YA – Havenfall

Holland, Sara. Havenfall. Bloomsbury,  2020. 978-1-547-60379-4. $18.99. 305 p. Grades 7-12.

“To everyone who’s ever felt like they don’t have a place.” Maddie is an ordinary teenager who lives extraordinary summers at Havenfall, a Colorado inn that connects different realms: Earth (Haven), Bryn, Fiordenkill, and formerly, Solaria. The inn is run by her Uncle Marcus, and someday, Maddie hopes to take over as the innkeeper. Still traumatized by the unsolved death of her brother, which was blamed on her mother, Maddie is looking forward to her summer escape in Havenfall. However, after briefly reuniting with her uncle and beloved Fiordian soldier, Brekken, things start to go horribly wrong. Maddie awakens on her first morning to chaos: Marcus has been hurt, Brekken has disappeared, and someone has been murdered by a Solarian creature, although the door to that realm is supposed to be sealed. Suddenly, Maddie finds herself in the position she’s always wanted, but without the guidance of her uncle or best friend. On her own, Maddie must untangle the secrets and betrayals lurking around every corner and decide who she can really trust: a mysterious newcomer, or the powerful delegates of the realms she’s known for years?

THOUGHTS:  This was a refreshing, new fantasy read for me! Although it’s mainly described as a contemporary fantasy, it’s also a mystery which helps to draw the reader into the story. By the end of the novel, there are still many questions that have not been answered, which left me feeling like I needed to know more. Holland also gives her readers a glimpse into three fantastical worlds, and I’m hoping she expands upon these realms in her follow up novels to Havenfall. There is still so much of this magical story left to tell.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Love & Olives

Welch, Jenna Evans. Love & Olives. Simon Pulse, 2020. 978-1-534-44883-4. $18.99. 352 p. Grades 7-12. 

On the outside it appears that Liv has everything figured out, but inside she’s struggling with a few things. For one, her long time high school boyfriend Dax just graduated, and he wants Liv to follow him to Stanford. She hasn’t found the right way to tell him that her heart is set on RISD, and anyway she might not even get in (and still has one more year). When a beat-up postcard for Liv arrives days before Dax’s senior trip – which Liv is supposed to go on – Liv feels her perfect outside begin to crumble. Dax doesn’t know this side of Liv. At her mom’s insistence, Liv is headed to Santorini, Greece to spend some time with her father, whom Liv hasn’t seen since she was 8. Since she hasn’t heard from him in years, Liv has many conflicted emotions about seeing her father again. Why after all this time does he think they can have a relationship. But Liv’s father’s love of Atlantis was a connection the two of them shared during her childhood, and an exciting special project helps them begin to reconnect after all those years. His persistent assistant Theo is a great buffer between the awkward moments, and Theo helps Liv experience Santorini. His good looks are a great distraction too, and as they work together and become friends Liv begins to question some of the choices she’s made in her own life. The clock on her visit is ticking, though, and Liv isn’t sure she can count on her father. Is their relationship beyond repair, and can Liv move on beyond her childhood broken heart?

THOUGHTS: Set among a gorgeous backdrop with detailed descriptions of Santorini, readers will fall in love with Greece. Liv/Olive/Kalamata/Indiana Olive has a lot to learn about herself, and readers will be rooting for her from the beginning. With a strong cast of characters and a little bit of mystery and romance, this book will be a hit among middle and high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Midnight Sun

Meyer, Stephenie. Midnight Sun. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-316-70704-6. $27.99. 672 p. Grades 7-12.

Stephenie Meyer puts a twist on her bestselling novel, Twilight, by giving us Edward’s side of the story. Edward Cullen is a vampire living with his family in the rainy town of Forks, WA, trying to blend in with humans as much as he can. However, the arrival of the new girl, Isabella Swan, changes everything. Edward and his family do not hunt humans and exist instead on a diet of animal blood, but when Edward smells Bella, he has an overwhelming desire to kill her, fearing he will lose control for the first time in decades, causing his family to move to a new location yet again. When staying away from Forks doesn’t work, he returns to school and attempts to ignore her presence, but when Bella faces danger, he unintentionally becomes her protector. Against his better judgement, Edward decides to get to know this intriguing and closed off  human but struggles to control his conflicting feelings of falling in love and pushing her away to protect her from himself. With Edward’s immortal ability to read the minds of those around him, readers are able to examine the thoughts of the majority of the characters within the novel, opening up the world of Forks, WA, and the minds of the vampires that have chosen the town as their home.

THOUGHTS:  I love that Midnight Sun gave readers more information about Edward’s past, as well as the rest of the Cullens, and it was interesting to read about Edward’s struggles with Bella from his perspective. I don’t think readers realized just how dangerous he was to her by simply reading Twilight. Readers trust Bella’s perception that he would never really hurt her, but there were many close calls when reading each scenario and interaction from Edward’s side of things. The pomegranate on the front of the novel can be a great discussion topic since it  resembles a human heart, and the juicy pomegranate also looks as if it’s dripping blood. However, it also has a more symbolic presence throughout the story because Edward compares himself to Hades and Bella to Persephone. As she grows closer to him and accepts him for who he is, it’s as if she’s eating the seeds of the pomegranate, making it so much harder for her to go back to her world. Both old and new fans of Twilight will love this darker side of the story!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – Bike & Trike

Verdick, Elizabeth, and Brian Biggs. Bike & Trike. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-41517-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Switching to a “big kid bike” is a rite of passage for children, but what about the emotions that the vehicles go through?? Bike is new and shiny and ready to roll, while still having lots to learn. Trike is trusty and experienced, though a bit beat up and too small. When the two first meet in anthropomorphic fashion, they go through some initial reactions. Then a race challenge brings out further emotions, and eventually a Bike & Trike find mutual respect and come to a satisfying conclusion. Verdick and Biggs have hit on an emotional ride that will have reader’s ready to hop on and enjoy!

THOUGHTS: As a social emotional discussion book, there is plenty to unpack here. However, it is just as useful as an entertaining read for bike lovers. Perhaps my favorite extension would be a writing lesson to imagine what stories the rest of the things in any child’s garage (or basement or closet…) might tell if they could share and grow like Bike & Trike.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Elem. – Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z

Latham, Irene, and Charles Waters. Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z. Carolrhoda Books, 2020. 978-1-541-55775-8. 120 p. $19.99. Grades 2-6.

Words have power, and learning how to use, absorb, and value them is one of the most important skills of adolescence. Indeed, relating words like ACCEPTANCE, GRATITUDE, JUSTICE, and VULNERABLE could help classes and young readers make a better world. Irene and Charles, the poets behind the thoughtful Can I Touch Your Hair? poetry story about race and friendship, have compiled a gorgeous collection of words that are illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini. Each page features a poem to match the word, and a description of the form of poetry as well. Accompanying the poem are quotations from writers or famous personalities, then a personal message from the author that children can connect with, and finally an action step to take to demonstrate the valuable word. In all, there are 50 poems from A to Z, and they should be digested and discussed thoughtfully rather than quickly. Discussions of race and friendship and hope for a brighter future should make this book an essential tool for home and classrooms.

THOUGHTS: At a time when teachers and parents are seeking ways to share inclusive, diverse, and equitable literature that leads to discussion and action, we can’t do much better than this wonderful book! Consider this for a One Book, One School selection or for a small group of empowered advocates. Highly recommended for grade 2 – 6 (though potentially useful for younger and older grades as well).

811 Poetry          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – The Box Turtle

Roeder, Vanessa. The Box Turtle.  Dial Books, 2020. Unpaged. $17.99 978-07352-3050-7  Grades K-2.

When Terrance the turtle is born without a shell, his parents provide a shell and a name, “both of which fit just right.”  Terrance grows and finds his shell keeps him dry, safe, and able to share space with a friendly hermit crab. But one day, three turtles pronounce his shell “weird,” and Terrance begins a search for a substitute. He finds–and discards–a mailbox (it “showed to much cheek”), a hat box, a jack-in-the-box, a boom box, a lunch box, a flower box, a treasure chest, and a kitty litter box (which “stunk”). It is then that his unnamed crab friend offers his own shell, and Terrance realizes that the crab is “so much more than just a shell,” and a turtle is, too! He seeks out his original shell and after refurbishing it, walks proudly once more, this time easily dismissing the bully turtles’ “weird” claim.

THOUGHTS: This title works for social-emotional learning about the concepts of friendship and accepting oneself (and others) for who they are.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – It Sounded Better in My Head

Kenwood, Nina. It Sounded Better in My Head. Flatiron Books, 2020. 978-1-250-21926-8. 260 p. $18.99. Grade. 8-12.

Natalie had a good grip on her life until her parents jovially announce they’re getting a divorce. They’ve known this for months but waited until the Christmas holidays and high school graduation (which coincide in Australia, where the book was first published). A rarity for literature, Natalie has a great relationship with her parents and is devastated by the news and hurt by their deceit. She turns to her support network, her best friends Lucy and Zach. But since they started dating, Natalie sometimes feels like a third wheel. Having suffered through severe, scarring acne during puberty, Natalie has a shattered self image and has not dated. At a party, she connects with Alex, Zach’s older brother, but quickly convinces herself Alex’s interest was an act of kindness perpetrated by Zach. But an accidental case of musical bedrooms at a beach house over New Year’s brings Natalie and Alex back into close proximity, and as they talk they again feel a positive connection. However, Natalie’s lack of confidence and poor self image quickly threaten to sabotage the burgeoning relationship. This engaging book covers a topic not discussed in YA literature, the trauma of severe teen acne, and the scars it leaves, both physical and psychological. Natalie is a bright teen with caring parents and friends, but the long term effects of her acne are evident in her image, (styling her hair to cover which side of her face looks worse) confidence, and self-worth. American readers will need to translate Australian terms and references but will recognize themselves in the three friends as they shakily navigate through the next phase in their lives.

THOUGHTS: A welcome addition to YA realistic fiction collections. While some characters have sex off-page, Natalie and Alex discuss the issue and decide they are not ready.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Eighteen-year-old Natalie is looking forward to her well-planned future: she and her close friends and new couple, Zach and Lucy, will join her in their respective majors at a local Australian university. Perhaps then, Natalie will be able to shed some of the body shame she has from her years with inflammatory, scarring acne and finally experience a love life.

When Natalie’s seemingly loving parents announce their divorce on graduation night, Natalie relies even more on her friends, though she’s feeling more and more like a third wheel. As the trio await their uni placements, they join Zach’s family at their beach house in Queenscliff to vacation and celebrate New Year’s. What follows is a comedy of errors. Going against his house rules, Zach asks Natalie if she will trade rooms so he and Lucy can sleep together. Older brother, Alex, shows up at the beach house in the middle of the night and crashes in Zach’s room surprising both Natalie and himself. It doesn’t help that Natalie has a secret crush on handsome Alex since he gave her a peck on the cheek during a game of Spin the Bottle at a pre-graduation party. As their nights together multiply, romance blossoms. The revelation of the pair as boyfriend and girlfriend causes a ruckus not just in Alex’s and Zack’s family but also in Zach’s and Natalie’s relationship. Natalie’s first-person narrative reveals her insecurities in navigating the new terrain of sex and a boy/girl relationship. Though no graphic sex scenes occur, It Sounded Better In My Head does percolate the angst and delight of true friendship, first love, and new beginnings. Author Kenwood makes this story light and funny and her characters seem very real.

THOUGHTS: Natalie spends a lot of time obsessing over her bad skin and her lack of a love life. Natalie and Alex spend a lot of time talking and kissing in bed during the room switch and afterward. At this time when there are so many serious issues abound, Natalie’s common concerns about friendship, sex, appearance, university, and her parents may seem a bit trite; however, young readers may share Natalie’s insecurities and longings and enjoy her sense of humor.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Echo Mountain

Wolk, Lauren. Echo Mountain. Dutton Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-525-55556-8. 356 p. $17.99. Grades 6-8.

Like her award-winning novel, Wolf Hollow, Lauren Wolk repeats her lyrical style in the historical fiction work, Echo Mountain. Ellie, the twelve-year-old narrator, and her family have moved to a remote part of Maine when the Great Depression hits. With his able middle child at his side, Ellie’s father builds their cabin. Her mother, a music teacher, puts down her mandolin and picks up the ceaseless household chores that come from being poor and living off the land–tasks older sister Esther endures but detests. The little brother, Sam, is impetuous and lively; the mountain is the only home he remembers. When the novel opens, Ellie’s father has been in a coma for months. While clearing land, he is felled by a tree. The details of this accident form Ellie’s dilemma and burden. A thoughtful girl, Ellie keeps still and accepts the blame for her father’s injury while always searching for natural remedies that will jolt him from his oh too silent sleep. While on these scavenger hunts, Ellie is surprised by tiny carvings of animals where she walks and believes someone is leaving them for her. These tokens are more meaningful for Ellie because they make her feel noticed, something she needs since her father’s accident. Of necessity, she’s a loner on the edge of childhood, and the story that ensues brings her to the brink of young adulthood. One day, a matted-haired dog appears at the edge of Ellie’s property, and she follows it to the other side of the mountain where the more established folks live. There she discovers the cabin of Echo Mountain’s legendary “hag,” feverish in her bed, in a room with carving tools and jars of herbs and medicinal cures. With the guidance of the hag–who is a healer– and the help of Larkin, the woman’s grandson, Ellie shows extraordinary resourcefulness in doctoring the old woman and her own father. The situation weaves the threads of the story tightly together with the kind of coincidences that deliver a wondrous tale. This quiet story of resilience during difficult times tells of a family who, in Ellie’s words, “…went looking for a way to survive until the world tipped back to well.”

THOUGHTS: This book concentrates on personal issues, rather than global ideas. Sensitive middle school students who like to wrap themselves in multi-faceted characters will gravitate to Ellie. It also provides a study of the dynamics of relationships: how Ellie relates to her mother and sister; how the different neighbors either share or refrain from sharing; how rumor feeds the negative attitude of the mountain people toward the hag; how humans deal with guilt and remorse. Similar to books like The Line Tender by Kate Allen and The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bryant.

Historical Fiction (Great Depression, 1930’s)          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

YA – Opposite of Always; Rebel; The Girl in the White Van; I Am a Feminist; The Revolution of Birdie Randolph; Slay; Frankly in Love; Hack Your Cupboard; All Eyes on Us; The Grief Keeper

Reynolds, Justin A. Opposite of Always. Katherine Tegen, 2019. 978-0-062-74837-9. $17.99. 457 p. Grades 9 and up. 

Jack King has spent most of his life on the sidelines – figuratively and literally. He attends his high school’s sporting events but only to cheer on his best friend Franny from the stands. Jack also is on the figurative sideline in his friend group. Though he had a major crush on Jillian during freshman year, she started dating Franny before he could tell her how he felt. He has spent much of high school content with being their 3rd wheel, supporting them through their family struggles. During senior year on a visit to a nearby college the trio of friends is hoping to attend, Jack meets Kate on a dingy stairwell, and he feels as though he finally has a chance at getting off the sidelines. Jack feels that he is falling in love with Kate, and she seems to return his feelings, but she keeps secrets and fails to commit completely to a relationship. When Kate suddenly falls ill and dies, Jack inexplicably time travels back to the moment they met on the stairwell and relives it all again… and again… Armed with knowledge of Kate’s future and the future in general, can Jack change the course of events and save Kate’s life? Can he fix his friends’ problems, too? Opposite of Always tells a mostly realistic but also slightly fantastical story that explores the concepts of time, priorities, relationships of all kinds, and what really matters. 

THOUGHTS: Contemporary YA romance meets Groundhog’s Day probably best describes Opposite of Always. As a result, the plot – by nature – is a bit repetitive. However, Jack’s self-deprecating humor makes him an easy character to root for, so with each iteration of the plot, the more he tries, the more readers will want to see him succeed. Though the narration is often heavy in dialogue, that’s okay because the snappy banter between Jack/Kate or Jack/Jillian is delightfully laugh-out-loud funny. Any YA book with a relatable male narrator gets my recommendation, but add the fact that Jack and his friends are black, and that makes this an excellent addition to any collection, especially one where students demand books with diverse characters. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Lu, Marie. Rebel. Roaring Book Press, 2019. 978-1-250-22170-4. $18.99. 376 p. Grades 7 and up.

One decade ago Eden’s older brother Daniel – better know by the nickname Day – took the Republic of America by storm, rising above poverty to become the nation’s most notorious criminal and later the rebellion’s hero. Now settled into Ross City, Antarctica, Eden is a top university student, and Daniel works for AIS, the Antarctican Intelligence System. The leveling system of Antarctica ensures the boys are living comfortably on the Sky Floors – but what neither boy realizes is how unhappy they both are. Alternating narratives show Daniel as an overprotective, older brother and Eden as an independent, frustrated younger brother. While the boys live together, they’re beginning to drift apart, and both feel frustrated by their relationship. Tired of living in his brother’s shadow, Eden is ready to make a name for himself, even it if takes him into the dark and dangerous Undercity. With friend Pressa by his side, Eden is ready to test his skills in a big way – an illegal way – entering Undercity drone race. When Eden’s invention catches the eye of Daniel’s and AIS’s target, life becomes more dangerous. This of course is right around the same time June and the President of the Republic of America are scheduled to arrive in Ross City. What follows is a fast-paced story about brothers and what it means to look out for each other while becoming who you were born to be.

THOUGHTS: Fans of Marie Lu’s writing will rejoice with this new installment to the Legend series. Though Lu takes a new approach with narrators in this fourth book, there is still enough of June’s character to satisfy earlier readers. References to previous events (and Daniel’s struggle to remember them) make this most suited for readers of the series; however, new readers can follow along as a new cast of characters surround the main conflict. Highly recommended for secondary libraries, especially where dystopian or sci-fi books are popular.

Dystopian Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Henry, April. The Girl in the White Van. Henry Holt & Company, 2020. 978-1-250-15759-1. $17.99. 224 p. Grades 7-12.

About 7 months ago Savannah and her mom relocated to Portland to live with her mother’s newest boyfriend. Tim isn’t exactly what his online dating profile promised. Though Savannah is trying to make the best of life in Portland, she hasn’t really found her place except in the Kung Fu dojo. There she finds solace, and she’s working on building her strength and her confidence. With her mom working nights Savannah is forced to spend some time with Tim. Luckily, Kung Fu gets her out of the house for a bit most nights. When Tim threatens to take away Kung Fu, Savannah runs out of the house and loses herself in that night’s class. Daniel, a fellow student, notices that Savannah seems distracted. Afraid to get too close to anyone only to move away again (they’ve lived in many different towns and states throughout Savannah’s life), Savannah doesn’t let herself get too tied to Portland. Distracted on her walk home and trying to figure out how to apologize to Tim, Savannah doesn’t notice she’s not alone. All of her Kung Fu lessons can’t save her from Sir, who overpowers Savannah and kidnaps her. Savannah isn’t alone in the RV, though. She’ll need to rely on her determination and convince Jenny that life is still worth living if they have any hope of getting free.

THOUGHTS: With fast-paced, compelling stories and characters readers will root for, it is no wonder why April Henry’s books are popular in my high school library. The Girl in the White Van is no different and is a must have for secondary libraries where mysteries or other books by Henry are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Orca Issues. Orca Book Publishers, 2019. $21.41 ea. $64.23 set of 4. 175 p. Grades 9 and up.

Polak, Monique. I Am a Feminist: Claiming the F-Word in Turbulent Times. 978-1-459-81892-7.
Siebert, Melanie. Heads Up – Changing Minds on Mental Health. 978-1-459-81911-5. (2020)

Stevenson, Robin. My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights. 978-1-459-81712-8.
Tate, Nikki. Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die: The Complexities of Assisted Dying. 978-1-459-81889-7.

Polak’s narrative explores multiple aspects of feminism starting with a chapter on its history from the suffragists of the early 20th century up to the current movement including the Women’s Marches in 2017. The book covers feminism around the world, highlighting many issues girls and women on this continent do not typically have to deal with like lack of access to education and genital mutilation. It looks at feminism in the workplace, feminism as it relates to love and relationships, rape culture, body image, issues of diversity and sexuality, and more. Finally, Polak discusses the toxic masculinity that exists in our culture and offers suggestions for readers to support men in becoming feminists, too. The book contains colorful photos and illustrations on nearly every page. Sidebars highlight specific news stories, individuals making a difference, or unique products that support the movement like, for example, a nail polish that changes color when it comes in contact with a date rape drug. The book also contains a very thorough glossary and list of resources at the back. Though Polak is from Canada and many of her references and examples come from that country, she also cites people, studies, and stories from the United States, so readers from the US do not feel like the book is irrelevant.

THOUGHTS: This book is an excellent resource for students doing a research project on feminism or simply seeking personal awareness on the topic. A relatively quick read, it could be read cover-to-cover, but could also be easily searched for a single specific topic using the index. While the lexile suggests the writing is at a high 9th grade reading level, Polak’s style is simple and conversational enough that it is accessible for a wide range of readers. Polak points out on several occasions that equal treatment for all is the aim of feminism, whether a woman wants to subscribe to traditional gender roles or not. As her title suggests, her purpose is to have all readers proclaim that they are feminists and shed the word’s negative connotation it has gained in recent years.

305.42 Feminism          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Colbert, Brandy. The Revolution of Birdie Randolph. Little Brown, 2019. 978-0-316-44856-7. 336 p. $17.99 Grades 8 +. 

A sweet and empathetic coming of age story about a sixteen-year-old growing up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago. Dove Randoph, affectionately called Birdy by her family, has led a sheltered life kept away from trouble and temptation by her protective parents. The unexpected arrival of a new boyfriend and her long lost Aunt Carlene shows Birdie a different view of life away from the high expectations and straight lines drawn by her loving but controlling parents. These two new individuals in Birdie’s life both have checkered pasts. Carlene is in recovery, overcoming years of drug addiction and life on the streets and Booker has spent some time in juvenile detention, which definitely marks him as unsuitable in the eyes of Birdy’s parents. But both Carly and Booker expose Birdy to a new way of experiencing life, and this adds spark and adventure to her sedate existence. These new experiences and conversations open Birdy’s eyes and lead her down a path of her own choosing, rather than that of her parents’. This touching novel shows a teen figuring out how to live life on her own terms, walking the line between her loyalty to her family and following her own heart. Colbert expertly weaves together so many interesting and important themes, rebellion, family, addiction, rehabilitation. She gives an empathetic portrayal of the troubled Carlene and Booker and shows the potential for redemption every person may have inside of them.

THOUGHTS: With several of the author’s previous books on bestseller and awards lists, this novel is sure to be a teen favorite.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Morris, Brittney. Slay. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-44542-0. 321 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Kiera Johnson lives a double life. By day she is one of four African American students at Jefferson Academy. She excels academically and works hard to fit in, never wanting to be seen as an outlier. But by night, Kiera lives in a world she has created, one in which she can truly be herself, the world of SLAY. An underground game that requires a passcode to get in, SLAY caters to the black community all over the world. More than 500,000 gamers use SLAY as a sanctuary from the real world, and Kiera, along with her developer Cicada, gives them all a safe place to be themselves. Known only as Emerald within the game, Kiera keeps her double life a secret from even her closest friends and family. But when an unexpected tragedy thrusts the game, and Emerald, into the limelight, Kiera must fight to keep her world and her online community safe from intruders.

THOUGHTS: Slay was an incredibly fun read. Morris explored the deeply important ideas of community and belonging in a way that was fresh. An empowering read.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Yoon, David. Frankly in Love. Putnam, 2019. 978-1-984-81220-9. 406 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Frank Li knows his parents are racist. They look down on anyone who isn’t Korean, so much so that when his sister married a black man she was disowned. As Frank tries to cope with senior year and the girls that come with it, he finds himself in a cultural conundrum. His parents would like nothing more than for him to date a nice Korean-American girl, but Frank Li only has eyes for Brit Means, a white girl who is definitively not Korean. Joy Song, a close family friend, finds herself in a similar situation prompting the teenagers to make the obvious choice, pretend to date each other so neither their parents nor their significant others ever find out that there is an issue. What follows is a whirlwind story that will take the reader on a journey to explore race, relationships, and what it takes to be true to yourself.

THOUGHTS: Frank Li’s story will resonate with anyone who has ever felt their choices would never be supported by their parents and has had to deal with the emotional fallout of that thought.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Wiegand, Alyssa, and Carla Carreon. Hack Your Cupboard: Make Great Food with What You’ve Got. Zest Books, 2019. 978-1-942-18607-6. 168 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Let’s face it: grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen are three big components of “adulting” that must all master eventually. Hack Your Cupboard is here to guide the way from cereal-for-dinner to a fancy date-night dinner with minimal kitchen catastrophes. Authors Alyssa Wiegand and Carla Carreon have organized their collaborative cookbook into four sections: Your First Kitchen, Dorm Room Dining, First Apartment Dining, and First Solo Kitchen. Within each section are tips on stocking your pantry, food storage, selecting kitchen equipment, and mastering kitchen techniques from beginner (basic vinaigrette) to intermediate (caramelizing onions) to advanced (deep frying). The cookbook’s signature element is the concept of “hacking” recipes by using what’s on hand to improve each dish or tailor it to your personal tastes. Recipe pages are liberally peppered with gourmet, spicy, budget, healthy, and hearty hacks: incorporating nuts or fresh herbs, adding protein like chicken or shrimp, marinating veggies for more flavor, and preparing part of the recipe in advance to maximize prep time. 

THOUGHTS: The cookbook benefits from the authors’ “you’ve got this!” tone and beautiful, full-color photographs of each prepared recipe. Ramen noodles topped with shredded rotisserie chicken and red peppers have never looked so delicious! Hack Your Cupboard is a worthy addition to every library’s cookbook section, and it will appeal to cooking novices or anyone looking for ways to rejuvenate their worn-out recipes.

641.5 Cooking          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Frick, Kit. All Eyes on Us. Margaret K. Elderry, 2019. 978-1-534-40440-3. 374 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Logansville’s elite girl Amanda Kelly has it all: she’s pretty, she’s popular, she’s rich, and she’s witty to boot. To top it all off her boyfriend is none other than Carter Shaw, of Shaw Realty, and together they make the perfect power couple, the new generation that will take over the town. But Amanda’s life isn’t as perfect as it seems; Carter’s been cheating on her, slumming it with Rosalie from Culver Ridge. Rosalie, for whom going out with Carter is nothing more than a convenient cover, has no intentions of keeping Carter around once high school is over. She plans to move into an apartment with her girlfriend. All is well for both Amanda and Rosalie as long as no one knows. But when a Private number begins sending the girls threatening messages and ultimatums attempting to expose their secrets to their families and communities, will they choose to work together to save their futures?

THOUGHTS: A fun, fast-paced mystery that will keep you guessing until the end!

Mystery          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Villasante, Alexandra. The Grief Keeper. Putnam, 2019. 978-0-525-51402-2. 310 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up. 

How much would you give up to ensure your safety? Your family’s? Marisol and her little sister Gabi have fled El Salvador and purchased illegal passage into the United States. Their family, torn apart by gang violence, is no longer safe. The sole future the girls have is to be granted asylum. Trapped in a Pennsylvania immigrant detainment center, the only hope for the girls is their ability to prove their need to stay in the asylum interview. When the interview does not appear to go as Marisol had hoped, she and her sister flee the center at the first chance they get. Unexpectedly, an opportunity presents itself that seems to be too good to be true, take part in an experiment that will potentially treat the grief of others for one month, and they will be allowed to stay legally. Marisol jumps at the chance but the toll is one she never imagined. How much can one person be expected to endure?

THOUGHTS: Touching on immigration and exploitation, The Grief Keeper is a thought-provoking novel that brings to light the plight, hopes, and fears of those who have nowhere left to go.

Realistic Fiction           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – The Virtue of Sin; The Prom; There’s Something About Sweetie; The Starlight Claim; Rules for Vanishing; The Toll; The Speed of Falling Objects

Schuren, Shannon. The Virtue of Sin. Philomel Books, 2019. 978-0-525-51654-5. 420 p. $17.99. Grades 8 and up. 

Girls and boys don’t get to speak to one another – not in this community, not until they’re married. But, as usual, youth finds a way. When it is time for a Matrimony for all those of age, Miriam is sure that she knows who will choose her. The night, however, doesn’t go as planned, leaving Miriam to question everything she’s ever known. Married to an outsider who she doesn’t love (and who apparently doesn’t believe) Miriam is faced with a choice: comply and become the docile wife of someone she doesn’t want or face the reality that Daniel, their voice of God, may not be all that he claims to be. As the world begins to shift around her, Miriam begins to find her own path in a life that has always been dictated for her.

THOUGHTS: Miriam’s story is a powerful depiction of the control that people can hold over others and the determination it takes to let yourself be free. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Mitchell, Saundra. The Prom. Viking, 2019. 978-1-984-83752-3. 212 p. $17.99. Grades 7 and up.

All Emma can dream of is dancing with her girlfriend at prom. One special, magical night where the two of them can not only be seen in public but be normal. However, that’s entirely too much for Edgewater, Indiana to handle. When the PTA finds out that someone different wants to disrupt their perfect prom, crisis mode ensues. Emma, a cover artist on YouTube, makes headlines nationwide after taking the PTA (and their new exclusive rules) to task in her latest video. Before she knows it, big names are stepping to her side while her town turns its back, and Emma is left in one big, complicated situation when all she wanted was something so simple.

THOUGHTS: Based on the hit Broadway musical, this heart-wrenching description of the challenges LGBTQIA+ youth face is all too real. From the bullies and the isolation to the unexpected support and acceptance, readers will feel every step of the way as they follow Emma along her journey. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Menon, Sandhya. There’s Something About Sweetie. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-41678-9. 376 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Sweetie Nair is phenomenal. She’s sweet and kind, a star athlete, a model daughter with a perfect life and, oh yeah, she’s fat. Growing up fat in an Indian-American household hasn’t been simple for Sweetie; her mom is constantly trying to get her to lose weight so she can have an easy life, and society always has something to say about the way she looks. When Sweetie is offered the opportunity to date the ultra-attractive Ashish Patel, a star basketball player and ladies’ man, she learns the truth about just how far her mother’s prejudices go. Not to be deterred, Sweetie decides to take matters into her own hands: it’s time to show the world just who she really is.

THOUGHTS: Set in the same world, this companion novel will fill the When Dimple Met Rishi sized hole in your heart. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Wynne-Jones, Tim. The Starlight Claim. Candlewick Press, 2019. 978-1-536-20264-9. 240 p. $17.99. Grades 8 and up. 

Nate Crow has grown up spending summers at his family’s isolated cabin on the lake learning how to respect nature and the elements. Joined by his friends Dodge and Paul, the boys lived idyllic childhoods enjoying their surroundings in the fair weather. But come fall, it’s time to secure the cabin and head for sturdier lodging. It’s possible to winter in the cabin, sure, but life is as hard as the snow is deep and with only one train in or out of the area the isolation could be deadly. When Dodge goes missing and is presumed dead after a winter excursion to his cabin, Nate is haunted by dreams of his former best friend. He knows he needs to do everything he can to ensure that Dodge is not still out there, alive but hurt. Nate makes the arduous hike to the cabin, only to find that the isolated cabin isn’t deserted after all. Miles away from anyone who could help, with limited supplies and a blizzard moving in, Nate must figure out how to survive.

THOUGHTS: The Starlight Claim is a thrilling survival story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. This book has a bit of everything and will appeal to anyone interested in the outdoors, life or death survival, and jail breaks. 

Action/Adventure        Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Marshall, Kate Alice. Rules for Vanishing. Viking, 2019. 978-1-984-83701-1. 402 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

The tale of Lucy Gallows has lived on in Briar Glen for generations. Legend has it that once a year a road will appear in the woods, and the ghost of Lucy Gallows will appear. Those who follow the road are supposedly granted a wish. Sara’s sister Becca disappeared one year ago right around the time the road should have appeared. When Sara finds a journal of Becca’s with clues to the road, she knows where Becca went and is determined to go after her. Despite having resolved to go alone, former friends rally to join Sara on her journey, none of them knowing the challenges, dangers, and sacrifices that lay ahead- after all, the road doesn’t want them to leave.

THOUGHTS: While the story was more gory than I usually like to see, I appreciated that the plot line was original. The road was lined with challenges both fantastic and psychological with horror elements that truly made it a gripping and haunting tale. 

Horror Fiction         Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Shusterman, Neal. The Toll. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-481-49706-0. 625 p. $19.99. Grades 7+.

Good and evil forces are aligned to fight for the fate of human and scythekind in this gripping and satisfying conclusion to the highly popular Arc of a Scythe series. Even in a perfect word designed by an advanced AI to solve all of humanity’s problems, the foibles and weakness of humans derail the best laid plans. The power within the worldwide Scythedom is being consolidated under the self-serving control of Scythe Goddard and the ugly realities of bigotry, fear mongering, and political intrigues are on display. Our favorite characters seem helpless, the honorable Scythe Faraday has retreated in despair to an atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Citra and Rowan are found in the wreckage after the Endura disaster and are now hunted by Goddard’s minions. Also on Goddard’s hitlist is Greyson Tolliver, the sole person to whom the Thunderhead speaks and the spiritual leader to the Tonists. The Thunderhead, by its own law, cannot intervene in the affairs of the Scythedom. But can a small group of thoughtful, committed, major characters change the fate of the world? Overall, an engaging and thought-provoking read.

THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for Grades 7+. This book already has a long waiting list for fans of this top notch dystopian sci-fi series; our library purchased two additional copies to meet demand. Interest in the series should continue as a motion picture is in the works.

Science Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Fischer Richardson, Nancy. The Speed of Falling Objects. Harlequin/Inkyard Press, 2019. 978-1-335-92824-5. 336 p. $18.00. Grades 9 and up.

Danny is not like her absentee father in any way. He’s the in-your-face TV personality “Cougar,” a world-famous survivalist that is always flying off to exotic locations with celebrities to show the television audience how to survive in whatever dangerous situation unfolds. Danny’s given name is actually Danger Danielle Warren, but because that’s the opposite of her careful, quiet personality and because her father, who left her and her mom when he struck it rich with his television show, is the one who christened her with that name, she goes by Danny instead. She’s certain that her father is disappointed in her because she isn’t daring and athletic like him, and she suspects she is also the cause of her mom’s bitterness toward her dad. Danny’s caution stems from her struggles with her balance and perception due to a childhood accident that caused her to lose an eye. When Danny is just about to turn seventeen, and after years of neglect, Cougar reaches out to her for the chance of a lifetime to go to the Amazon Rainforest with him and one of the most popular heartthrobs in the world for an adventure. She jumps at the chance to prove her worth even though her mother is against it. The book takes a dark turn when there is a plane crash, and Danny is confronted with the truth of her father and a family secret and her need to summon her own survival skills to try and make it out of the jungle alive.

THOUGHTS: Although the characters and events were a bit contrived, it made the story possible, so I can forgive them. This book will appeal to some of my students who will enjoy the survival aspect. Fair warning that many people die while trying to survive the plane crash and rainforest, and there is romance.

Action/Adventure          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD