YA – Kind of a Big Deal

Hale, Shannon. Kind of a Big Deal. Roaring Brook, 2020. 978-1-250-20623-7. 400 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Back in high school, Josie was kind of a big deal. A talented actress, she left school early to take Broadway by storm. Only, it didn’t quite work out the way it was supposed to. Now, a Broadway failure with monumental credit card debt, she’s living in Missoula, Montana, working as a nanny and trying to recapture that magnificent life she remembers, back when she was a big deal. After impulsively purchasing a romance novel one day while taking her adorable charge, Mia, to the park, Josie opens the book (the first she’s read since The Scarlet Letter in school) and shortly finds herself experiencing the plot from inside the story. A la The Wizard of Oz, the story is peopled with individuals she passed around town: customers in the bookstore, the sales clerk, individuals in the park. Josie is both fascinated and terrified by the experience: she likes the take-charge person she is in the story, but struggles to get back to reality and make sure Mia is safe. But the adventure is addictive, and once Josie finishes reading the first book, she’s back for more. As Josie genre-jumps, the experiences work as bibliotherapy, assisting her in assessing her life, and realizing she needs to move on from high school, and let her supportive best friend and her boyfriend move on as well. But, it turns out, the creative muses are not done with Josie, and when she gets wrapped up in one book too many, she will need to rely on all the skills and knowledge she has gained to save herself, as well as others trapped in the world of stories. Hale presents a delightful YA story. Josie is an appealingly sweet character, and her journeys inside the books will be amusing to any reader. Like Josie’s book hopping episodes, the plot refuses to stand still, continually twisting in another direction until the surprise ending. While Josie is on the cusp of adulthood, the book is refreshingly free of sex, profanity, and other vices. Like on the stage, Josie is the star, and she is all the story needs. Readers will cheer for her to realize she is a big deal, in the story of her own making.

THOUGHTS:  Hale’s YA entry is a bubbly read with a deeper message. Dedicated readers will enjoy the genre spoofs (the dystopian ordeal is far and away the best segment), but it will be interesting to see if students not yet through high school can relate to Josie needing to walk away from those years and move on. I hope so! I want more Hale YA books.

Fantasy (Realistic)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Fable

Young, Adrienne. Fable. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-25437-5. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Four years ago, the day after a storm wrecked his ship and drowned his wife, Fable’s father, legendary sea-trader Saint, abandoned his 14-year-old daughter on the barbaric island of Jeval, leaving her to fend for herself on the brutal colony. Because she inherited her mother’s abilities as a gem sage, someone who can communicate with jewels, Fable survived as a dredger, mining gems from the sea, and making enough money to eventually purchase passage off the island, find Saint, and claim her place with his crew. But once she forces her way onto a trading ship, the Marigold, she wonders what secrets the small, young crew are keeping, even while being drawn in by their tight bond. When Saint refuses her appeal, sending her away with an unexpected inheritance, Fable has nowhere to turn but back to the Marigold and hope they will take her in. This lyrical novel, packed with adventure, quickly grabs the reader and doesn’t let go. Fable was raised on the sea, and she inherently loves being on board a ship. Young vividly conveys the routine of sailing a ship and the rhythm of the sea. Her world building is exquisite, and the port towns come alive, in their grandeur and squalor. Her characters are finely limned, and the hint of romance will satisfy. However, Fable has a flaw of always pushing the limit, and eventually she pays for a momentary slip, leaving readers hanging, awaiting the sequel.

THOUGHTS: This novel should find a wide audience, pleasing both action-adventure and romance fans.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor 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

YA – Infinity Son; All Your Twisted Secrets; The Kingdom of Back; The Between; The Upside of Falling; This is My Brain in Love

Silvera, Adam. Infinity Son. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-98378-7. 353 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Twin brothers Emil and Brighton grew up idolizing Spell Walkers, the Celestials who use their powers to maintain order. But now that they’re turning 18, Emil thinks his brother needs to put the hero-worship aside and face the future realistically. But Brighton thrives on subscribers and likes on his Celestials of New York YouTube channel, and he wants fame so bad he can taste it. When the pair are attacked by a Spector, one who drank Celestial blood to acquire powers, mild mannered Emil erupts in rare Phoenix Fire, to his amazement and Brighton’s cold envy. The family is brought to a Spell Walker compound for protection, and Emil is convinced to join the unit, even though he is an introverted pacifist who isn’t sure the Spell Walkers always use their powers for good. As Emil reluctantly assists in missions, Brighton becomes the team’s public relations director, while his jealousy of his brother, and his disgust with Emil’s pacifism, continue to degrade the one invincible bond between them. Silvera adds another dimension to the superhero genre with his action-packed book. Emil’s reluctance to be a hero contrasts sharply with Brighton’s driven need for fame and power. The Celestials are morally ambiguous, even though they believe their actions are done for the greater good. There are no clear heroes and villains here, and Emil illustrates the danger of having powers others desire. Several big reveals later in the book set the stage for an eagerly awaited sequel.

THOUGHTS: Well developed characters paired with action and suspense make this book a winner. Hand this to fans of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades series or other superhero readers.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Urban, Diana. All Your Twisted Secrets. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-90821-6. 390 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

The beginning of the book starts off so tritely: six stereotypical high school students are notified they have won a prestigious scholarship. The music nerd, the jock, the alpha cheerleader, the stoner, the valedictorian, and the genius loner all show up at the restaurant for the dinner/scholarship presentation, only to find out something is horribly wrong. Then the addictive wild ride begins. Narrated by Amber, the music nerd, the six find themselves locked in a basement dining room, with a ticking bomb, a loaded hypodermic needle, and a note that warns the students that within an hour, one of them must be killed with the poison loaded hypodermic, or the bomb will explode and they all will die. Flashbacks fill in the back story, as the minutes tick down and the frantic teens turn on each other in order to survive. As the plot unfolds, the relationships between the six are uncovered, and true feelings ruthlessly rise to the surface. Subtly woven throughout is the backstory of Amber’s brilliant older sister who committed suicide due to cyberbulling.The suspense is top notch, and you cannot put the book down until its shocking, gut wrenching conclusion.

THOUGHTS: This cross between Karen McManus’ One of Us is Lying and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is sure to fly off the shelf. The ending scarred me for weeks.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lu, Marie. The Kingdom of Back. Putnam, 2020. 978-1-524-73901-0. 313 p. $18.99. Grade. 7-12.

Once upon a time there was an extraordinarily talented pianist who was also a gifted composer, by the name of Mozart. Nannerl Mozart. The older sister of the Mozart still adored the world over, Nannerl knows from a young age that, as a woman, her moment in the spotlight will be fleeting. Her father constantly tells her so. He values her musical ability as a means to earn money and recognition for the family, but once she reaches marriageable age, her public performances will end. As for her compositions, well, don’t be ridiculous. Women don’t compose. Lu takes the bare bones of what is known about Mozart’s sister, and weaves an enchanting historical fantasy that pulses with the frustrations Nannerl must have felt being a gifted woman in a society who had no need of such a person. As the siblings toured Europe, performing for royalty and earning the fame and fortune their father desired, they amused themselves by inventing the kingdom of Back. It is this magical realm that drives Lu’s story. In the kingdom, Nannerl is offered the opportunity of lasting fame, to have her name and her music remembered through the ages, but it may be a bargain too costly to make. Lu skillfully crafts the loving relationship between the siblings, and how Nannerl chafes under her father’s restrictions. She tantalizingly creates a scenario where young Mozart is influenced by Nannerl’s compositions, seeks her help with his own compositions, and even has her compositions published under his own name, all the more intriguing  because the world will never know how much Nannerl truly did influence her brother. This unique blend of fact and fantasy creates a world the reader will remember, as well as brings to light a talented woman too long lost to history.

THOUGHTS: This gorgeously written, uniquely plotted book may take some booktalking, but readers will be enthralled once they read a few pages.

Fantasy (Historical)           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Hofmeyr, David. The Between. Delacorte, 2020. 978-0-385-74475-1. 376 p. $17.99. Grades 7+.

One moment Ana Moon is a normal high school girl, sneaking out to meet her best friend, Bea. The next, the train they’re riding on freezes in place and time, and a monstrous creature snatches Bea and takes off. When a shocked Ana makes it back to her dad’s flat, everything has changed. Dad is different; the flat is slightly different; and, most disturbingly, when Ana calls Bea, she is told that Bea died a year ago. By the time Malik, a cute guy Ana had been flirting with on the train, shows up at her bedroom window in the middle of the night, it barely registers as odd. Malik explains to Ana that she is no longer in the world she knows. She is a Pathfinder who can fall between the seven worlds. Bea has been taken by a reaper, and Ana must trust Malik, a fellow Pathfinder, if she hopes to find Bea. Ana enters a society she can barely comprehend, joining Malik’s clan and working with him and his team. As Ana is indoctrinated into her new reality, it becomes evident that she is not just a new Pathfinder, but perhaps the one Pathfinder who is the key to the mystical Seventh Gate. She may be the one to stop the war between the Pathfinders and the brutal Order. Hofmeyr compacts what might have been a seven volume series into one energetic, action packed story. Ana is a dynamic heroine, who plausibly grows into her new role while traversing continuously shifting ground. Her single minded goal of rescuing Bea, is never forgotten, and is a rare display of a literary friendship that is not overshadowed by romance. While there is an attraction between Malik and Ana, Bea remains her focus.

THOUGHTS: This book has it all: action, friendship, romance, betrayal. It should find a home with Sci Fi readers as well as action/adventure fans who appreciate a few battle scenes in their books.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Light, Alex. The Upside of Falling. Harperteen, 2020. 978-0-062-91805-5. 279 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

Reclusive, bookish Becca flat out does not believe in true love. Not after her parents’ messy, painful divorce. But, aggravated by her former best friend’s taunting about Becca’s lack of a lovelife, Becca spontaneously declares she is in a relationship. This might have fallen flat seconds after it came out of her mouth had not high school hunk Brett Wells come over, thrown his arm around her and confirmed that they are secretly dating. It turns out he is in need of a girlfriend to satisfy his good-old-boy father. So begins a relationship born of mutual convenience, that turns into a needed friendship for both of them. And could it even end up in love? This Wattpad romance doesn’t cover any new territory, but it is light, sweet, fun, and just the sort of addictive story that will be devoured by dedicated romance readers. Sadly, 10 pages from the end, the book loses continuity. While young readers most likely will not notice or care, it reveals the need for an editor’s hand.

THOUGHTS:  I adored this book for 269 pages. Then the characters acknowledge their love by immediately having (off page) sex, despite the fact that Brett’s mother had him when she was 17, and his father repeatedly discusses how he had to give up on his college plans and football future to stay home and help raise Brett. (And despite the fact that a few weeks ago Becca had never even kissed a boy.) This likely will not bother most readers, who will thoroughly enjoy the dreamy romance.  

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gregorio, I. W. This is My Brain in Love. Little, Brown, 2020. 978-0-316-42382-3. 367 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

Jocelyn is stunned when her father announces that the family’s restaurant, A-Plus Chinese Garden, is floundering and he may move the family back to New York City from Utica, NY. Will is crushed when he fails to garner a plum editorial position on the school newspaper. Jocelyn convinces her father to hire a social media consultant to improve the restaurant’s visibility. Will finds himself needing a summer job. Jocelyn hires Will. The pair bring a boatload of baggage to the table from the start. Will, of mixed Nigerian and American heritage, filters the world through the lens of an African American male teenager, and suffers with anxiety. Jocelyn is almost crippled by her family’s emotionally reticent Asian culture. The pair click and begin dragging the restaurant into the digital era. Not unexpectedly, sparks fly, only to meet the disapproval of Jocelyn’s strict, racially prejudiced parents. But what seems like a trope-fulfilling romance veers off into a thoughtful exploration of mental health when Jocelyn’s erratic mood swings begin to trigger Will’s anxiety. Will, who has been in therapy for years, notices that Jocelyn may have some undiagnosed issues herself, but knows broaching the topic could cause a rift in their nascent relationship. As Jocelyn struggles to confront her depression, she finds an unexpected ally in her mother, who reveals she has been taking depression medication for years. Told from the alternating perspectives of Will and Jocelyn, the story maintains its relationship-cute vibe while honestly exploring mental health issues in teens, including the pros and cons of taking medication. A subplot involving Will tutoring Jocelyn’s younger brother, who clearly suffers from ADHD, as well as a reference to a friend with autism, may feel like a few issues too many  but does not detract from the story and might pique recognition in a reader.

THOUGHTS:  This book is a winner. An adorable romance exploring racial issues as well as mental health topics, it should fly off the shelf. Purchase multiple copies.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – The Midnight Lie; Yes No Maybe So; Tweet Cute; The Inheritance Games

Rutkowski, Marie. The Midnight Lie. Farrar, Strous and Giroux, 2020. 978-0-374-30638-0. 358 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Nirrim lives in the Ward, and life there is not fun or easy. You must follow the rules or you will be forced to face the ramifications of your actions. For Nirrim who is half-caste, her life is even harder as everything she does is policed and she is forced to live very simply. Early in her life, Nirrim was taken in by Raven who she looks up to as a mother figure, even though it’s clear to the reader that Raven isn’t a good person. Enter Sid, who causes Nirrim to think about things a different way. However, Nirrim has a secret, one that she keeps very closely guarded for if it were to get out, it would be disastrous.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing fantasy story with lush, lyrical language and a fantastic set of characters. There is a female/female romance which is wonderful to read and doesn’t take away from the rest of the story. This book is set in the world of Marie Rutkowski’s Winner’s trilogy, but you don’t need to read that series to find your way through this book. Overall, I’d highly recommend this book.

Fantasy          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy Charter


Albertalli, Becky, and Aisha Saeed. Yes No Maybe So. Balzer + Bray, 2020. 978-0-062-93704-9. 436 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehman were friends as 6-year olds but haven’t seen each other in a decade. Suddenly they find themselves tossed into canvassing for a local state senate candidate in suburban Atlanta. Neither teen is a natural fit for canvassing. Jamie, whose mom works for another state senator, is tongue-tied and awkward (see: topping a Target display of tangelos in the book’s opening pages). Maya, who is fasting for Ramadan and whose parents are going through a painful trial separation, is motivated by the promise of a car. A bumpy start to their civic engagement (complete with plenty of foot-in-mouth moments and some outright racism directed at Maya) transitions into a true partnership between friends with shared values … and huge crushes on each other. Plenty of absorbing subplots keep the pace hopping: Jamie’s grandmother and her viral “InstaGramm” account, Maya’s falling out with her college-bound BFF, and the specter of public speaking at the upcoming bat mitzvah for Jamie’s little sister. A proposed bill that would ban religious garments (like the hijab that Maya’s mother wears) raises their personal stakes in the election.

THOUGHTS: Yes No Maybe So is both woke and thoroughly adorable, and Jamie’s and Maya’s voices are equally strong and compelling. Readers will sigh swooningly at Jamie’s and Maya’s ultra-tentative romance, giggle at the supporting characters’ antics, perhaps be inspired to find their political voices, as the co-authors did following the 2016 election.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Lord, Emma. Tweet Cute. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-61867-2. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.

Debut author Emma Lord puts a fresh, Gen-Z spin on You’ve Got Mail in this ultra-cute contemporary romance! Four years ago, Pepper’s mom divorced her dad and moved them to New York City to focus on growing the family’s fast food chain, Big League Burger. A classic overachiever, Pepper has done her best to fit in at her fancy private school, but she still feels like a small-town fish out of water. Her mom coaxes Pepper to oversee the company’s social media presence, which Pepper reluctantly adds to her full itinerary of swim team, baking blog with sister Paige, mostly straight A’s, and not getting lost on the subway. Jack is a NYC native, less popular twin, and heir apparent to his family’s deli, Girl Cheesing. He’s also an ace app developer who has the whole school hooked on his anonymous chat platform, Weazel. As Wolf, he enjoys refreshingly candid exchanges with Bluebird (guess who?), but would she like him IRL? Speaking of IRL, Big League Burger has a new menu item that’s suspiciously identical to Girl Cheesing’s own Grandma’s Special, and a Twitter war between them goes viral. It sounds complicated, but Lord keeps all the plates spinning with aplomb.

THOUGHTS: A strong cast of supporting characters and well-timed plot turns prevent predictability in a read that’s both savory and sweet! Emma Lord, formerly a lifestyle editor at Bustle, clearly knows NYC’s foodie-verse inside and out. With so many mouthwatering sandwiches and sweet confections, Tweet Cute is just begging to be incorporated into a potluck book club meeting!

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Inheritance Games. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-1-368-05240-5. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Holy cannoli!  Jennifer Lynn Barnes is amazing! Avery Kylie Grambs lost her mother at the age of 15. Two years later she is whisked off to Texas to Tobias Hawthorne’s estate where she learns that this stranger has left her a multi-billion dollar inheritance. Leaving minimal inheritance to his children and grandchildren, Avery must live at Hawthorne House with the family for a year in order to inherit the estate. Soon Avery realizes that her inheritance is a game she must play with the Hawthorne grandsons: Nash, Grayson, Jameson, and Alexander. As clues are discovered by Avery, Grayson, and Jameson, mysteries of the past are also uncovered. Avery is determined to figure out why she was chosen by Tobias Hawthorne to inherit his estate instead of his family. Soon, Avery realizes that everything is a game and in order to stay alive, she must play and win. When the answer is revealed, Avery learns there is much more to the Hawthorne family and its past than meets the eye.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing mystery. Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a genius mystery writer. The story keeps readers mesmerized by the characters and then PUNCH right to the gut with a change this reader didn’t see coming. Words cannot express the awesomeness of The Inheritance Games and Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s ability to weave a story together flawlessly. The ending makes me need book two NOW!

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – City of Beasts; The Queen of Nothing

Wang, Corrie. City of Beasts. Freeform Books, 2019. 978-1-368-02662-8. $17.99. 374 p. Grades 9 and up.

Glori and her multi-generational group of co-habitant fees (females) are content living their lives on Grand Island outside what used to be the city of Buffalo. Nearly 17 years ago, a nuclear war killed most of civilization and left most of the planet uninhabitable. After years of natural disasters and unrest culminated with the world-wide nuclear attacks, males and females in the area around Buffalo decided to live separately. The nuclear bombings (referred to as The Night) left females unable to procreate anyway…or so they thought. Then five years ago, Glori’s mother, Majesty, gave birth to a beast (a male) they named Two Five. Mystery surrounding his birth aside, the “family” raises the male in secret… until Two Five is kidnapped and taken by beasts to Buffalo. Of course, Glori decides she must rescue her brother, against the wishes of her grandmother, the leader of the fees on Grand Island. She and Su, her best friend and co-habitant, sneak over the bridge to the city to try and rescue Two Five where they meet Sway, a beast who is nothing like the terrifying stereotype of males they were taught. Glori and Su discover there is much more to their rescue mission when they learn about the politics of this society that has been kept from them their entire lives. Not only are they trying to rescue Two Five, but they also end up fighting in a war between beasts and fees that has been 17 years in the making.

THOUGHTS: Complex world-building and relationships coupled with timely themes of politics, science, and gender stereotypes make this an intriguing read for fans of dystopia.

Dystopian          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Black, Holly. The Queen of Nothing (Folk of Air Book 3). Little, Brown and Company, 2019. 978-0-316-31042-0. 320 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Following her exile to the mortal world by King Carden, Jude, Queen of Elfhame, is forced to return, in defiance of her exile, to Elfhame as her twin sister, Taryn, following the death of Taryn’s husband Lock.  Although only meant to be there a few hours, Jude ends up back with her father, Madoc, in his military camp. As Jude learns of Madoc’s plan to take the Blood Crown from Carden and rule Elfhame, her guise of being Taryn is also revealed.  Ending up at the court, Jude is accepted back as Queen of Elfhame by King Carden, and they begin their rule together. When Madoc challenges Carden for the crown, Carden’s actions release the spell placed upon the crown on himself. Will Jude be able to save Elfhame, Carden, and herself, or will the magic destroy all of Elfhame and all Jude has known and loved?

THOUGHTS: Black’s end of the Folk of Air trilogy develops well, but falls a bit flat with the resolution.  Conflicts are a bit too tidy with the end, although all of the rising action, climax, and falling action are excellent.  Students who enjoy fantasy and/or romance will enjoy this trilogy. The final book includes much more romance than the previous texts which was a bit awkward and led to the flat resolution.

Fantasy, Romance          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Jackpot; Last True Poets of the Sea; Wicked Fox; Red at the Bone; Hungry Hearts; Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens; One of Us Is Next; What We Buried; Opioid Crisis; #MeToo Movement; The Plastic Problem; Full Disclosure; All We Could Have Been; The Hand on the Wall

Stone, Nic. Jackpot: All Bets Are Off. Crown, 2019. 978-1-984-82962-7. $17.99 343 p. Grades 8+.

Rico Danger (yes that’s her name, pronounced) is a high school senior working at a convenience store to support her struggling family. She learns that a 100 million-dollar lottery ticket has been sold there on Christmas Eve while she was working and when no one steps up to claim it, she recalls a sweet older lady who visited that night. Believing that woman may be the holder of the winning ticket, Rico sets out on a quest to find her and hopefully get a tiny share of the payout. Rico finds an unlikely helper in her popular and super wealthy classmate, Zan. As they work together to try to find the lotto ticket holder, they realize they have a lot in common despite their family circumstances. Though the book does take on the serious topics of poverty, sacrifice, and family issues, it is overall a lighthearted read with a slowly building romance between opposites.

THOUGHTS: Nic Stone is another solid, up and coming African American author to follow. With popular titles in the last two years – Odd Man Out and the exceptional Dear Martin, Stone’s latest book should be popular with high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Drake, Julia. Last True Poets of the Sea. Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-04808-8. $17.99. 391 p. Grades 9 and up.

After her brother attempts suicide, Violet’s family is torn apart. Her parents retreat in their grief at home in New York City; her brother is in a treatment center; and Violet, a sixteen-year-old wild child, is sent off to live with her uncle in her mother’s hometown on the coast of Maine. While there she is determined to isolate herself, but she is sent to volunteer at the aquarium where she meets Orion, a local teen with a unique circle of friends. The story follows Violet as she faces her own trauma over her strained relationship with her brother and his mental illness. Woven in is her new quest to investigate her family’s strange history, including the mystery of the famous shipwreck that her great great grandmother survived. Another element is a love triangle that develops between Violet, Orion, and Liv. With parallels to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, this is a sweet and thoughtful novel with lovely prose, an enchanting setting, and vivid characters.

THOUGHTS: A lovely coming of age tale that addresses mental illness, family dynamics, sexual orientation, and first romance. Recommended for fans of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Cho, Kat. Wicked Fox. Putnam, 2019. 978-1-984-81234-6. 420 p. $18.99. Grades 8 and up. 

The gumiho, seductive foxes masquerading as women who eat the livers of men to survive are just myths, right? Jihoon has grown up hearing the stories of the gumiho from his grandmother, his halmeoni, but he knows that they are just scary stories, ones meant to keep children from the woods at night. That is until an otherworldly encounter in the forest brings all those stories to life. Miyoung, a gumiho, manages to save innocent bystander Jihoon when a dokkaebi, a goblin, attacks although she loses her fox bead in the process. Without the bead Miyoung is unable to hold the energy, the gi, she sucks from humans to survive, making it necessary to feed more often and making her more dangerous. But when their worlds collide in another life or death situation, Miyoung is faced with a choice she never thought possible: save herself or the life of a human.

THOUGHTS: Set in modern-day Seoul, this mythical love story paints a vivid picture of a world unseen, where monsters live alongside men and the stories that you grew up to discredit just may be the thing that saves your life.

Fantasy (Mythology)           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Woodson, Jacqueline. Red at the Bone. Riverhead Books, 2019. 978-0-525-53527-0. 208 p. $26.00. Grades 10+.

Woodson knows how to tug at your heartstrings. Whether you’re a mother or not, this book so sharply addresses the complicated relationship of mothers, daughters, and extended relatives. The novel is told in a back and forth, switching from the perspective of a mother at age sixteen and her sixteen year old daughter as she gets ready to participate in her debut to society. Each character was authentic in their own way, making the story relatable to most readers. Woodson touches on themes of race, legacy, social class, parenting, coming of age, and family dynamics. The narratives toggle back and forth between 2001 and 1985, when Iris and her daughter were both sixteen, respectively. The family history allows Woodson to mention historical events such as the race riots in the early part of the 20th century as well as the attacks on September 11, 2001.

THOUGHTS: There are some heavy topics covered in this title that some young and immature readers might not be able to digest on their own including teenage pregnancy, dysfunctional mother/daughter relationships, drug abuse, 9/11, and sexuality. This book should be on the shelves of all high school libraries for mature readers.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Chapman, Elsie. Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-42185-1. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

A true collaboration between best-selling authors that are interconnected by not only location, but by a few characters as well. The thirteen stories include various different genres and tackle topics that are easier to handle with a sweet confection or a magic soup dumpling. Not only is the collection diverse in genre types, but also with characters including nontraditional families, gang violence, bi-racial families, people of color, and a lot of the author’s #ownvoices. My favorite story in the collection is the final tale: “Panadería ~ Pastelería.” The protagonist shows up in many other stories with a unique and handcrafted pastry at moments when characters didn’t know they needed it more than anything in the world. This concluding story includes topics of generational differences and coming of age all while focusing on the moral of the story: do what’s right, and you get to choose what is right.

THOUGHTS: This anthology would be a good addition to high school libraries that supply content for contemporary fiction. This title can be recommended to reluctant readers to provide a feeling of accomplishment in finishing one or two tales, but can also serve as exposure to a variety of genres for readers who are looking to branch out.

Short Stories          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Boteju, Tanya. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-43065-5. 384 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Small town? Check. Bored teen? Check. Bi-racial queer protagonist? CHECK! Drag kings and queens and #ownvoices? Check! CHECK! CHECK! After spending time with her nerdy best friend at the town carnival, Nima stumbles into a drag show that leaves her with more questions than answers about herself and her world. Luckily, Deidre, a drag queen with flair, takes on Nima as a side project and not only serves as her mentor but another adult to trust when she isn’t even sure where her mom is. As Nima muddles through discovering secrets about her mom, working through a crush, and getting on stage to finally participate in a show, there are quite a few subplots with different characters including her hippie dad, a gay family friend, and even a childhood friend who isn’t sure of his place in the world. Written by a queer author who has knowledge about the drag community makes the story authentic and provides a true depiction for a reader who hasn’t had exposure to drag.

THOUGHTS: A great addition to any library that needs more diversity, a better LGBTQ+ representation, or an example of a novel written with attention to precise detail or pronoun usage and hope. The storyline is a bit jumbled, but tells a hopeful story with a cast of diverse characters.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


McManus, Karen. One of Us is Next. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-525-70796-7. 384 p. $19.99. Grade. 8-12.

The sequel to One of Us is Lying has the same thrill, but it’s missing some of the avant-garde pieces of the first book. Many of the main characters in the second book were featured in some manner during the debut. Mauve, Phoebe, and Knox take center stage in the newest mystery at Bayview High. Per McManus’ classic whodunit writing format, the mystery of who is behind the deadly game of truth or dare keeps readers on the edge of their seat. A game of truth or dare via text message has all of Bayview High constantly checking their phones for updates. Truths are escaping that confuse even the sluethy-est among the characters, and the dares are getting lethal. The pacing is perfect, and the ending will be sure to shock even the most astute readers.

THOUGHTS: A book that should sit right beside its counterpart on every high school shelf but can just as easily stand alone. This is another great answer for a psychological thriller on a school library shelf to fit the craving many teens have from some of the trending adult novels of the same genre.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

A year after the Bayview Four are exonerated in the death of Simon Kelleher, several copycats have appeared, but not until a viral game of Truth or Dare begins has anyone taken the copycats seriously. Now, students are choosing to complete a Dare or have a Truth about them revealed. But, not everyone wants to play. Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox are all targets of the game who refuse to participate, opening themselves up to a horrible Truth being revealed. As they dig into the chatroom used by Simon during his revenge plot, they meet Darkestmind and begin investigating who is behind the viral Truth or Dare. When tragedy strikes and a student ends up dead, their inquiry into Darkestmind becomes a full investigation into him (or her), their dead peer, and the past, individually and in relation to others. As more tragedy strikes Bayview, will Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox be able to uncover Darkestmind before it’s too late, or is revenge the new norm in Bayview?

THOUGHTS: Personally, I think One of Us is Lying is a fine stand-alone that didn’t need a sequel. That being said, One of Us is Next is in high demand. It lacks some mystery because it is more predictable than the first, and I found it difficult to keep all of the minor characters straight and their connections to the others. It felt like more of a realistic fiction read for the majority of the text over a mystery read. I did not like the connection in the end to the characters and story; it was both predictable and disjointed. This text felt forced in comparison to McManus’s previous two novels. It is still highly recommended, though, for YA collections.

Mystery        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Boorman, Kate. What We Buried. Henry Holt and Co., 2019. 978-1-250-19167-0. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.  

What We Buried is a twisty mystery that constantly had me second guessing myself and my ability to keep characters, timelines, and realistic events in order. Liv, a former child pageant star and reality TV star, doesn’t have a great track record with her brother, Jory. As a court case for emancipation nears a gritty end between Liv and her parents, Jory is sitting back and watching how the media and Liv’s followers react to the news. Before the hearing, their parents disappear, and Liv and Jory are left to find out what happened to them in the desert of Nevada. There is never a clear sense of time or perception as the narration toggles back and forth between Liv and Jory. The time the siblings are forced to spend together makes them travel back to places from their childhood to reconsider their life choices so far.

THOUGHTS: A must have for any high school library looking to add to their thriller collection with a young adult perspective. The characters are hard to like, but the tension and sense of confusion encourage curious readers to not put the book down. The unreliable narrator can be a challenging concept for some readers.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Hyde, Natalie. Opioid Crisis. Crabtree, 2019. 978-0-778-74973-8. 48 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

This six chapter book focuses on what a responsible citizen can do to understand, inform, and take action on the epidemic that has “affected every community, class, ethnic group, industry, and age group.” The first chapter defines the crisis and some of the key terms. In addition, there is a glossary in the back of the book. Although the second chapter uses the perspective of the opioid crisis to frame how to find quality and reliable information, most of the information could be applied to any general research project. Chapter three dives into the recreational and street use of opioids and how the crisis developed. Chapter four focuses on the effects the opioid epidemic has had on families, work society, and individuals. The last two chapters offer statistics on where the crisis stands and a look toward the future, including initiatives from the government. Each page includes color photographs, and there are many graphical representations and pop out text boxes.

THOUGHTS: Neatly packaged, this title should be in all middle and high school libraries to provide concise and accurate information on a very emotional and pervasive topic. Two chapters include valuable research and reliable information checks that can be helpful across topics.

362.29 Drugs          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Hudak, Heather. #MeToo Movement. Crabtree, 2019. 978-0-778-74971-4. 48 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

Organized in six chapters focusing on the definition and international issues of sexual harassment and abuse, #MeToo Movement covers the major points of the movement including a glossary and further reading suggestions. Each chapter ranges from four to twelve pages and many pages have multiple photographs, graphs, and other pop outs that make this current issue accessible to readers as middle grades. The history, including dates and information about the founder of the movement, Tarana Burke, provide context to readers who may be lucky enough to not have experienced sexual harassment or assault within their social circles. The last two chapters focus on the reader and provide ways to stay informed and ways to influence the future of the #MeToo movement.

THOUGHTS: This succinct nonfiction title should be on shelves in middle and high school libraries to provide resources on a topic that is current and pervasive across ages, races, and social economic classes. The inclusion of ways to encourage the reader to become active within the movement is particularly insightful as many students are not looking for resources just for an assignment, but to help shape their perspective and discover ways to make change.

Nonfiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Salt, Rachel. The Plastic Problem. Firefly Books, 2019. 978-0-228-10231-1. 80 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

Full of disturbing pictures and data on the plastic problem that is plaguing the globe. Each page has full color photos with enough text to get the information across to the reader, but not too much to make the work feel like a textbook or peer-reviewed journal article. Although it’s not arranged in chapters, there is a table of contents that provides the reader the opportunity to focus on a specific topic. There is also a glossary and index in the back of the book. The flow of The Plastic Problem begins with definitions and some foundational knowledge about plastic and the plastic industry, including how humans use plastic and where it ends up. It continues into problems at the micro and macro level of producing, using, and discarding too much plastic and ends with suggestions for solutions that can be accomplished on local, small levels.

THOUGHTS: This book doesn’t do a deep dive on any of the problems or solutions for the plastic problem, but provides enough information for a curious reader to get started. The title would be good for middle grade and possibly high school shelves, but should be accompanied by more in depth books to provide a more comprehensive study of a specific plastic problem.

363.72 Environment          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Garrett, Camryn. Full Disclosure. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-82996-2. 320 p. $21.99. Grades 10-12.

Not many contemporary novels take a full dive into the world of HIV-positive main characters, especially based in current day. Starting at new high school is daunting, but when you’re a teen who isn’t sure about her sexuality and is HIV-positive, the task is that much more daunting. Simone finds herself at home with the drama kids and two other friends and even becomes comfortable enough to start a relationship with someone, but now she has to decide whether or not to disclose her medical history with Miles. Her dads don’t make the potential for Simone to discuss it with her doctor any easier.

THOUGHTS: This book covers a lot of representation including LGBTQ+, HIV-positive, and African American (#ownvoice). It even hits on topics that most teens have to deal with like bullying and sexuality while layering on perspective and information about HIV that most teens might not remember from health class. This is a well-written debut novel that deserves space in a collection lacking diversity.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Carter,T. E. All We Could Have Been. Feiwel & Friends, 2019. 978-1-250-17296-9. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Lexie’s brother committed murder when he was 15 years old. Her brother has been locked away since the day of the murders. Despite having nothing to do with her brother’s actions, Lexie has been treated like a criminal ever since. She has standing appointments with her therapist and finds control in her life by wearing the same color each day of the week. At the fifth school since she was 12, Lexie finds comfort in a neighbor and a peer in the drama club. She decides to try and control a bit more of her life and her friendships, but the results have rippling effects and leave her questioning every aspect of her life so far.

THOUGHTS: Carter represents mental illness and even a bit of asexuality, but in a dark and twisty way that isn’t relatable to most readers. The lesson that is brought to life through the characters about not making assumptions about who someone is or believes is something that teens of all backgrounds can benefit from. Like much of her other work, this book is highly emotional and targets mature readers who have an understanding of grief, PTSD, and the uneasy terrain of high school gossip and drama (outside the actual drama club).

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Johnson, Maureen. The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious Book 3). Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-33811-2. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Following the death of Stevie’s mentor, Dr. Fenton, Stevie uses information from Dr. Fenton, along with the clues she has figured out, to solve the mystery of the Truly Devious letter from 1936 and the kidnapping of Iris and Alice Ellingham. But, unsure of the current climate at Ellingham and who she can and cannot trust, Stevie decides to maintain secrecy about what she has learned and continue her investigation before revealing her findings. As a blizzard approaches, Ellingham is shut down and students are sent home, but for the students of Minerva, who follow the bright-idea of David and hide in order to remain behind. As David convinces them to investigate his father, Senator King, Stevie continues her own Ellingham investigation and soon learns of secrets hidden in the walls that confirm her initial discoveries and unveil the truth behind Truly Devious and the Ellingham murders of 1936.

THOUGHTS: Johnson masterfully concludes this trilogy with an ending that keeps readers on edge. Her intersection of present mystery with the 1930s Ellingham mystery keeps the reader rooted in each mystery and the connection between the two. This is a must-read trilogy for mystery lovers.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Fireborne; The Art of Breaking Things; Enough is Enough; Dreams Come to Life; Who Put This Song On

Munda, Rosaria. Fireborne. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. 978-0-525-51821-1. $18.99. 432 p. Grades 9 and up.

Ten years ago in Callipolis, a land of fire-breathing dragons, Atreus led a revolution, a massacre that took the lives of all of the members of the dragonborn families in power… or did it?

Unaware that members of the dragonborn families survived the massacre, Atreus establishes a new system of government, part of which is a tournament to determine the governing members of the new aerial guard and their leader, the firstrider. Prior to the revolution, one had to be of the dragonborn to compete for such a powerful title. Now, Annie, one of those competing for the role of Firstrider, is the epitome of the motivation for the revolution. A member of the lowborn class, her family was killed by the previous regime. In the old system, she would have been doomed to remain a lowborn for life. But thanks to the new, seemingly fairer system and Lee, another orphan who befriended and protected her in the orphanage, Annie has been able to climb to the top. They have been training with their dragons for this opportunity for years. Ironically, Lee is also competing for the role of firstrider. Even more ironic is the truth about Lee’s family history. Told in alternating points of view between Annie and Lee, the story of the Firstrider Tournaments and the secrets these characters must harbor is only the beginning of this exciting fantasy tale as war threatens Callipolis.

THOUGHTS: Equal parts action, politics, fantasy, and love, this novel has a little something for everyone. Hard-core fantasy fans will enjoy the dragons but may find themselves craving even more of Munda’s great world-building (I personally found myself craving a map at times). Munda crafts a complex political conflict that prompts readers to ponder heavy themes like loyalty, abuse of power, propaganda and censorship, and the cost war. Readers who crave a love story will not be disappointed, but those who dislike when a love story overtakes the plot will be satisfied too as the subtle romance in this novel takes a backseat to politics. A solid addition for fans of speculative fiction, and might make for a cool enrichment read in a social studies or philosophy class as Munda explains in her author’s note how Plato’s Republic inspired Fireborne.

Fantasy          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Sibson, Laura. The Art of Breaking Things. Viking, 2019. 978-0-451-48111-5. $18.99. 390 p. Grades 9 and up.

Skye Murray’s primary focus during her senior year is getting into the art school of her dreams and out of her hometown. Until she can physically escape the ghosts of her past by going away to college, she escapes through her art and some poor choices including using drugs and alcohol and engaging in physical relationships with boys that are just that – physical and nothing else. She feels that she is doing a good enough job being tough and coping until the “ghost” – Dan, her mother’s ex-boyfriend who abused her as a child – returns to their lives and reunites with her mother. Skye feels like she needs to reconsider her choices, especially when history threatens to repeat itself with Dan and Skye’s younger sister Emma, but she feels like no one will listen to her or believe her. In addition to dealing with Dan and her past, Skye also must figure out where she stands with Ben. For the last two years they have been drinking and getting high together, sharing their art and Ben’s band’s songs. Her once uncomplicated feelings for her best boy friend are starting to change, but she’s unsure she can handle a serious relationship, or if Ben even wants one because of her reputation. To avoid breaking every meaningful relationship she has, Skye must figure out how to break some other things… her habits, the truth, and a whole lot of plates.

THOUGHTS: I would not recommend this novel to sensitive readers as it contains a lot of mature language, references to drugs and alcohol, and descriptive sexual scenes in both abusive and consensual situations. However, for those readers who can handle it, Sibson’s novel is a powerful one worth reading. A story of family, friendship, love, and overcoming adversity, Sibson also conveys the power that art has to give us a voice when we feel unheard.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


McCann, Michelle Roehm. Enough is Enough: How Students Can Join the Fight for Gun Safety. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-582-70700-6. $22.99. 300 p. Grades 7 and up. 

Written as a call-to-action for teen readers, Enough is Enough is penned by an active member of Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety. As an adult with activism experience, McCann’s purpose is to prove to teenagers that they too CAN make a difference in the fight to change gun laws, despite hesitating because of their age and abilities. Part One of the book is chock-full of statistics, because, as McCann explains in her introduction, “If you’re going to argue with politicians, other adults, and your peers about why we need gun safety in this country, you will have to understand the issue pretty deeply.” Pages and pages of infographics and narration inform readers on the facts about gun violence and gun ownership in this country and compares America to other countries around the world. Part Two provides a history of gun ownership and laws in America including a thorough explanation of the Second Amendment and the National Rifle Association (NRA). Parts Three and Four provide possible solutions to the problem and practical, specific ways for teens to take action. Each chapter profiles young activists such as Parkland High School survivors who started the #NeverAgain campaign and Julia Spoor, co-founder of Students Demand Action, a group affiliated with Moms Demand Action. McCann does not alienate gun owners though, and at no point does she suggest eliminating guns entirely. She even profiles gun owners and addresses them directly, stressing repeatedly that this issue is not a political issue but a human issue that can be solved by agreeing on some common ground and working together. 

THOUGHTS: This is an excellent addition to any middle school or high school nonfiction collection. The writing is straightforward and full of documented research, and there are a variety of thorough appendices at the back of the book including lists of additional resources both nonfiction and fiction, websites and social media for young activists and activist groups, and more. I would add one new fiction book to her list of additional resources: Every Moment After by Joseph Moldover, a book I reviewed last year that features survivors of an elementary school shooting as they prepare to graduate from high school. Enough is Enough would pair well with this book in an ELA curriculum. The writing style is relatable to teens, too. Perfect example: my favorite chapter, which is titled “The Second Amendment: WTF Is That All about?”

363.33 Gun Control          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Kress, Adrienne. Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-34399-1. 304 p. $9.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life transports readers into the world of Bendy and the Ink Machine, the popular video game. This imaginative horror novel takes place inside Joey Drew Studios in New York circa 1946. Buddy has taken a dream job working as a gopher and future animator for the studio (that is if his boss ever lets him draw). Stepping up in the world means everything for Buddy, especially now that his elderly grandfather has come to live in his mother’s already overcrowded apartment, and they need the extra cash. All seems well until Buddy encounters Sammy, the strange musical director, covered in ink. Slowly Buddy begins to notice that odd things are happening around Joey Drew Studios. People and ink go missing, the latter slipping right off the page, loud thumps in the night, and rumors of a machine that no one has seen. By the time Buddy can figure out what has happened, will it be too late to save the studio?

THOUGHTS: Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life will appeal to fans of the video game, if you’re looking for media tie-ins to add to your collection this book will fit nicely.

Horror          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Parker, Morgan. Who Put This Song On? Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-0-525-70751-6. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Morgan is just trying to figure it all out, and it’s hard. Trying to fit in when you clearly stand out is hard. Getting out of bed is hard. Morgan’s in therapy for her depression but the world just seems like one cruel joke. Her family doesn’t understand her, the world doesn’t get her fashion sense, and her friends know very little about what she’s going through. The only person who seems to get her is David, her new hopefully-more-than-a-friend from art class. Morgan’s world continues to expand and grow, and she struggles to find her place in it. As she and her friends, Meg and James, spend more time together, they begin to realize that they all have secrets and maybe, just maybe, life might be a little easier if they can rely on one another.

THOUGHTS: This is a book that tackles a tough topic like depression in a funny way. Morgan relates to the world around her via song, and the playlist is truly entertaining.

Realistic Fiction           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

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 – Crying Laughing; Finale; Call Down the Hawk; Supernova; If I’m Being Honest

Rubin, Lance. Crying Laughing. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-525-64467-5. 336 p. $17.99 Grades 7-10.

After a disastrous attempt at stand-up at her own bat mitzvah, Winnie Friedman retired from comedy. But with a little encouragement from her best friend Leili, and cute junior Evan, she steps out of her comfort zone and joins her high school’s Improv Troupe. Winnie enjoys both developing her comedy chops and the attention from Evan, but at home her father’s increasing clumsiness is diagnosed as something much more serious: ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Although Winnie’s tight-knit family unit is unexpectedly vulnerable, her social status is on the rise: getting laughs at Improv, killing it on the morning announcements, and boys sitting at her lunch table. When her dad falls at the supermarket, fellow Improv member Fletcher is clued in to her family secret and friendship – or romance? – may bloom where she least expects it. Lance Rubin (author of Denton Little’s Deathdate, former member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, and obvious proud comedy nerd) excels at mining the tragic for comedic gold. He’s equally adept at depicting life’s most cringe-worthy moments with a gentle touch.

THOUGHTS: Crying Laughing (which, yes, will have readers doing both) is a fantastic ode to pushing beyond your perceived limits while knowing that the people who love you most will provide a soft place to land. Don’t skip over the Acknowledgments, where Rubin talks about his personal connection with ALS. 

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Garber, Stephanie. Finale. Flatiron Books, 2019. 978-1-250-15766-9. 470 p. $19.99. Grades 7-12. 

According to the first page of Finale, every story has four parts: the beginning, the middle, the almost-ending, and the true ending. Legendary was the almost-ending, and Finale, perhaps, is the true-ending to the Caraval series. Donatella gained her ultimate prize for winning Caraval – her mother was returned to her. However, she is still comatose, and Tella has no idea how to wake her. Her sister, Scarlett, has met her true love — or has she? Finale is about how the end is never the end. When the girls lose their mother shortly after she awakens, Tella vows revenge on the Fates, particularly Fallen Star. The newly freed fates are wreaking havoc, and terrorizing the countryside, but the journey to recapture them will cruelly test the sisters, requiring choices and sacrifices beyond their imagination.

THOUGHTS: Fans of the series will clamor for the final volume, but new readers will need to start with Caraval; Garber provides no back story here. 

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Stiefvater, Maggie. Call Down the Hawk. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-18832-5. 468 p. $19.99. Grades 8+.

The exquisite agony of reading a Maggie Stiefvater book: Do you put the pedal to the metal in a crazy race to the finish because the story is so darn intriguing? Or do you crawl along on the side road, knowing the journey is at least as rewarding as the destination? For Call Down the Hawk, I recommend the latter. Stiefvater’s new Dreamer Trilogy expands the world of Ronan Lynch, one of the Raven Boys from her The Raven Cycle series. Ronan can pull objects and people out of his dreams, and in Call Down the Hawk we learn there is a shadow network of dreamers – those who dream, those who hunt dreamers, and those who see the End of the World. The loose premise of CDTH follows Hennessy, a young woman who dreams copies of herself; Carmen Farooq-Lane, a hunter of dreamers trying to atone for the evil her dreamer brother caused; and Visionaries, those who identify and locate dreamers. While The Dreamers Trilogy is meant to be a standalone series, readers of The Raven Cycle will have a much richer experience with Call Down the Hawk. Ronan’s brothers, bit players in The Raven Cycle, become fascinating individuals in their own right now, as story threads weave together into an unnerving tapestry. And the reader knows that if you pull on the wrong thread, every thing, every dream, every life will unravel.

THOUGHTS:  A first purchase where fantasy is popular and ethereal writing is appreciated. 

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Meyer, Marissa. Supernova. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. 978-1-250-07838-4. 549 p. $19.99. Grades 7-12. 

Meyer pulls off a unique feat with Supernova. The third book in the Renegades trilogy may be the best one. The story picks up hours after the end of Arch Enemies, as Anarchist Nova attempts to return to her undercover role as a Renegade superhero. Now that her uncle, the infamous Ace Anarchy, has been captured, she needs to devise a plan to release him from prison and finally start the Anarchist rebellion. But, as Nova is learning, nothing is black and white when it comes to Prodigies; some use their power for good, and others for evil, and the dividing line isn’t always Renegades vs Anarchists. As she attempts to embed herself further in the Renegade organization, she finds many of the individuals to be good and kind, while her erstwhile family of Anarchists can shock her with their enthusiasm for destruction and mayhem. Meanwhile, Adrian (aka Sketch) is trying to keep his identity as Sentinel secret. When the final battle between Renegades and Anarchists begins, who will be the heroes, and who will be the villains?

THOUGHTS: Chock full of character development as well as an action filled plot, Supernova is a perfectly breathtaking conclusion (or is it??) to this brilliant series. 

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Wibberley, Emily, and Austin Siegemund-Broka. If I’m Being Honest. Viking, 2019. 978-0-451-48109-2. $17.99. 359 p. Grades 9 and up. 

Cameron Bright is one of the most popular girls in her Los Angeles prep school. She is beautiful, smart, driven, and brutally honest. She has to be in order to make the future she’s been planning for her entire life happen – a future on the opposite coast, finally spending time with her father, attending school in Philadelphia, and working to follow in his footsteps as a successful financier. However, her senior year of high school is not off to a great start. Her mother, a washed-up actress, avoids getting a job, content to live off of support from Cameron’s father, and her plan to solidify her crush Andrew as her boyfriend goes awry at a party when he witnesses her brutal honesty rear its ugly head. While reading The Taming of the Shrew in English class, Cameron comes to realize that while she finds her honesty a virtue, society views it as a vice, so she sets out to tame herself in order to at least make amends with Andrew and win back his affections. For all her list-making and planning, Cameron’s quest to tame herself takes her places she never could have imagined including an incredibly nerdy book store, a video game development competition, a live screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the arms of a lovable group of nerds including Brendan, a boy whose life she ruined in middle school by giving him a horrible nickname.

THOUGHTS: With other contemporary Shrew remakes like the film 10 Things I Hate About You to live up to, this retelling doesn’t disappoint and manages to hold its own. The family dynamic is very different – both parents are present, and their complicated relationship makes for its own strong subplot; plus,there is no Bianca/sister character. Still, it captures the essence of Shakespeare’s original themes: perceptions of women’s behavior and motivation for making changes in our lives. This novel could work well as an independent read or enrichment activity after reading the original play, or as a companion to the play in order for students to analyze how society’s views on women and feminism have changed over the centuries. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD