YA – Game Changer

Shusterman, Neal. Game Changer. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-061-99867-6. 386 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Ash lives a pretty normal life as far as teenagers go. He has a younger brother, a crush on a girl, and a starting spot on the school’s football team. Unlike his best friend Leo, he really doesn’t think too hard about things like race or equality because he doesn’t have to – the world is laid out in front of him and he just has to live it. Unfortunately, that world is altered when Ash takes a hard hit during a football game. A rush of ice through his veins accompanies a universe shift as Ash jumps into another dimension; while many aspects of Ash’s life are the same, many things have changed! Stop signs are blue, his parents are rich, and… segregation in schools is the norm. Leo is Black, which means in this universe, Ash and Leo never became friends. In this universe, Ash’s life is significantly better yet also significantly worse, so Ash wants to get back to his original dimension…or perhaps, an even better one. As Ash tries to figure out how to put his world back together, he questions what he has always known and realizes he needs to shift his thinking.

THOUGHTS: Neal Shusterman has always been a young adult favorite, and this book is no exception. With an engaging plot line, relatable characters, and funny quips in dialogue, students will enjoy this book immensely. This is a fantastic purchase for high school libraries.

Science Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Lion of Mars

Holmes, Jennifer L. Lion of Mars. Random House, 2021. 978-0-593-12181-8. 259 p. $16.99. Grades 4-6.

Bell has only known life on Mars – the fake sunlight, the painted on windows, the algae. But Bell wants to know more about the other colonies on Mars and why they don’t talk anymore. When an unidentified object lands on the Martian surface, Bell and his “siblings” decide to take a rover to explore. Things go terribly wrong, and Bell discovers that the clash between countries on Earth has apparently followed them to Mars. After being rescued, Bell and the others are banned from traveling to other colonies. Feeling more isolated than ever, the American colony discovers they have a mouse living among them after the last supply drop. Bell names the mouse Muffin, and they keep it as a pet. But when adults start to get sick and the eldest of the colony dies, the kids realize the mouse must have brought a virus and they need help. Using the train system that used to connect colonies, Bell and his brother journey to the French colony for help. The French colony sends medicine and support to the adults in the American colony while hosting the American children in their home. Realizing that they are more alike than different, Bell fights to maintain contact between the two colonies after unearthing an old photo of the American commanding officer.

THOUGHTS: A bit slow to start and focused on setting the futuristic idea of colonization on Mars, Holm picks up the pace when the rover crashes and Bell is hurt. A great story of trust and companionship that will be enjoyed by middle grade readers. This novel had cliff hangers and lots of moments where the reader was cheering for Bell. The out of this world setting makes it a fun read and leaves you wondering, “what if….”.

Science Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA – Cut Off

Finlay, Adrianne. Cut Off. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-358-00645-9. 384 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

A group of teenagers is competing for a one million dollar prize, each with their own reasons for needing it. In order to be accepted onto the new reality show Cut Off, contestants go through a rigorous interview process and psychological evaluation. As readers are introduced to each character throughout the early days of Cut Off, interview segments and details from the evaluations are provided. Contestants need to outlast each other while spread out around a large island jungle. When they have no choice but to work together, the contestants begin to realize they might be more cut off than they thought. Their skym cameras (3D cameras that hover and follow their every move) still work, but the tap out button seems to be malfunctioning. Could something be wrong with the fully immersive reality show? Determined to figure out what’s going on, the contestants work together to survive, being more cut off than they ever thought was possible.

THOUGHTS: This action-packed adventure has three distinct parts. What starts out as serious outdoor survival takes a sharp turn towards science fiction. Readers will want to know who outlasts the others, but those who stick with it may have questions.

Science Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe

Herandez, Carlos. Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe. Disney, 2020. 978-1-368-02283-5. 423 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7. 

This sequel to Sal and Gabi Break the Universe picks up shortly after the end of the first book. Sal’s father, a calamity physicist, is convinced he has perfected the remembranation machine to close the wormholes in the multiverse created by Sal and Gabi. This is great news! So why does Sal feel so empty? Cuban-American Sal Vidón, seventh grade magician extraordinaire and his friend-who is-a-girl-but-NOT-his-girlfriend Gabi Reál knew they created chaos when they manipulated the wormholes previously. Yet something is obviously wrong. Then Gabi from another universe (dubbed Fix-It- Gabi) shows up and explains to Sal that his reaction to the activation of the remembranation machine was a result of being cut off from the multiverse. Repairing the membrane between the multiverses will actually destroy Sal’s universe, Fix-It Gabi declares. She has seen it happen in other universes. But Sal, who adores his family, can’t believe his Papí is a force of evil. On top of saving the multiverse, Sal has problems closer to home, including saving his school’s ambitious Rompenoche performance of Alice in Wonderland scheduled for Parent Night in just a week. The cast of characters in the book series is over-the-top delightful. Family dynamics are explored as Sal adjusts to his new stepmamí, and Gabi deals with a contingent of dads, male, female, and robotic. Artificially Intelligent characters, including Vorágine, the AI toilet at Sal’s school, as well as the newly aware remembranation machine add to the fun. Set in Miami, the book celebrates the vibrant city as well as Cuban culture, frequently integrating Spanish dialog. Sal’s type 1 diabetes also plays an integral part in the story, as it does in Sal’s life. The downside to all this joie de vivre can be feeling a bit like encountering a cyclone. Hernandez does not waste time with exposition. No recap or backstory is provided to bring readers up to speed. This is a delightful, clever sequel, but will work best if read immediately after the first book, while all events and characters are fresh in the reader’s mind. There are also some political allusions that feel out-of-place in a book aimed at 10-year-olds, who will likely not catch or understand the comments.

THOUGHTS: This is a riotous ride of a book that is definitely not a stand-alone. While filled with fart jokes and talking toilets, the book also addresses more serious issues such as diabetes, death, and abusive parents. Keeping up with the multiverse of characters is also challenging. Hand this series to readers who like books with humor, or use for a class read-aloud.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Cut Off

Finlay, Adrianne. Cut Off. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-00645-9. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

Contestants on the new virtual reality television show Cut Off have their own reasons for competing. Part I begins with contestant interviews as each player is introduced at their current location on a remote island. Readers get to know River, a natural survivalist whose parents died in a car accident; Cam, who feels responsible for her little brother due to their mom’s is incarceration; Trip, whose technology is what makes the show’s virtual reality experience unmatched; and Liza, who seems to know a lot but isn’t inclined to share much about herself. As the contestants are forced together to survive, they begin to realize that they may be more cut off than they signed up for. When technology begins to fail and fears become real, they have to rely on each other to survive. But they signed on to compete for a one million dollar prize, and they each have fears, some that may be too difficult to overcome.

THOUGHTS: Told in several parts this action-packed adventure begins with meeting basic survival needs and evolves into a high tech world of survival. Fans of stories like Warcross by Marie Lu, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Eye of Minds by James Dashner, and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline will get their tech adventure fix in this stand alone title.

Science Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

YA – All These Monsters

Tintera, Amy. All These Monsters. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-01240-5. 450 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up. 

The world has been overtaken by vicious man-eating monsters that randomly pop up from underground. No one knows where or when they’ll attack next, all must be on guard, and deaths are staggering. Clara Pratt’s home life is still worse. Her abusive father is violent, angry, and manipulative, and anything can set him off in an instant. When Clara discovers her brother is about to leave, she knows she needs to too. After learning about Grayston St. John’s plan to send teams to fight the monsters (the scrabs as they’re called) overseas in Europe where America has refused to send help, Clara knows that’s her way out. Only if she can make the team and leave the country. But all is not as it seems in the world of the scrabs, and to face it she will have to fight her inner demons.

THOUGHTS: An action-packed novel, All These Monsters has earned a spot on my shelf right between The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.

Dystopian            Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD
Science Fiction

YA – Ready Player Two

Cline, Ernest. Ready Player Two. Ballantine Books, 2020. 978-1-524-76133-2. 370 p. $28.99. Grades 9 and up. 

Wade Watts has won the contest. He’s rich, he’s famous, he’s living the life of his dreams? Inheriting billions of dollars and taking control of GSS has left Wade wrapped up in a lavishly padded but empty life. With robotic staff at home and avatars inside the Oasis, Wade very rarely interacts with actual, physical people. While the rest of the High Five move on, creating great lives and names for themselves, Wade is left behind. That is until the unexpected happens and the High Five are thrown back together again, with a new race to save the Oasis. One with even greater consequences than before.

THOUGHTS: Ready Player Two is as much an action-packed whirlwind as the first. Readers will delight in meeting friends, old and new, that change the face of humanity.

Science Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

Wade Watts has just won James Halliday’s contest and, along with his friends, the high five, has become one of the new co-owners of Gregarious Simulation Systems. As James Halliday’s heir, he now wears the robes of Anorak while in the Oasis, giving his avatar Parzival unlimited power. Days after winning the contest, Wade also discovers a new technology called ONI (Oasis neural interface) which has never been released to the public. Halliday specifically left this technology to his heir, and Wade, along with his co-owners Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto, has to decide if the world is ready for this technology. Only Art3mis objects, and soon the world starts experiencing the Oasis in a new and improved way. Wade quickly becomes addicted to the new ONI experience, and lives a very solitary life, always waiting to get back into the Oasis. However, when a new quest is revealed, similar to Halliday’s egg contest in the previous installment, Wade needs all of the help he can get, from both old friends and new, and Parzival must once again step up to the challenge to save the Oasis while keeping ONI users out of danger.

THOUGHTS: The futuristic setting of both Ready Player One and Ready Player Two doesn’t seem as unrealistic as it did to me when I first started this series. One of the benefits of the Oasis is that people can interact safely without the fear of spreading disease, and they often reference a terrible flu that killed millions before the Oasis became so widely used. Since so many of our interactions in 2020 were virtual, it makes me wonder if something like the Oasis will be in our future as well. I’m glad this book picked up right where book one left off, and the events that transpired after didn’t come as too much of a surprise to me either. Readers must remember how young Wade Watts is, and after inheriting everything from James Halliday in the previous book, it only makes sense that he’s not always going to make the right choices after becoming a billionaire overnight. Mostly, I loved all of the 80s pop culture references, especially the John Hughes planet inside of the Oasis! It was a nice wrap up to events set in motion in Ready Player One, and a perfect book to read during these primarily virtual times.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Skyhunter

Lu, Marie. Skyhunter. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-250-22168-1. $19.99. 384 p. Grades 9-12.

Talin lives in the futuristic nation of Mara, and she is a striker. Every striker has a shield, a partner during a fight against the ghosts, the once human turned zombie experiments created by the Karensa Federation. If a striker’s shield is attacked by a ghost, it becomes their responsibility to end their shield’s life before he or she turns into a federation ghost as well. Mara and Karensa are at war, but Mara is losing since they do not have the technology of the “early ones” that Karensa has discovered and used to its advantage. Although Talin lives and fights for Mara, it hasn’t always been her home. Talin and her mother fled from Basea to Mara years ago when it was under attack from Karensa, and after inhaling poisonous gas, she lost her ability to speak when her throat was badly damaged. Referred to as a “rat” by many Marans, she found her place among the strikers who commonly communicate with sign language in order to sneak up on the ghosts they hunt. When the strikers capture a strange Karensa prisoner, Talin steps in to save his life, and as a punishment for her actions, he becomes her shield and her responsibility. It doesn’t take long for Talin and her fellow strikers to discover that this prisoner, called Red, is a new “weapon” of the Federation and possibly the key to their salvation from Karensa. Talin and Red soon form an inseparable bond, and together, they plot to bring down the Federation that has taken so much and caused them both so much pain.

THOUGHTS: Readers will quickly discover that when Talin speaks of “the early ones” she is speaking of the world in which we currently live. It certainly adds some mystery to the story since Talin isn’t sure exactly what destroyed the early one’s civilization and brought upon the current nation of Mara and the Federation of Karensa. Talin, who is Basean, not Maran, must endure some pretty harsh racism from the Marans who consider her to be beneath them, along with the rest of the Baseans living in poverty within the nation of Mara since Basea was destroyed and conquered. So many of the same issues that exist in today’s world are present in this futuristic society, and fans of Marie Lu, science fiction, action, or popular shows like The Walking Dead will enjoy Skyhunter. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – City of Secrets

Ying, Victoria. City of Secrets. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11448-3. 252 p. $22.99. Grades 5-8.

In the city of Oskar there is a switchboard that connects more than just phone calls. Ever Barnes, an orphan, hides in the switchboard building and protects a secret that not even he knows. When the owner of the switchboard brings his daughter Hannah to see how it works, she discovers Ever and is instantly intrigued. When a secret society threatens to kill Ever and take the secret for themselves, Hannah, Ever and a switchboard worker must go to great lengths to protect the secret and the city.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel delivers a beautiful storyline and will captivate readers who love adventure and spy stories! Both of the children in the story play a vital role, and it is a breath of fresh air to see a girl protagonist. This graphic novel does not disappoint!

Graphic Novel          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA – The Loop

Oliver, Ben. The Loop. Chicken House, 2020. 978-1-338-58930-6. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

The Loop. The high-tech prison serving adolescent death-row inmates is a unique hellscape. With torture every night and isolation most of the day, these juveniles are the dregs of society, committers of crimes so unspeakable as to be sentenced to death before they ever turn 18. But one thing can “save” them; choosing a ‘Delay’ extends their sentence by 6 months. Another 6 months to live, but only if they partake in scientific experiments including experimental surgeries, that’s assuming they survive. Everything runs like clockwork, down to the minute the same thing happens every day. Until it doesn’t. Until the rain doesn’t come. Set in a society where the government has the control, even over the weather, what will happen when things go awry, when the people revolt?

THOUGHTS: A thrilling-fast paced dystopia, The Loop will appeal to fans of The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games.

Dystopian          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD