MG – Two Degrees

Gratz, Alan. Two Degrees. Scholastic, 2022. 978-1-338-73567-3. 365 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

In his newest book, blockbuster historical fiction author Alan Gratz takes on climate change, and hits it out of the ballpark. In a now familiar format, Two Degrees highlights three teenagers experiencing three different, yet equally devastating disasters incited by climate change. In the Sierra Nevada range of  California, Norwegian-Japanese-American Akira Kristiansen and her father are horseback riding when Akira spots a wildfire. Her father, a climate change denier, insists there is no concern, until they find themselves surrounded by flames. In Churchill, Manitoba, white Canadian Owen Mackenzie and his Indigenous buddy, George, are heading out on a weekend trip to George’s family ice fishing cabin when they find themselves in mortal danger from a polar bear. In Miami, Puerto Rican Natalie, unhealthily obsessed with storms since terrifying Hurricane Irma just missed Miami a few years ago, is watching television weather reports of Hurricane Reuben when the category five storm suddenly changes direction, heading directly for Miami. The Big One is here. The point of view rotates between the three characters as tensions quickly mount. Akira, separated from her father, must try to outrun the wildfire and escort an injured girl to safety. After Owen makes a number of thoughtless mistakes, he and George find themselves fending off a hungry polar bear with limited resources, while Natalie, swept out of her home by surging flood waters, struggles to stay alive. In each situation, the teen comes to grips with how climate change is responsible for his or her dire situation. Gratz does an excellent job elucidating the chain reaction effects of climate change, particularly in Owen’s story, where the connections are less obvious. In typical Gratz fashion, all three stories eventually intersect with an emotionally satisfying, soul-stirring conclusion. 

THOUGHTS: This book is a call to action on climate change. Students will be on the edge of their seats until the end of the book. The nonstop action makes it perfect for reluctant readers or those who need an immediate hook to grab their attention, as well as an excellent classroom read-aloud. A first purchase for libraries serving intermediate grade readers and older. 

Realistic Fiction                Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Lia and Beckett’s Abracadabra

Parks, Amy Noelle. Lia and Beckett’s Abracadabra. Amulet, 2022. 978-1-319-75344-2. 296 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

Lia is delighted when she receives a letter from her missing grandmother, inviting her to compete in a stage magic competition to be held in Mirror Lake, a retreat for magicians where her grandmother resides. Over the protests of her mother, who wants Lia to do something “meaningful” with her summer, Lia eagerly escapes to Mirror Lake, to practice the tricks her magician grandmother has taught her. Lia is determined to win the competition, make her grandmother proud, and take the prize, the small theater her grandmother has owned for years. Lia definitely wants to keep it out of the hands of the Blackwell boys, grandsons of her grandmother’s ex-husband and magic partner. Lia has been warned to stay away from the Blackwell boys, but while Lia may be great at counting cards and sleight of hand, she wasn’t counting on Beckett Blackwell being so cute, and nice, and good at magic, even though it clearly is not his passion. However, as the competition progresses, Lia realizes there is more at stake than the theater. Additionally, Lia and Beckett team up to exact revenge on Beckett’s cousin, Elliot, a talented mentalist who uses his gifts for nefarious purposes. This addictive rom-com is entertaining from the start. Readers will root for Lia to follow her muse, despite the pressure from her mother, as well as for Lia and Beckett to (inevitably) find each other. The amusing con Lia sets up to crush Elliot adds spice to the pot, and the story rounds out with a feminist punch, as the reparations for the historic dismissal of female magicians ties up the plot. Readers will be left with a big grin on their faces and warm fuzzies in their heart.

THOUGHTS: This delightful book contains everything a good romance should, and makes a solid purchase where romance is popular.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – We Own the Sky

Philbrick, Rodman.We Own the Sky. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-73629-8 190 p. $18.99. Grades 5-8.

The year is 1924, 12 year-old Davy and his older sister, Jo, have found themselves orphaned in the great state of Maine. Their mother’s cousin, Ruthie Reynard, takes them in to be a part of her famous flying circus for the summer. The siblings are about to have the experience of a lifetime…exciting yet frightening things are about to occur. The Ku Klux Klan has invaded the state and has been recruiting members, and they have targeted the flying circus and the diversity within. Davy and Jo are determined to help keep everyone safe even if their own lives are in danger.

THOUGHTS: This is a quick historical read, one that many fans of history will devour. Characters are well-written and engaging.

Historical Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse

YA – Some Kind of Hate

Littman, Sarah Darer. Some Kind of Hate. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-74681-5. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Content Warning: “The contents include white nationalist ideas based on antisemitic conspiracy theories, Islamophobia, racism, misogyny, and violence.”

Declan Taylor is at the top of his game – literally. His school baseball team just won the state tournament, and he was their star pitcher. If Declan just could figure out how to talk to his longtime crush, Megan, he would be set. When an attempt to impress Megan during an end of the school year celebration goes horribly wrong, Declan’s summer plans derail. No more baseball means no future for Declan, at least not the future he was envisioning. Drowning in self-pity while the rest of his family is working long hours, Declan spends most of his day gaming. His baseball friends, including his best friend and longtime teammate Jake, are too busy with summer league and don’t understand Declan’s situation or his anger. Plus Jake seems to be spending more time with his friends from synagogue than worrying about how Declan is doing. With their family’s finances crumbling, Declan is forced to get a summer job. Now he’s spending more time away from home and with his co-workers. Finn and Charlie introduce Declan to a better way to escape the lack of acceptance from his family and friends. It’s in the game world that Declan is able to avoid reality and find understanding: The world needs to wake up to the globalists who are tipping the scale in their favor and stealing opportunities from families like Declan’s. Though his twin sister and baseball friends question some of the things Declan has been saying, Declan’s anger surfaces and he writes them all off, opting to join his new friends in fighting back. Will Declan lose himself to his anger, or is there hope that he can crawl back and redeem himself?

THOUGHTS: Told in alternating chapters between Declan and Jake, this novel explores how, given the right conditions, one’s hate can blossom. Haunting and at times difficult to read, this story will stay with readers and belongs in every YA collection. It would pair well as a modern tie-in to Night, To Kill a Mockingbird, and other classics that deal with social issues. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – The Daredevils

Buyea, Rob. The Daredevils. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-37614-0 231 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Author of the popular series, Because of Mr. Terupt, has written a tale of one summer for twins- Waylon and Loretta. The two are strongly bonded, and Loretta is her brother’s keeper. Waylon was born smaller and has had his fair share of bullies. This is the summer before they enter middle school, and their parents are determined to send them on separate paths in order to prepare them for the coming year. Waylon is sent to robotics day camp while Loretta attends a sports day camp. However, the two are determined to spend their nights together after they discover an old cigar box with a quest inside. Along the way, they meet up with a mysterious boy named Louie, and the three of them will embark on a summer to remember. 

THOUGHTS: Rob Buyea has a way to tell a beautiful and poignant story through the eyes of the rocky middle school years. This is another perfect example.

Realistic Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse

YA – Friends Like These

Alvarez, Jennifer Lynn. Friends Like These. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-30967-4. 384 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Tegan Sheffield is known for her Fourth of July beach bonfire and end of the summer party. Those in Tegan’s orbit are at her beck and call, while those not so close clearly are on the outside. People love her and love to hate her. Jessica Sanchez has been dating Jake Healy, Tegan’s ex, for months. While Jake promises there’s nothing between him and Tegan, Jess doesn’t want to attend the end of the summer party. The last place she wants to be is at Tegan’s. They had a friendship falling out in fifth grade, and everything has been uncomfortable since then. Parties aren’t really Jess’s scene anyway, but she knows Jake loves them. The last party before senior year is going to be epic. But things go horribly wrong. An explicit video from the party goes viral, two girls are missing, and some relationships never will be the same. The police are being pretty tight-lipped about their evidence, interviewing everyone who was at the party, while the FBI works to clean the video before it reaches the deep web. With Tegan’s family connections, this case is a top priority. Then a body is discovered in the water below a popular cliff overlook not too far from Tegan’s house. As the police search and investigation intensify, secrets are revealed. Not not everyone is as innocent as they may seem, and loyalties shift. Is everything an innocent tragedy, or will a killer strike again?

THOUGHTS: Told in alternating chapters from earlier in the summer, the party, and the aftermath, multiple narrators will keep readers’ interest as they try to piece this thriller together. Highly recommended for high school libraries.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Thriller

YA – On the Subject of Unmentionable Things

Walton, Julia. On the Subject of Unmentionable Things. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-31057-1. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Phoebe knows what her peers need, and her unique – yet secret – research hobby is just the thing to help them. Though not in a serious relationship herself, Phoebe is somewhat of an expert when it comes to sex education, and she started The Circle in the Square, a blog where she posts information written for teens anonymously as Pom. Even her best friend Cora doesn’t know she’s Pom which is convenient when Cora asks for Phoebe’s advice regarding taking things to the next level with her boyfriend. A writer/researcher at heart, Phoebe does more research to find answers to questions she’s asked, and she presents her information in an honest, non-judgmental manner. When one of her blog posts goes viral and catches the attention of mayoral candidate Lydia Brookhurst, a conservative local politician, Phoebe fears her identity will be revealed. After all, Brookhurst’s mission is to shut down the blog and out the person causing an “assault on morality.” Gathering supporters from conservative parents and local business supporters, Brookhurst is determined to use her resources to uncover Pom’s identity. As Phoebe tries to maintain her two identities, readers will root for their side (Brookhurst or Phoebe) while learning factual details related to sex education.

THOUGHTS: With likeable Pom/Phoebe as her voice in this sex-positive read, Walton provides readers with plenty of useful information related to sex education. Loosely connected to the recent information challenge climate, this title is recommended for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

MG – The Road to After

Lowell, Rebekah. The Road to After. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022. 978-0-593-10961-8. 180 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

This middle grade novel is a powerful story of a young mother and her two daughters who have been kept hostages in their own home unaware of the reality outside their walls. Their father has monitored their activities, interests, and movements their entire lives so that the girls know nothing else. Their mother gains the courage to leave the home and everything behind to start a better life for the three of them. The oldest daughter, Lacey, discovers her love for nature, animals, and freedom. The story is about hope and survival.

THOUGHTS: This debut novel is beautifully written. It flows so smoothly that students will keep reading to find out what happens to Lacey and her sister. It is written appropriately for a middle grade audience and is filled with hope.

Realistic Fiction  Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse

Elem. – Hiking to the Top:  What’s Happening on the Mountain

Varnai, Elizabeth S. Illustrated by Kate Hartley. Hiking to the Top: What’s Happening on the Mountain. Vista Court Books, 2022. 978-0-962-84224-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PK-3.

Young readers explore and discover with a mother and son as they hike to the top of Lookout Mountain in Hiking to the Top: What’s Happening on the Mountain? by the author of Good Morning, Loon. Hiking challenges, such as climbing rocks and balancing on fallen trees, and common animal discoveries such as water striders and fawns are detailed in the text and illustrations. Camouflaged animals also are highlighted on many pages with names and thought bubbles. Throughout, the author and illustrator depict a sense of joy and discovery in being outdoors and spending time together while also sharing basic hiking information and nature facts. Back matter expands on the text for older readers, including information on hiking safety as well as natural history information on each of the animals in the book and additional sources of information.  

THOUGHTS: This book will appeal to both animal lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike and provides a strong introduction to outdoor adventures for classrooms embarking or expanding on an outdoor or nature center field trip. Kate Hartley’s realistic watercolor illustrations immerse readers in the book’s setting and entice readers to step beyond the page into their own adventure. In addition, the detailed back matter provides a launch point for research. A strong option for populations with access to outdoor adventure.  

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

YA – Pretty Dead Queens

Donne, Alexa. Pretty Dead Queens. Crown, 2022. 978-0-593-47982-7. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Moving to a new town to live with her estranged grandmother is not the senior year Cecelia Ellis had in mind. Her mother’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing have forced Cecelia on a new path, but her plan is to graduate and get out of town just like her mom did. In the meantime, she’s living at the top of creepy Victorian mansion with Maura Weston, her famous mystery writing grandmother. Though a small California coastal town, Seaview was put on the map years ago with Maura’s first book, a fictionalized version about the of death of one of Maura’s classmates. Later turned into a movie which was filmed in Seaview, the town now has its own unique traditions, like a murder tour given by two of Cecelia’s classmates and Weston-Con, a weekend retreat for fans of Maura’s thriller books. When one of Cecelia’s classmates is found dead under eerily similar circumstances to one of Maura’s books, Cecelia distracts herself from her grief by trying to solve the murder and determine if a copycat killer is loose in Seaview – or if someone was wrongly convicted years ago. As Cecelia learns about the history of Seaview and about animosity among her new friends, she’s convinced there’s more to the story. Will Cecelia make a connection before the police solve the case, or will she be the killer’s next victim?

THOUGHTS: Knowing all that Cecelia has overcome, readers will root for her to uncover the truth behind two crimes that are decades apart. Fans of fast-paced mystery/thrillers (like Donne’s The Ivies and Henry’s Two Truths and a Lie) will enjoy this whodunit.  

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD