YA – A Million Quiet Revolutions

Gow, Robin. A Million Quiet Revolutions. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2022. 978-0-374-38841-6. 319 p. $18.99. Grades 11+.

A Million Quiet Revolutions is a novel in verse told from the perspectives of two young trans men, Aaron and Oliver, as they explore themselves, each other, and their relationship. In the first third of the book, Aaron moves away, and this causes a shift in their relationship as well as in Aaron’s life. The reader is not told explicitly; however, it is implied that the family moved due to a scandal involving Aaron’s older brother and the priest at the local church. Oliver has a fascination with history, and he decides that when Aaron moves away they should write letters to each other like soldiers did during the Revolutionary War. The novel in verse follows the two characters as they write letters and decide to meet up at a Revolutionary War reenactment and what that means for their relationship with each other, as well as their families. 

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful, hard hitting novel in verse that will move anyone who reads it. There are so many beautiful moments between these two characters, and there is so much growth with these them as well. Also, the plot of this book is Kutztown, PA which is fun to see local attractions mentioned throughout the story. This is a must have for any high school.

Realistic Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – A Grandma’s Magic

Offsay, Charlotte. A Grandma’s Magic. Illustrated by Asa Gilland. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-37600-3. $17.99. Unpaged. Grades K-3.

This large picture book opens with the tender lines, “When a child is born. . .a grandma is born, too.” Bathed in shades of pinks, teals, and apricots, A Grandma’s Magic shows a diverse array of grandmothers and their grandbabies doing what stereotypical grandmas do: baking, gardening, playing, hugging, comforting in both urban and rural settings. Popping in vivid colors from the white background are intergenerational pairs engaging in activities that teach and enchant. With simple strokes, illustrator Asa Gilland conveys the characters’ surprise, delight, sadness, and warmth. These poignant drawings convince the reader of author Charlotte Offsay’s words that grandmothers do indeed conjure magical times that linger long after their visits are over. The book is ideal for a reading aloud on Grandparents’ Day or as a story starter to describe one’s grandmother. However, the story only reflects the families where grandmothers are living independently and can come to visit. Other situations where grandmothers are raising their grandchildren or where grandmothers live with the family are not considered. If reading or shelf-talking this pretty book, know your audience.

THOUGHTS: This feel-good book is so delightful to look at and emanates a real warmth in pictures and words. It lends itself to intergenerational units (perhaps coupled with Mem Fox’s Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge, if you can get your hands on it–it is not out of print), and character description–maybe even people poems. Grandmothers of all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities show up in this book, but the author still focuses on the healthy grandmother whom the child will visit or be visited by. In some communities, that vision of a grandmother may not be the one the young child actually has. A book early with diversity on a similar theme is the late, great Vera B. Williams’s More, More, More Said the Baby.( I guess I am dating myself with the mention of two old –and perhaps better-books.)

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – The Greatest Thing

Searle, Sarah Winifred. The Greatest Thing. First Second, 2022. 978-1-250-29722-8. 352 p. $25.99. Grades 7-10.

Winifred begins her sophomore year of high school feeling very alone after her two best friends transfer to a private school. She reconnects with an old friend, Mathilda “Tilly” Martel, and makes fast friends with April and Oscar, two students whose photography class overlaps with Win’s independent study period. The trio bonds over music, pop culture, and especially creating a limited edition zine together. Despite these positives, Win wrestles with deep anxiety, self-esteem and body image issues, and disordered eating. For example, she’s lactose intolerant but indulges in ice cream to punish herself for enjoying food. She also struggles with an emerging crush on Tilly … or maybe Oscar? … and wonders if “a relationship would fill the hole that ache[s] in my chest all the time.” When Win’s self-loathing spirals into self-harm, her guidance counselor steps in and recommends professional help. This thoughtful, sensitive graphic novel features softly shaded artwork (created in Clip Studio Paint) that complements Win’s moods and emotions. In particular, the red-tinted darkroom provides a safe space for Win, April, and Oscar to reveal their vulnerabilities.

THOUGHTS: There is so much to savor in The Greatest Thing. Readers will embrace Win’s exploration of her identity, her relationships, and her artwork. Potentially triggering content is handled with great care, and Sarah Winifred Searle includes a list of resources at the close of the book.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Rivals

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!

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Tahira in Bloom

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.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

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
Mystery

YA – Last Night at the Telegraph Club

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

Elem. – My Words Flew Away Like Birds

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

Elem./MG – Across the Pond

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

YA – Blue

Delano, L.E. Blue. Gaze Publishing, 2021. 978-1-736-47310-8. 258 p. $9.99. Grades 9-12.

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