTS: Could be used in conjunction with a unit on the Holocaust. 

Picture Book          Nancy Summers,   Abington SD

YA – In the Wild Light

Zentner, Jeff. In the Wild Light. Crown Publishers, 2021. 978-1-524-72024-7 429 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up.

Set in a small Tennessee town, two misfits from troubled families develop a strong bond after meeting at a Narateen meeting. Cash is struggling to come to terms with his mother’s death, the knowledge that his beloved grandfather is dying, and his fear that he has no special gift to offer anyone. Delaney is a brilliant, self-taught scientist who discovers a bacteria-destroying mold with potential medicinal benefits.  Because of this discovery, she is offered a full ride scholarship to an elite New England prep school and secures a spot for Cash as well.  Delaney is determined to start anew and pushes Cash to join her, though he believes he is not deserving of this opportunity and fears missing precious time with his grandfather. They both struggle to adjust to their new life so far removed from their roots but are fortunate to find a friendship with two other new students at Middleford Academy and to nurture their own interests and passions and the special bond between them.

THOUGHTS: A thoughtful, coming of age story with a strong focus on the value of friendship and family, with charming characters, beautiful descriptions, and some gorgeous poetry. Touching, emotional, and heartfelt, this book will be appreciated by fans of All the Bright Places and Looking for Alaska.

Realistic Fiction                Nancy Summers,   Abington SD

MG – Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero

Faraqi, Saadi. Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-062-94325-5. 357 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8. 

Yusuf lives in Texas with his family, and he has some big life changes coming up. He is starting middle school, hoping to enter a Robotics competition with his school’s Robotics team and is spending time helping his family build their community’s new mosque. However this is the 20th year anniversary of September 11th, and his community isn’t happy about the new mosque, or any of his family living in their small town anymore. Yusuf has to deal with bullies from many different directions, and he isn’t sure how to handle it. Will Yusuf be able to hold onto things that bring him such happiness in the face of so much hate and hostility?

THOUGHTS: This well told story touches on many things that today’s readers are either familiar with from their own personal experience, or they have seen it happen to their friends and community members. This book handles these topics with grace and compassion as well as feeling authentic to the situation. Highly recommend this for any middle school collection. 

Realistic Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – Deadman’s Castle

Lawrence, Iain. Deadman’s Castle. Margaret Ferguson Books, 978-0-823-44655-1. 247 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Igor Andrew Watson does not remember his original name because he has had so many. In fact, no one in his family has their original name because every so often, they are assigned new names and a new home by The Protectors, an organization that helps keep Igor’s family safe. All Igor knows is that when he was a child, his father witnessed a horrific crime. When his father testified in court, the criminal was put in jail, and Igor’s dad made an enemy that Igor only knows as “The Lizard Man.” After their next move to escape the Lizard Man and his vengeance, twelve-year-old Igor grows frustrated with having such an odd life. He longs to go to a regular school and have real friends. After much bargaining and begging, his parents finally agree that he can attend the local middle school as long as he does not tell anyone anything about his identity or lifestyle. Igor makes two close friends and starts to live a somewhat normal life. As he explores his new neighborhood with his friends, Igor has flashbacks of memories. He thinks he has lived in this place before… and he starts to doubt that the Lizard Man even exists.

THOUGHTS: This novel’s interesting plot and cliffhanger chapters will be appealing to middle grade readers looking for a suspenseful thriller. I believe this will be a fan favorite in libraries where mysteries/thrillers are often requested.

Mystery          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Be Dazzled

La Sala, Ryan. Be Dazzled. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-492-68269-1. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.

If ever there was a meet-cute, Raffy and Luca are it. They meet in the gem aisle of Craft Club, the local craft megastore, both boys zeroing in on Sea Foam Dream #6 gems. Dark-haired, dark-eyed Raffy is a supremely talented cosplay crafter/video streamer, with a devoted internet following; Luca, a smokin’ hot Italian American soccer player. Raffy can’t believe Luca was (he was, wasn’t he?) flirting with him. Raffy introduces Luca into the nerdom of cosplay and conventions. Luca introduces Raffy to fun. Raffy, 17 year old, is so focused on impressing the judges at the various Cons he attends, hoping to gain sponsorship for his crafting, and scholarships to art school, that he has lost the joy of crafting. Teaching Luca brings back the fun. But when Raffy’s maniacal intensity collides with Luca’s laissez faire approach, the inevitable breakup occurs. Yet now Raffy’s success at Controverse depends on working with the boy who broke his heart. Adding to the storyline is Luca’s inability to tell his family he is bisexual, as well as coming out as a closet nerd, and Raffy’s intense, “ARTIST” mother, who scorns sequins, satin and sewing. When all the worlds collide, will Raffy and Luca be able to survive, the second time around? This dazzling nerd romance is heart-meltingly cute. The behind-the-scenes look at cosplay crafting is fascinating, and Raffy is an expert guide to the design and creation of costumes. Both boys have loyal friends to support them, and while family issues are resolved quickly and neatly, it makes for a satisfying conclusion to a fun read.

THOUGHTS: There is nothing not to love about this bedazzling nerd romance with a happy ending.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

TA – Perfectly Parvin

Abtahi, Olivia. Perfectly Parvin. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-0-593-10942-7. 310 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

On the cusp of starting ninth grade, Iranian-American Parvin Mohammadi has a lot going for her: her BFFs Ruth and Fabián, an aunt (Ameh Sara) in Iran who helps her apply make-up via video chat, and a cute boy who has just asked her to be his girlfriend. But days later, Wesley unceremoniously dumps her at their high school orientation. His reason? She’s just “too much.” After (literally) peeling herself off the linoleum to binge-watch her favorite romantic comedies, Parvin hatches a plan to secure a date to Homecoming. By modeling her behavior after the demure leading ladies of The Princess Bride, The Little Mermaid, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Parvin is sure she can get a new boy to like her. No more outlandish outfits, pranks, Hot Cheetos, or being too loud. In other words, none of the things that make her (yes) perfectly Parvin. But can she lock down a real relationship with a fake personality? A compelling subplot about Ameh Sara securing a visa to visit the States (and deliver make-up tutorials in person) adds timeliness and tension.

THOUGHTS: This effervescent, laugh-out-loud debut perfectly captures Parvin’s humor, hijinks, and occasional humiliations. It matches the tone and depth of Netflix’s Never Have I Ever and Sandhya Menon’s Dimple and Rishi series. 

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Out of the Fire

Contos, Andrea. Out of the Fire. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-72616-9. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

With her earbuds in, Cass Adams was out for a run on her usual path through the woods when she was grabbed and thrown into the trunk of a car. Though narrowly escaping an abduction, the police question Cass’s story. Does she have a description of the man or car or any letters or numbers from the license plate? No, she was running for her life! Frustrated with herself for being so routine oriented, Cass tries to go back to her old life. Then the pink envelopes start arriving. Methodically placed where Cass will see them and in places no one else should have access to, the letters warn Cass that she’s always being watched. The police wonder if Cass wrote them herself, but she knows they’re from him. When an old friend reconnects with Cass over the shared experience of being wronged, Cass doesn’t feel so alone. It’s not long before they realize there are other girls who have been wronged too. And they want revenge. After not being believed by the police and not wanting to burden her overworked father, Cass decides to track down her kidnapper herself. But she can’t do it alone, and to have help she has to open herself up to others and share things she may not be ready to face.

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans will devour this fast-paced thriller which is set during a two week time frame. Hand this one to readers who enjoy April Henry and Karen McManus titles.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – A Pho Love Story

Le, Loan. A Pho Love Story. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44193-4. 416 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Competing Vietnamese-American family-owned pho restaurants set the stage for this romantic comedy. Despite the two of them going to school together and being from similar family backgrounds (and occupations), Bao Nguyen and Linh Mai do not get along. It’s really their families who do not get along, but Bao and Linh normally steer clear of each other. Bao isn’t meeting his family’s expectations. Across the street Linh Mai works in her family’s pho restaurant but dreams of pursing an art career. When Bao helps Linh out of a tough spot, she can’t help but wonder why their families feel the way they do. Curiosity piqued, Bao and Linh begin to interact but away from their families. Can Bao and Linh meet their families’ strict expectations and find a way to be together?

THOUGHTS: Teens looking for a sweet rom-com with a little depth will adore these characters. A Pho Love Story pairs perfectly with other food romances like A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen and The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD