Levithan, David. Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel. Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-368-05786-8. 138 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.
High school is hard. Jeremy finds it especially hard being an awkward nerd who can’t seem to say the right thing to anyone. He really wants to catch the eye of Christine, a pretty girl he sees every day at play rehearsal. When Jeremy tries to talk to her, he bumbles through his words, and that’s when he realizes he will never be able to charm her… until he hears about the squip. The squip is a supercomputer, compressed into a pill-sized capsule and swallowed. After that, it takes over your brain and helps awkward teens navigate through the complex social hierarchy of high school. Don’t know what cool clothes to buy at the mall? The squip will guide you. Not sure what to say to the most popular girl in school? The squip will tell you. When Jeremy buys one on the black market, he thinks he has squashed his awkward behavior for good. But he very quickly realizes the dark consequences that can come from trying to alter his own biology.
THOUGHTS: This graphic novel, adapted from the hit Broadway musical of the same name, will resonate with any high schooler who struggles to fit in. The art, done mostly in black, white, and blue, shows the differences between dialogue and the squip’s commands, making it easy to follow. High school librarians should add this to their graphic novel collections.
Polacco, Patricia. Sticks and Stones. Simon & Schuster, 2020. Unpaged. 978-1-534-42622-1. $18.99. Grades 2-4.
In another story based on her childhood, Polacco has created a heartwarming tale about the school year she spent with her father in Michigan. Trisha is eager to start middle school with her summer friends, but they desert her at the front door. She is on her own until a skinny boy with glasses called Thom helps her find her first class. The pair sits with a quiet girl named Ravanne, who is artistic and another outsider. A bully named Billy calls Trisha “Cootie” because of a nervous rash on her face and gives Thom and Ravanne the cruel nicknames “Sissy Boy” and “Her Ugliness.” The trio become fast friends as they deal with taunts from Billy and his gang. The three friends go kite flying with hand painted silk kites made by Ravanne and have a great time on Halloween, until Billy steals their candy. Trisha learns that she and Thom share a love of ballet and that he takes ballet lessons. His secret is revealed to the other students when Thom easily clears the high jump bar, which Billy just failed to do. Thom shouts out, “See what ballet can do for you!” which is overheard by Billy and the coach. The bully is furious that the coach wants Thom to try out for the team and confronts him on his way home, breaking his glasses. Sick of the bullying, Thom announces that he is going to perform a dance in the talent show. Because he cannot see well with the broken glasses, Ravanne and Trisha help their friend with stage blocking. At the talent show, Thom dances the part of Prince Siegfried from Swan Lake and his classmates are amazed at his “high and powerful” leaps and other athletic moves. Thom’s brave performance earns him respect from his classmates. Polanco’s signature illustrations are done with pencil and acetone markers. The kite flying drawings contain so much movement that the reader can almost feel the wind. In the author’s note, the reader learns what her Michigan friends are doing today.
THOUGHTS: This is a powerful story of bullying and resilience. Although the text is wordy, it will still hold interest as a read aloud, because of the dialogue and pictures. It is a good choice for guidance counselors or classroom teachers for character lessons. A worthwhile purchase and one of Polacco’s better works.
Miller, Linsey. The Game. Underlined, 2020. 978-0-593-17978-9. 240 p. $9.99. Grades 9-12.
Lia Prince has lived her life in the background; She isn’t good at anything her parents value. To make matters worse, Lia’s older brother, now off at college, was good at everything. Determined to make a name for herself by besting his third place finish in her Lincoln High’s senior class game of assassin, Lia’s been planning for a year. Carefully noting and observing patterns of her peers, Lia is ready for the game to begin. No one appreciates her skills, but Lia is good at games. Ready to lead her team and get their target, the game begins. As they get more into the game, it becomes deadly. Someone is playing dirty, but Lia is determined not to miss this opportunity to be good at something. Against advice of her parents, her school, and her friends, and determined to keep the fun of the game going Lia keeps playing. Can she win, and what does winning mean?
THOUGHTS: Mystery fans will love this brief, action-packed, stand alone and may overlook some of its flaws. Grief and fear are brushed aside to make room for the game, but would the game really continue with a killer on the loose? Purchase in high school libraries where mysteries are in high demand.
When Olive realizes that some friends are excluded from the class field trip, she decides to run for an open spot in student government and make some changes. Olive enlists the help of friends and family to help campaign, make posters, and research protests, but relationships are strained when some friends aren’t loyal to her cause. Her friends Sawyer and Trent decide to run against her on a “Pudding for all!” ticket. Ultimately, Olive loses the election but still gets to serve as a rep when Sawyer steps down and offers Olive, third in line for one of the two open spots, his position. He and Trent realize that Olive will make an excellent rep, and they want to give her a chance to do some good. I love Olive’s diverse friendships–her middle school experience helps so many readers identify with some part of the “Click” series.
THOUGHTS: If your students already know Olive and friends, they’ll love the new offering–very timely in 2020. If you and your students don’t know Olive, you must meet her. Start with Click and enjoy!
Philippe, Ben. Charming as a Verb. Balzar + Bray, 2020. 978-0-062-82414-1. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.
Ben Philippe has yet to write something that I don’t fall in love with almost immediately. Henri Haltiwanger in Charming as a Verb is no exception to the rule. Henri attends a prestigious private school in New York City, on scholarship, and is surrounded by classmates who have more money and connections than he does. Henri’s positive attitude, charm, and hustle drive him to be a star debater, friendly with just about all the students, and manages and works his own dog walking empire. When it’s time to apply for colleges, his dream school, Columbia, seems just out of reach, despite being blocks away. Along the way Henri makes a friendship he didn’t think he would, and a decision or two that seem out of character, but Philippe maintains a realistic pulse on teenage life.
THOUGHTS: High school libraries looking to enhance their realistic collection with a story told through the lens of someone who fits in from an observer’s perspective but really doesn’t feel a sense of belonging should add this book to their collection. A relatively light read with a happy ending can go a long way after a year like 2020.
Every middle school girl knows what it means when another girl would risk getting pulled over for a dress code violation in order to tie her sweatshirt around the waist of her new white jeans, so when Molly Frost sees her friend, Olivia, crying in the Kindness Garden in front of the principal, it’s the last straw. Why is Dr. Couchman obsessed with the dress code? Why is the identical outfit a violation on Liza but not on Molly? Has any adult at the school ever tried to buy shorts that are longer than fingertip length? Molly starts a podcast so girls in her middle school and even some in high school, can tell their dress code horror stories. Soon the podcast grows into a movement, with Molly and her friends ultimately bringing their fight to the school board. Told in prose, lists, letters, and podcasts, readers will sympathize with the female students of Fisher Middle School and cheer for their determination.
THOUGHTS: A friendship story with a side of activism, Dress Coded is an absolute must for middle school libraries.
Realistic FictionMelissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD