YA – Lia and Beckett’s Abracadabra

Parks, Amy Noelle. Lia and Beckett’s Abracadabra. Amulet, 2022. 978-1-319-75344-2. 296 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

Lia is delighted when she receives a letter from her missing grandmother, inviting her to compete in a stage magic competition to be held in Mirror Lake, a retreat for magicians where her grandmother resides. Over the protests of her mother, who wants Lia to do something “meaningful” with her summer, Lia eagerly escapes to Mirror Lake, to practice the tricks her magician grandmother has taught her. Lia is determined to win the competition, make her grandmother proud, and take the prize, the small theater her grandmother has owned for years. Lia definitely wants to keep it out of the hands of the Blackwell boys, grandsons of her grandmother’s ex-husband and magic partner. Lia has been warned to stay away from the Blackwell boys, but while Lia may be great at counting cards and sleight of hand, she wasn’t counting on Beckett Blackwell being so cute, and nice, and good at magic, even though it clearly is not his passion. However, as the competition progresses, Lia realizes there is more at stake than the theater. Additionally, Lia and Beckett team up to exact revenge on Beckett’s cousin, Elliot, a talented mentalist who uses his gifts for nefarious purposes. This addictive rom-com is entertaining from the start. Readers will root for Lia to follow her muse, despite the pressure from her mother, as well as for Lia and Beckett to (inevitably) find each other. The amusing con Lia sets up to crush Elliot adds spice to the pot, and the story rounds out with a feminist punch, as the reparations for the historic dismissal of female magicians ties up the plot. Readers will be left with a big grin on their faces and warm fuzzies in their heart.

THOUGHTS: This delightful book contains everything a good romance should, and makes a solid purchase where romance is popular.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Nothing More to Tell

McManus, Karen M. Nothing More to Tell. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-17590-3. 356 p. $19.99. Grades 7-12.

After her school newspaper account was hacked, and pornographic pictures posted under her byline, senior Brynn left her Chicago area high school in disgrace while her family relocated back to her hometown of Sturgis, Massachusetts. Her life and her journalistic reputation in tatters, Brynn interviews for an internship with a true crime show, hoping to pad her college applications, as well as to convince the show to research the unsolved murder of Mr. Larkin, her favorite middle school teacher. To her surprise, she is awarded the position, and hooks the show’s host with her crime story proposal. Re-enrolled in the private school she attended at the time of the crime, Brynn reconnects with old friends and puts her tenacious investigative reporter skills to work. But Brynn eventually realizes that playing reporter is more than fun and games when it becomes obvious someone does not want her digging up the past. In typical McManus style, the suspense rarely lets up, as the narrative alternates between Brynn and Tripp, her former best friend, and one the students who discovered the body of  Mr. Larkin four years ago. Red herrings abound as the threads of the complex plot slowly coalesce. All four main characters cue white, but minor characters are diverse. 

THOUGHTS: McManus presents a challenging mystery with fine character development. A first purchase where her other books are in demand and mysteries are popular. 

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Friends Like These

Alvarez, Jennifer Lynn. Friends Like These. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-30967-4. 384 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Tegan Sheffield is known for her Fourth of July beach bonfire and end of the summer party. Those in Tegan’s orbit are at her beck and call, while those not so close clearly are on the outside. People love her and love to hate her. Jessica Sanchez has been dating Jake Healy, Tegan’s ex, for months. While Jake promises there’s nothing between him and Tegan, Jess doesn’t want to attend the end of the summer party. The last place she wants to be is at Tegan’s. They had a friendship falling out in fifth grade, and everything has been uncomfortable since then. Parties aren’t really Jess’s scene anyway, but she knows Jake loves them. The last party before senior year is going to be epic. But things go horribly wrong. An explicit video from the party goes viral, two girls are missing, and some relationships never will be the same. The police are being pretty tight-lipped about their evidence, interviewing everyone who was at the party, while the FBI works to clean the video before it reaches the deep web. With Tegan’s family connections, this case is a top priority. Then a body is discovered in the water below a popular cliff overlook not too far from Tegan’s house. As the police search and investigation intensify, secrets are revealed. Not not everyone is as innocent as they may seem, and loyalties shift. Is everything an innocent tragedy, or will a killer strike again?

THOUGHTS: Told in alternating chapters from earlier in the summer, the party, and the aftermath, multiple narrators will keep readers’ interest as they try to piece this thriller together. Highly recommended for high school libraries.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Thriller

YA – On the Subject of Unmentionable Things

Walton, Julia. On the Subject of Unmentionable Things. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-31057-1. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Phoebe knows what her peers need, and her unique – yet secret – research hobby is just the thing to help them. Though not in a serious relationship herself, Phoebe is somewhat of an expert when it comes to sex education, and she started The Circle in the Square, a blog where she posts information written for teens anonymously as Pom. Even her best friend Cora doesn’t know she’s Pom which is convenient when Cora asks for Phoebe’s advice regarding taking things to the next level with her boyfriend. A writer/researcher at heart, Phoebe does more research to find answers to questions she’s asked, and she presents her information in an honest, non-judgmental manner. When one of her blog posts goes viral and catches the attention of mayoral candidate Lydia Brookhurst, a conservative local politician, Phoebe fears her identity will be revealed. After all, Brookhurst’s mission is to shut down the blog and out the person causing an “assault on morality.” Gathering supporters from conservative parents and local business supporters, Brookhurst is determined to use her resources to uncover Pom’s identity. As Phoebe tries to maintain her two identities, readers will root for their side (Brookhurst or Phoebe) while learning factual details related to sex education.

THOUGHTS: With likeable Pom/Phoebe as her voice in this sex-positive read, Walton provides readers with plenty of useful information related to sex education. Loosely connected to the recent information challenge climate, this title is recommended for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

MG – The Supernatural Society

Ogle, Rex. The Supernatural Society. Inkyard Press, 2022. 978-1-335-42487-7. 281 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Will moves with his mom and his dog, Fitz, from New York City to a new school in East Emerson because his parents have recently divorced, and he is not pleased. Will deals with quite a bit of culture shock as he acclimates to small-town life and realizes that East Emerson isn’t just a sleepy, boring town; his new home is also overrun with monsters! Eventually, though, he befriends Linus and Ivy, two siblings from his neighborhood who help him deal with the monsters and make him feel as though he has found a “tribe” among all the upheaval and heartbreak in his life.

THOUGHTS: Good for students who want more scary stories, those who are fans of Stranger Things and groups of smart, multicultural kids finding monsters and solving mysteries. Linus is unapologetically smart, Ivy is strong, and Will is the glue that holds the band together. Students will be waiting with excitement for future books as well! This story will also serve as an unusual but interesting way to lead students to Free Lunch, Rex Ogle’s gritty and fascinating memoir.

Mystery Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD
Supernatural Fiction

YA – Love Radio

LaDelle, Ebony. Love Radio. Simon & Schuster, 2022. 978-1-665-90815-3. $19.99. 310 p. Grades 9-12.

Danielle Ford’s romantic mother has a big wish for her only child, to experience a great love story. That wish struggles to come true in Ebony LaDelle’s, Love Radio, a debut novel that is as much a homage to the great city of Detroit as it is to first love. High-achieving senior, Dani has been shut off from her friends and dating after a traumatizing sexual encounter with a college boy the previous summer. Keeping this secret from her besties and devoted parents, she buries herself in writing the perfect college essay to get into her dream school, New York University (NYU). When she has an awkward meeting in the library with classmate, Prince Jones, a popular teen disc jockey and local radio personality (DJLove Jones) who mixes love advice with music, she makes an assumption she regrets and wants to rectify. Told in alternating voices, the romance between Prince and Dani is enchanting. Prince shows a maturity beyond his years, perhaps because he has accepted much of the responsibility of taking care of his seven-year-old brother Mookie and household duties since his single mother received her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Prince has fallen hard for the guarded Dani and is determined to make her fall in love with him in five dates. After inviting himself over to her comfortable home to take out her braids, he plans two movie-worthy dates to a roller rink and bookstore. Dani starts to open up, reconnect with her friends, and dissolve her writer’s block. When she reciprocates with one equally perfect date to the Motown Museum, though, their intimacy triggers bad memories and she breaks it off with Prince. As Dani faces her trauma, she has the support of loving parents and patient friends as well as the therapy of writing unsent letters to her literary idols, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Prince, too, acknowledges his need to suppress his dreams because of his home obligations and, with help, makes a plan for his future. Both characters come to realize that they are surrounded by a network of loving people who will support and help them achieve their goals. Characters are African-American.

THOUGHTS: Students in the mood for a dreamy romance will eat up this book. The author has an ear for teen dialogue and is from Michigan. Any readers familiar with Detroit will recognize the branding of different places (if I am ever in Detroit, I’m heading for that Dutch Girl Donuts) and the description of the neighborhoods. Dani and Prince are so wise; the thoughtful dates are out of this world; the child to parent relationships are so close. Though the romance doesn’t play out physically much, Dani’s traumatic encounter occurs when she a friend takes her to a frat house where she barely escapes date rape. After several dates, Dani leads Prince to her bedroom and encourages a sexual encounter, but Prince is reluctant to proceed. The portrayal of family is warm and loving, especially the way Prince helps out his sick mother. Though the letters to literary idols seem to be a critical link to Dani’s recovery from trauma, the book names Dani’s idols as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Roxane Gay, Jesmyn Ward in the beginning chapter, but she only focuses on Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. One of Dani’s friends is sick of appropriation and plans a hair fashion show. Lots of references to music. Some bad language. For those who are sticklers, the timeline is a little wonky: would college kids be on campus in the summer? (maybe).

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – The Fort

Korman, Gordon. The Fort. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-62914-9. 239 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

After a violent hurricane rips through their town, Evan and his friends decide to explore the destruction and see if their fort in the woods has survived. Unfortunately, the fort is destroyed, but the weather has unearthed something even better not too far away. The boys discover an underground bomb shelter, complete with canned goods, a record player, a TV – basically everything they need to make the ultimate clubhouse! The group decides to keep the fort a secret between the five of them. They hang out at the fort quite often, spending a lot of time with each other; however, each of them is hiding another secret besides the fort. Evan is worrying about his older brother and hoping he doesn’t succumb to drugs like their parents. Jason is trying hard not to reveal the fort to his girlfriend and her police officer father. Mitchell is trying to get his OCD under control. And CJ is sleeping at the fort every night to escape physical abuse from his stepdad. Ricky, who has not known these guys as long as they have known each other, knows something is amiss and begins to put the pieces together, determined to help them out. When some older boys get suspicious about where the friends are spending their time and an investigation begins, Ricky knows he has to work quickly to keep his friend group (and the fort) safe.

THOUGHTS: Gordon Korman’s 100th book does not disappoint. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character to get everyone’s perspectives. The friendship between the boys is heartwarming and supportive, especially in the face of the obstacles they all have in their lives. This book is a must-purchase for middle grade libraries.

Realistic Fiction            Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Squire

Alfageeh, Sara, and Nadia Shammas. Squire. Quill Tree Books, 2022. 978-0-062-94585-3. 336 p. $21.99. Grades 7-10.

As an Ornu, Aiza exists on the outskirts of the Bayt-Sajji empire. Her parents are content with their simple but restricted life, while Aiza longs for adventures beyond the borders of the Ornus’ designated community. Opportunity arrives with an announcement that the Bayt-Sajji military is expanding its ranks, offering successful recruits the position of Squire and full citizenship in the Empire. Aiza’s parents reluctantly agree to let her enlist, but ask that she hide her Ornu markings for her own protection. Recruitment involves intense physical training, history lessons, sparring, military strategy, and a general who rules with an iron fist. Aiza’s scrappiness, zeal, and big personality serve her well in training (not so much in history lessons). With the help of a few key allies, she makes steady progress. When Ornu rebels ambush Aiza’s patrol group, secrets and betrayals come to light and everyone must choose a side. Themes of heroism, loyalty, and identity are depicted through bold artwork with plenty of swordplay and action sequences. The author/illustrator team of Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh include a must-read “Making of a Page” section that has insights into the script, artistic inspiration, and more.

THOUGHTS: Squire is a fast-paced read with depth, and the creators leave the door open for follow-up installments. It is a must-read for fans of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Killing Time

Ehrlich, Brenna. Killing Time. Inkyard Press, 2022. 978-1-335-41867-8. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Natalie has lived a pretty sheltered life in Ferry, Connecticut, thanks to her mom’s overprotective rules. Working in their family diner, it’s always just been the two of them. When Natalie, who recently graduated from high school, learns that her favorite teacher died under suspicious circumstances she’s determined to honor Mrs. Halsey’s memory. Though their last conversation didn’t end well, Mrs. Halsey understood Natalie’s interest in true crime and supported her (and Nat’s best friend Katie) as the true crime club advisor. They even started their own podcast – Killing Time – where they evolve in their discussion of legendary killers. All of this “true crime stuff” is done, of course, without her mom’s knowledge or permission. But Nat, who wants to go to college to be a journalist, is determined to tell her teacher’s story and honor her life. When she finds a threatening note telling her to “Stay out of it. I’m warning you.” she’s even more motivated to piece together what happened to Mrs. Halsey. Between the conversations among customers at the diner, her internship at the paper, and some convenient friendships, Nat seems to be getting closer to the truth. But how likely is a teenager operating on her own to solve a crime, especially when someone doesn’t want the truth to come to light? Interspersed throughout the novel are “Then” chapters that flash back to Helen’s college days which shed some light onto the strained relationship between mother and daughter and some of Helen’s overprotective tendencies.

THOUGHTS: Fans of true crime will like this one. I especially enjoyed the Then chapters which seemed to have more suspense and keep the story moving. A supplemental purchase where mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Family of Liars

Lockhart, E. Family of Liars. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-48585-9. 299 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

In this prequel to We Were Liars,  we are transported back to the 1980s on the small private island off the coast of Massachusetts that belongs to the Sinclair family. As the title states, this is a family of liars. A family that has many dark secrets. This story takes place over a summer and focuses on the Sinclair sisters and the events that will alter the lives of the Sinclairs. They are joined on their summer vacation by their cousin, Yardley Sinclair who has brought three teenage boys with her. This will not be a normal summer of picnics, fireworks, and swimming for the Sinclairs. The boys bring about a change of atmosphere to the island that will end with tragedy. The family will have to live up to their reputation as liars once again in order to survive.

THOUGHTS: First, this is a prequel and should be read AFTER reading We Were Liars.  This book will appeal to those who enjoy intrigue, mystery, drama, and ghost stories. Lockhart is able to write a story that flows so smoothly that students want more.

Mystery Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Readers of We Were Liars (2014) are taken back in time to meet the Sinclair family, each a liar in their own way. Welcome to summer at Beechwood, the Sinclair family’s private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Appearances are everything, and the family lives by their father Harris’s mottoes: “Here in the Sinclair family…We make the best of things.” At the end of the summer of 1986 Rosemary, the youngest Sinclair sister, drowns, and each family member copes separately. Rosemary is rarely mentioned after her death, though, and Carrie, the oldest of the four sisters, struggles immensely with this loss. Just two weeks after losing Rosemary, Carrie and her sisters Penny and Bess leave Beechwood for the North Forest Academy boarding school where Carrie continues to struggle. Returning to Beechwood in the summer of 1987 isn’t much help, as Rosemary’s things have been taken to the attic. Uncle Dean arrives with his kids, Yardley and Tomkin, and Yardley has a surprise: she’s brought “the boys” (her boyfriend George and his friends Major and Pfeff). And so ensues another summer – however different – on Beechwood. Lines in the sand will be drawn and crossed, relationships will be tested, and lies will be told. But above all else, “We make the best of things.”

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD