YA FIC – Wrong Train; Very, Very Bad Thing; Furyborn

De Quidt, Jeremy. The Wrong Train.  David Fickling Books, 2017. 9781338121254. 206 p.  $18.99.  Gr. 7-10.

This collection of eight truly creepy short stories has an equally creepy framing device:  a boy gets on a train going the wrong way and decides to get off as soon as he can. Unfortunately, the stop turns out to be dimly lit and nearly deserted. Train after train passes by without picking him up. The boy meets a strange old man who persists in telling him tales of terror to pass the time. Each story has a unique setting and characters, and each story has an ending more spine-tingling than the last. As the evening wears on, the boy does everything except beg the old man to stop telling the stories, but he persists, and there is an especially chilling twist at the end. THOUGHTS: This book is perfect for fans of R.L. Stine and for kids who are eager to read, but not quite ready for, Stephen King. Note that The Wrong Train isn’t for the faint of heart: there are no happy endings to any of these stories, including the frame story. Recommended for all middle school and high school libraries, as it’s almost impossible to have too much good horror fiction on hand.

Story Collection, Horror                   Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Self, Jeffrey. A Very, Very Bad Thing. New York: PUSH, 2017. 978-1-338-11840-7. 240 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Jeffrey Self’s A Very, Very Bad Thing reads like a modern take on John Knowles’ classic A Separate Peace. Marley is an average teen, who struggles with finding something he’s passionate about and mostly wants to be left alone. When he meets new boy Christopher, his worldview completely changes, and he falls hard and fast. Unfortunately, Christopher’s father is an evangelical preacher who believes homosexuality is a sin, and who has sent his son to numerous conversion therapy camps in the hopes of stamping out all of Christopher’s unnatural urges. Despite this, Christopher and Marley find support from Marley’s parents – former hippies with a penchant for meditative circles and extreme creative expression – his theater loving best friend, Audrey, who often acts as his conscience, and Christopher’s aunt, who does not support her brother-in-law’s views in the least. When Christopher’s father sends him to yet another conversion therapy camp, disaster strikes. The book toggles back in forth between the present and several months in the past; the present day chapters slowly reveal details about Marley’s rise to fame, and his shame about the circumstances that lead him there.  THOUGHTS:  This is not a subtle story; the message is loud, and clear, and gets in the way of could be a compelling tale. While the characters are charming at times, for the majority of the book they are all stereotypical archetypes, which hinders the reader’s ability to fully connect with any of them.

Realistic Fiction     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Legrand, Claire. Furyborn. New York: Sourcebooks, 2018. 978-1492656623. 512 p. $18.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Legrand has stepped out of her middle-grade shoes and leapt right into the heart of YA literature with a blockbuster of a novel. Furyborn, the first book in the Emperium trilogy, is an epic (in both scope and length – it’s a whopping 512 pages) fantasy adventure written from two different points of view: Rielle’s and Eliana’s, two strong-minded, fierce, and conflicted women whose loyalties are tested over and over again. There is a prophecy that two queens will rise: the Sun Queen and the Blood Queen, both of whom will have the ability to control all seven elemental magics – wind, fire, water, shadow, light, metal, and earth. After Rielle inadvertently displays her astounding magical abilities, it is discovered that she, in fact, can manipulate all of the elements. She is put through a series of trials to test not just her abilities, but also her control – when she was five years old, she lost her temper, and set her house on fire, resulting in the death of her mother. But Rielle has another secret: she has been communicating with an angel inside her head, an angel who’s help comes at a steep cost. One thousand years later, almost all of the lands have been conquered by the Emperor, and Rielle, her magic, and angels are nothing but myths and legends that few believe ever existed in the first place.  Eliana, known as the Dread of Orline, is one of those people; she is a hired assassin, working for the Emperor, hunting down rebels. She, too, has a secret: she cannot be injured; wounds close up, bones reknit, burns heal. She is forced to confront who or what she is when she learns some shocking secrets about her past. Legrand is a natural storyteller, and has imbued her novel with a cast of complex and diverse characters; she cleverly ends every chapter with a cliffhanger, and since each chapter flips between Rielle and Eliana, it’s almost impossible to put down. This is a very mature read, however, and not appropriate for younger readers – there is an extremely graphic sex scene, and the text is peppered with casual swearing. Thoughts: This is a perfect novel for fans of Kate Elliott’s Court of Five series, Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series, and Kiersten White’s And I Darken series.

Fantasy      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Great YA – Skyscraping; Goose; Burn Girl


Jensen, Cordelia. Skyscraping. New York: Philomel Books, 2015. 978-0-399-16771-3. 347p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Set in New York City in 1993, this is a heart-wrenching story of a young girl whose seemingly stable life is turned entirely upside down during her senior year in high school. Miranda is smart, responsible, motivated, and destined to attend Columbia University where her father teaches. But, her world crashes when she discovers her father and his male teaching assistant in bed together. Her once complete trust in her father is undermined when she learns that her parents have had an open marriage since before she was born, and that one of the reasons her mother spent a year in Italy, without first telling her daughters and thereby seemingly abandoning her family, was because she believed Mira’s father was the better parent. Mira’s faith in her family is further corrupted when she learns that her father has been HIV positive for years, and she learns this from him when his disease progresses to full-blown AIDS. THOUGHTS: Told in free verse with much use of imagery, symbolism and metaphor (often glaringly obvious, but sometimes more subtle), Skyscraping is a coming-of-age novel with a strong female character and the genuineness of a personal diary.

Realistic Fiction (free verse)           Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy



O’Porter, Dawn. Goose. New York: Amulet Books, 2015. 978-1-4197-1645-4. 256p. $16.95. Gr. 9 and up.

It’s senior year for Renée and Flo, first introduced in Paper Airplanes, and the best friends anticipate changes. Flo, committed to leaving the island of Guernsey, is intent on going to university, but Renée, who previously agreed with the plan, is having second thoughts. Each has family issues to navigate as well as the overlay of Renée’s sexual experimentation and Flo’s religious exploration. THOUGHTS: Although the plot moves quickly as the narration alternates between the two girls, and although the characters are realistic and well-drawn and their strong bond of friendship is relatable for today’s teens, this novel is, overall, a disappointment. Includes graphic and often unnecessary sexual scenes and references.

Realistic Fiction         Annette Sirio, Pittsburgh Obama Academy of International Studies



Mikulencak, Mandy. Burn Girl. Chicago: Albert Whitman, 2015. 978-0-8075-2217-2. 280p. $16.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Arlie is a teenage girl with adult responsibilities.  Most importantly, taking care of her drug addict mother.  They live in a motel, and Arlie’s life is very unstable. She was burned as a child and her disfigured appearance is just one struggle in her life. When her mother overdoses, it’s Arlie that has to call the police.  She’s sent to foster care and to school after many years of not attending.  Arlie does have one friend, Mo, who isn’t about to give up on her, and along the way she meets Cody, who has a disability of his own but can be a good influence on her.  Arlie must leave foster care and live with an uncle she didn’t know existed, and her relationship with Frank is written realistically.  THOUGHTS: A contemporary, quick read. This story will appeal to those who like troubled teen girl characters, and a story with a gritty edge. Arlie is a likeable main character, and even though she is slow to change at times, and often runs from her problems. I appreciated the “realness” of her and what she went through.  

Realistic Fiction      Rachel Gutzler,Wilson High School




YA Realistic Fiction – All the Major Constellations; Seven Ways to Lie; Emmy & Oliver


Cranse, Pratima. All the Major Constellations. New York: Viking, 2015. 978-0-670-01645-7. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Andrew is a misfit in his own family. His parents obviously favor his older, jock brother and basically ignore him.  He has found an alternate support system with Sara and Marcia while lusting after the mysterious Laura, a devoutly religious peer. Andrew and Laura have nothing in common other than living near each other and going to the same high school, but when Sara is severely injured in a car accident, Laura reaches out to him. Andrew misinterprets her gesture and proceeds to engage with her religious group, but is he exploring his spirituality or maneuvering to get close to Laura? In the meantime, Sara is declared brain dead and on life support, and Andrew’s brother is accused of rape. THOUGHTS: Andrew’s character is not sympathetic.  His “love” for Laura is irritatingly superficial, and his spiritual quest without credibility; this novel deserves C+ at best.

Realistic Fiction       Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy of International Studies



Redgate, Riley.  Seven Ways We Lie.  New York: Amulet Books, 2016. 9781419719448. 342p.  $18.00. Gr. 9 and up.

Everyone has something to hide.  For these seven students at Paloma High School each one is hiding a dark secret hoping no one will ever know the truth.  When the principal receives an anonymous tip that a teacher is romantically involved with a student the whole school is turned upside down.  Juniper Kipling is a golden child, successful at everything she does with the highest achievement never out of reach.  Matt Jackson spends most of his days stoned, only thinking of when he’ll be able to smoke again.  Kat & Olivia Scott are identical twins who haven’t spoken to each other since their mom walked out on the family years ago.  Claire Lombardi is the overachieving, over-involved queen of popularity trying to keep it all together despite her growing insecurities.  Lucas McCallum still feels like the new kid in school even though he’s been in Paloma for over a year.  Valentine Simmons just wants to be left alone…or does he.  All seven are brought together by one person who is the center of the school’s biggest controversy.  Thoughts: I admit I didn’t like this all that much while I was reading it, but I couldn’t put it down.  I am not a fan of changing narrators every chapter and would have to flip back to make sure I knew who was narrating when.  Redgate does take an interesting position on the all too-present topic of teacher/student romances.  I would recommend Seven Ways We Lie to students who want a quick easy book that doesn’t involve any thinking at all.

Realistic Fiction    Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School



Benway, Robin.  Emmy & Oliver.  New York: HarperTeen, 2015.  978-0-06-233059-8. 343 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 8 and up.

Emmy and Oliver were born in the same hospital on the same day and live right next door to each other.  They were destined to be friends forever until one fateful day when Oliver was kidnapped by his own father.  Now, ten years later, Oliver has been located and has returned home.  Emmy is unsure whether or not she and Oliver will be able to pick up where they left off, but it doesn’t take long before they’ve not only rekindled their friendship but have even started to build a romantic relationship.  Not everything is as simple as it seems, however.  Emmy’s parents have been extremely overprotective ever since the day Oliver disappeared, and Oliver struggles to rebuild a relationship with his mother and assimilate back into his old life.  Likewise, their close friends, Caro and Drew, are dealing with their own problems throughout the book.  Heartfelt and honest, this book focuses on several issues that will be relatable to today’s teen: friendship, romantic relationships, homosexuality, familial relationships, college decisions, and much more.  THOUGHTS: As a new mother, I actually enjoyed this title for its rather detailed focus on parent/child relationships which is often missing from young adult literature.  This, along with other themes like friendship, sibling relationships, and homosexual relationships, will definitely enable most teens to relate to Benway’s characters.  While there is one instance of underage drinking, most of the book is fairly conservative.  Fans of Sarah Dessen, Jandy Nelson, or Heather Demetrios will enjoy this title.

Realistic Fiction     Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School



YA Realistic Fiction – Weird Girl…


Brothers, Meaghan. Weird Girl and What’s His Name. New York: Three Rooms Press, 2015. 978-1-9411-1027-0. 336 p. $16.95. Gr 9-12.

Lula and Rory are best friends, sci-fi geeks, and huge fans of The X-Files. They even have their own X-Files online guide, where they post reviews and discuss episodes with other fans. In their small North Carolina town, they confide only in each other; Rory knows that Lula’s mother left her with her grandparents and nothing but a backpack and a few books.  Lula knows Rory’s gay, and that his mother is a functioning alcoholic who frequently rearranges their furniture. But, Rory has been keeping some secrets from Lula, like the fact that he’s seeing his older boss, and also tried out for the football team.  When Lula finds out, she feels betrayed and heartbroken. In an instant, Lula’s world is turned upside-down, and she embarks on a cross country trip to find her mother and also herself. THOUGHTS: While at times  a bit predictable, Lula and Rory are extremely endearing characters that most teens can relate to. The X-Files references may seem outdated, but a recent Fox reboot of the series may peak reader interest.

Realistic Fiction        Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School



More Happy Than Not


Silvera, Adam. More Happy Than Not. New York: Soho Teen, 2015. 978-1-61695-560-1. 293 p. $18.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Bronx teen Aaron Soto has had a tough year by any measure. First his father committed suicide, and then Aaron tried to kill himself in a self-described “cry for help.” Now his girlfriend Genevieve, who stood by him through it all, has left for a summer art program in New Orleans. Aaron strikes up a tight new friendship with a neighborhood kid named Thomas, a welcome distraction from missing Genevieve and the ever-present smiling scar on his wrist. By the time Genevieve returns home, Aaron has begun to question his feelings for both his girlfriend and his new best friend. Distraught over the eventual realization that he is gay, Aaron signs up for a mind alteration procedure with the Leteo Institute, which promises a surgical alternative to painful memories and unpleasant realities (think of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). But a hate crime triggers an ingenious plot twist that elevates this seemingly standard coming-of-age and coming out narrative into the “unforgettable” category. THOUGHTS:With More Happy Than Not, debut author Adam Silvera delivers a kick to the head, the heart, and the gut with equal aplomb.
Realistic, Sci-Fi            Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School
Do note that the novel also offers a very frank depiction of teenage dialogue and sexuality (both gay and straight). In other words, f-bombs of every context appear throughout the book. While this adds to the realism, it might be too much for some readers, and would make playing an audiobook excerpt inadvisable. Nonetheless, at its core, this is a love story.