YA -Under Shifting Stars

Lotas, Alexandra. Under Shifting Stars. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-06775-7. 262. $15.69. Grades 9-12.

After their brother’s tragic death, twins Audrey and Clare struggle to cope with their grief and changed circumstances. Audrey attends Peak, a school for neurodivergent students like herself, after being ostracized by her twin and other bullies at her public school. Clare begins a transformation herself, standing up to her friends who have treated her sister badly and becoming comfortable with her gender identity. The twins and their parents learn to communicate and comfort each other as they live their new life as a family of four.

THOUGHTS: Told by the perspectives of each twin, this story is a great addition to any YA collection as it explores difficult topics many teenagers are facing today.

Realistic Fiction     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – The Court of Miracles

Grant, Kester. The Court of Miracles. Random House Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-524-77285-7. $18.99. 399 p. Grades 9-12.

In an alternate 1829 Paris, one in which the French Revolution has failed, Nina Thenardier thrives as the Black Cat of the Thieves Guild, one of the nine criminal guilds of The Miracle Court. Her allegiance lies with her guild lord, Tomasis Vano, whom she refers to as her father, a custom among the children of the Miracle Court. Once, Nina lived with her older sister, but she was sold to the Guild of Flesh, and when Nina could not save her, she vowed to someday have her revenge. Years later, when Lord Kaplan of the Flesh Guild, the Tiger, decides he must have Cosette, a young girl who has become like a younger sister to Nina, she must do everything in her power to stop him, not only to save Cosette, but to avenge her sister and any other girl unlucky enough to be sold into his guild. Nina and Ettie look for protection from the Guild of Assassins, the Guild of Beggars, wind up in the palace of Louis XVII, and are caught up within a group of revolutionaries, still intent on overthrowing the monarchy. Loosely based upon Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Nina must find a way to save Ettie and avenge her sister without starting a war within the guilds and unintentionally throwing the city back into turmoil.

THOUGHTS:  I thought this was such a unique story, especially since the author chose to draw inspiration from two classic novels while creating an alternate, historical world within Paris, France. Readers may want to pick up The Jungle Book or Les Mis after reading The Court of Miracles, and I also found myself doing some research on the French Revolution throughout my reading. The plot is complex and full of many characters, settings, and time jumps, and I’d recommend this to any reader who enjoys action, adventure, and historical fiction.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – The Perfect Shelter

Welsh, Clare Helen. The Perfect Shelter. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-68464-050-8. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades K-3.

The Perfect Shelter follows two sisters who are trying to make the perfect shelter outside; however, something is wrong. One sister is sick, and the other sister has to deal with the consequences of her sister being sick and not being able to build the perfect shelter with her. As the story progresses, the sisters decide to build a shelter inside because “it’s the perfect place to build a shelter.” The illustrations show the progression of the older sister’s sickness, as well as how the family handles and deals with it. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful.

THOUGHTS: I loved how the ending of this book doesn’t promise a happy ending, merely that the family will just be together. This book could be a great conversation starter for a child who is dealing with someone in their family having an illness, or if they personally have an illness. The family is drawn as being interracial, which I also loved that representation.

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – Pine Island Home

Horvath, Polly. Pine Island Home. Holiday House, 2020. 978-0-823-44785-5. 228 p. $16.99. Grades 4-6.

Having lost their parents in a tsunami in Thailand, the four McCready sisters are in search of a new home. However, no one in their extended families is willing to take them and Fiona, the oldest, is worried that the girls will be split up and sent to different foster homes. Finally, an unknown relative named Aunt Martha, who lives on Pine Island in British Columbia, happily agrees to have them move in with her. When the girls arrive, they learn from a cantankerous neighbor named Al that their aunt died a few days before. Fourteen year old Fiona decides that they will keep this a secret from the authorities and take care of themselves in their aunt’s house with the help of  the school principal. Al, a rejected suitor of Aunt Martha, reluctantly agrees to pretend to be their guardian and fends off requests from the authorities for official paperwork. The girls enjoy their life on Pine Island. Marlin develops her cooking skills, Natasha has an adventure while bird watching, young Charlie encounters the neighborhood bear, and Fiona meets a boy. Then, one day a social worker comes to their front door. Will the girls have to leave their home? Will they be sent away from each other?

THOUGHTS: This story is classic Horvath with its eccentric characters and culinary references. She has created characters who show strength and resilience as they experience both happy and heartbreaking moments. Fans will enjoy this one, but may feel that there are some loose ends in the plot and hope for a sequel. Suitable for middle grade collections.

Realistic Fiction           Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

MG – When You Trap a Tiger

Keller, Tae. When You Trap a Tiger. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-524-71570-0. 287 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Lily, known as Lily Bean to her mom, and Eggi in her Halmoni’s stories, and her family suddenly pack up and move to Washington one rain soaked evening. They are moving in with her Halmoni, a storyteller, and the story she shares with Lily from many years ago is about how she stole the stars from the sky and bottled up the bad stories which angered a tiger. Lily is intrigued by her story, and when a tiger suddenly appears in the middle of the road one rainy night, Lily is convinced everything is real. But time is of the essence, as Halmoni is showing signs of illness – could it be a consequence of her stealing the stars? With the help of Ricky, a boy Lily meets at the library across the street, the two devise a “hypothetical” tiger trap. Little did Lily know that the Tiger would make her an offer that can help her Halmoni, but with consequences. Lily wants answers and to find a way to help her Halmoni before it’s too late. But can a QAG, short for quiet Asian girl, really find the truth? Can she rescue her family before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will not be disappointed with the characters in this book – they are full of heart, determination, love, and curiosity, even if one of them is a tiger. This title is perfect to add to your collection of diverse books, as it shows the struggle of an Asian family and how their history and heritage affect their lives today. I truly enjoyed reading this story and believe it is the perfect story to capture how storytelling and reading books can truly be art.

Fantasy          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Change is happening in Lily’s life. With little notice, her mother has uprooted her daughters from their California home to their halmoni’s (grandmother’s) home in Sunbeam, Washington. Lily does her best to be the invisible, accommodating, “QAG” (quiet Asian girl) while her older sister, Sam, finds every reason to voice her displeasure to their mother and often rebukes Lily. Lily both chafes under and finds comfort in her invisibility. Lily’s many worries worsen when she (and only she) sees a tiger in the road as they approach their halmoni’s home. Her grandmother has shared countless Korean folktales with Lily and Sam, often with a dangerous tiger involved. When Lily discovers that her grandmother is ill and facing death, she’s determined to convince the tiger to use its magic to cure her grandmother, despite admonitions from her mother and sister that dissuade her from believing the “silly” stories have any power in their lives. The library across the street provides hope and friendship for Lily, who teams up with Ricky to build a tiger trap in her grandmother’s basement. Can she convince the tiger to help, and can she convince her family that the stories are real and useful?  Will the stories save her grandmother and her family?

THOUGHTS: This is a tale of a young girl growing up and deciding who she will be, while she comes to terms with death. The targeted age level seems to increase through the story as Lily matures, and this may not quite work for readers. The grief, anger at moving, and the sister difficulties between Lily and Sam smooth a bit too perfectly by the story’s end. I found myself wishing for more scenes with the interesting, enigmatic tiger.

Magical Realism          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Korean Folktales

YA – If These Wings Could Fly

McCauley, Kyrie. If These Wings Could Fly. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-88502-9. 385 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Crows. Hundreds and then thousands of them arrive in Auburn, Pennsylvania seemingly overnight. Are they a sign of the unease and anger that lays just beneath the surface of this tiny town? Leighton is your typical senior in high school – struggling with the advances of classmate Liam, applying to college, and balancing school and family. She is also her sisters’ protector – as her father is a violent and abusive man. Leighton’s father was a high school football star until an injury took him out. Holding this against the town and struggling with a failing family business leads to him destroying their home with his words and fists. Leighton is terrified to leave her sisters to go to college, her mother will not leave him, and every day the crow population grows. The girls show an interest in one particular crow, Joe, who seemingly knows what to bring and steal at their home. As the town grapples with how to remove the crows, Leighton and Liam attempt to finally remove the family from the domestic violence in their home. It’s not easy as it seems though…

THOUGHTS: A gripping story of survival amidst a small town, this is a book you will want to devour in a single sitting. The story does a fantastic job of showing what an abusive home can do to children, but still provides hope that there is a way out. The author does a remarkable job of balancing the influence of the crows on the mood throughout, and it brings the story together beautifully.

Realistic Fiction        Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA – Clap When You Land

Acevedo, Elizabeth. Clap When You Land. Quill Tree Books, 2020. 978-0-062-88276-9. 432 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Because of a terrible tragedy, two sixteen year old girls suffer an unimaginable loss. Though they’re half sisters, Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios have never met; they don’t even know of the other’s existence. When Camino arrives at an airport in the Dominican Republic to pick up her Papi for the summer, she sees a crowd of people in tears. The plane he was on went down over the ocean, and Camino’s future plans of attending medical school in the US vanish in an instant. Despite the utter hole her Papi’s disappearance leaves in Camino’s life, she holds onto hope that he will be found alive. Who else will protect her from El Cero, a local pimp who starts hanging around and following her. In New York Yahaira suffers a similar loss, though her grief is overshadowed by guilt and anger. Because she learned one of her Papi’s secrets, Yahaira gave up playing chess and rarely spoke to her father for the past year. Yahaira struggles to see her Papi as the man she grew up idolizing, as the man her local Dominican community in New York sees. Her mother is also experiencing similar mixed emotions, and she is adamant that Yahaira’s father be returned to the states, though his wishes were to be in the Dominican. As Yahaira learns more about her father and his time away from her, she becomes more determined to know more.

THOUGHTS: Told in alternating chapters of verse, do not miss out on this newest Acevedo book! It is a must have for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Camino and Yahaira live in two different worlds; Camino in the Dominican Republic as an apprentice to her healer aunt, and Yahaira, a chess champion, in New York City. Camino dreams of attending Columbia University and lives for summers when her father, who works in NYC, returns to DR. Yahaira cannot escape who she is and the unspoken truths that surround her. Connected by a secret, completely hidden to one and unspoken by the other, a plane crash reveals the truth and connects these two together forever unleashing a world of pain, hope, and family.

THOUGHTS: Told through alternating, novel-in-verse chapters, Acevedo explores one family in two separate worlds: one of wealth and one of poverty. One of hope and one of want. One of love and one of anger. Yet it is not always clear which world each character lives in. The exploration of the haves and have nots as defined by the characters alternates within each story as each girl grapples with the world in which she lives. Throughout the story, Acevedo explores a variety of issues facing each character: sexual orientation, sex trafficking, abuse, loss, desire, and hope. Readers will connect with the characters of Camino and Yahaira even if their situations are a window.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Nettie & Nellie Crook

nettieandnellie

Abbot, E.F. Nettie and Nellie Crook: Orphan Train Sisters (Based on a True Story). New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2016. 978-1-250-06835-4. $15.99. 176 pp. Gr. 3-6

Nettie and Nellie were twin girls in a poor New York City family around the turn of the century. When just five years old, they were told their mother did not take care of them, and the girls were taken to an orphanage and separated from their brother. Finding it hard to adjust, Nettie and Nellie sought comfort in each other and learned the stories of the other children, while they are forced to work. Without warning, the girls were told to put on new dresses and get on a train. They were then taken out West where all the children from various care societies were put on a stage and shown off to possible adoptive parents. Nettie and Nellie were taken in by a childless couple and made to work around the house and store.  THOUGHTS: A very interesting book about a period in time not many know about. I love the non-Fiction aspect of it! There are historical photographs and pictures throughout the book depicting scenes and items (a coal scuttle for example), so the reader is given a better sense of what it was like.

Historical Fiction    Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School