LaRocca, Rajani. Much Ado About Baseball. Yellow Jacket, 2021. 978-1-499-81101-8. 312 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.
Trish is annoyed with her mother for making her move again. It’s challenging enough being a girl who plays baseball, without being the new kid too. But she is determined to make what may be her last season of baseball awesome. Until she discovers Ben, the boy she beat in last spring’s regional Math Puzzler competition, is on the team. This could be a complicated problem to solve. Ben, who is reluctantly playing ball this summer, does not need Miss Math Puzzler genius showing him up in baseball, too. So the two 12-year-olds begin the season at odds with each other, despite the efforts of Ben’s pal Abhi, who quickly befriends Trish as well. But when Ben and Trish each receive a puzzle book in the mail, they quickly realize that the team’s sudden success may be tied into their ability to solve the puzzles, and they soon pair up. But the course of true love, whether math or baseball, never did run smooth. And with the machinations of a Puck or two, there is no guarantee of a solution to this Midsummer mess. This companion book to LaRocca’s Midsummer’s Mayhem delightfully pairs baseball, math, and Shakespeare in a lighthearted plot about friendship and family, relationships that are frequently complicated. Ben, Trish, and Abhi all have frustrations with their families, as well as negotiating friendships and self-esteem issues. A community theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream provides the context for a bit of Puckish magic, and a few fey individuals who wish to make the mortals look foolish. Readers who are not familiar with the Bard’s work still will thoroughly enjoy the book, but those with a knowledge of the play will enjoy the subtle (and eventually not so subtle) parallels running through the story. Trish and Abhi are Indian, Ben is white.
THOUGHTS: A blending of math and baseball may not attract all readers, but one does not have to be a fan of either to enjoy the book. LaRocca enthusiastically explains both, so readers may pick up an appreciation by the end of the story.
Fantasy (Magical Realism) Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD
Woodfolk, Ashley. When You Were Everything. Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-1-524-71591-5. $17.99. 385 p. Grades 9 and up.
Cleo hasn’t spoken to her best friend, Layla, in 27 days. Everywhere she goes in her hometown of New York City, the ghost of their friendship lurks. Tired of torturing herself, Cleo comes up with a plan to erase all memories and associations of Layla by creating new memories surrounding her triggers like the park where they first met and the diner they frequented. A good plan in theory, all of Cleo’s meticulous plotting is rendered moot when she is not only forced to see Layla at school but also – even worse – assigned to tutor her in English. Cleo tries desperately to figure out Life-After-Layla, but being forced to see her makes it difficult. It seems like her memory erasure plan might work when she decides to go back to Dolly’s Diner alone and runs into Dom – a cute boy she met at a party a few months ago with Layla – and Sydney – another girl in her class. However, Cleo explains, “My faith in friendship has been shaken, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get it back.” This novel is written in an alternating timeline from the present to the months leading up to Cleo and Layla’s break-up, revealing that Cleo is not completely innocent in the unraveling of their friendship.
THOUGHTS: Cleo narrates, “Girls wage endless wars with their voices, tearing you apart without touching you at all.” So many YA novels feature these epic female friendships, but for many girls this is not reality. In our culture where the expression “BFF/Best-Friends Forever” is thrown around like an expected fact of life, this book is an extremely important read for all girls. Female friendship break-ups can be just as heartbreaking – if not worse – than a romantic break-up, especially as teenagers when talk of the friendship lasting “forever” occurs much more frequently than in a high school romantic relationship. Woodfolk’s narrator is not perfect, but she is real, and her narration is raw and emotional. There are tons of songs and poems to help with the catharsis of emotions after a romantic break-up; Ashley Woodfolk has written a rare one for the friendship break-up with this novel.
Realistic Fiction Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD
Kopp, Shannon. Pound for Pound. New York: William Morrow, 2015. 978-06-237022-8. 288p. $25.99. Gr. 9 and up.
In this memoir author Shannon Kopp shares her story of of recovery from an eating disorder and how she drew strength in her her recovery by working with shelter dogs, particularly pit bulls. Growing up in a dysfunctional home (her father was an alcoholic), Kopp suffered from bulimia throughout her teen years and into her early twenties. In and out of rehabilitation and treatment programs to no avail, she eventually began to turn her life around when she got a job working with shelter dogs at the SPCA. The loving relationships she establishes with the dogs she works with (particularly pit bulls) gives her the strength to work through her relapses and begin to heal. In the process she also discovered her calling – working as an animal welfare activist and finding homes for shelter dogs. THOUGHTS: Kopp is a first time writer, and at times that shows in the occasional awkward passage. However, her struggles with bulimia and her deep passion for dogs are sincerely communicated. Those who enjoy true-life stories of those who face obstacles or those who share a bond with animals may enjoy this memoir. Be advised: Kopp does not shy away in her descriptions of her bulimic experiences.
921 Memoir Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS
The Shakespeare Book. New York: DK, 2015. 978-1-4654-2987-2. 352 p. $25.00. Gr. 7-12.
The cover of this book says it all: ”Big Ideas Simply Explained.” The Shakespeare Book offers readers an easy to understand overview of each of Shakespeare’s plays (and major poems). A brief biographical introduction to Shakespeare is also included. Each chapter presents a timeline of the events in the play, a summary of the plot, and a description of major characters. Major themes are identified and discussed. In addition, Shakespeare’s influences/inspirations in writing each play are identified. Most chapters are four pages long, however major plays (Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet,Hamlet, etc.) have lengthier entries. The text is supplemented by a variety of high-quality color photos and illustrations of Shakespearean productions. Charts are also included to help explain major plot points and character relationships (for example, the entry on Romeo & Juliet features a family tree that outlines the relationships between the characters). THOUGHTS: This volume offers libraries an affordable and reader friendly overview of the works of William Shakespeare. While the average chapter may only be four pages long, quite a bit of information is included within those pages. Of particular note are the discussion of themes within each play and the illustrations, particularly the informative charts. Readers with an interest in Shakespeare’s poetry may also find the chapters on major Shakespearean poems/sonnets informative.
822.33 Literature Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS