Elem. – Elsie

Robert, Nadine. Elsie. Abrams, 2020. 978-1-419-74072-5. Unpaged. $16.99. Grades K-2. 

On nice and sunny Sundays, the seven siblings in the Filpot bunny family go fishing. Elsie doesn’t quite fit in with her older siblings–she would rather stay at home than go fishing. She’s a unique personality with her own way of doing things. This can cause conflict with her siblings, who try to convince her to do things the “right” way. Elsie would rather walk along the brook when the rest of the family wants to to walk through the woods. When Elsie wants to bait her hook with a buttercup, her siblings (who prefer traditional bait) exclaim that she shouldn’t do it and it won’t work! When the family eats their lunch, Elsie wants to feed her sandwiches to the ducklings. But when Elsie catches a large fish with her buttercup bait, her siblings realize that Elsie’s ideas, though different from their own, have merit and should be respected and valued. The text is enhanced by the detailed tempera and watercolor illustrations of Maja Kastelic. Each bunny has a unique appearance and the woodland setting is filled with flora and fauna to engage the attention of the reader.

THOUGHTS: This delightful bunny tale would make an ideal read aloud choice and could easily be integrated into lessons on respecting others opinions and viewpoints, acceptance, individuality, and more. Highly recommended.

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

YA – Again Again

Lockhart, e. Again Again. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-385-74479-9. 286 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up.

After moving and family upheaval, Adelaide Buchwald is trying to find herself. It’s the summer between her junior and senior years, and she has taken a job as a dog walker (and watcher). As she deals with the dogs, her family dysfunction, lack of motivation and focus, a serious breakup, and a new crush, Adelaide reconciles herself with the “what is” but wishes for the “what could be.” When she meets Nick (or re-meets him), she begins to fantasize about how things should be or could be while trying to ignore what is. When Adelaide finally realizes that she must face who she is and what actually is, instead of “who she could be” or “what could be,” she begins the process of forgiveness: forgiveness of herself; forgiveness of her parents; forgiveness of her brother, and forgiveness of what will not be.

THOUGHTS: Again Again is a fun magical realism, romance. Adelaide plays through every situation in the hope of the best outcome (or possibly the worst outcomes). This trait may be very familiar to readers, especially teens, which adds to the connection to Adelaide; she is an easily understandable character. The text font changes as situations change from reality to Adelaide’s imagination. This is harder to follow when listening to the audio book, which is excellent, but easy to see when looking at the print novel. This is a sure-to-please lighthearted romance for all ages.

Romance          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD
Magical Realism

YA – Turtle Under Ice

Del Rosario, Juleah. Turtle Under Ice. Simon Pulse, 2020. 259 p. $18.99 978-15344-4295-5 Grades 9-12.

Teenage sisters Rowena and Ariana have drifted apart since the unexpected death of their mother several years ago. Rowena has thrown herself into soccer, becoming a respected top athlete on her team. Fearing change, Ariana has retreated into…nothing, and risks failing school. The sisters’ closeness has become a barrier as they both fear moving on, and as they both communicate less, and less honestly. Their father has remarried a woman they also love, and the family is incredibly hopeful about the arrival of their new half-sister. However, Maribel suffers a miscarriage, and the loss is too cruel for the sisters. “Our sister’s heart stopped beating/like our mother’s, unexpectedly/on a day that was otherwise/normal” (53).  Ariana vanishes, which leaves Rowena feeling angry and abandoned. This novel in verse is narrated by both sisters as they try to come to terms with this new grief, in addition to the unending grief of losing their mother. Slowly, both sisters discover that their grief has led them to close themselves off to others. Rowena tracks down Ariana at an art exhibit, where Ariana shows a painting “Turtle Under Ice” in memory of their mother. The relief comes very slowly as both girls see hope in Ariana’s art.

THOUGHTS: Del Rosario has a way with creating beautiful images with her words: “Our family…/is a frayed string of lights/that someone needs to fix/with electrical tape./It’s the electricity/that can’t get to us/because Mom’s bulb/has burned out,/so now the whole string is dark./But without the lights turned on/does anyone even notice/that we are broken?” (43-44). Ultimately, the insightful thoughts aren’t enough to save this novel from the monotonous weight of the crushing grief and depression, and the cover does little to draw in all but the most curious of readers. Recommended where novels in verse or multiple narrators are in heavy demand.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Novel in Verse

MG – How to Be a Girl in the World

Carter, Caela. How to Be a Girl in the World. Harper Collins Childrens, 2020. 294 p. $16.99 978-0-062-67270-4 Grades 5-8.

Lydia has spent the entire summer in pants, long sleeves, and turtlenecks, despite the heat, despite her single mom’s concerned comments, and despite friends’ odd looks. Lydia knows she’s not normal, and she doesn’t want to talk about it. Lydia, her biracial cousin Emma, and Lydia’s mom are proudly moving from an apartment to a dilapidated house of their own. Living in the house will require a huge amount of work (it’s chock full of dusty furniture left behind), but Lydia sees in it a chance to be safe. She would love to escape the nicknames, looks and comments of the boys at her private school. She shivers at men’s glances on the subway, or sitting too close. She feels extremely uncomfortable with her mom’s boyfriend Jeremy, whose hugs are just a little too long or too tight, and who assumes a greater friendliness with Lydia and Emma than Lydia would like. But no one else seems to notice any problem, so Lydia knows it’s her. She’s not normal, and if she can’t fix it, at least she can hide herself. Then maybe she’ll feel protected. In the new house, she finds a room full of herbs in jars and a book of spells. It’s exactly what she needs and even allows her to re-forge a connection with the best friend she’s ignored for the summer. They both try the spells, but the boys’ behavior and Jeremy’s behavior only becomes more troublesome, and an outburst from Lydia results in her being suspended from school. Lydia finally confides in her mother about the boys’ treatment of her, and her mother swiftly comes to her aid. When Lydia next explains Jeremy’s actions, her mother is devastated but resolute that Jeremy will never set foot in their house again. To Lydia, the revelatory message that she alone makes “the rules” concerning her body is freeing, and the new understanding and openness with those around her helps her to learn to own those rules.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful, “ordinary” story that every middle school girl would benefit from reading. It’s for every girl who’s ever been told, “it’s no big deal,” “you’re such a baby,” “that’s part of being a girl,” etc. And it’s for every boy who’s ever been told, “she likes it,” “you’re just being a boy,” or “looking doesn’t hurt.”  Pair with Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Golden Arm

Deuker, Carl. Golden Arm. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. $17.99. 978-0-358-01242-9 . Grades 5-8.

Sixteen-year-old Laz Weathers may be slow, but he sees his future baseball prospects pretty clearly. His solid pitching gets no real training and won’t get noticed in his small, poor district. His own weak academics, his stutter, and his ‘tics’ in response to anxiety don’t do him any favors, either. It’s Laz’s younger half-brother, Alberto, who people respond to, and who will speak up when Laz can’t or won’t. But this summer, Alberto’s father has returned and moved in with their mom in their trailer park, causing initial resentment and adjustment by both boys. Laz convinces Alberto to stick with the scrappy baseball team led by Coach L—, who coaxes and cajoles thirteen youths to join the team, then badgers coaches of established teams to compete. Thanks to Laz’s pitching, they often win, which gets him noticed. Laz learns that his family must move (the trailer park will be razed for a high-rise) and that his district will eliminate baseball for his senior year. This allows Laz to join another team, if they’ll have him. A coach who noticed his “golden arm” will give Laz a chance, but can he leave when Alberto is being drawn into drug dealing? Just when Laz has the perfect chance to shine in a championship game, Laz learns his brother is in serious danger from his drug-abusing friends, and it doesn’t matter if Alberto has used, sold, or not–he’s the immediate target. Laz’s choices show his character and alter everything for his future.

THOUGHTS: Deuker shines with baseball scenes and infuses each interaction with tension and a sense of doom. This is hard to put down and will pull in baseball fans and non-fans (the sports writing is that superb). Readers will root for Laz, even as they see everything stacked against him. When the novel ends, I found myself wondering about a sequel showing Laz’s choices in a tough environment over the next 5-10 years, and how his integrity will be tested. This powerful, timeless novel melds baseball with the pressures of class status, mixes dreams with hard reality, and the result is a first-choice novel not to be missed.

Sports Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel

Currie, Rob. Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel. Tyndale House, 2020. $14.99 253 p. 978-1-496-44034-1  Grades 4-8.

In late 1944, 13-year-old Dirk’s father has gone into hiding as a leader of the Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. The chase begins immediately; in chapter one, Dirk learns via a neighbor that his older sister Els has been captured by the Gestapo, to question and torture for information, and to encourage their father’s cooperation. Dirk knows his next move must be to escape with his younger sister, six-year-old Anna, to their grandparents’ home, but questions and worries bombard his mind. Chapter two reveals Els’s perspective as she is starved; questioned; threatened; and worries for her father, brother, and sister.  Most of the story is Dirk’s, but returns to Els’s point-of-view in the final chapters. This tense novel reveals the strength of the Dutch people during what became known as the “Hongerwinter” when Nazi control of resources led to daily food rations of a mere 320 calories per person. Dirk must call upon memories of his father’s instructions and strength to guide him through difficult decisions on his journey, while shielding Anna from the brutal realities of war as best he can.

THOUGHTS: This is a middle-grade novel a step up in complexity and danger for readers who loved Number the Stars and The Devil’s Arithmetic. It will expand readers’ knowledge of Nazi tactics and brave Dutch resistance. An inspiring read.

Historical Fiction; World War II in Netherlands  Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Echo Mountain

Wolk, Lauren. Echo Mountain. Dutton Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-525-55556-8. 356 p. $17.99. Grades 6-8.

Like her award-winning novel, Wolf Hollow, Lauren Wolk repeats her lyrical style in the historical fiction work, Echo Mountain. Ellie, the twelve-year-old narrator, and her family have moved to a remote part of Maine when the Great Depression hits. With his able middle child at his side, Ellie’s father builds their cabin. Her mother, a music teacher, puts down her mandolin and picks up the ceaseless household chores that come from being poor and living off the land–tasks older sister Esther endures but detests. The little brother, Sam, is impetuous and lively; the mountain is the only home he remembers. When the novel opens, Ellie’s father has been in a coma for months. While clearing land, he is felled by a tree. The details of this accident form Ellie’s dilemma and burden. A thoughtful girl, Ellie keeps still and accepts the blame for her father’s injury while always searching for natural remedies that will jolt him from his oh too silent sleep. While on these scavenger hunts, Ellie is surprised by tiny carvings of animals where she walks and believes someone is leaving them for her. These tokens are more meaningful for Ellie because they make her feel noticed, something she needs since her father’s accident. Of necessity, she’s a loner on the edge of childhood, and the story that ensues brings her to the brink of young adulthood. One day, a matted-haired dog appears at the edge of Ellie’s property, and she follows it to the other side of the mountain where the more established folks live. There she discovers the cabin of Echo Mountain’s legendary “hag,” feverish in her bed, in a room with carving tools and jars of herbs and medicinal cures. With the guidance of the hag–who is a healer– and the help of Larkin, the woman’s grandson, Ellie shows extraordinary resourcefulness in doctoring the old woman and her own father. The situation weaves the threads of the story tightly together with the kind of coincidences that deliver a wondrous tale. This quiet story of resilience during difficult times tells of a family who, in Ellie’s words, “…went looking for a way to survive until the world tipped back to well.”

THOUGHTS: This book concentrates on personal issues, rather than global ideas. Sensitive middle school students who like to wrap themselves in multi-faceted characters will gravitate to Ellie. It also provides a study of the dynamics of relationships: how Ellie relates to her mother and sister; how the different neighbors either share or refrain from sharing; how rumor feeds the negative attitude of the mountain people toward the hag; how humans deal with guilt and remorse. Similar to books like The Line Tender by Kate Allen and The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bryant.

Historical Fiction (Great Depression, 1930’s)          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

YA – Infinity Son; All Your Twisted Secrets; The Kingdom of Back; The Between; The Upside of Falling; This is My Brain in Love

Silvera, Adam. Infinity Son. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-98378-7. 353 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Twin brothers Emil and Brighton grew up idolizing Spell Walkers, the Celestials who use their powers to maintain order. But now that they’re turning 18, Emil thinks his brother needs to put the hero-worship aside and face the future realistically. But Brighton thrives on subscribers and likes on his Celestials of New York YouTube channel, and he wants fame so bad he can taste it. When the pair are attacked by a Spector, one who drank Celestial blood to acquire powers, mild mannered Emil erupts in rare Phoenix Fire, to his amazement and Brighton’s cold envy. The family is brought to a Spell Walker compound for protection, and Emil is convinced to join the unit, even though he is an introverted pacifist who isn’t sure the Spell Walkers always use their powers for good. As Emil reluctantly assists in missions, Brighton becomes the team’s public relations director, while his jealousy of his brother, and his disgust with Emil’s pacifism, continue to degrade the one invincible bond between them. Silvera adds another dimension to the superhero genre with his action-packed book. Emil’s reluctance to be a hero contrasts sharply with Brighton’s driven need for fame and power. The Celestials are morally ambiguous, even though they believe their actions are done for the greater good. There are no clear heroes and villains here, and Emil illustrates the danger of having powers others desire. Several big reveals later in the book set the stage for an eagerly awaited sequel.

THOUGHTS: Well developed characters paired with action and suspense make this book a winner. Hand this to fans of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades series or other superhero readers.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Urban, Diana. All Your Twisted Secrets. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-90821-6. 390 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

The beginning of the book starts off so tritely: six stereotypical high school students are notified they have won a prestigious scholarship. The music nerd, the jock, the alpha cheerleader, the stoner, the valedictorian, and the genius loner all show up at the restaurant for the dinner/scholarship presentation, only to find out something is horribly wrong. Then the addictive wild ride begins. Narrated by Amber, the music nerd, the six find themselves locked in a basement dining room, with a ticking bomb, a loaded hypodermic needle, and a note that warns the students that within an hour, one of them must be killed with the poison loaded hypodermic, or the bomb will explode and they all will die. Flashbacks fill in the back story, as the minutes tick down and the frantic teens turn on each other in order to survive. As the plot unfolds, the relationships between the six are uncovered, and true feelings ruthlessly rise to the surface. Subtly woven throughout is the backstory of Amber’s brilliant older sister who committed suicide due to cyberbulling.The suspense is top notch, and you cannot put the book down until its shocking, gut wrenching conclusion.

THOUGHTS: This cross between Karen McManus’ One of Us is Lying and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is sure to fly off the shelf. The ending scarred me for weeks.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lu, Marie. The Kingdom of Back. Putnam, 2020. 978-1-524-73901-0. 313 p. $18.99. Grade. 7-12.

Once upon a time there was an extraordinarily talented pianist who was also a gifted composer, by the name of Mozart. Nannerl Mozart. The older sister of the Mozart still adored the world over, Nannerl knows from a young age that, as a woman, her moment in the spotlight will be fleeting. Her father constantly tells her so. He values her musical ability as a means to earn money and recognition for the family, but once she reaches marriageable age, her public performances will end. As for her compositions, well, don’t be ridiculous. Women don’t compose. Lu takes the bare bones of what is known about Mozart’s sister, and weaves an enchanting historical fantasy that pulses with the frustrations Nannerl must have felt being a gifted woman in a society who had no need of such a person. As the siblings toured Europe, performing for royalty and earning the fame and fortune their father desired, they amused themselves by inventing the kingdom of Back. It is this magical realm that drives Lu’s story. In the kingdom, Nannerl is offered the opportunity of lasting fame, to have her name and her music remembered through the ages, but it may be a bargain too costly to make. Lu skillfully crafts the loving relationship between the siblings, and how Nannerl chafes under her father’s restrictions. She tantalizingly creates a scenario where young Mozart is influenced by Nannerl’s compositions, seeks her help with his own compositions, and even has her compositions published under his own name, all the more intriguing  because the world will never know how much Nannerl truly did influence her brother. This unique blend of fact and fantasy creates a world the reader will remember, as well as brings to light a talented woman too long lost to history.

THOUGHTS: This gorgeously written, uniquely plotted book may take some booktalking, but readers will be enthralled once they read a few pages.

Fantasy (Historical)           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Hofmeyr, David. The Between. Delacorte, 2020. 978-0-385-74475-1. 376 p. $17.99. Grades 7+.

One moment Ana Moon is a normal high school girl, sneaking out to meet her best friend, Bea. The next, the train they’re riding on freezes in place and time, and a monstrous creature snatches Bea and takes off. When a shocked Ana makes it back to her dad’s flat, everything has changed. Dad is different; the flat is slightly different; and, most disturbingly, when Ana calls Bea, she is told that Bea died a year ago. By the time Malik, a cute guy Ana had been flirting with on the train, shows up at her bedroom window in the middle of the night, it barely registers as odd. Malik explains to Ana that she is no longer in the world she knows. She is a Pathfinder who can fall between the seven worlds. Bea has been taken by a reaper, and Ana must trust Malik, a fellow Pathfinder, if she hopes to find Bea. Ana enters a society she can barely comprehend, joining Malik’s clan and working with him and his team. As Ana is indoctrinated into her new reality, it becomes evident that she is not just a new Pathfinder, but perhaps the one Pathfinder who is the key to the mystical Seventh Gate. She may be the one to stop the war between the Pathfinders and the brutal Order. Hofmeyr compacts what might have been a seven volume series into one energetic, action packed story. Ana is a dynamic heroine, who plausibly grows into her new role while traversing continuously shifting ground. Her single minded goal of rescuing Bea, is never forgotten, and is a rare display of a literary friendship that is not overshadowed by romance. While there is an attraction between Malik and Ana, Bea remains her focus.

THOUGHTS: This book has it all: action, friendship, romance, betrayal. It should find a home with Sci Fi readers as well as action/adventure fans who appreciate a few battle scenes in their books.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Light, Alex. The Upside of Falling. Harperteen, 2020. 978-0-062-91805-5. 279 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

Reclusive, bookish Becca flat out does not believe in true love. Not after her parents’ messy, painful divorce. But, aggravated by her former best friend’s taunting about Becca’s lack of a lovelife, Becca spontaneously declares she is in a relationship. This might have fallen flat seconds after it came out of her mouth had not high school hunk Brett Wells come over, thrown his arm around her and confirmed that they are secretly dating. It turns out he is in need of a girlfriend to satisfy his good-old-boy father. So begins a relationship born of mutual convenience, that turns into a needed friendship for both of them. And could it even end up in love? This Wattpad romance doesn’t cover any new territory, but it is light, sweet, fun, and just the sort of addictive story that will be devoured by dedicated romance readers. Sadly, 10 pages from the end, the book loses continuity. While young readers most likely will not notice or care, it reveals the need for an editor’s hand.

THOUGHTS:  I adored this book for 269 pages. Then the characters acknowledge their love by immediately having (off page) sex, despite the fact that Brett’s mother had him when she was 17, and his father repeatedly discusses how he had to give up on his college plans and football future to stay home and help raise Brett. (And despite the fact that a few weeks ago Becca had never even kissed a boy.) This likely will not bother most readers, who will thoroughly enjoy the dreamy romance.  

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gregorio, I. W. This is My Brain in Love. Little, Brown, 2020. 978-0-316-42382-3. 367 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

Jocelyn is stunned when her father announces that the family’s restaurant, A-Plus Chinese Garden, is floundering and he may move the family back to New York City from Utica, NY. Will is crushed when he fails to garner a plum editorial position on the school newspaper. Jocelyn convinces her father to hire a social media consultant to improve the restaurant’s visibility. Will finds himself needing a summer job. Jocelyn hires Will. The pair bring a boatload of baggage to the table from the start. Will, of mixed Nigerian and American heritage, filters the world through the lens of an African American male teenager, and suffers with anxiety. Jocelyn is almost crippled by her family’s emotionally reticent Asian culture. The pair click and begin dragging the restaurant into the digital era. Not unexpectedly, sparks fly, only to meet the disapproval of Jocelyn’s strict, racially prejudiced parents. But what seems like a trope-fulfilling romance veers off into a thoughtful exploration of mental health when Jocelyn’s erratic mood swings begin to trigger Will’s anxiety. Will, who has been in therapy for years, notices that Jocelyn may have some undiagnosed issues herself, but knows broaching the topic could cause a rift in their nascent relationship. As Jocelyn struggles to confront her depression, she finds an unexpected ally in her mother, who reveals she has been taking depression medication for years. Told from the alternating perspectives of Will and Jocelyn, the story maintains its relationship-cute vibe while honestly exploring mental health issues in teens, including the pros and cons of taking medication. A subplot involving Will tutoring Jocelyn’s younger brother, who clearly suffers from ADHD, as well as a reference to a friend with autism, may feel like a few issues too many  but does not detract from the story and might pique recognition in a reader.

THOUGHTS:  This book is a winner. An adorable romance exploring racial issues as well as mental health topics, it should fly off the shelf. Purchase multiple copies.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Jackpot; Last True Poets of the Sea; Wicked Fox; Red at the Bone; Hungry Hearts; Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens; One of Us Is Next; What We Buried; Opioid Crisis; #MeToo Movement; The Plastic Problem; Full Disclosure; All We Could Have Been; The Hand on the Wall

Stone, Nic. Jackpot: All Bets Are Off. Crown, 2019. 978-1-984-82962-7. $17.99 343 p. Grades 8+.

Rico Danger (yes that’s her name, pronounced) is a high school senior working at a convenience store to support her struggling family. She learns that a 100 million-dollar lottery ticket has been sold there on Christmas Eve while she was working and when no one steps up to claim it, she recalls a sweet older lady who visited that night. Believing that woman may be the holder of the winning ticket, Rico sets out on a quest to find her and hopefully get a tiny share of the payout. Rico finds an unlikely helper in her popular and super wealthy classmate, Zan. As they work together to try to find the lotto ticket holder, they realize they have a lot in common despite their family circumstances. Though the book does take on the serious topics of poverty, sacrifice, and family issues, it is overall a lighthearted read with a slowly building romance between opposites.

THOUGHTS: Nic Stone is another solid, up and coming African American author to follow. With popular titles in the last two years – Odd Man Out and the exceptional Dear Martin, Stone’s latest book should be popular with high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Drake, Julia. Last True Poets of the Sea. Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-04808-8. $17.99. 391 p. Grades 9 and up.

After her brother attempts suicide, Violet’s family is torn apart. Her parents retreat in their grief at home in New York City; her brother is in a treatment center; and Violet, a sixteen-year-old wild child, is sent off to live with her uncle in her mother’s hometown on the coast of Maine. While there she is determined to isolate herself, but she is sent to volunteer at the aquarium where she meets Orion, a local teen with a unique circle of friends. The story follows Violet as she faces her own trauma over her strained relationship with her brother and his mental illness. Woven in is her new quest to investigate her family’s strange history, including the mystery of the famous shipwreck that her great great grandmother survived. Another element is a love triangle that develops between Violet, Orion, and Liv. With parallels to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, this is a sweet and thoughtful novel with lovely prose, an enchanting setting, and vivid characters.

THOUGHTS: A lovely coming of age tale that addresses mental illness, family dynamics, sexual orientation, and first romance. Recommended for fans of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Cho, Kat. Wicked Fox. Putnam, 2019. 978-1-984-81234-6. 420 p. $18.99. Grades 8 and up. 

The gumiho, seductive foxes masquerading as women who eat the livers of men to survive are just myths, right? Jihoon has grown up hearing the stories of the gumiho from his grandmother, his halmeoni, but he knows that they are just scary stories, ones meant to keep children from the woods at night. That is until an otherworldly encounter in the forest brings all those stories to life. Miyoung, a gumiho, manages to save innocent bystander Jihoon when a dokkaebi, a goblin, attacks although she loses her fox bead in the process. Without the bead Miyoung is unable to hold the energy, the gi, she sucks from humans to survive, making it necessary to feed more often and making her more dangerous. But when their worlds collide in another life or death situation, Miyoung is faced with a choice she never thought possible: save herself or the life of a human.

THOUGHTS: Set in modern-day Seoul, this mythical love story paints a vivid picture of a world unseen, where monsters live alongside men and the stories that you grew up to discredit just may be the thing that saves your life.

Fantasy (Mythology)           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Woodson, Jacqueline. Red at the Bone. Riverhead Books, 2019. 978-0-525-53527-0. 208 p. $26.00. Grades 10+.

Woodson knows how to tug at your heartstrings. Whether you’re a mother or not, this book so sharply addresses the complicated relationship of mothers, daughters, and extended relatives. The novel is told in a back and forth, switching from the perspective of a mother at age sixteen and her sixteen year old daughter as she gets ready to participate in her debut to society. Each character was authentic in their own way, making the story relatable to most readers. Woodson touches on themes of race, legacy, social class, parenting, coming of age, and family dynamics. The narratives toggle back and forth between 2001 and 1985, when Iris and her daughter were both sixteen, respectively. The family history allows Woodson to mention historical events such as the race riots in the early part of the 20th century as well as the attacks on September 11, 2001.

THOUGHTS: There are some heavy topics covered in this title that some young and immature readers might not be able to digest on their own including teenage pregnancy, dysfunctional mother/daughter relationships, drug abuse, 9/11, and sexuality. This book should be on the shelves of all high school libraries for mature readers.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Chapman, Elsie. Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-42185-1. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

A true collaboration between best-selling authors that are interconnected by not only location, but by a few characters as well. The thirteen stories include various different genres and tackle topics that are easier to handle with a sweet confection or a magic soup dumpling. Not only is the collection diverse in genre types, but also with characters including nontraditional families, gang violence, bi-racial families, people of color, and a lot of the author’s #ownvoices. My favorite story in the collection is the final tale: “Panadería ~ Pastelería.” The protagonist shows up in many other stories with a unique and handcrafted pastry at moments when characters didn’t know they needed it more than anything in the world. This concluding story includes topics of generational differences and coming of age all while focusing on the moral of the story: do what’s right, and you get to choose what is right.

THOUGHTS: This anthology would be a good addition to high school libraries that supply content for contemporary fiction. This title can be recommended to reluctant readers to provide a feeling of accomplishment in finishing one or two tales, but can also serve as exposure to a variety of genres for readers who are looking to branch out.

Short Stories          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Boteju, Tanya. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-43065-5. 384 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Small town? Check. Bored teen? Check. Bi-racial queer protagonist? CHECK! Drag kings and queens and #ownvoices? Check! CHECK! CHECK! After spending time with her nerdy best friend at the town carnival, Nima stumbles into a drag show that leaves her with more questions than answers about herself and her world. Luckily, Deidre, a drag queen with flair, takes on Nima as a side project and not only serves as her mentor but another adult to trust when she isn’t even sure where her mom is. As Nima muddles through discovering secrets about her mom, working through a crush, and getting on stage to finally participate in a show, there are quite a few subplots with different characters including her hippie dad, a gay family friend, and even a childhood friend who isn’t sure of his place in the world. Written by a queer author who has knowledge about the drag community makes the story authentic and provides a true depiction for a reader who hasn’t had exposure to drag.

THOUGHTS: A great addition to any library that needs more diversity, a better LGBTQ+ representation, or an example of a novel written with attention to precise detail or pronoun usage and hope. The storyline is a bit jumbled, but tells a hopeful story with a cast of diverse characters.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


McManus, Karen. One of Us is Next. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-525-70796-7. 384 p. $19.99. Grade. 8-12.

The sequel to One of Us is Lying has the same thrill, but it’s missing some of the avant-garde pieces of the first book. Many of the main characters in the second book were featured in some manner during the debut. Mauve, Phoebe, and Knox take center stage in the newest mystery at Bayview High. Per McManus’ classic whodunit writing format, the mystery of who is behind the deadly game of truth or dare keeps readers on the edge of their seat. A game of truth or dare via text message has all of Bayview High constantly checking their phones for updates. Truths are escaping that confuse even the sluethy-est among the characters, and the dares are getting lethal. The pacing is perfect, and the ending will be sure to shock even the most astute readers.

THOUGHTS: A book that should sit right beside its counterpart on every high school shelf but can just as easily stand alone. This is another great answer for a psychological thriller on a school library shelf to fit the craving many teens have from some of the trending adult novels of the same genre.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

A year after the Bayview Four are exonerated in the death of Simon Kelleher, several copycats have appeared, but not until a viral game of Truth or Dare begins has anyone taken the copycats seriously. Now, students are choosing to complete a Dare or have a Truth about them revealed. But, not everyone wants to play. Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox are all targets of the game who refuse to participate, opening themselves up to a horrible Truth being revealed. As they dig into the chatroom used by Simon during his revenge plot, they meet Darkestmind and begin investigating who is behind the viral Truth or Dare. When tragedy strikes and a student ends up dead, their inquiry into Darkestmind becomes a full investigation into him (or her), their dead peer, and the past, individually and in relation to others. As more tragedy strikes Bayview, will Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox be able to uncover Darkestmind before it’s too late, or is revenge the new norm in Bayview?

THOUGHTS: Personally, I think One of Us is Lying is a fine stand-alone that didn’t need a sequel. That being said, One of Us is Next is in high demand. It lacks some mystery because it is more predictable than the first, and I found it difficult to keep all of the minor characters straight and their connections to the others. It felt like more of a realistic fiction read for the majority of the text over a mystery read. I did not like the connection in the end to the characters and story; it was both predictable and disjointed. This text felt forced in comparison to McManus’s previous two novels. It is still highly recommended, though, for YA collections.

Mystery        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Boorman, Kate. What We Buried. Henry Holt and Co., 2019. 978-1-250-19167-0. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.  

What We Buried is a twisty mystery that constantly had me second guessing myself and my ability to keep characters, timelines, and realistic events in order. Liv, a former child pageant star and reality TV star, doesn’t have a great track record with her brother, Jory. As a court case for emancipation nears a gritty end between Liv and her parents, Jory is sitting back and watching how the media and Liv’s followers react to the news. Before the hearing, their parents disappear, and Liv and Jory are left to find out what happened to them in the desert of Nevada. There is never a clear sense of time or perception as the narration toggles back and forth between Liv and Jory. The time the siblings are forced to spend together makes them travel back to places from their childhood to reconsider their life choices so far.

THOUGHTS: A must have for any high school library looking to add to their thriller collection with a young adult perspective. The characters are hard to like, but the tension and sense of confusion encourage curious readers to not put the book down. The unreliable narrator can be a challenging concept for some readers.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Hyde, Natalie. Opioid Crisis. Crabtree, 2019. 978-0-778-74973-8. 48 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

This six chapter book focuses on what a responsible citizen can do to understand, inform, and take action on the epidemic that has “affected every community, class, ethnic group, industry, and age group.” The first chapter defines the crisis and some of the key terms. In addition, there is a glossary in the back of the book. Although the second chapter uses the perspective of the opioid crisis to frame how to find quality and reliable information, most of the information could be applied to any general research project. Chapter three dives into the recreational and street use of opioids and how the crisis developed. Chapter four focuses on the effects the opioid epidemic has had on families, work society, and individuals. The last two chapters offer statistics on where the crisis stands and a look toward the future, including initiatives from the government. Each page includes color photographs, and there are many graphical representations and pop out text boxes.

THOUGHTS: Neatly packaged, this title should be in all middle and high school libraries to provide concise and accurate information on a very emotional and pervasive topic. Two chapters include valuable research and reliable information checks that can be helpful across topics.

362.29 Drugs          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Hudak, Heather. #MeToo Movement. Crabtree, 2019. 978-0-778-74971-4. 48 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

Organized in six chapters focusing on the definition and international issues of sexual harassment and abuse, #MeToo Movement covers the major points of the movement including a glossary and further reading suggestions. Each chapter ranges from four to twelve pages and many pages have multiple photographs, graphs, and other pop outs that make this current issue accessible to readers as middle grades. The history, including dates and information about the founder of the movement, Tarana Burke, provide context to readers who may be lucky enough to not have experienced sexual harassment or assault within their social circles. The last two chapters focus on the reader and provide ways to stay informed and ways to influence the future of the #MeToo movement.

THOUGHTS: This succinct nonfiction title should be on shelves in middle and high school libraries to provide resources on a topic that is current and pervasive across ages, races, and social economic classes. The inclusion of ways to encourage the reader to become active within the movement is particularly insightful as many students are not looking for resources just for an assignment, but to help shape their perspective and discover ways to make change.

Nonfiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Salt, Rachel. The Plastic Problem. Firefly Books, 2019. 978-0-228-10231-1. 80 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

Full of disturbing pictures and data on the plastic problem that is plaguing the globe. Each page has full color photos with enough text to get the information across to the reader, but not too much to make the work feel like a textbook or peer-reviewed journal article. Although it’s not arranged in chapters, there is a table of contents that provides the reader the opportunity to focus on a specific topic. There is also a glossary and index in the back of the book. The flow of The Plastic Problem begins with definitions and some foundational knowledge about plastic and the plastic industry, including how humans use plastic and where it ends up. It continues into problems at the micro and macro level of producing, using, and discarding too much plastic and ends with suggestions for solutions that can be accomplished on local, small levels.

THOUGHTS: This book doesn’t do a deep dive on any of the problems or solutions for the plastic problem, but provides enough information for a curious reader to get started. The title would be good for middle grade and possibly high school shelves, but should be accompanied by more in depth books to provide a more comprehensive study of a specific plastic problem.

363.72 Environment          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Garrett, Camryn. Full Disclosure. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-82996-2. 320 p. $21.99. Grades 10-12.

Not many contemporary novels take a full dive into the world of HIV-positive main characters, especially based in current day. Starting at new high school is daunting, but when you’re a teen who isn’t sure about her sexuality and is HIV-positive, the task is that much more daunting. Simone finds herself at home with the drama kids and two other friends and even becomes comfortable enough to start a relationship with someone, but now she has to decide whether or not to disclose her medical history with Miles. Her dads don’t make the potential for Simone to discuss it with her doctor any easier.

THOUGHTS: This book covers a lot of representation including LGBTQ+, HIV-positive, and African American (#ownvoice). It even hits on topics that most teens have to deal with like bullying and sexuality while layering on perspective and information about HIV that most teens might not remember from health class. This is a well-written debut novel that deserves space in a collection lacking diversity.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Carter,T. E. All We Could Have Been. Feiwel & Friends, 2019. 978-1-250-17296-9. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Lexie’s brother committed murder when he was 15 years old. Her brother has been locked away since the day of the murders. Despite having nothing to do with her brother’s actions, Lexie has been treated like a criminal ever since. She has standing appointments with her therapist and finds control in her life by wearing the same color each day of the week. At the fifth school since she was 12, Lexie finds comfort in a neighbor and a peer in the drama club. She decides to try and control a bit more of her life and her friendships, but the results have rippling effects and leave her questioning every aspect of her life so far.

THOUGHTS: Carter represents mental illness and even a bit of asexuality, but in a dark and twisty way that isn’t relatable to most readers. The lesson that is brought to life through the characters about not making assumptions about who someone is or believes is something that teens of all backgrounds can benefit from. Like much of her other work, this book is highly emotional and targets mature readers who have an understanding of grief, PTSD, and the uneasy terrain of high school gossip and drama (outside the actual drama club).

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Johnson, Maureen. The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious Book 3). Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-33811-2. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Following the death of Stevie’s mentor, Dr. Fenton, Stevie uses information from Dr. Fenton, along with the clues she has figured out, to solve the mystery of the Truly Devious letter from 1936 and the kidnapping of Iris and Alice Ellingham. But, unsure of the current climate at Ellingham and who she can and cannot trust, Stevie decides to maintain secrecy about what she has learned and continue her investigation before revealing her findings. As a blizzard approaches, Ellingham is shut down and students are sent home, but for the students of Minerva, who follow the bright-idea of David and hide in order to remain behind. As David convinces them to investigate his father, Senator King, Stevie continues her own Ellingham investigation and soon learns of secrets hidden in the walls that confirm her initial discoveries and unveil the truth behind Truly Devious and the Ellingham murders of 1936.

THOUGHTS: Johnson masterfully concludes this trilogy with an ending that keeps readers on edge. Her intersection of present mystery with the 1930s Ellingham mystery keeps the reader rooted in each mystery and the connection between the two. This is a must-read trilogy for mystery lovers.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – The Giver; Teen Guide to Mental Health; All American Muslim Girl; Loki; Feed Your Mind

Russell, P. Craig. The Giver. Based on the Novel by Lois Lowry. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2019. 978-0-544-15788-0. 176 p. $22.99 Grades 5-8. 

A powerful adaptation of the classic YA novel. Jonas lives in a community of perfect harmony in which the people face no hardships or concerns in their daily lives, and every decision is carefully made for each citizen by the elders. At his Age Twelve ceremony, Jonas is assigned to the unique role of Receiver of Memory, chosen to take on the memories, both good and bad, of a society who is shielded from them. With every day that passes, Jonas learns and experiences more and begins to realize the harsh truths that keep the society in order. The story remains faithful to Lowry’s original dystopian tale. The panels of beautifully illustrated pictures change from muted grays to vibrant colors as Jonas’ understanding of life experiences expands.

THOUGHTS: Suggest this title to provide a struggling reader or English Language Learner support for a novel which is required reading in many schools.

Graphic Novel          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Nardo, Don. Teen Guide to Mental Health. Reference Point Press., 2020. 978-1-682-82753-6. 80 p. $30.95. Grades 6+. 

The prolific Don Nardo has another nonfiction title for the K-12 audience. This slim volume focuses on the stressors and common mental health issues facing today’s teens such as body image issues, depression, and divorce in the family. Most pages have pop out quotes from mental health professionals or people who have faced difficult issues.  The book only touches briefly on many of the mental health concerns mentioned but includes a valuable resource list of websites and mental health organizations for students, parents, or teachers seeking information or help.

THOUGHTS: An optional purchase for a junior or senior high collection.

618.92 Mental Health          Nancy Summers  Abington SD


Courtney, Nadine Jolie. All American Muslim Girl. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2019. 978-0-374-30952-7.  336 p. $17.99. Grades 7+. 

Allie Abraham is the only daughter of an immigrant professor in search of a tenure track position and an American mother, who have recently settled in yet another new town just outside of Atlanta. Allie once again sets about fitting in with her new community, finding a group of friends, and even beginning a relationship with a kindhearted new boyfriend. Though her extended family from Jordan and elsewhere in the States are practicing Muslims, Allie’s parents have given up most of the practices of Islam in an effort to keep their family safe from suspicion in a post 9/11 world. Ally can easily pass as an all American girl with her light complexion; she nevertheless feels left out as she is the only one of her extended network of cousins who does not practice the faith or speak Arabic. After finding a young women’s prayer and Koran study group, she begins to explore her religion in earnest. The book follows Allie as she comes to terms with the many layers of her life as a typical American teen while trying to reconcile her American culture with her growing Islamic faith.

THOUGHTS: The book is enlightening, revealing many of the tenets and rituals of Islam and shedding a positive light on a religion which unfortunately is sometimes misunderstood and feared.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Lee, Mackenzi. Loki: Where Mischief Lies. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2019. 978-0-544-15788-0. 176 p. $17.99 Grades 6+.  

A fun and witty origin tale for Loki, the trickster from Norse mythology and the Marvel Universe. Loki, the younger son of Odin, King of Asgard, has always felt inferior to his more favored and less quick witted elder brother Thor. The sibling rivalry between the brothers is explored, and the dialogue between the two of them is hilarious. Since Loki does not possess the physical strength of his brother, he experiments at an early age with his magic, a gift inherited from his mother which is not welcomed by his father. Loki finds a companion in his childhood friend Amora, a sorceress in training. At the Feast of Gullveig, Odin sees a prophecy in the Godseye Mirror of one his sons leading an army of the dead against Asgard. When the sacred Mirror is destroyed, Amora is banished to Midgard (Earth) where magic does not exist. Loki is left alone again, struggling to prove that the prophecy does not point to him. He gets a chance to serve his father when he is sent to Midgard to investigate a series of magic-related murders with SHARP, a secret society of mortals in Victorian London. On Midgard, Loki finds himself drawn to Theo, a key member of SHARP and encounters Amora once again. The book delves into LGBTQ issues in London, with Theo suspected and isolated as a homosexual. Theo is awed by Loki’s open gender fluidity and his descriptions of  Asgard’s open mindedness about gender and sexuality. The ending comes as Loki must choose his own path – to be a loyal prince of Asgard or the villain everyone believes him to be.

THOUGHTS: A recommended next step for fans of Rick Riordan’s mythology series. This title will also appeal to Marvel fans and for fans of Lee’s period adventures in the Montague Siblings books.

Fantasy Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Bryant, Jen. Feed Your Mind: A Story of August Wilson. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-419-73653-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 4-6.

Bryant’s brilliant picture book biography of the African-American playwright from Pittsburgh is truly unconventional. It is written in two acts, not unlike Wilson’s plays, and is done in free verse. She concentrates more on Wilson’s early life in Pittsburgh’s Hill District rather than focusing on details of his plays and later life. Frederick August Kittel, his birth name, was able to read from age four, and this was encouraged by his mother, who said, “If you can read, you can do anything.” The author describes the boy as a good student who dropped out of school due to prejudice and bullying, not only by students, but also by a teacher who believed that August plagiarized a term paper. He then spent his days in the Carnegie Library and educated himself by reading. While working a series of service jobs, August Wilson, as he was then known, began to write poetry and soon presented them at poetry readings. In listening to people in his hometown speak about their experiences, he acquired subject matter for his works. On the urging of a friend, Wilson began writing plays, which lead to an award winning career as a playwright whose works focused on the lives of African American men in Pittsburgh. The full page illustrations by Chapman are done in a variety of media and are symbolic in some cases. There is a striking drawing of Kittel as a teenager walking between rows of books at the library. Superimposed on the rows of books are rows of corn stalks. In the text, Bryant tells us that his mother also left school and went to work in the cornfields with her family. On the back cover, young August is pictured reading at a fancy dining table on which are platters and bowls full of books, which relates to the title. The back matter contains a timeline of this famous African American’s life.

THOUGHTS: This book is a wonderful example of creative nonfiction. The author chose to write this text in a style that echoes the poetic and dramatic works of the man about whom she was writing. The book is lengthy for a picture book biography, and the text contains two instances of a pejorative word for African Americans, so students would need some background and preparation if this is used in the classroom. Readers will be inspired by the accomplishments of this self-made man and will understand how the power of books and words can change our lives.

Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD