YA – Be Dazzled

La Sala, Ryan. Be Dazzled. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-492-68269-1. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.

If ever there was a meet-cute, Raffy and Luca are it. They meet in the gem aisle of Craft Club, the local craft megastore, both boys zeroing in on Sea Foam Dream #6 gems. Dark-haired, dark-eyed Raffy is a supremely talented cosplay crafter/video streamer, with a devoted internet following; Luca, a smokin’ hot Italian American soccer player. Raffy can’t believe Luca was (he was, wasn’t he?) flirting with him. Raffy introduces Luca into the nerdom of cosplay and conventions. Luca introduces Raffy to fun. Raffy, 17 year old, is so focused on impressing the judges at the various Cons he attends, hoping to gain sponsorship for his crafting, and scholarships to art school, that he has lost the joy of crafting. Teaching Luca brings back the fun. But when Raffy’s maniacal intensity collides with Luca’s laissez faire approach, the inevitable breakup occurs. Yet now Raffy’s success at Controverse depends on working with the boy who broke his heart. Adding to the storyline is Luca’s inability to tell his family he is bisexual, as well as coming out as a closet nerd, and Raffy’s intense, “ARTIST” mother, who scorns sequins, satin and sewing. When all the worlds collide, will Raffy and Luca be able to survive, the second time around? This dazzling nerd romance is heart-meltingly cute. The behind-the-scenes look at cosplay crafting is fascinating, and Raffy is an expert guide to the design and creation of costumes. Both boys have loyal friends to support them, and while family issues are resolved quickly and neatly, it makes for a satisfying conclusion to a fun read.

THOUGHTS: There is nothing not to love about this bedazzling nerd romance with a happy ending.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – The Queen Will Betray You

Henning, Sarah. The Queen Will Betray You. Tor Teen, 2021. 978-1-250-23746-0. $17.99. 368 p. Grades 8-12.

Princess Amarande and her true love, Luca, have finally been reunited. However, in order to save the Kingdoms, they must part. Luca, no mere stable boy anymore, must fulfill his role and lead a rebellion against the tyrant war lord. Meanwhile, Amarande returns to her kingdom to find that her mother, the runaway queen, has taken control through her brother, the newly crowned King Ferdinand. Desperate, Amarande unwillingly accepts the help of her enemy, Prince Tallifer, in order to escape her mother and defy the queen’s plotting for control over the kingdoms. Her love for Luca and for her people motivate her to keep going, even when all seems lost and betrayal lurks around every corner.

THOUGHTS: The Queen will betray you, but which queen? This was an immensely enjoyable and action packed follow up to The Princess Will Save You, loosely based upon The Princess Bride, and the story does not end here! The cliff hanger will leave readers impatiently waiting for the release of The King Will Kill You to find out the fate of the Kingdoms of Sand and Sky and if true love really does prevail.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Sing Me Forgotten

Olson. Jessica S. Sing Me Forgotten. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-14794-3. $19.99. 336 p. Grades 8-12.

Isda has lived inside an opera house since she was a baby. She was born with a magical ability to extract the memories of others, and since these magic wielders are feared and easily recognized by their facial differences, she was left in a well at birth to die, standard practice for any baby born with this rare, but dangerous gift. Isda was saved by Cyril, and the only world she knows is the one that he tells her he saved her from. If she was ever discovered, both her and Cyril would be executed. Isda longs to share her own voice and music with the world, just as the opera singers are able to do, and when she meets Emeric, an aspiring performer, she decides to befriend him and become his tutor, hiding her own identity behind a mask. While he sings, Isda is able to use her ability to explore Emeric’s memories and soon discovers that the world may not be as Cyril has told her. Her friendship with Emeric motivates her to explore and expand her abilities and plan for a potential escape from her lonely and unfulfilling existence in the darkness, but a life in the light may require Isda to become the monster the world fears that she is.

THOUGHTS: Sing Me Forgotten is a twist on The Phantom of the Opera, but it also reminds me of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In this retelling, the “phantom” is a young girl who has lived alone her entire life, but when she learns the truth about the world around her, this angel of music quickly becomes a monster and walks a fine line between being a hero and becoming a villain. Readers will finish this one with tears in their eyes, a craving for warm caramel candies, and perhaps a desire to watch an adaptation of the original tale that inspired this new, stand alone fantasy.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

TA – Perfectly Parvin

Abtahi, Olivia. Perfectly Parvin. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-0-593-10942-7. 310 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

On the cusp of starting ninth grade, Iranian-American Parvin Mohammadi has a lot going for her: her BFFs Ruth and Fabián, an aunt (Ameh Sara) in Iran who helps her apply make-up via video chat, and a cute boy who has just asked her to be his girlfriend. But days later, Wesley unceremoniously dumps her at their high school orientation. His reason? She’s just “too much.” After (literally) peeling herself off the linoleum to binge-watch her favorite romantic comedies, Parvin hatches a plan to secure a date to Homecoming. By modeling her behavior after the demure leading ladies of The Princess Bride, The Little Mermaid, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Parvin is sure she can get a new boy to like her. No more outlandish outfits, pranks, Hot Cheetos, or being too loud. In other words, none of the things that make her (yes) perfectly Parvin. But can she lock down a real relationship with a fake personality? A compelling subplot about Ameh Sara securing a visa to visit the States (and deliver make-up tutorials in person) adds timeliness and tension.

THOUGHTS: This effervescent, laugh-out-loud debut perfectly captures Parvin’s humor, hijinks, and occasional humiliations. It matches the tone and depth of Netflix’s Never Have I Ever and Sandhya Menon’s Dimple and Rishi series. 

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – A Pho Love Story

Le, Loan. A Pho Love Story. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44193-4. 416 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Competing Vietnamese-American family-owned pho restaurants set the stage for this romantic comedy. Despite the two of them going to school together and being from similar family backgrounds (and occupations), Bao Nguyen and Linh Mai do not get along. It’s really their families who do not get along, but Bao and Linh normally steer clear of each other. Bao isn’t meeting his family’s expectations. Across the street Linh Mai works in her family’s pho restaurant but dreams of pursing an art career. When Bao helps Linh out of a tough spot, she can’t help but wonder why their families feel the way they do. Curiosity piqued, Bao and Linh begin to interact but away from their families. Can Bao and Linh meet their families’ strict expectations and find a way to be together?

THOUGHTS: Teens looking for a sweet rom-com with a little depth will adore these characters. A Pho Love Story pairs perfectly with other food romances like A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen and The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Afterlove

Byrne, Tanya. Afterlove. Hodder Children’s Books, 2021. 978-1-444-95595-8. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

The last thing that Ash hears is breaking glass, followed by confusion. Is she still alive? Is she dead? She is met by a group of girls who tell her she has been chosen to be a Reaper, and she has to start over with this new “life.” However, all Ash wants is to see her girlfriend Poppy again no matter what. This is a unique LGBTQIA+ story, with a splash of paranormal thrown in.

THOUGHTS: The characters felt very unique and relatable, and the plot was extremely well crafted and thought out. The ending was gut wrenching but felt true to the plot and didn’t feel rushed at all. I would highly recommend this book for every high school and public library. 

Romance          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Once Upon A Broken Heart

Garber, Stephanie. Once Upon A Broken Heart. Hodder and Stoughton, 2021. 978-1-529-38044-6. 403 pg. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Evangeline believes in true love; however, life throws a wrench in her plans when the love of her life is going to marry someone else. In a desperate moment, Evangeline makes a deal with the Prince of Hearts; however, that does not go as planned! As she goes through with his deal she learns there is more to the Prince than meets the eye. She learns more about herself and what she wants out of life and love as she goes. This is set in the same world as Stephanie Garber’s Caraval series; however, the reader does not need to read that series to understand this one.

THOUGHTS: This was a delightful little book! This was a fun, fast-paced read that will leave the reader craving the next book.

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Evangeline Fox grew up in her father’s curiosity shop believing in magic, fairy tales, and true love. When her stepmother announces that her stepsister will marry the man Evangeline loves, she desperately tracks down the Prince of Hearts, Jacks, and asks him to stop the wedding. The price: Three kisses at the time of his choosing. Confident that she made the right choice, she discovers that Jacks turned the wedding party to stone. Feeling guilty, she volunteers to take their place. Luckily, her time as a statue is short lived, and through some miscommunication, she’s hailed a hero since no one, except for Jacks, knew that she was the cause of the disastrous wedding. When Evangeline is given the chance to journey to the north, she accepts and brings her stepsister, hoping it will make up for her ruined wedding and the rumor that she’s a cursed bride. When they arrive at the court of Prince Apollo, who is looking for a wife, Evangeline’s world is turned upside down when Jacks, who is at the ball as well, begins cashing in on their bargain. She fears that her secret will be revealed, realizes that making a bargain with a fate was a huge mistake, and starts to question if true love is worth fighting for after all.

THOUGHTS: Stephanie Garber’s fantastical world, first introduced to readers in Caraval, is filled with eccentric characters, unique fashions, whimsical parties, fairy tale castles, delectable sweets, and curiosities beyond our imaginations. The vivid descriptions will make readers wish they could fall into the pages to experience the magic and wonder for themselves.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – One Great Lie

Caletti, Deb. One Great Lie. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-46317-2. 384 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Caletti has a knack for writing twisty stories that feel like a mystery, mild adult thriller, and realistic young adult fiction all in one. Pulling from current events in modern culture, such as the #MeToo movement, Caletti is able to tell a story while weaving in historically accurate information about female writers from the 1500s and 1600s that are largely unknown. Set mostly in the picturesque city of Venice, Charlotte was selected for an exclusive writing retreat for students to work with a renowned author. While leaving a home that isn’t always comfortable might come as a golden opportunity, Charlotte faces her own tribulations in Venice, and the distance makes it hard for her to communicate with her nearest and dearest. That is, except for Dante. By all standards, this book has romantic elements with unexpected developments in all story lines.

THOUGHTS: All high school libraries should start a Deb Caletti shelf now. This novel will be of particular interest to those who enjoy learning about historical female writers, art preservation, or Italy.

Romance          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD
Realistic Fiction

YA – The Holiday Switch

Marcelo, Tif. The Holiday Switch. Underlined, 2021. 978-0-593-37955-4. 272 p. $9.99. Gr 9-12.

Sounds like it belongs on a Hallmark Channel countdown? It does. Just like the main character’s, Lila, holiday book blog Tinsel and Tropes, supports the existence of so many subgenres of holiday books, it’s still a rare occurrence to locate YA holiday focused novels, with Filipino American main and supporting characters nonetheless. While Lila navigates through her last year of high school in an almost perpetual Christmas town, there’s a constant air of gingerbread lattes and candy canes that make college decisions, secrets from parents, and romance seem sugar coated. Even in her most frustrated moments, she finds a cutesy-Christmasy way to convey her feelings (a la jumping jingle bells). Despite being a relatively light read, Marcelo is able to weave family, life decisions, and relationships into the plot that give the book enough weight to carry through the holiday season, like when Lila’s younger sister points out that “no one really knows what they’re doing, but I think you might know what the next step is.”

THOUGHTS: The Filipino American main character and various supporting characters who are also Filipino American make this #ownvoices novel an easy purchase for most high school libraries. Though there isn’t a ton of depth to the story, it’s a nice easy read that will broaden most reader’s experiences.

Romance          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD
Realistic Fiction

YA – If the Shoe Fits

Murphy, Julie. If the Shoe Fits. Disney-Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-368-05337-2. 304 p. $15.99. Grades 9-12.

In this charming and modern re-telling of Cinderella, Julie Murphy hits the mark again with a body positive novel that makes everyone feel included (shout out to correct nonbinary pronoun usage!). Filled to the brim with one-liners will make teens and adults alike laugh out loud (or a least grunt in appreciation), readers of all types will almost immediately feel like they are friends with Cindy, the orphaned-recent-fashion-school-grad-turned-reality-TV-star and a mutual hatred for the mean girl, Addison. In classic reality TV fashion, there are tons of side-eye glances and catty situations that mostly make the suitor, Henry, shine even brighter. The lens of fashion as art gives the book a broader reader audience as Crow mindfully says, “life feeds art and art feeds into life.”

THOUGHTS: An atypical family dynamic, with a widowed stepmom, step sisters and half-sibling triplets seems complicated, but seamlessly comes together, pun intended. If the Shoe Fits has a lot more depth than a typical love story, from fashion references to art and questions about fate, this novel can be added to the shelves of high school and public libraries with fans of Dumplin‘, reality TV, or fashion.

Romance          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Senior High School
Realistic Fiction