MG – My Own Lightning

Wolk, Lauren. My Own Lightning. Dutton, 2022.  978-0-525-55559-9. $17.99. 307 p. Grades 6-8.

This sequel to Lauren Wolk’s award-winning, Wolf Hollow, picks up at the close of that fateful school year. Annabelle McBride has survived classmate Betty’s bullying and the death of the traumatized World War I veteran Toby, but she still is trying to make sense of all the puzzle pieces that school year gave her and how she should view herself and her world. While helping the teacher clean the schoolhouse, she meets Mr. Graf, a man she perceives as charming and friendly, who is searching for his lost dog. On the way home, a storm kicks up and Annabelle is struck by lightning. An unknown person saves her life. Afterward, her senses seem heightened, and she feels an affinity to animals, especially dogs. Not only is Mr. Graf’s dog missing, but Annabelle’s brother, Henry, cannot find his dog, Buster, either; and neighbor, Andy (who was Betty’s accomplice in bullying Annabelle) has lost his dog as well. When Annabelle meets new neighbor, the dour Mr. Edelman, she thinks he is mean. Despite this scary first impression, when she hears barking from the Edelman property, she investigates and finds a secret animal rescue shelter. Neighbor Andy, Annabelle’s nemesis, has been sleeping in the family’s potato house to escape his abusive household. His past behavior overshadows the kindness he displays with the animals. All of these characters mix together for a sort of human mystery that Annabelle navigates that summer, both in pursuit of the lost dogs as well as a realization that people are not always what they appear. Though the lightning seemed to sharpen her perceptions, Annabelle has to figure out for herself who is sinister and who is truly kind. In the process, she learns not only about others, but also about herself.

THOUGHTS: The language in this book is delicious. The descriptions of the family suppers, the city of Pittsburgh, and the farmland are lush and rich with unique imagery. Wolk has the talent to create authentic characters; even the minor ones ring true. Sensitive readers will appreciate Annabelle’s struggle to detect who is an enemy and who is a friend and learn from her realizations that it is never a waste of time to look deeper into a person’s actions and behavior before judging them. Use this book for great examples of lush imagery.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA Fiction – Spliced; One Memory of Flora Banks; Crown’s Fate; Liberty

McGoran, Jon.  Spliced.  Holiday House, 2017.  978-0-8234-3855-6. 368 p.  $18.95.  Gr. 8 and up.

Jimi lives in Philadelphia, sometime in the future when the “zurbs” no longer have power and and much of North America has flooded.  Her next-door neighbor and best friend, Del, makes her miss the bus to school one day, so they walk to school.  On the way they witness a police officer becoming overly violent while he is apprehending some chimeras.  (Chimeras are humans who have voluntarily spliced their genes with animal genes.)  Jimi and her friend get involved in the melee which leads them on a path filled with danger and adventure.   Woven into the story are parallels to our political climate and current events, such as police brutality, hate groups, environmental warnings, as well as some cautionary tales about technological advances. McGoran stretches the dystopian genre and makes this well-worn genre seem fresh again with this book.  THOUGHTS:  Students who enjoy action-packed dystopian stories will enjoy this, but you could also hand this to someone concerned about the environment or hate groups.

Dystopian, Action/Adventure     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Barr, Emily. The One Memory of Flora Banks. Philomel, 2017. 978-0-399-54701-0. 290 p. $15.99. Gr. 9-12.

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks suffers from anterograde amnesia. While she can remember events from her early childhood, she has been unable to create new memories since she was ten years old. This all changes, however, when she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend. She remembers everything about their kiss. Thinking that perhaps Drake is the key to curing her condition, she sets off to find him in Svalbard, Norway, where he has gone to study abroad. Throughout her journey, Flora makes discoveries about herself, about her past, and about Drake that lead her to question everything she thought was real.  A touching story of bravery, self-discovery and independence, this book will speak to any teen who desires the freedom to make his/her own decisions which is pretty much every teen. THOUGHTS: At the heart of this book is a great amount of repetition: Flora must constantly read her notes to herself about who she is and what she has done in order to figure out why she is doing what she is doing. Her thoughts are often jumbled and bounce back and forth between memories of her childhood and reminders about who she is now.  Obviously, the purpose of this is for the reader to be able to relate to her condition, although this could potentially bore and/or confuse some readers.  In Flora’s conversations with Drake, there are some sexual references which makes this book more appropriate for high school audiences. While there are not many young adult books on the market that deal with this particular type of amnesia, the 2004 movie 50 First Dates, starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, focuses on anterograde amnesia.  Therefore, this movie and Barr’s book could possibly be paired for a unit on amnesia in a psychology course.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD


Barr, Melissa. The One Memory of Flora Banks. Philomel Books, 2017.  978-039954710. 304p. $15.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

Flora Banks has been unable to form a new memory since she was ten years old.  Every day when she wakes up, and sometimes in the middle of the day, she doesn’t know who or where she is.  Flora’s coping mechanisms for this are impressive; notes to herself, writing on her arms, a notebook that re-explains her condition to herself.  It is fascinating to imagine what that would feel like, but this book is so much more that that.  The story becomes very complex, and the reader does not know what the truth is.  Which of the characters in the book are reliable?  THOUGHTS: This is a compelling read that fans who have outgrown Wonder and Out of My Mind will enjoy. Fans of e. Lockhart’s We Were Liars will also enjoy this.

Realistic Fiction     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Skye, Evelyn. The Crown’s Fate. Balzar + Bray, 2017. 978-0-06-242261-3. $17.99. 417 p. Gr. 8 and up.

In this sequel to The Crown’s Game, Imperial Russia is teetering on the brink of chaos. Pasha must convince his countrymen he is the legitimate heir to the throne. Vika, the Imperial Enchanter after Nikolai sacrificed himself for her, pines for her former companion, resents Pasha for causing his death, and chafes under the authority of Yuliana, Pasha’s sister. But Vika becomes aware that Nikolai is not fully dead but living in a land of shadows. As he becomes stronger and more corporeal, Nikolai also becomes more evil, exposing magic to the unsuspecting populace and challenging Pasha for the throne.  Can Vika save herself, let alone her dearest friends and the empire? THOUGHTS : A thoroughly satisfying sequel filled with magic, well-developed characters and a fascinating alternate history of Imperial Russia.  The ending leaves the possibility of further books.

Fantasy, Romance     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Portes, Andrea. Liberty. HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-06-242199-9. $17.99. 388p. Gr. 9 and up.

Paige’s parents have been missing for two years, and no one is telling Paige if they are dead or alive. Journalists, the pair was grabbed on their way to Damascus. Now Paige is in college, attempting to live in a state of suspended animation. But Paige, who speaks five languages and is an expert in several forms of martial arts, captures the attention of a super-secret government agency (after taking out two guys with AK-47s at the Altoona Applebee’s restaurant), and they have a deal for her. If she helps them learn what information a government hacker currently stranded in Russia possesses, they will reopen her parents’ case. Hard for a girl to say no, so off to Russia she goes, where she meets the mysterious Katerina and is befriended (a new experience for Paige) by the son of a Russian mob boss. THOUGHTS: The funniest book I have read in years, Liberty covers many headline issues – ISIS, Putin, Edward Snowden – with a scathing, snarky voice. Paige continuously addresses the reader, frequently advising her to google a particular topic, then come back to the book. Some readers may need to do that, to comprehend every nuance of the plot, but it is worth the time it takes. A totally delightful book, with implied sequels to come.

Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


New for Upper Elementary – The Wild Robot; The Terrible Two…; Clatter of Jars


Brown, Peter.  The Wild Robot.  NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2016.  978-0-316-38199-4.  $16.99. 279p.  Gr. 3-6.

One stormy night, a ship of ROZZUM robots sinks near a tiny, uninhabited island.  Most of the robots go down with the ship, but one survives entry onto the island’s rocky coast and is activated by a group of playful otters. ROZZUM unit 7134 (or, Roz, as she is known to the reader) is designed for the civilized world and must quickly adapt to her new surroundings.  Fortunately, she has the ability to learn and adapt.  The animals are fearful of Roz and believe that she is a monster.  Over time, Roz learns to speak the animals’ languages, but they do not truly begin to accept her until she adopts a gosling whose mother she has accidentally killed.  Roz takes her role as surrogate parent seriously; she turns to the other animal mothers for advice on feeding and sheltering her new charge.  The island’s animals begin to offer help and advice as Roz raises “Brightbill”.  Although Roz is not supposed to feel emotions, any parent can empathize with the anxiety she feels when Brightbill must fly south for his first winter.  Eventually, the island’s peace is shattered by RECO robots with guns who are sent out by Roz’s manufacturer to retrieve all missing ROZZUM units.  The animals, who are used to surviving the cruelty of the animal world, band together to protect Roz, but they are no match for the RECOs.  However, the story ends on a hopeful note and hints at a possible sequel.  THOUGHTS:  This book is an intriguing cross between survival stories like Hatchet and robot stories like The Iron Giant.  It will have wide appeal among middle grade students and should be included in any library collection.

I really enjoyed The Wild Robot.  Roz and the island animals have distinct, almost human personalities, and the story is unexpectedly suspenseful.  This book is excellent for students making the transition from picture books to novels.  The chapters are short and generously illustrated.  The “animal-speak” featured in this story will also be easily understood by younger students.  Brief, action-oriented chapters (which often end with some kind of cliffhanger) make this book an appropriate read-aloud for teachers trying share the wonders of literature with their students.  The Wild Robot is truly something special.

Fantasy; Sci-Fi            Susan Fox, Washington Park School


Barnett, Mac and Jory John. The Terrible Two Get Worse. New York: Amulet Books, 2016. 978-1-4197-1680-5. 217 p. $16.95. Gr. 3-6.

The Terrible Two, Miles and Niles, are back at work in Yawnee Valley, pranking any and all…especially their favorite “goat,” Principal Barry Barkin. Unfortunately for the Terrible Two, their favorite target is unexpectedly taken away. Principal Barkin is removed from his job for his inability to control all the pranking, and is replaced by his father, former Principal Bertrand Barkin. Miles and Niles are excited to begin a new era of pranking the Barkins, but the elder Barkin turns out to be quite a formidable opponent. He refuses to acknowledge their pranks, so the boys become ineffective and down in the dumps. They decide that they must resort to desperate measures and recruit a temporary member to their team…Barry Barkin. In typical Terrible Two fashion, they come up with a winning plan that might go down in Yawnee Valley history as the best prank of all time. Barnett and John are their own terrific twosome, writing another hysterical story about Miles and Niles and their friendship. Kevin Cornell’s illustrations are fantastic, adding quirky and fun details to the story. THOUGHTS: Give this winner to your kids who like mixed text and illustration series (think slightly more sophisticated Diary of a Wimpy Kid) who like to laugh. It would make a fantastic read-aloud.

Humorous Fiction    Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools



Graff, Lisa. A Clatter of Jars. New York: Philomel Books, 2016. 978-0-399-17499-5. 217pp. $16.99. Gr 3-6.

Camp Atropos is a place where children with singular talents flock for the summer. Their talents range from being able to identify frogs, to mindreading, to memory recollection, and many more, but not everyone at Camp Atropos possesses a talent. Jo, the camp director, is talentless but has a bustling black-market business copying and selling her campers’ talents. These mimic talents ultimately become her downfall when a group of campers from Cabin 8 discover what she’s up to and set out to expose her. Several children attend camp with their siblings, and these sibling relationships and rivalries take center-stage in this novel as well. Each chapter is narrated by a different camper, and that camper’s name as the chapter title helps keep the large cast of characters straight.  This book is the sequel to Graff’s 2013 title A Tangle of Knots, and several characters from that book make appearances in this story as well. However, it is not necessary to have read A Tangle of Knots to keep up with this title’s storyline.  THOUGHTS: This title will be popular with fantasy fans, and it’s also a good choice for students looking for a summer-themed read. Pair it with another camp title such as Louis Sachar’s Holes or with other summer adventure stories such as The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester or Three Times Lucky.
Fantasy    Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County

YA Dystopian…A Girl Undone


Linka, Catherine.  A Girl Undone.  New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.  2015.  978-1-250-06867-5.  $19.99. 296p. Gr. 9 and up.

A Girl Undone, by Catherine Linka, is just as action-packed and fast-paced as its predecessor, A Girl Called Fearless.  In a time when the United States government has made more irreparable mistakes than they would like to admit, women are bought and sold like livestock.  The men with the most money have the best prospects for wives including Jesop Hawkins, California gubernatorial hopeful.   Hawkins has contracted Aveline Reveare to be his future wife, but Avie is now a fugitive and suspected terrorist.  After living in Salvation, a remote Idaho compound, she is forced to leave her longtime boyfriend  in order to save her own life and the secrets entrusted to her by Maggie, a leader in the anti-government organization.  When Avie’s identity is discovered, she is swiftly returned to Hawkins’ estate where she is closely guarded until her wedding day. The Exodus organization  is stronger than Avie ever imagines, and she learns that she too is stronger than she knows.  THOUGHTS:  It has the appeal of a realistic dystopian that will hook readers and a fast-pace that will keep the readers reading.

Dystopian   Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School

Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story


Levithan, David. Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story, a musical novel.  New York: Dutton. 2015. 978-0-525-42884-8 $17.99. 200p.  Gr. 10+.

Fans of Will Grayson, Will Grayson are probably all rejoicing that they finally get to read Tiny Cooper’s musical from the end of David Levithan’s previous novel.  Even if you thought Tiny Cooper was a little (or a lot) over the top, you most likely were a little curious to know what was in his musical at the end of Will Grayson, Will Grayson.  Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story lets readers know just that.   This musical novel is the script, complete with blocking and author’s commentary, starting with Tiny’s birth and taking readers up to his latest break-up.  

The story will tug at heart strings, answer questions and maybe just make you scratch your head.  It’s a great follow-up to  Will Grayson, Will Grayson and a book that any fan of David Levithan or John Green should read.  I’d recommend it to anyone who liked Will Grayson, Will Grayson and is looking to find out more about the outrageous Tiny Cooper.

Musical Novel      Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area HS


YA – We Can Work It Out


Eulberg, Elizabeth. We Can Work It Out. New York: Point, 2015. 978-0-545-65461-6. $17.99. 307p. Gr. 7 and up.

We Can Work It Out picks up where The Lonely Hearts Club (2010) left off.  Penny Lane Bloom, founder of the Lonely Hearts Club, has a boyfriend, Ryan Bauer, just months after having her heart broken and starting the club.  Now, as The Lonely Hearts Club continues to grow, not only in members from her own school and town, but across the country (and world), Penny Lane must balance her new-found fame, the club, and time with Ryan.  As Penny struggles to balance both (with Ryan getting the brunt of the brush-offs), she realizes, after a heated exchange with Ryan’s best friend, Todd, that Ryan has changed since they began dating.  To fix it and help Ryan get back in with his friends and return to “the old Ryan” (the Ryan before Penny), Penny sees only one option: break up with Ryan (then she can’t hurt him and he’ll go back to the Ryan he was; right?).  After breaking-up with the greatest-guy-ever (and not heeding the advice from older sister Rita “Don’t screw this up”), Penny is heart-broken and needs a focus.  With the club and their pending dance-a-thon as that focus, Penny throws herself into the planning (and into Principal Braddock’s good (at least for the moment) graces due to the proceeds from the dance-a-thon going to a scholarship for a senior club member and the local rec center), which becomes detrimental to her own health.  With her world spinning out of her control, will Penny Lane be able to learn to balance the club and a boyfriend, or will she give up herself to the good of the club?

Realistic Fiction         Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS

I absolutely loved We Can Work It Out (and The Lonely Hearts Club).  It is refreshing to read a realistic young adult novel that does not focus on “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”.  The innocence and reality of We Can Work It Out speaks to many readers because it focuses on what one can lose in a relationship while also exploring the importance of balance in one’s life, friendship, and relationships.  The fact that the club began as a way for girls to focus on themselves and their friendships, not just how a guy or others define them, allows this novel to move full circle because Ryan gets lost in the shuffle this time and new student, Bruce, explains to Penny Lane how he had his heart-broken by a girl (it goes both ways).  The reality of the friendships (I love Tracy) and the cruelty between Todd, Penny, and Ryan is very recognizable to readers and mirrors high school relationships and friendships well.  We Can Work It Out is a great testament to balance, friendship, romantic relationships, and the importance of family in one’s life; so long as they all play a part and don’t overshadow each other.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing…a sequel to Three Times Lucky


Turnage, Sheila. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing. New York: Kathy Dawson Books, 2014. 978-0-8037-3671-9. 352p. $16.99. Gr. 4-8.

Mo LoBeau and the Desperado Detective Agency are back in this hilarious sequel to Newbery Honor book (2013) Three Times Lucky (2012).  After Miss Lana and Grandmother Miss Lacy accidentally purchase the old Tupelo Inn, they find out that with the inn (in very small print) comes a ghost.  Now, it’s up to Mo and Dale to figure out who this ghost is and why he/she is haunting Miss Lana’s inn.  As the Desperados begin their investigation, new kid, Harm Crenshaw, starts lurking around.  As Mo and Dale try to figure out the usually-a-bully-but-once-in-a-while-nice-guy Harm and why he’s hanging about, they must also tackle their living history assignment in order to pass the sixth grade; an assignment that means interviewing the most vial citizen of Tupelo Landing, Red Baker.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing is a fabulous sequel and middle-grades novel (it earned a starred review from Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal).  Mo LoBeau is one of the most loveable characters; she’s everything many middle school girls want to me: confident, funny, intelligent, a dare-devil, in love, and loved (and beloved).  Mo is a great character role-model.  I also love Tupelo Landing.  It reminds me over my old home, a town of around 800 people, where everyone supports one another and often knows one another.  I hope to see Mo LoBeau again soon.  One final note…Turnage writes on page 85, “Stress focuses you right up until it sucks your brain dry.  Standardized testing taught me that.”  How true…how true 🙂

Realistic Fiction    Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City