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

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

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

YA – Majesty

McGee, Katharine. Majesty (American Royals Book 2). Random House, 2020. 978-1-984-83021-0. 374 p. Grades 9 and up.

Following the death of her father, King George IV, Beatrice is now Queen of America, but not everyone is happy about this; she is young, female, and unmarried. As Beatrice tries to establish herself as Queen, her impending wedding and the Lord Chamberlain, Robert Standish, stand in her way. Forced to focus on her wedding instead of ruling the nation, Beatrice begins to connect with Teddy and build a loving relationship with him, but when Connor, her past love, returns, Beatrice is forced to make a choice: her love for Connor or her love for an America not quite ready for a Queen?

Meanwhile, Samantha is still reeling over the loss of Teddy and his impending marriage to Beatrice. As the new heir apparent, Samantha must change her ways and become more regal and less wild, but how?

Daphne is still determined to win Jefferson back and become a princess. Through schemes and treachery, Daphne convinces Jefferson’s best friend, Ethan, to pursue a relationship with Nina, Samantha’s best friend and Jefferson’s ex-girlfriend. As Daphne’s dreams seem to be within her grasp, a past secret returns and threatens everything. Daphne will do anything to become royal even if that includes destroying everything and everyone in her way.

THOUGHTS: Majesty is the perfect follow-up to American Royals. Picking up right where the first book ended, McGee continues developing the world of the American Royal Family; a world of love, pain, back-stabbers, cruelty, and never ending possibilities (or perhaps all-ending). In this newest title, McGee focuses on the fear of a female leader and the sexism and misogyny faced by women in powerful positions. Readers will be furious with Beatrice (and enraged at times with the actions of others toward her) and then cheer her on as she figures out who to trust and who to leave behind.  Although a romance, Majesty presents readers with questions about gender equality, racism, loyalty, trust, friendship, family allegiance, and where each of us stands in our own story.

Romance        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Again Again

Lockhart, e. Again Again. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-385-74479-9. 286 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up.

After moving and family upheaval, Adelaide Buchwald is trying to find herself. It’s the summer between her junior and senior years, and she has taken a job as a dog walker (and watcher). As she deals with the dogs, her family dysfunction, lack of motivation and focus, a serious breakup, and a new crush, Adelaide reconciles herself with the “what is” but wishes for the “what could be.” When she meets Nick (or re-meets him), she begins to fantasize about how things should be or could be while trying to ignore what is. When Adelaide finally realizes that she must face who she is and what actually is, instead of “who she could be” or “what could be,” she begins the process of forgiveness: forgiveness of herself; forgiveness of her parents; forgiveness of her brother, and forgiveness of what will not be.

THOUGHTS: Again Again is a fun magical realism, romance. Adelaide plays through every situation in the hope of the best outcome (or possibly the worst outcomes). This trait may be very familiar to readers, especially teens, which adds to the connection to Adelaide; she is an easily understandable character. The text font changes as situations change from reality to Adelaide’s imagination. This is harder to follow when listening to the audio book, which is excellent, but easy to see when looking at the print novel. This is a sure-to-please lighthearted romance for all ages.

Romance          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD
Magical Realism

YA – Six Angry Girls

Kisner, Adrienne. Six Angry Girls. Feiwel and Friends. 2020. 978-1-250-25342-2. $17.99. 262 p. Grades 9-12.

Raina Petree got dumped by big crush boyfriend, Brandon. Emilia Goodwin got dumped by the pompous all-male Mock Trial Team. They join forces to salvage their senior year by forming an all-female Mock Trial Team in their Pittsburgh suburban high school of Steelton drawing on Raina’s drama skills and Millie’s knowledge of the law and research. Adapting the title of the 1950’s movie, Twelve Angry Men, these six angry girls (all but one Caucasian)–overcome heartbreak and self-esteem issues to create a strong challenge to their male counterparts and a serious threat to other Mock Trial Teams as they compete for Nationals. Told in alternating chapters narrated by either Raina or Millie, the book develops a girl power story with the message that people need to stand up for what is right and, especially, stand up for oneself. Author Adrienne Kisner also manages to weave in a subplot involving knitting. Raina searches for an outlet for her grief and joins the knitting group at The Dropped Stitch, a local yarn store. Not only does she learn to cast on and purl, she finds herself involved with activists trying to stop the election of a local magistrate because of his history letting off misogynists and blocking legislation for reproductive rights. Their rebellion manifests itself in yarn-bombing the courthouse with knitted female genitalia. In a twist, the targeted judge turns up volunteering in Mock Trial. At the knitting shop, Raina meets new student Grace who is happy to join an extracurricular activity. Millie falls for Grace and begins to value herself and her time, separating her needs from her helpless father who expects Millie to be chief cook and bottlewasher after her mother moves to Ohio. Though told in a light-hearted manner, the book addresses serious topics, contains a full-range of LBGTQ+ characters, and models the strengths and weaknesses of adults in young people’s lives. What begins as a revenge against the boys story builds with each club meeting, practice, and competition to a triumph of self-identity and self-worth.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: The cover illustration depicts a diverse group of girls, but the two main characters are white. Author Adrienne Kisner is emphasizing gender identity: Millie and Grace form a romantic relationship; Izzy, a minor character, is transgender; the Mock Trial court case for the win centers on gender discrimination. Some parts to be aware of: The Dropped Stitch crew are not shy about using anatomically correct terms, and a smattering of curses appear throughout the dialogue, making it more a high school choice than middle grade. This book has the same feminist fight tone of Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu; and if this suburban, western Pennsylvanian high school resembles yours, Six Angry Girls is an attractive purchase.

YA – 10 Things I Hate About Pinky

Menon, Sandhya. 10 Things I Hate About Pinky. Simon Pulse, 2020. 978-1-534-41681-9. 354 p. $18.99. Grades 6-12. 

Pinky Kumar is a whirlwind force to be reckoned with, a unique individual in every sense of the word. She cares tremendously about those less fortunate than her (both human and animal) and strikes up causes that most wouldn’t ever think about (hello racoon hospital). Her unconventional and wild ways don’t do much to please her traditional mother, who is as corporate lawyer-ey as can be. Samir Jha is buttoned up tight. Dressed to the nines, Samir is as practical and planned as he is neat. Every minute of his life is carefully scheduled and orderly, just the way he needs it to be to survive. When an unexpected opportunity arises to spend the summer together fake-dating, the two come together for a fiery clash that doesn’t end how either expected.

THOUGHTS: Delightful as always, Sandhya Menon’s latest addition to the When Dimple Met Rishi universe lives up to all expectations.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – Kingdom of the Wicked

Maniscalco, Kerri. Kingdom of the Wicked. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-42846-0. $18.99. 448 p. Grades 9-12.

Emilia and Vittoria, twin sisters, are also witches known as streghe. They come from a family of witches who must hide from both humans and The Malvagi, or The Wicked: Princes of Hell who would stop at nothing to capture their souls for themselves. Emilia and Vittoria have grown up hearing stories about the seven Princes of Hell from their grandmother, Nonna, and for protection, each girl wears a cornicello, a horned shaped amulet. According to Nonna, they must never take them off and never put them together because The Malvagi are always watching, and always waiting. When Emilia finds Vittoria murdered, her Nonna’s stories don’t seem so unbelievable anymore, and she finds herself summoning a demon to discover what happened to her sister. When she inadvertently summons Wrath, one of the seven Princes of Hell, she reluctantly accepts his offer to help her find the murderer of her sister and other witches, but from Nonna’s stories, she knows she cannot really trust him or the other princes she meets in her city. However, Wrath is unlike his brothers, and against her better judgement, she starts to rely on their alliance and cannot deny the attraction growing between them. In order to avenge her sister and protect her family, Emilia may just have to make a deal with the devil.

THOUGHTS: Kingdom of the Wicked is a refreshing, new fantasy series that takes place in the 19th century on the Italian island of Sicily. Emilia’s family owns a restaurant called Sea and Vine, and trust me, you’ll be craving some homemade Italian food after finishing this one. Although the time period wasn’t obvious to me when starting the novel, it became more apparent as I continued to read, but to be honest, I had to do a Google search to completely understand the setting of this book. Along with witchcraft, this book introduces the Seven Princes of Hell, referred to as The Wicked, which are basically the embodiments of the seven deadly sins, and they certainly add to the uniqueness and eeriness of this new, historical fantasy.

Fantasy           Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Poisoned

Donnelly, Jennifer. Poisoned. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-26849-2. 307 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

All of her life Sophie, Princess Charlotta-Sidonia Wilhelmina Sophia, has been told that kindness will be her downfall, her heart is to soft to be a good leader. And Sophie believes every word. Fearing her stepmother’s strict ways, Sophie tucks her kind heart away, trying to hide her true self. She agrees to give her heart to a prince who is better suited to lead her kingdom. Sophie “locks away” her heart as she prepares to become Queen, but she doesn’t have the chance to fulfill this destiny. Her stepmother has other plans in mind. When Sophie awakens, following a violent event, she is greeted by seven brothers and their helpers, who have taken in Sophie and nursed her back to health in seemingly impossible ways. Not feeling completely herself, Sophie tentatively accepts her life in The Hollow. But Sophie feels like there’s more to the story, and she won’t have all of the answers until she embarks on a dangerous journey. Sophie’s character and her kind heart are tested repeatedly, as Sophie learns what it takes to be a true leader. But is her faulty heart up to the challenge, and will she survive all the evil that wishes her dead? Sophie’s story is not a romantic fairytale but instead is about one’s journey towards self discovery.

THOUGHTS: Young adult readers need Sophie in their lives. I loved this reimagined Snow White story and appreciate Donnelly’s incorporation of other themes – like how women are told what they are and are not capable of doing or being. Poisoned deserves a place in every middle or high school collection.

Fantasy          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD