YA – Love Is a Revolution

Watson, Renee. Love Is a Revolution. Bloomsbury YA, 2021. 978-1-547-60060-1. 304 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

Nala agrees to attend an open mic night with her cousin, not really expecting to find love. She meets Tye Brown, an activist and Nala is… not; Tye wants to spend his summer doing community service, and Nala wants to hang out and try new ice cream flavors. Nala makes the decision to tell a couple white lies to Tye, and that ends up spiraling into something she did not expect. Will Nala come clean to the guy of her dreams or keep the lies going? The best part about this novel is the body positivity and Nala’s friend group. While this is a YA romance, there is a larger message about being true to yourself and loving yourself for who you are.

THOUGHTS: I adored everything about this book and these characters. I loved the way Renee Watson develops her characters, and her writing style makes this book so easy to read. Highly recommended for any high school collection.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – The Gravity of Us

Stamper, Phil. The Gravity of Us. Bloomsbury YA, 2020. 978-1-547-60014-4. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Everyone’s lives are more visible to others than they used to be. Cal Lewis knows that best because he is always live streaming news and weekend updates from his homebase in Brooklyn. His life gets viewed from a different angle when his dad is selected as the final candidate for NASA’s Mars exploration project that is highly covered by a reality television company. From leaving his best friend at a critical time to meeting other AstroKids while continuing to cultivate media communication plans for his own content and others, this sweet story is representative and hits on woes of being a 21st century teen. Stamper does a fantastic job of illustrating why Mars exploration is an important endeavor, whether publicly or privately funded.

THOUGHTS: If you have room on your coming of age shelf, this is a great addition for your space nerds, LBGTQ+ community, and anyone who is looking for a fresh take on being a teen in the roaring 2020s.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Super Fake Love Song

Yoon, David. Super Fake Love Song. G.P. Putnam & Sons, 2020. 978-1-984-81223-0. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Asian-American Sunny Dae is a nerd, into Dungeons and Dragons with his best buddies, Jamal and Milo and anticipating multiple followers when they broadcast an interview with the much admired Lady Lashblade. Then he meets Cirrus Soh, the daughter of a Japanese couple who do business with his own workaholic parents. To impress Cirrus, he takes on the persona of his rocker-brother, Gray. His older brother has returned from his Hollywood pursuit for fame with his tail between his legs. Depressed and disillusioned, Gray succumbs himself to his basement room only to be drawn out to mentor the fledgling band Sunny and his pals have formed as they rehearse for the annual high school talent show. As Sunny’s feelings for Cirrus deepen, he becomes more conflicted about his duplicity: he is pretending to be a rocker and gaining Cirrus’s admiration and the longer he pretends, the more he likes the confidence and attention he is getting from others, including Gunner, his former bully.  When the day for the show comes, the Immortals pull it off, until a drunk Gray interferes. Author David Yoon has a knack for clever dialogue. His narrator, Sunny, weaves DnD references with contemporary situations that are fun for teens. Sunny is wealthy and lives in a posh area of Rancho Ruby in California. Though he is intelligent and good-looking, he still deals with insecurities and feelings of being a loser. However, the charmed life he leads refutes that claim. For those looking for a light romance enhanced by good writing, Super Fake Love Song may be just the thing.

THOUGHTS: Dungeons and Dragons fans will appreciate Sunny’s obsession. Romance fans will like the different male perspective. Though the genre is realistic fiction, the circumstances and events that occur in this book are fantasy to many of the teens who may pick up this book. In one section Sunny gives his take on the extravagant party Cirrus throws when her parents leave her home alone: “Such phenomena occurred solely on insipid television shows written by middle-aged hacks eager to cash in on the young adult demographic” (224). This comment may be a prediction for Super Fake Love Song.

Realistic Fiction/Romance          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Rossi, Veronica. Rebel Spy. Delacorte, 2020. 978-1-524-77122-5. 348 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

When Frannie Tasker’s abusive stepfather announces it is time for her to take her dead mother’s place in the household, she knows she has to escape her brutal life with him as a salvage diver on Grand Bahama Island. Fate intervenes by way of a fatal shipwreck, and a dead young woman who looks similar to Frannie. A quick change of clothes, (and a bout of “trauma-induced” mutism until she can polish her vocabulary and manners) and she becomes Emmeline Coates, wealthy British heiress on her way to America, during the height of the Revolution. She gradually adapts to her new life, family and friends, and even catches the eye of a handsome British officer. But a chance encounter with American rebel Asa Lane, who befriended Frannie on the voyage to New York and coached her in the ways of society women, shakes her out of her comfortable lifestyle. Utilizing her position in Loyalist society, Frannie begins spying for the Americans, passing along information she overhears during teas and dinner parties. But spying is a dangerous game,and Frannie is risking everything, including her new life and persona. Will Emmeline, or Frannie, survive? Based on the unknown identity of a member of the famous Revolutionary War Culper spy ring, Rossi creates a story for female agent 355. Meticulous research brings to life events of the war, many less familiar than those learned in history class, highlighting the little-emphasized contributions of women patriots.

THOUGHTS: A well-constructed combination of mystery, romance, and history featuring a strong, intelligent female main character, Rebel Spy is perfect for historical fiction fans, readers seeking an adventure story, or period romance readers.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – These Violent Delights

Gong, Chloe. These Violent Delights. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020. 978-1-534-45769-0. $19.99. 464 p. Grades 9-12.

“These violent delights have violent ends.” It’s 1926, and the city of Shanghai is ruled by two gangs: The White Flowers and The Scarlet Gang. Juliette Cai has just returned to the city after spending four years in America, and she’s ready to forget her past and take on the role of heir to the Scarlets. When she is approached by Roma Montagov, the White Flower heir, he insists they work together to stop a madness plaguing their city and taking the lives of members of both gangs. She reluctantly agrees, although she was betrayed by Roma in the past. Together, as they prepare to hunt down a monster, they can’t ignore the passion that still exists between them, but if their alliance is discovered by either gang, the madness will be the least of their worries, and the blood feud between the two could turn deadly.

THOUGHTS: This novel brings some exciting new aspects to William Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet: 1920s flappers, the setting of Shanghai, monsters, and madness! The Scarlet Gang members are Chinese, The White Flowers are Russian, but the French and English are powerful presences in Shanghai as well, and this brings some diversity to the characters. You’ll be rooting for Roma and Juliette as they discover the secret behind the madness, and against all odds, find their way back to each other. This is perfect for readers who like action and historical fiction, as well as a bit of romance, and the ending will have them impatiently waiting for book two!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Juliette Cai seems to have it all as the eighteen-year-old heir to Shanghai’s revered Scarlet Gang. Juliette’s only problem seems to be her love/hate relationship with Roma Montagov, the heir of the rival gang the White Flowers. The Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers’ criminal networks operate above the law and are continually fighting, often killing each other on the spot when they accidentally cross into the other’s territory. However, a mysterious plague descends upon Shanghai, causing people from both sides to become mad and claw out their own throats. People begin whispering of a monster with glittering eyes, often seen in the water and controlling lice-like insects that burrow into people’s brains. In this retelling of Romeo and Juliet, both Juliette and Roma must put their feelings aside and work together to find the origin of this madness and stop it before Shanghai is destroyed.

THOUGHTS: With her beautiful descriptive language, author Chole Gong puts a riveting twist on a classic story in her debut novel, which promises to delight fans of the fantasy genre. Fans of fantasy sequels and trilogies will also appreciate that this story will continue in a yet-to-be-published sequel.

Fantasy          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Anna K

Lee, Jenny. Anna K. Flatiron Books, 2020. 978-1-250-23643-2. $18.99. 374 p. Grades 9-12.

Anna K. has the perfect life. Although she comes from a wealthy, Manhattan family, she prefers to spend the majority of her time in Greenwich with her NewFoundland show dogs and horses, and has been in a picture perfect relationship with her boyfriend, Alexander, for years. Anna tends to stay away from drama, but her family and friends cannot. Anna’s brother Steven and his girlfriend Lolly are trying to repair their relationship after Steven was unfaithful, Lolly’s sister Kimmie is trying to find her place after an injury prevents her from competitive ice skating, and Steven’s friend’s Dustin wants to find love before heading off to college. On her way to help Steven and Lolly with their relationship troubles, Anna meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky in the Manhattan train station, and a spark ignites between the two. Vronsky, who has quite the reputation when it comes to women, has never been in love, but he can’t stop thinking about Anna. Although Anna knows it’s wrong, she cannot stay away from Vronsky. The two begin a secret relationship, and Anna’s perfect life slowly starts to unravel around her.

THOUGHTS: I loved this modern adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina! Like the classic, this novel explores the lives and social pressures of a large cast of characters, introduced at the beginning of the book, each dealing with their own personal and family issues. Lee changes the setting, and rather than a focus on the Russian nobility of the late 1800s, Anna K. is set in modern day New York City and follows the social lives of the city’s wealthiest young elites. Fans of the classic will notice the similarities between characters and recognize key plot points, especially the ones that take place in train stations or on the train from Manhattan to Greenwich. However, readers unfamiliar with the classic will still enjoy this story of drama, passion, scandal, betrayal, heartache, and love and may find themselves checking out the original after finishing this modern adaptation.

Realistic Fiction          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – The Code for Love and Heartbreak

Cantor, Jillian. The Code for Love and Heartbreak. Inkyard Press, 2020. 978-335-09059-1. $18.99. 297 p. Grades 9 and up.

Emma Woodhouse thinks in numbers. For example, when her sister Izzy leaves for college all she can think about is the 2,764 miles that will be between them now while she’s at UCLA with her boyfriend, John. As she packs to leave, Izzy implores Emma to be more social in her senior year, maybe even get a boyfriend. Emma scoffs at this ridiculous idea, though, and decides just to focus on winning the New Jersey state coding competition with John’s younger brother and her friend George. With her coding skills, George’s graphic design and animation skills, and their senior leadership as co-captains, they think they have a real shot. Stanford would definitely take her seriously with that state championship on her resume. But even Ms. Taylor, her guidance counselor and coding club advisor suggests that Emma find more “social” activities to put on her resume because grades and coding club accolades won’t make her stand out at Stanford where thousands of brainy computer nerds apply. George wants to create a recycling app for the competition, but Emma decides she can accomplish both of her resume goals – win the state championship and do something more social – if they develop a unique dating app, one that mathematically pairs users with their perfect match right at their own school. It’s perfect – Emma can play matchmaker for all the school dances without actually going on dates herself in order to check off that “social” box on her resume, win the state coding competition, and ride off into the sunset at Stanford. “Numbers don’t play games,” as Emma explains, so what could go wrong, right?

THOUGHTS: Based on Jane Austen’s classic Emma, this book definitely fills a specific need in YA collections. Reluctant readers who are more into math and science will find this lighthearted romance enjoyable. Also recommended for students looking for a PG-rated romance with no cursing or sex, aside from an instance of some boys who try to use the dating app for the wrong reasons.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – The Princess Will Save You

Henning, Sarah. The Princess Will Save You. Tor Teen, 2020. 978-1-250-23742-2. $19.99. 352 p. Grades 9-12.

The Princess Will Save You is loosely based upon The Princess Bride, but puts a twist on the classic tale: What if Buttercup saved Westley? Princess Aramande lives in the kingdom of Ardenia. She’s the only child of King Sendoa, and when he suddenly dies, Aramande is told she cannot rule unless she marries. Although she’s suspicious of his death, and doesn’t believe it to be an accident, princes and suitors of neighboring kingdoms have already arrived hoping to win her hand. The last thing she wants to do at sixteen is marry a stranger and give up control of the kingdom, but it doesn’t seem as if she’ll have much of a choice. When Luca, the stableboy and her true love, is kidnapped to be used as ransom against her, she immediately goes after him. Although she hasn’t spent much time outside of her kingdom, she has been trained as a warrior, and finally has a chance to put her skills to the test. Aramande encounters hardships along the way, and when Prince Renard, the man who intends to marry her, finds out she is missing, he sets after her to reclaim his runaway prize. Meanwhile, Luca, who is being held captive by pirates, has no doubt in his mind that his princess will save him.

THOUGHTS: Like The Princess Bride, The Princess Will Save You is full of action and adventure, and yes, it is a kissing book! The plot has similarities to The Princess Bride, but it’s in no way an exact retelling, just a loose adaptation. This book has a number of strong, female characters, and I loved the surprise plot twists packed into both the ending and epilogue!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Princess Amarande of Ardenia is not like other princesses in the Kingdom of Sand and Sky. She spends more time in the stables training with stableboy Luca than she does in the castle. Though just as well-suited for the battlefield as she is the throne, Amarande is the only child of her father, King Sendoa, which means she can’t inherit her crown unless she marries a prince in this very patriarchal society. When her father dies unexpectedly, 16-year old Amarande is not ready to marry, especially not to a power-hungry prince she doesn’t even know. She doesn’t understand what marrying a prince has to do with her bloodline. And then there’s the fact that, while they’ve never openly admitted it to each other, Amarande and the stableboy Luca are in love. Though she tries to convince the elders of the kingdom that she can rule without a husband, they deny her requests and begin inviting other princes to draw up marriage contracts. When Amarande refuses to cooperate, Prince Renard from neighboring Pyranee and his family of equally power-hungry villains arrange to have Luca kidnapped. The pirates who kidnap Luca leave behind a note stating, “Marry Renard or you will never see your love again.” Amarande cannot marry Renard. She also cannot let anything happen to Luca. Her only choice is to go after him. The pirates who kidnap Luca mock him when he proclaims that Amarande will come after them. “Sure, the Princess will save you,” they joke. But they don’t know this princess.

THOUGHTS: Full of adventure, a lovable rag-tag supporting cast, and a kick-butt female protagonist, this YA fantasy is based on The Princess Bride, and fans of the beloved classic will definitely pick up on several nods to the film including the famous line, “As you wish.” The last 20 pages are full of proverbial dropped bombs, and readers will be salivating for the sequel when it releases this summer.

Fantasy          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – The Black Kids

Reed, Christina Hammonds. The Black Kids. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-46272-4. 362. p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Los Angeles is in flames after the police officers who beat Rodney King senseless are acquitted. These events of the early 90s have an intense, life-changing effect on native Angelinos and upper middle-class African Americans, Ashley Bennett and her older sister Jo. As Christina Hammonds Reed’s relatable narrator, the popular, thoughtful Ashley, nears graduation, she starts to view her childhood (white) friends differently, a situation exacerbated by the local disruptions. Her teenage stresses about college acceptances, parental conflicts, and illicit flirting, pale once the riots start and her rebellious sister Jo drops out of school, marries, and protests the verdicts. Ashley has lived a privileged life pampered by the family’s Guatemalan housekeeper, Lucia, and indulged in every material way. Now, her father’s family-owned business–run all these years by his brother– is in ruin, bringing her uncle and her cousin to the Bennetts’ doorstep. When Ashley connects with the kind, charming basketball star, LaShawn Johnson who attends the elite prep school on scholarship, and the off-beat Lana Haskins who is possibly a victim of physical abuse, she questions her friend choices and wonders why she has no Black friends. When Ashley inadvertently starts a rumor at her school that gets LaShawn suspended, she finds it difficult to rectify the situation; but it makes her reflect on the inequity in the lives of people of color. Her sister’s mounting militancy finally gets her arrested and sentenced, though she was just one of the crowd of protestors when someone threw a Molotov cocktail setting a fire. Ashley becomes accepted by the Black kids at school and discovers she can widen her circle of friends. More importantly, the Bennett family grows better at communicating with each other and, in doing that, they realize they care deeply about each other. Christina Hammonds Reed takes a coming-of-age story set in the early nineties against the backdrop of the Rodney King beatings to a new level. The relationships, tension, and plot development as well as the cultural references and dialogue draw in the reader. In particular, Reed’s writing style is fresh and exact, giving a unique take on the typical high school tropes—mothers vs. daughters, siblings, popularity, the future, romance, self-discovery –thus making The Black Kids a compelling read.

THOUGHTS: Recommend this title to high school students who liked Karen English’s middle grade novel, It All Comes Down to This that told of the Watts riots, and lead them to Ana Deavere Smith’s one-woman show featuring the players in the Rodney King beating and its aftermath, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Activism and passivity are shown in the two sisters and students can discuss these divergent characters. The difficulty separating from childhood friends or the desire to be seen in a different light as one matures is a strong theme in this book. Though the elements of the story are not uncommon, Reed’s gifted writing style pulls you into to the book.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Step back into the early nineties in LA for a coming of age story that could easily situate itself into the current landscape of America (without social media and cell phones). Main character, Ashley lives a pretty posh life, removed from the hardships her parents faced growing up and even from a lot of the current events. She attends a private school with a lot of white friends and lives in a respected neighborhood. When the Rodney King trial and subsequent riots take over the city, Ashley’s world starts to shake, and she’s forced to reckon with questions of identity. From the shift from child to adult, Ashley’s experience provides the foreground to the city of Los Angeles during a fragile moment in US history.

THOUGHTS: This book should replace some of the dusty “classics” taking up room on high school shelves. Although suitable for high school students, there is mention of drugs, alcohol, and self harm.

Historical Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – More Than Maybe

Hahn, Erin. More Than Maybe. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-23164-2. $17.99. 308 p. Grades 9 and up.

Luke has been reading Vada’s music blog, secretly commenting on it (and crushing on her) for three years. Vada’s also been falling asleep listening to Luke’s “deep, lyrical, and crisp” voice on the podcast he records with his brother… in the studio above the Loud Lizard, the bar where Vada works, which happens to be owned by her mom’s boyfriend and former drummer, Phil. Of course neither of these introverted music nerds have the guts to talk to each other even though they go to the same school and see each other regularly at the Loud Lizard. That is, until Vada’s dance class and Luke’s music composition class get paired together for the end-of-the-year spring showcase. Luke finally takes a risk and offers to partner up with Vada to compose a song for her dance performance, which seems like it might be the end of the story. They’re going to fall in love now, right? It’s not that simple when Luke is hiding his love for composing music from his dad, a former British punk rock star who wants Luke to follow in his footsteps. Luke has no interest in performing – just composing – and to avoid the pressure from his dad entirely, he hides the fact that he even plays music at all. Vada has obstacles of her own. Her mostly absent (also former musician) father only shows up to drink himself stupid at the Loud Lizard, and when he says he’s not helping her pay for college, Vada has to figure out a way to make her music journalism dreams come true on her own. Working at the Loud Lizard and having easy access to concerts helps, but the Loud Lizard is just barely surviving financially. Enter the power of music.

THOUGHTS: Flirting via lyrics? Yes, please! While I think anyone can appreciate this adorable love story whether you know the bands mentioned or not, contemporary music lovers will find themselves swooning over this book. There’s even a user-created playlist on Spotify made up of all the songs mentioned! Highly recommended for any YA collection. Put it in the hands of anyone who loves music.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD