YA Mystery – One is Lying; A Good Idea; Expelled

McManus, Karen M. One of Us Is Lying. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-1-524-71468-0. 368 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.  

Five very different high school students walk into detention. They’re known for being smart, pretty, dangerous, athletic, or outcast. Within a few minutes of being stuck together, something seems off. It turns out science teacher Mr. Avery confiscated a phone from each of them, phones they claim don’t belong to them. The problem: Only four students walk out of detention.  While four students are distracted, Simon collapses. 911 is called; the police ask questions, and meanwhile everyone in detention wonders what just happened. Was Simon targeted? He created an app that shares everyone’s juicy gossip. It’s not unreasonable to think someone wanted the gossip to stop, or maybe it was simply revenge.  Narrated by each student, readers are taken on a fast-paced whodunit ride. Each character has his or her own drama to deal with as rumors circulate, and mystery surrounds each suspect. Though these students know each other, this book asks how much do they really know? Readers will quickly learn not all is as it seems.  THOUGHTS: Mystery fiction fans will devour this book, puzzling the details as bits and pieces of the story are given. The multiple narrators add a compelling element as readers will want to know the next piece of the story. Don’t skip around, or you’ll miss out on some key evidence!    

Realistic Fiction, Mystery      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District


Simon Kelleher is the face behind Bayview High’s most notorious gossip site, so it’s no surprise that he is also one of the most unpopular (and at times popular, depending on the gossip at the moment) students at Bayview.  When Simon ends up in detention with Nate Macauley, Bayview’s “bad boy”; Cooper Clay, a rockstar pitcher looking at the majors; Bronwyn Rojas, the “brain”, and Addy Calloway “Miss Popularity”, it seems like The Breakfast Club all over again.  That is until Simon dies in detention due to anaphylactic shock and only Cooper, Bronwyn, Addy, and Nate are in the room when it happens.  Now it’s up to them to prove they didn’t kill Simon, unless one of them actually did kill Simon since he was about to post gossip about each of them.  THOUGHTS:  This is a true mystery “whodunit”.  It is not for the murder-mystery, action-packed mystery lover, but for the thoughtful problem/crime solver mystery lover.  It moves slowly, and due to the varying narrators (Addy, Cooper, Nate, and Bronwy rotate sections in each chapter) has some holes throughout.  Readers need to focus on the minutia to solve Simon’s murder.  

Mystery      Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Moracho, Cristina.  A Good Idea. Viking, 2017.  978-0-451-47624-1. 357 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

When Finley’s parents divorced, she moved to New York City to live with her mom.  However, she returns to the small town of Williston, Maine, every summer to visit her dad and hang out with her best friend, Betty.  That is, until Betty disappears during the fall of their senior year, and her ex-boyfriend, Calder, admits to drowning her.  Unfortunately, his testimony is thrown out because he was a minor when he gave it and did not have a lawyer present.  Because the body was never found, people begin to speculate about whether Betty was actually murdered or whether she ran away.  When she returns to Williston at the end of her senior year, Finley is determined to discover the truth about Betty and seek justice in the case.  However, she soon learns that the truth may be more complicated and devastating than she ever imagined.  THOUGHTS:  Although this is not an incredibly fast-paced mystery, it does have realistic, relatable characters and plot twists that keep readers coming back for more.  It is a powerful portrait of grief, anger, and forgiveness, concepts and feelings that we all experience at some point in our lives.  It also takes a look at the realities of small town life and includes some edgy content, such as underage drinking, drug use, lesbianism, and sex.

Mystery    Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD


Patterson, James and Emily Raymond. Expelled. JIMMY Paterson Books/Little, Brown, 2017. 978-0-316-44039-4. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Theo, Jude, Sasha, and Parker are not the type of students you would expect to be expelled from school — the boy-next-door, the artist, the hot mysterious girl, and the quintessential football jock not only have very little in common but also have never gotten in trouble before.  Best friends Theo and Jude have a friendship that survives on keeping the other in check while Sasha and Parker broke up years ago for the simple fact that a relationship is hard to maintain when you have nothing of substance to say to the other person.  However, now they all have something to talk about.  These four high school students find themselves thrust together when each gets expelled, vowing to work together to find the truth behind who really committed the crimes they’ve been accused of.  The only problem is, each is hiding their own secret that could tear the misfit group apart at the seams.  Can they solve the mystery and save their own futures without destroying each other in the process?  THOUGHTS:  Patterson’s newest YA release is a bit The Breakfast Club meets Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, with very modernized twists that can still stand the test of time.  In fact, several iconic 80’s movies are referenced, which was a delightful surprise for this mid-30’s reader of YA.  Adults are not to be trusted in this contemporary, realistic fictional world, but then again, teenagers aren’t, either.  The protagonist, Theo, is a clean-cut teen who has had a very rough year and could use a break that just doesn’t seem to be coming his way.  So, he makes one for himself.  Readers will root for Theo the entire book for the simple fact that, when being handed a raw deal, he shows a tenacity to fix his own life without waiting for someone else to do it for him.  He isn’t impervious to a depressing life he finds himself in; he does have a small pity party or two, but he also refuses to let it swallow him whole or use it as an excuse to give up.  Theo is the epitome of a modern-day teenage hero whose lesson hopefully resonates with every young adult who picks up this book.

Realistic Fiction, Mystery            Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley SD

YA Realistic Fiction – By Your Side; You I’ve Never Known; Hello Sunshine; Words in Deep Blue

West, Kasie. By Your Side. Harper Teen, 2017. 978-0-06245-586-4. 352p. $9.99. Gr. 6-12.
When Autumn finds herself accidentally locked in the library for the weekend (she’s in the restroom when the library closes, and she doesn’t have her phone with her), she’s pretty upset. And then, she realizes she’s not the only person locked in the library. Dax Miller is also there. She doesn’t know much about Dax, except that he’s a loner and rumor has it he spent some time in juvie. Forced to spend hours with each other, the two begin to open up – Dax about his life in foster care and Autumn about her secret struggle with anxiety disorder. When the two get out of the library, Autumn is shocked to find out that her family and friends thought she was in a car accident involving one of her friends. Feeling stressed, Autumn leans on Dax for support. But can their tenuous friendship survive outside the after hours world of the library? THOUGHTS: While By Your Side is predictable is some aspects, West’s characterizations of Autumn and Dax elevate the novel above traditional romantic fare. Autumn’s struggles with stress and her anxiety disorder are deftly handled and not glossed over. Likewise, Dax’s fear of commitment and forming connections are realistically integrated within the overall plot. Recommended for middle school and high school readers.

Realistic Fiction      Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg School District


Hopkins, Ellen. The You I’ve Never Known. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017. 978-1-4814-4290-9. 590 pp. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Ariel Pearson and her father have always moved around a lot. Ever since her mother abandoned them, it’s just been Ariel and her dad against the world. But after a few months in Sonora, California, Ariel wants to stay. She’s a member of the basketball team; she likes her dad’s new girlfriend Zelda, and she has some new friends. Ariel has romantic feelings for one of these friends, Monica, who reciprocates her feelings but doesn’t pressure her. Things get complicated when Zelda’s dreamy nephew, Gabe, arrives in town and shows a keen attraction to Ariel, an attraction she also feels. Things come to a boil as Ariel’s father becomes more volatile, possessive, and even abusive toward her. Ellen Hopkins’ signature chapters-in-verse alternate with prose chapters from the point of view of a young woman in Texas named Maya, who gets pregnant and drops out of high school to marry an older career soldier. Readers may intuit Maya’s relationship to Ariel before the reveal, but this emotionally resonant narrative will hold their interest throughout. Ariel’s exploration of her bisexuality is skillfully portrayed and a needed addition to the coming-of-age experience in YA fiction. THOUGHTS: It’s not quite Crank, but it’s well worth reading and sharing with teens.

Realistic Fiction (Novel-in-Verse)     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District


Howland, Leila. Hello, Sunshine. Hyperion, 2017. 978-1-4847-2545-0. 368 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Leila Howland charms with this depiction of one aspiring actress’s quest to realize her dreams! Boston girl Becca Harrington is crushed when she’s not accepted at even one of the eleven colleges where she applied. Since her boyfriend is off to Stanford, she decides to road trip cross-country with him to Los Angeles, giving herself one year to become a working actress. Unfortunately, Alex breaks up with her just as they pull up to their destination. Heartbroken but resilient, Becca makes a list of her goals and sets out to achieve them one by one. Get curtains and a kitchen table? Done. Get a part-time job and make a friend? Done, thanks to sweetly supportive neighbors Raj and Marisol. Getting an agent might take a little longer, and getting Alex back might be trickier still. After all, odds for success are long even for a fresh-faced ingenue! Becca’s adventures and missteps will delight readers, and her independence is really inspiring. THOUGHTS: This fun, breezy read perfectly fills the void between high school and college, in the tradition of Roomies by Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr.

Realistic Fiction    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District


Crowley, Cath. Words in Deep Blue. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-101-93764-8. 288 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.  

Rachel and Henry were the best of friends until three years ago. On the eve of her move to the Australian coast, Rachel left Henry a letter that declared her love for him and told him to call, no matter what time. Henry never called. Instead, he fell in love with Amy.

Fast-forward three years. Heartbroken in their own ways, Rachel and Henry meet back up when Rachel returns to the city for a distraction from her grief over her brother’s death. They reconnect in Henry’s family’s adorable secondhand bookshop, Howling Books. While Rachel catalogs the Letter Library, a room in the bookshop where visitors may leave markings, notes, or letters within the pages of a book, Henry tries to help her heal by writing letters to her.

Narrated by Rachel and Henry and interspersed with letters and notes from the Letter Library, Crowley expertly writes about grief and missed opportunities. THOUGHTS: At its heart, Words in Deep Blue is about second chances – in life, friendship, and love – and learning how to move forward when living seems impossible.

Realistic Fiction    Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

Adult Crossover (HS) – Only Love…; Wrecked; You Will Know Me


Tarkington, Ed. Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2016. 978-1-61620-382-5. 307 pp. $26.95. Gr. 10 and up.

As a young boy growing up in late 1970s small-town Virginia, Rocky Askew idolizes his rebellious older half-brother, Paul. Rocky is also infatuated with Paul’s beautiful but secretly troubled girlfriend, Leigh. Following a rift with their father (“the Old Man”), Paul kidnaps Rocky from elementary school with a subtly threatening but unclear motive. After delivering a cigarette-sick Rocky home, Paul runs away with Leigh and literally disappears. Leigh returns home months later but doesn’t seem sure of where Paul is, or if he’s even alive. Meanwhile, Rocky is seduced by an older neighbor named Patricia, and the far-reaching ripples of Black Monday lead to the Old Man’s downfall. Debut author Ed Tarkington then throws a catastrophic wedding, a high school production of Equus, and a ritualized double murder into the mix of this virtuosic literary achievement. Narrated with a reflective tone by an adult Rocky looking back, it has echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird, true crime, the music of Neil Young, and recent crossover standout My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh. At its core, Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a book about love: love between brothers, fathers and sons, first loves, and people and places. It’s also about how love can be manipulated to make people do inexplicable, terrible things. THOUGHTS: Reading Only Love Can Break Your Heart is just like hearing a forgotten favorite song from adolescence: every word is perfectly right and every note rings true.

Historical Fiction; Adult Crossover      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley HS

Because of this adult novel’s sexual content (namely Rocky’s relationship with Patricia), I recommend reading it before deciding whether to add it to your library’s collection for teens. Even if you opt not to recommend it to students, all of the literary allusions and nostalgia make it a wonderful choice for a teacher book club. Alex Award winners are really tough to predict, but Only Love Can Break Your Heart‘s fraught coming-of-age storyline could make it a contender!



Padian, Maria. Wrecked. New York : Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. 9781616206246. 357 pp. $17.95. Gr.10 and up.

In her powerful and thought provoking novel, Wrecked,  Maria Padian examines the complexities of an on-campus sexual assault. The events of the night in question are revealed in flashbacks interspersed throughout the novel. But, the focus of the story is on Haley and Richard, the roommates of the victim and the perpetrator who become embroiled in the school’s investigation into the incident. Their budding romance is tested as they are immediately thrown on opposite sides of the story. Though neither Haley nor Richard are close friends with Jenny and Jordan, they become uneasy participants in the unfolding inquiry and drama. The truth of what occurred is hard to determine; each character in the book perceives the truth through the lens of their own personal views and experiences. The novel sheds light on the pervasive self-absorption of many of the characters which reveals their lack of empathy for their fellow student. And, the situation is further complicated by the campus culture of binge drinking and easy hookups. The specter of social media harassment adds fuel to the drama.  This novel is recommended for older teen readers due to the mature themes, but it does present an important topic for discussion for students of both sexes.  THOUGHTS: A compelling look at a very serious topic and a timely read, especially in light of recent news coverage of campus sexual assault cases.  The author manages to convey a powerful message about consent that all young people must understand.

Realistic Fiction      Nancy Summers, Abington Senior HS



Abbott, Megan. You Will Know Me. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2016. 978-0-316-23107-7. 345 pp. $26.00. Gr. 10 and up.

To fill the Olympic-sized hole in your life, look no further than You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott. It’s an adult crossover thriller set in the world of competitive gymnastics. Fifteen-year old Devon Knox has set her sights on Senior Elite status and, potentially, the Olympics. Her parents, Katie and Eric, are ultra-involved in both Devon’s training regimen and the gym where she trains: the boosters, the equipment, the coaching staff, and the gossip. Just weeks before Senior Elite qualifiers, Ryan (the boyfriend of beloved but volatile assistant coach Hailey) is found dead in an apparent hit-and-run. It’s both a tragedy and a huge disruption to Devon’s training plan. As her parents wrestle with how to proceed, police involvement suggests that maybe Ryan’s death wasn’t so accidental. Told from the point-of-view of full-time gymnastics mom, Katie, and set in the tense days following the accident, You Will Know Me has all the elements of a page-turner: a dazzling but largely opaque sport, a very cute but very dead guy, and the secrets of a teenager nicknamed “Ice Eyes.” THOUGHTS: With the amazing success of Simone Biles and the entire U.S. Gymnastics team, now is the perfect time to get this crossover thriller into the hands (and onto the devices) of teen readers!

Realistic Fiction; Mystery/Suspense; Adult Crossover     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley HS