MG – Chirp

Messner, Kate. Chirp. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-547-60281-0. 227 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Mia and her family leave Boston to move back to Vermont in order to help Mia’s Gram sell her failing cricket farm. Strange things have been happening at Gram’s cricket farm, and Mia suspects sabotage by the man interested in buying the farm. Mia joins two summer camps, Launch Camp & Warrior Camp, at her mother’s request to keep her busy during the summer. At Launch Camp, Mia meets Clover who is instantly invested in helping Mia figure out what is going on at the cricket farm and in building a business plan to help the farm. Along with Anna, the girls create a robot to harvest crickets, a social media campaign (with the #ChirpChallenge), and a plan to pitch to several local businesses to hopefully gain investors. Clover decides to join Mia at Warrior Camp where Mia’s past gymnastic experience impacts her ability to perform. Each week Mia builds her confidence and strength up in order to confront an uncomfortable situation from her past. The girls form a strong friendship and work together to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill Gram’s cricket farm.

THOUGHTS: Messner does it again! This beautifully written, coming of age story is timely and offers readers a glimpse into the struggle kids face with speaking up. The story approaches the #metoo topic with grace and is appropriate to middle grade readers. Filled with plot twists, red herrings, and other elements of mystery, this book is a quick read and sure to delight fans of Messner’s work!

Mystery          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Mia’s family moves from Boston to Vermont to be near her grandmother, and Mia is glad for the change. Since she broke her arm at gymnastics, and despite her skill and enjoyment of the sport, she is relieved to give it up. She hasn’t told anyone about Coach Phil’s uncomfortable attention. If it wasn’t all right, wouldn’t an adult have stepped in? And besides, everyone likes Phil. Mia did, too, until hugs became too tight, his texts became personal, and finally, he gave her a friendly back rub she didn’t want. Mia felt “icky” around Phil, but nothing was wrong, was it? Now in Vermont, she finds an old photograph of herself and wonders if she can ever again be the brave girl who smiled as she jumped from the rocks into Lake Champlain with friends. In the meantime, she helps with her grandma’s cricket farm, caring for the crickets, working on advertising, and more. However, as more problems occur, her grandma is worried about sabotage and keeping the business afloat. Mia knows her mom wonders about her grandma’s memory and wishes her grandma would slow down.  But as Mia learns more, she and her friends begin to look into the problems. Could an outsider be trying to put her grandma out of business? Mia has spent time lately learning to be quiet, unnoticed, and unquestioned. But finding out the truth, and sticking up for another girl, helps her to find her voice. Mia learns that it’s not about finding her way back to the brave girl she once was, but finding her way forward, and she gets to decide for herself who she will be.

THOUGHTS: Messner expertly molds the serious issue of grooming and abuse into a coming of age mystery appropriate for upper elementary and middle school readers. Mia is a likeable personality, and readers will cheer for her as she stands up for herself and others and uses her voice once more.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Mia’s family is moving back to Vermont after living in Boston for a few years. Mia, a seventh grader, is happy about this move, as she gets to spend more time with her entomologist grandmother who owns a cricket farm. Mia is recovering from a gymnastics accident, but we learn that there was more damage than a broken arm from Tumblers Gymnastics in Boston.  With her parents making her choose two camps to participate in over the summer, Mia chooses Launch, an entrepreneurship camp that helps Mia save her Gram’s farm, and Warrior Camp, a parkour camp that helps Mia come to grips with her inner athlete. In her camps she makes lasting friendships that help her solve the mystery of who is sabotaging her Gram’s cricket farm and gives her the strength to face the secret she has been hiding from her parents.

THOUGHTS: This book is a must purchase for any middle grade library. Addressing all of the controversy surrounding gymnastics recently in a very appropriate way for middle schoolers (Mia’s male coach massages her shoulders and sends “friendly” texts and is generally just a bit too friendly in a creepy way), this novel focuses on female relationships and empowerment.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

YA – Clap When You Land

Acevedo, Elizabeth. Clap When You Land. Quill Tree Books, 2020. 978-0-062-88276-9. 432 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Because of a terrible tragedy, two sixteen year old girls suffer an unimaginable loss. Though they’re half sisters, Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios have never met; they don’t even know of the other’s existence. When Camino arrives at an airport in the Dominican Republic to pick up her Papi for the summer, she sees a crowd of people in tears. The plane he was on went down over the ocean, and Camino’s future plans of attending medical school in the US vanish in an instant. Despite the utter hole her Papi’s disappearance leaves in Camino’s life, she holds onto hope that he will be found alive. Who else will protect her from El Cero, a local pimp who starts hanging around and following her. In New York Yahaira suffers a similar loss, though her grief is overshadowed by guilt and anger. Because she learned one of her Papi’s secrets, Yahaira gave up playing chess and rarely spoke to her father for the past year. Yahaira struggles to see her Papi as the man she grew up idolizing, as the man her local Dominican community in New York sees. Her mother is also experiencing similar mixed emotions, and she is adamant that Yahaira’s father be returned to the states, though his wishes were to be in the Dominican. As Yahaira learns more about her father and his time away from her, she becomes more determined to know more.

THOUGHTS: Told in alternating chapters of verse, do not miss out on this newest Acevedo book! It is a must have for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From

De Leon, Jennifer. Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From. Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2020. 978-1-534-43824-8. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Though nothing at home is as it should be, fine is the one word that describes 15 year old Liliana. After her father takes off (again), her family is barely holding things together. Her mom seems to be living in a fog (if you can even call it that), and her younger brothers are hard to reign in and keep calm. Even her best friend is too distracted by a boyfriend to be an ear to listen. Unbeknownst to Liliana, before he left her father signed her up for METCO, a scholarship opportunity of sorts for city kids to attend “better” schools in the suburbs. Liliana (half Guatemalan, half Salvadorian) fit right in at her richly diverse school in Boston. Not only is her new school unbelievably white, Westburg is an hour bus ride away. Liliana gives it a chance, though, because it was her father’s dream. To fit in at Westburg, Liliana becomes Lili, but when she discovers some secrets about her father’s citizenship, she is even more torn between her two very different worlds.

THOUGHTS: This book will find a home with anyone who is sick of the “Where are you from?” or “What are you?” questions. Liliana’s story will personalize the more generalized immigration news stories for teens and will open their eyes to the struggles of undocumented citizens and the reasons so many flee to America for better opportunities. This is a must have for high school libraries looking to diversity their collections with contemporary issues.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA Fantasy and Sci-Fi – Torch Against the Night; The Thousandth Floor

torch

Tahir, Sabaa. A Torch Against the Night. New York: Razorbill, 2016. 978-1-10199-887-8. $19.95. Gr. 8-12.

Sabaa Tahir’s second installment of the Ember in the Ashes series picks up right where the first book left off. Laia and Elias are fugitives on the run from the cold-hearted Commandment, the evil new Emperor Marcus, and the new Blood Shrike, Helene. Laia is still determined to break her brother out of the impenetrable Kauf prison, while Elias is determined to keep them hidden from his former best friend, Helene, who is now on the hunt to kill him. The book’s biggest strength is the development of Helene, a once cold, smitten female warrior who is given a narrative that develops her into a fierce, multi-layered character. Readers need not fear the sophomore slump; this sequel, like the original, is big on intense action and shocking plot-twists. THOUGHTS: An excellent follow-up to An Ember in the Ashes, this series is a must for any fantasy fan. Tahir recently signed on for 2 more books, so expect more from this excellent author.

Fantasy         Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

floor

McGee, Katharine. The Thousandth Floor. New York: Harper, 2016. 978-0-06-241859-3. 440 pp. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

In the Prologue of Katharine McGee’s The Thousandth Floor, an unidentified young woman falls nearly three miles from the penthouse of “the Tower” to her death on the pavement below. McGee then rewinds the narrative two months before to the summer of 2118 to introduce the cast of characters who inhabit the Tower’s different levels, and whose storylines will all converge at that fateful penthouse party. Avery, genetically engineered for flawless beauty, lives on the top floor with her parents and adopted brother Atlas (her taboo crush). Avery’s best friend Leda is keeping both a recent rehab stay and a tryst with Atlas secret from everyone. Fellow “highlier” Eris about to have her wealth and status ripped away when a family secret comes to light. Meanwhile, “downTower” Rylin starts working for playboy Cord and hacker Watt is hired by Leda to spy on Atlas. Everyone has something to hide and something to gain as McGee weaves these plot threads into quite the scandalously tangled web. THOUGHTS: Friendships and romances develop and dissolve as the characters angle for true love and a better position in the hierarchy of the Tower. The ending reveals the premise for a 2017 sequel to this addictive debut!

For a fun extension activity, check out Epic Reads’ DIY-A video for a jewelry organizer inspired by The Thousandth Floor:

DIY: Jewelry Organizer Inspired by The Thousandth Floor

Science Fiction; Romance       Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library

These Shallow Graves

theseshallowgraves

Donnelly, Jennifer. These Shallow Graves. New York: Delacorte Press, 2015. 978-0385-906791 487 p. $19.99 Grades 8-12.

Jo Monfort is rich, clever and trapped. In 1890s New York, upper crust young ladies seek and receive only early marriage proposals, the richer and more stable, the better. They do not seek to showcase their opinions, writing skills or investigative interests, as Jo wishes to do. Jo and her friends know that their parents will seek for them the best match based upon family history, source of wealth, stability of name, etc. For Jo, that means she and her good friend Abraham “Bram” Aldrich will likely marry. By all accounts, he is quite a catch: kind, intelligent, handsome, and rich. But as much as she likes him, she doesn’t love him and doesn’t even know what that means. In fact, heavy issues like business and delicate issues like the body, or, heaven forbid, sex, are not discussed and not understood (Jo’s friend Trudy honestly thinks that a stork brings a child and only after you’ve married.)

When her father is found dead in his study, the police rule it an accident (he was cleaning his gun), but Jo knows he was too smart to make that mistake. When investigating on her own, she meets Eddie Gallagher, a handsome reporter for the newspaper, The Standard, owned by her family. Through him, she learns that the evidence points to a suicide, and her trusted uncle likely paid for the “accident” ruling to save the family name and business. Shocked, Jo is driven to know what would lead her father to suicide. Excited, Eddie is driven to break a huge story that will make his career. Attracted, they both fall in love and unearth some astonishing answers and deep mysteries around the shipping business shared by her father, uncle, and several other men. Eddie is more able than Jo to believe ill of her family and its business. As naïve, but driven Jo sneaks out (night and day) to seek answers, she risks her reputation (girls don’t walk alone, let alone go to the morgue or a graveyard). Fortuitously for her, she’s understood and trusted by several new friends: Eddie, his mortician friend Oscar, and street criminals Tumbler and Fay. Fay teaches Jo some needed self-defense skills, and saves her life more than once before the story is done.

The story gives a realistic look at the disparity between classes and sexes in 1890s New York, but strains credulity on many occasions—as when Jo repeatedly succeeds in avoiding repercussions, and she finds just who or what she needs when she needs it. The denouement, when the evil man finally answers, at great length, the entire history, after being shot in the kneecap, is nearly unbelievable (the “ouch” he utters, and his clarity of mind, do not match the pain or shock of this injury). But by then readers just want all the details and a happy ending for Jo, too. And it’s a happy ending we do receive.

THOUGHTS: Given its length and focus, this is for advanced readers who love a deep mystery sprinkled with a little romance. Indeed, this could begin a series for Jo and Eddie working together. The complicated world of 1890s New York provides excellent fodder for numerous murder mysteries and a furthering of Jo and Eddie’s relationship. Oscar in particular, as mortician, adds an incredible amount of interesting information to the tale.

Historical Fiction; Mystery       Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

Edgewater

edgewater

Sheinmel, Courtney. Edgewater. New York: Amulet. 2015. 978-1-419716416. 336p. $17.95. Grades 8 to 12.

Edgewater, a beautiful coastal town for the rich and the famous full of mansions and pristine beaches; a small town feel with all of the upgrades. Lorrie has lived here all of her life. She goes to the prestigious Hillyer Academy during the school year and an expensive equestrian camp in the summers. But, Lorrie Hollander is different from her wealthy, entitled neighbors. Her mother left her 12 years ago in the “care” of her mentally unstable Aunt Gigi. Although Gigi makes some effort to keep up pretenses by doling out Lorrie’s trust fund, their once beautiful estate has become a pitiful shell of its former self. Lorrie begins to realize that not everything is as it seems. Bills begin to go unpaid. The house is in even worse shape than usual. The last straw is a letter from her school saying that her spot at Hillyer has been given to another student since her tuition has not been paid. Lorrie learns that her mother has a secret past that connects her to one of the wealthiest and most important families on the island. How does Lorrie fit into the tangle of lies and deceit? How can she take care of her and her sister by herself?

I wasn’t sure about this book at the start. It read like a typical teen-angst novel. It took me a few chapters to really get into the groove of this book, but I soon began to respect and eventually love Lorrie. Her grit and determination to take care of her sister made me cheer for her all the way to the end. I was also emotional when Lorrie had to make tough choices and sell items that were very dear to her in order to pay her bills. I wanted things to end well for her (although I won’t tell you whether or not they did). Teens will connect with this book on many levels. I always have students looking for horse-themed books, and this one has enough to hook them and keep them reading. The celebrity angle will also hook teens, as well as the romance theme. Once I connected with these characters, I really liked this book and recommend it highly.

Realistic Fiction        Corey Hall, Elizabethtown Area MS/HS

New Kid

newkid

Green, Tim. New Kid. New York: Harper, 2014. 978-0-06-220872-9. 307 p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

Brock Nickerson is the new kid. Last week his name wasn’t even Brock Nickerson. He only has his father left; his mother was killed. His father is very secretive about what he does for a living, but it keeps him moving to a new place and gaining a new identity every few years. The last time, his father pulled him out of his last at bat during a championship baseball game. Brock doesn’t ask much of his father. He wonders what his father does for a living, and he is often left alone, but his father is very unapproachable. Brock has a gift when it comes to pitching. He can throw some serious heat. Coach Hudgens notices this and invites Brock to come to his house and throw a few pitches. He then asks Brock to play on his travel team. Brock has a hard time convincing his father to allow him to play, but he finally gives in after meeting Coach Hudgens and his wife. Brock has some issues pitching, but Barrett Malone, a big league player gives him some pointers. Brock’s father shows up at his game during his last at-bat and wants to pull him out. Brock finally stands up to his father and asks to finish the game. What Brock doesn’t realize is that the game may cost him more than he is willing to give.

This is a book about baseball; I could feel myself in the stands, cheering for the team. I could see myself as a coach, realizing that something was missing from Brock’s life and wanting to help fill the void. It is about relationships, family and tough choices. It could easily be used to help students develop setting in their stories. Tim Green’s descriptions are vivid and lifelike. I felt like I was there with Brock.

Realistic; Sports    Kathy Gilbride North Pocono MS and HS

We Were Liars

liars

Lockhart, E. We Were Liars. New York: Delacorte, 2014. 978-0-385-74126-2. 227p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Seventeen year old, Cadence Sinclair Easton, is the eldest grandchild of the Sinclair family, a wealthy, Massachusetts family driven by perfection, wealth, and material goods but holding many secrets.  Vacationing together on their private island, Beechwood, for as long as she can remember, Candace spends her summers with the “liars”; her cousins Johnny and Mirren and Gat, the nephew of her Aunt Carrie’s boyfriend.  Since Summer 8, the year Gat first visited Beecchwood, the liars have been inseparable.  That is until Cadence is injured in an accident during Summer 15, the summer she falls in love with Gat and he with her.  After two years, Cadence returns to the island during Summer 17 and tries to remember what happened to her during Summer 15.  As her memories come back, in between debilitating headaches, her remaining reminder of the accident, she learns the secrets hidden away by her family that she lost after the accident.  We Were Liars is a haunting tale of familial bonds and the lengths loved-ones will go to to protect reputation, expectation, secrets, lies, and the innocent (or not-so-innocent).

I listened to We Were Liars, and it was brilliant.  It is read by Ariadne Meyers, the actress who played Emma McArdle on the television show Kate and Allie (one of my favorites).  Her voice is mesmerizing and only intensified the experience that is We Were Liars.  That being said, I don’t know how I feel about the novel itself (it received starred reviews from pretty much every review journal: Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal…to name a few).  I loved the audio of it, but I’m not sure that I would have had the same experience reading it for myself.  E. Lockhart’s language is beautiful, and I loved her use of symbolism and how she weaves fairytales into the novel to add depth to the reader’s understanding of Cadence and the Sinclair family, but I still don’t know how I feel.  I struggled to connect with any of the characters.  For the most part, I just thought they were spoiled brats who couldn’t appreciated the lives they were handed.  I was not expecting the ending, and I loved it because of that; my jaw truly dropped as I listened to Cadence remember Summer 15.  E. Lockhart wrote a beautifully, haunting novel that resonates for its literary components more than its characters or plot.  This is a different side to current YA novels, and one that I like…even though I still can’t decide if I enjoyed this novel or not.

Realistic Fiction  Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City