Elem. – Perfect Pigeons

Battersby, Katherine. Perfect Pigeons. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-45781-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Look up! A flock of brightly colored pigeons is in the sky! According to members of the flock, they are perfect pigeons, because they are all “perfectly the same.” While the pigeons might certainly all look the same, it is quickly apparent to readers that one pigeon is different from the rest. He sports round red glasses and doesn’t like to participate in the same activities as the rest of the flock. For example, when the flock sleeps on a lamppost, he sleeps in a hammock. While the flock eats birdseed, he can be found enjoying popcorn. The flock soon grows frustrated with their fellow pigeon, challenging his go against the grain attitude and habits. But rather than give into peer pressure, the pigeon encourages the flock to pursue their own individual interests and hobbies (which they do). By the end of the story, the flock still feels that they are perfect pigeons, but they now feel that way because they are “are all perfectly unique!”

THOUGHTS: This charming story celebrates the importance of valuing the uniqueness of others. Readers will enjoy the humorous illustrations featuring large, colorful pigeons created in pencil, watercolor and digital media by author-illustrator Katherine Battersby. A worthwhile addition to libraries serving primary age readers.

Picture Book                Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

YA – All the Tides of Fate

Grace, Adalyn. All the Tides of Fate. Imprint, 2021. 978-1-250-30781-1. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

All the Tides of Fate starts right after the events of the previous book, All the Stars and Teeth with Amora’s magic gone and her kingdom in shambles. Amora decides to embark on a journey to find her magic with the help of the same cast of characters from the first book.  Amora’s character development really takes off in this book, and in her quest to get her magic back, she begins to come into her own. The friendships and relationships are more developed in this book, and the author really continues to make you feel as though you are on the ship with the characters. The tension from the first book which was built, is continued in this book with a well planned ending.

THOUGHTS: Overall, this was a solid conclusion to a fantasy duology that was well written and well developed from the first book to the conclusion.

Fantasy            Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Majesty

McGee, Katharine. Majesty (American Royals Book 2). Random House, 2020. 978-1-984-83021-0. 374 p. Grades 9 and up.

Following the death of her father, King George IV, Beatrice is now Queen of America, but not everyone is happy about this; she is young, female, and unmarried. As Beatrice tries to establish herself as Queen, her impending wedding and the Lord Chamberlain, Robert Standish, stand in her way. Forced to focus on her wedding instead of ruling the nation, Beatrice begins to connect with Teddy and build a loving relationship with him, but when Connor, her past love, returns, Beatrice is forced to make a choice: her love for Connor or her love for an America not quite ready for a Queen?

Meanwhile, Samantha is still reeling over the loss of Teddy and his impending marriage to Beatrice. As the new heir apparent, Samantha must change her ways and become more regal and less wild, but how?

Daphne is still determined to win Jefferson back and become a princess. Through schemes and treachery, Daphne convinces Jefferson’s best friend, Ethan, to pursue a relationship with Nina, Samantha’s best friend and Jefferson’s ex-girlfriend. As Daphne’s dreams seem to be within her grasp, a past secret returns and threatens everything. Daphne will do anything to become royal even if that includes destroying everything and everyone in her way.

THOUGHTS: Majesty is the perfect follow-up to American Royals. Picking up right where the first book ended, McGee continues developing the world of the American Royal Family; a world of love, pain, back-stabbers, cruelty, and never ending possibilities (or perhaps all-ending). In this newest title, McGee focuses on the fear of a female leader and the sexism and misogyny faced by women in powerful positions. Readers will be furious with Beatrice (and enraged at times with the actions of others toward her) and then cheer her on as she figures out who to trust and who to leave behind.  Although a romance, Majesty presents readers with questions about gender equality, racism, loyalty, trust, friendship, family allegiance, and where each of us stands in our own story.

Romance        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Charming as a Verb

Philippe, Ben. Charming as a Verb. Balzar + Bray, 2020. 978-0-062-82414-1. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Ben Philippe has yet to write something that I don’t fall in love with almost immediately. Henri Haltiwanger in Charming as a Verb is no exception to the rule. Henri attends a prestigious private school in New York City, on scholarship, and is surrounded by classmates who have more money and connections than he does. Henri’s positive attitude, charm, and hustle drive him to be a star debater, friendly with just about all the students, and manages and works his own dog walking empire. When it’s time to apply for colleges, his dream school, Columbia, seems just out of reach, despite being blocks away. Along the way Henri makes a friendship he didn’t think he would, and a decision or two that seem out of character, but Philippe maintains a realistic pulse on teenage life.

THOUGHTS: High school libraries looking to enhance their realistic collection with a story told through the lens of someone who fits in from an observer’s perspective but really doesn’t feel a sense of belonging should add this book to their collection. A relatively light read with a happy ending can go a long way after a year like 2020.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

MG – Random Acts of Kittens

Mendez, Yamile Said. Random Acts of Kittens. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-57492-0. 258 p. $6.99. Grades 4-6. 

Natalia finds a young cat who has just given birth to kittens in her family’s storage shed. She knows she can’t leave the cats in the freezing cold storage shed, so she brings them in the house when her abuela, mother, and sister are out. After getting them checked out by a vet, Natalia convinces her mom to let her foster the cats until the kittens are old enough to adopt. Natalia has been struggling with several issues in her life–her father has been deployed overseas, she’s gotten into some trouble at school and she’s had a falling out with one of her best friends. Maybe working with the kittens will be the positive and purposeful experience she needs at this moment in her life. Working with her friend Reuben, she sets up a social media account for the kittens in the hopes that some of her classmates will apply to adopt a kitten and give them a fur-ever home. Natalia soon discovers, however, that serving as a kitten matchmaker is a little more complicated than she first thought.

THOUGHTS: Hand this title to middle grade fans of animal stories. Readers will appreciate the details about fostering and caring for young kittens. Natalia’s experiences with friend and school drama will also ring true with many readers.

Realistic Fiction           Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

YA – Late to the Party

Quindlen, Kelly. Late to the Party. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-250-20913-9. 297 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Codi is comfortable in her bubble, content to do her own thing with the same friends she’s had since elementary school, Maritza and JaKory. That is until her little brother almost has his first kiss before she does. Realizing that she is already seventeen and about to enter her senior year of high school, Codi fears her chance to be a ‘normal’ teenager is slipping away. Hesitant at first, she begins to break out of her comfort zone little by little, meeting new friends, going new places, and even experiencing her first party. All the while tensions with Maritza and JaKory continue to rise. Can Codi be the friend she once was while still discovering new things? Can she be two people, the quiet artistic girl and the social teenager, at once? Will there be room enough in her life for life?

THOUGHTS: Late to the Party is a satisfying exploration of what it means for interests and relationships to grow as you get older, a reflection of an utterly relatable internal conflict.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

Cori’s summer before her senior year of high school starts just like every other summer for the last several years – a trip to the community pool with her two best friends, Maritza and JaKory, followed by movies in her basement. Cori wonders what it must be like to be one of those normal “wild teenagers” and if she and her socially awkward friends will ever actually act like teenagers before they graduate. She and JaKory haven’t even had their first kiss yet, and not being straight makes navigating dating even more tricky for this trio. When they pick up Cori’s younger brother from what looks like a date at the movie theater, the thought of him getting his first kiss before any of them is too pathetic to handle. To remedy this, Maritza and JaKory decide they should crash a party in their neighborhood. Cori, true to her predictably boring norm, decides not to join them. But when Maritza and JaKory get drunk and text her for a ride home, Cori begrudgingly shows up to rescue them. Little does she know, this sets a summer’s worth of events into action. Walking up to the house, Cori catches Ricky – host of the party and “normal” popular jock teenager – kissing a boy behind some bushes. Cori’s promise to Ricky not to tell anyone forges an unlikely friendship that introduces her to a whole new group of friends, “normal” teenager activities, and maybe, hopefully, her first kiss. Cori finally feels like a “normal” teenager… and Maritza and JaKory have no idea it’s happening because Cori never tells them.

THOUGHTS: This book has it all: family, friendship, and romance. Readers who identify with Cori’s shyness and insecurities will appreciate her honest, revealing, and authentic voice as she grapples with many internal struggles faced by both gay and straight teens. Speaking of authenticity, it would be difficult to explore typical “wild teenager” behavior without instances of alcohol and marijuana use. While this does occur in Late to the Party, the characters are not typically reckless about it. Cori is not out to her parents, but this is not a coming out story. It’s a story of emotional growing pains and self-discovery, but in a very non-cliche way. This is a must-have for the YA readers looking for LGBTQ+ books.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – How to Speak Boy

Smith, Tiana. How to Speak Boy. Feiwel and Friends, 2020. 978-1-250-24221-1. $17.99. 245 p. Grades 7-12.

Quinn Edwards and Grayson Hawks have been rivals on their speech and debate team for years. As seniors, they have been chosen as co-captains, and have no choice but to spend time with each other. While Quinn tries to juggle debate practices and schoolwork, one of her AP Government assignments gets mixed up with another student. Her ID number is 15511, but she received 15211’s paper. When she returns the assignment to the cubby of 15211, explaining the mix up in a note, she receives her assignment back, along with a message, beginning a series of notes exchanged between Quinn and this mystery student. Meanwhile, her relationship with Grayson remains a mystery also. One moment, they’re arguing, and the next, he asks to take her to the formal. As Quinn tries to puzzle out her relationships, she begins to wonder about 15211’s identity. Could it be Grayson? Does she want it to be? Or, could it be Carter, one of her best friends? Quinn feels like she can talk to 15211 about anything, but when he asks to meet in person, she panics. If he finds out who she is, will it ruin the relationship and trust they’ve built through their letter writing, and will it ruin any chance of being in a relationship with Grayson?

THOUGHTS: If you read the summary of this book on the inside of the dust jacket, you know that Quinn is actually writing to Grayson. It’s one of those books where, as the reader, you know more than the characters in the story. Throughout the story, Quinn’s friends try to give her advice about her relationship with Grayson and 15211. Quinn learns that sometimes the people who you are closest with might not always have your best interests at heart, and others turn out to be completely different if you just take the chance to get to know them. I think readers will also connect with the theme of anonymity, especially in today’s world. Although Quinn and Grayson hide behind letters, only signing their communications with their ID numbers, many young people today hide behind social media accounts where they may not share their identity yet connect with people that have the same interests as themselves. This is a sweet, romantic novel perfect for any reader looking for a love story.

Romance          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Bookish and the Beast

Poston, Ashley. Bookish and the Beast. Quirk, 2020. 978-6-836-9193-8. 283 p. $18.99. Grades 6-10. 

Poston continues her delightful, fairy tale based Once Upon a Con series with a reworking of Beauty and the Beast to which Belle would give her stamp of approval. In the “no good deed goes unpunished” category, high school senior Rosie Thorne attempts to return a run-away dog with disastrous results. Following the dog into an apparently vacant house, she discovers a swoon–worthy library, filled with the books of the Starfield space saga universe, the very books her recently deceased mother read to her growing up. When Rosie is startled by another individual in the house she attempts to flee, accidentally dropping a rare first-edition in the pool. Sopping wet, Rosie learns the house is currently occupied by Starfield bad-boy actor Vance Reigns, serving a parental imposed timeout from his celebrity antics. She is now on the hook to organize the library, with the assistance of the self-absorbed star, to work off her debt. As if Vance Reigns would deign to dirty his hands working with books. But as any bibliophile knows, books have a magic all their own, and surely some magic will happen between the book-loving beauty with the mousy brown hair and the gorgeous guy hiding behind a beastly bad-boy persona. The book is populated with an appealing supporting cast of diverse characters, including Rosie’s bisexual librarian father and a gender-fluid best friend, and in a sop to series fans, Poston offers a few brief appearances by characters from the previous two novels. The Gaston plotline does double duty emphasizing that in the relationship world No should always mean No. While the plot is grounded in the Starfield Excelsi-Con world of the previous two books, the Con plays only a minor role this time, which should open the book to a wider romance audience.

THOUGHTS:  A thoroughly delightfully romp through Beauty and the Beast. Rosie is independent, feisty, and sweet, and while she deserves her happily-ever-after, she would have been OK without it. A solid purchase for collections where romance and fairy tale rewrites are popular, as well as an addition to LGBTQ+ collections.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – What I Like About You

Kanter, Marisa. What I Like About You. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-44577-2. $18.99. 409 p. Grades 7-12.

Halle Levitt and her brother Ollie have just moved in with their grandpa. She will spend her senior year in a new small town and new school while her parents jet off to another country to film their newest documentary. Halle struggles, along with her Gramps, to be in the house without her Grams who passed away just a few years ago. It was her Grams that inspired her love of reading and baking, and when Halle isn’t studying for her SATs or applying for college at NYU, she connects with her online best friend, Nash, and updates her online blog called One True Pastry. Online, Halle is known as Kels, and she’s famous for her YA book reviews and her cupcake book cover creations. When Halle meets Nash in real life and discovers he lives in the same town as her Gramps, she decides not to tell him that she’s also his online best friend, Kels. Halle and Nash grow closer, but Halle needs to find the courage to tell him who she really is and hopes that he’ll like real-life, awkward Halle as much as he likes online, confident Kels.

THOUGHTS: What I Like About You reminds me of a YA version of the movie You’ve Got Mail. Halle’s decision to keep her Kels identity from Nash is frustrating, especially when he feels guilty about liking Halle while also keeping his crush on Kels. This book not only focuses on romantic relationships, but on family relationships as well. I love how close Halle is to her brother Ollie, and together they help their Gramps overcome the loss of their beloved Grams, and although Halle and Ollie are Jewish, their busy parents never had much time for their family to be a part of a Jewish community, like they can be with Gramps. Anyone that loves books will connect with Halle, Nash, and their online friends, and after finishing this sweet, romantic story, you might be inspired to whip a batch of cupcakes for yourself. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Turtle Under Ice

Del Rosario, Juleah. Turtle Under Ice. Simon Pulse, 2020. 259 p. $18.99 978-15344-4295-5 Grades 9-12.

Teenage sisters Rowena and Ariana have drifted apart since the unexpected death of their mother several years ago. Rowena has thrown herself into soccer, becoming a respected top athlete on her team. Fearing change, Ariana has retreated into…nothing, and risks failing school. The sisters’ closeness has become a barrier as they both fear moving on, and as they both communicate less, and less honestly. Their father has remarried a woman they also love, and the family is incredibly hopeful about the arrival of their new half-sister. However, Maribel suffers a miscarriage, and the loss is too cruel for the sisters. “Our sister’s heart stopped beating/like our mother’s, unexpectedly/on a day that was otherwise/normal” (53).  Ariana vanishes, which leaves Rowena feeling angry and abandoned. This novel in verse is narrated by both sisters as they try to come to terms with this new grief, in addition to the unending grief of losing their mother. Slowly, both sisters discover that their grief has led them to close themselves off to others. Rowena tracks down Ariana at an art exhibit, where Ariana shows a painting “Turtle Under Ice” in memory of their mother. The relief comes very slowly as both girls see hope in Ariana’s art.

THOUGHTS: Del Rosario has a way with creating beautiful images with her words: “Our family…/is a frayed string of lights/that someone needs to fix/with electrical tape./It’s the electricity/that can’t get to us/because Mom’s bulb/has burned out,/so now the whole string is dark./But without the lights turned on/does anyone even notice/that we are broken?” (43-44). Ultimately, the insightful thoughts aren’t enough to save this novel from the monotonous weight of the crushing grief and depression, and the cover does little to draw in all but the most curious of readers. Recommended where novels in verse or multiple narrators are in heavy demand.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Novel in Verse