McGee, Katharine. Rivals. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2022. 400 p. 978-0-593-42970-9. Grades 9-12. $19.99.
Returning from what would have been their honeymoon (had they gotten married), Beatrice and Teddy are back after spending a few blissful weeks in the Caribbean. Teddy hopes to define his role as king consort to give the unprecedented position meaning and purpose. Beatrice has a lot of work to do to prepare for the League of Kings conference. For the first time, Beatrice is hosting the conference as Queen of America, and she plans to bring her father’s climate accord to vote, despite the uphill battle she’ll face as a powerful woman. Princess Samantha went on the Royal tour at Beatrice’s request and convinced her best friend Nina to go along. In love for the first time, Sam is figuring out who she is and how to be the heir her family needs. And with the League of Kings taking place in Orange, Sam is looking forward to spending some time with Marshall. Meanwhile, Jeff filled as Regent (with Daphne by his side) in at the capital during his sisters’ absence. As the royals settle into their roles, friendships and old rivals are put to the test. No matter where the Washington family goes, drama seems to follow. Spoiler alert, the League of Kings conference will be no different.
THOUGHTS: Tackling some tough topics like gender roles, privilege, and racism, the characters take on more dimension in this title than the past two, and readers will find themselves rooting for each rival as they get to know them. They also desperately will hope for another title in this series!
Heron, Faith. Tahira in Bloom. Skyscape, 2021. 9781542030373. 336 p. $16.99. Gr. 9-12.
A fresh YA novel that includes a ton of representation, friendship, romance, determination, and a whole lot of coming of age. Tahira is Toronto. Her dedication to her blooming (pun intended) fashion career is only second to her parents’ desire to see her succeed and get into FIT in New York City. After a fluke accident, her summer internship is canceled and she opts to work at her Aunt’s shop a few hours outside of Toronto in smalltown Canada for the summer. The town, Bakewell, is obsessed with flowers, which is definitely not Tahira’s aesthetic–but is it the next trend? Filled with current teen slang, Instagram posts, awkward relationships, broken friendships, and a lot of growth (another pun intended) all summer, Tahira comes to realize what matters most isn’t the branding and networking opportunities, but the art behind her passion–or the passion behind her art.
THOUGHTS: A great addition to all high school shelves! Indian-Canadian, POC, and LGBTQ+ representation is seamlessly woven into this coming of age story that has authentic and realistic experiences captured in an age appropriate manner.
Benedict, Marie. The Mystery of Mrs. Christie. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-4926-82721. 272 pp. $26.99. Grades 9 and up.
In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days. She left her husband, Archibald Christie, a letter detailing what he must do during her disappearance in order to get what he wants. If he does not follow her instructions precisely, he will lose everything. As Archibald tries to play his part as written, he becomes more overwhelmed with rage towards Agatha and the officers managing the search for her. But, he was not always like this. Told through alternating chapters, the development of and relationship between Archibald and Agatha grows from passionate and spontaneous to rigid, frustrating, and cruel. Agatha does not know how to care for her changed husband, yet she continues to put him before all else including their daughter. Through her work, Agatha finds escape and the ability to use her creativity to craft unsolvable mysteries and her own disappearance.
THOUGHTS: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie is an adult novel with great YA crossover appeal. Any reader who loves Agatha Christie (still the best selling author outside of Shakespeare) and a true detective mystery will enjoy this historical fiction text. It is also a wonderful text for introducing further research about the period, Christie’s actual disappearance, or further author studies.
Historical Fiction Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD
Lo, Malinda. Last Night at the Telegraph Club. Dutton Books, 2021. 978-0-525-55525-4. 409 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.
Lily Hu has always been the ideal Chinese-American girl: She does well in school, she has nice Chinese-American friends, and she never disobeys her parents. She never stands out except that she wants a career in space – not appropriate for a young lady in the 1950s. And lately, there is something else stirring inside her that Lily can’t quite put her finger on, but she knows it will not please her parents. At school, Lily starts hanging out with Kath, a fellow aviation enthusiast. After seeing an enticing ad in the newspaper, Lily desperately wants to go to the Telegraph Club, a nightclub in San Francisco that features a singer by the name of Tommy Andrews. Tommy is a female performer who impersonates a man on stage, and while Lily doesn’t quite understand what this means, she is intrigued. Kath has visited the nightclub before, so she and Lily sneak out to watch Tommy perform at the Telegraph. After a few late night visits, her relationship with Kath grows much deeper. Lily realizes what was stirring in her all along: She is a lesbian, and she loves Kath. Lily does not want to hide who she is, but she must figure out how her new, true identity coincides with the identity her parents have wanted for her since birth.
THOUGHTS: Malinda Lo’s novel has many intricate layers to it. In the 1950s, many Chinese-Americans were forced to denounce Communism or risk deportation. At the same time, many young ladies were trying to figure out if there was more to life after high school than marriage and children. These events are happening in the background of Lily’s story along with the discovery of her LGBTQ identity, a taboo topic in the 50s. The events in this novel circle around the stigma of bucking against conventional society, and this still rings true even 70 years later. A must-have for high school libraries.
Historical Fiction Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Pearson, Debora. My Words Flew Away Like Birds. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30318-0. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.
My Words Flew Away Like Birds follows the unnamed main character as she and her family move from one country to another. She talks about how she knew certain things when she lived in her home and now, going to a new place, she has some new words to learn. She talks about how those new words felt weird to her, and the reader follows her journey as she learns to adjust to living in a new place. The illustrations are beautiful light colors with the dark colors of the characters and buildings make a very interesting illustration to the reader as they are going through the book.
THOUGHTS: This was a very enjoyable book to read, and many readers will empathize with the main character and her journey of moving to a new place.
Picture Book Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
McCullough, Joy. Across the Pond. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-5344-7121-4. 276 p. Grades 4-6. $17.99.
Twelve year old Calliope is excited to move from sunny San Diego to not so sunny Scotland. Her parents inherited a castle from Lady Whittington-Spence, who knew her parents as students. Callie sees this move as an opportunity to have a fresh start, after dealing with friend issues back home. Sid, a girl her age living on the estate with her grandfather, the caretaker, does not seem interested in becoming friends. Callie’s parents insist that she join a club where she can socialize with others her age. So Callie joins a birdwatching (“twitching”) club, but is kicked out when she disagrees with the adult leader. Sid and Callie become tentative friends and go bird watching together. During a twitching competition on the estate, alarming events help both girls realize how to be a true friend while staying true to themselves. The author uses flashback to tell the parallel story of Lady Whittington-Spence as a young war evacuee. Her letters disclose the same feelings of loneliness and interest in birdwatching as Callie. Another flashback toward the end reveals the peer pressure incident in San Diego that shattered Callie’s self-esteem. The unique setting, based on McCullough’s own experience, takes this narrative of young adolescent struggles to a different level. As the book comes to an end, the author has one more surprise to share.
THOUGHTS: Although the story gets off to a slow start, readers who stick with it will be rewarded. Preteen and young teenagers will be able to relate to the issues of facing peer pressure and developing friendships. An excellent choice for elementary and middle school collections.
Realistic Fiction Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
Blue Mancini is rather confident that her name has doomed her to a life of sadness. Just one year ago, her brother Jack was driving drunk and was in a car accident resulting in a fatality. Because Blue and Jack have rich parents with expensive lawyers, he avoids a manslaughter charge and instead is in a detention center for only a few months. Blue might be able to live with that fact… except that Maya is returning to school. A classmate in the same grade, Maya had been out of school for a while as her family adjusted to the death of her father, the man Jack killed the night he was driving drunk. Although Blue is not directly responsible for what happened to Maya’s dad, Maya seems to think she is also to blame. This becomes apparent when Maya picks fights with her in the classes they have together. With Maya taunting her in class and on social media, her mother’s constant nagging to visit Jack in the detention center, and the fact that her boyfriend is hiding a major secret from her, Blue succumbs to feeling sorry for herself, but she isn’t great at keeping it all inside. After one particularly physical fight between Maya and Blue, the principal and counselor decide they must attend after-school sessions and create a club together. As they meet, both of them have to work through their issues to find common ground.
THOUGHTS:Blue highlights the importance of what happens when one bad decision alters the course of a life. High school readers will relate to the mental health struggles Blue goes through. This book is an easy read and ends on a light note with a positive message despite the difficult events.
Realistic Fiction Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Yolen, Jane and Mark Teague. How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodbye? Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-36335-7. 40 p. $17.99. PreK-2.
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodbye is the latest book in the How Do Dinosaurs companion series, and it has all the laughter and lessons of the other books in the series. This one shows how dinosaurs react to either their loved ones leaving, or when they have to leave to go somewhere. It shows how the dinosaurs face their fears of goodbyes and are able to tell the adults in their life how they feel.
THOUGHTS: A great addition to the How Do Dinosaurs series. The illustrations are really well done throughout the book and give the reader a lot to look at while reading.
Picture Book Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Marcelo, Tif. The Holiday Switch. Underlined, 2021. 978-0-593-37955-4. 272 p. $9.99. Gr 9-12.
Sounds like it belongs on a Hallmark Channel countdown? It does. Just like the main character’s, Lila, holiday book blog Tinsel and Tropes, supports the existence of so many subgenres of holiday books, it’s still a rare occurrence to locate YA holiday focused novels, with Filipino American main and supporting characters nonetheless. While Lila navigates through her last year of high school in an almost perpetual Christmas town, there’s a constant air of gingerbread lattes and candy canes that make college decisions, secrets from parents, and romance seem sugar coated. Even in her most frustrated moments, she finds a cutesy-Christmasy way to convey her feelings (a la jumping jingle bells). Despite being a relatively light read, Marcelo is able to weave family, life decisions, and relationships into the plot that give the book enough weight to carry through the holiday season, like when Lila’s younger sister points out that “no one really knows what they’re doing, but I think you might know what the next step is.”
THOUGHTS: The Filipino American main character and various supporting characters who are also Filipino American make this #ownvoices novel an easy purchase for most high school libraries. Though there isn’t a ton of depth to the story, it’s a nice easy read that will broaden most reader’s experiences.
Romance Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD
Murphy, Julie. If the Shoe Fits. Disney-Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-368-05337-2. 304 p. $15.99. Grades 9-12.
In this charming and modern re-telling of Cinderella, Julie Murphy hits the mark again with a body positive novel that makes everyone feel included (shout out to correct nonbinary pronoun usage!). Filled to the brim with one-liners will make teens and adults alike laugh out loud (or a least grunt in appreciation), readers of all types will almost immediately feel like they are friends with Cindy, the orphaned-recent-fashion-school-grad-turned-reality-TV-star and a mutual hatred for the mean girl, Addison. In classic reality TV fashion, there are tons of side-eye glances and catty situations that mostly make the suitor, Henry, shine even brighter. The lens of fashion as art gives the book a broader reader audience as Crow mindfully says, “life feeds art and art feeds into life.”
THOUGHTS: An atypical family dynamic, with a widowed stepmom, step sisters and half-sibling triplets seems complicated, but seamlessly comes together, pun intended. If the Shoe Fits has a lot more depth than a typical love story, from fashion references to art and questions about fate, this novel can be added to the shelves of high school and public libraries with fans of Dumplin‘, reality TV, or fashion.
Romance Samantha Hull, Ephrata Senior High School