Elem. – The Fantastic Bureau of Imagination

Montague, Brad. The Fantastic Bureau of Imagination. Illustrated by Brad and Kristi Montague. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-0-593-32347-2. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-3.

The Fantastic Bureau of Imagination introduces us to special agents called figments who help to maintain the world’s creativity. There are many different types of figments, such as invisible figments, rock figments, even merfigments! They all have a special job at the Bureau, but none of them are as special as Sparky. He is in charge of the mail and every letter, card, or package gets sorted through his office. However, Sparky has a secret… he writes poetry. One day as he is going to his office to start his job, he notices that the Cave of Untold Stories is starting to collapse. Even though Sparky is terrified of Brenda with her scales and teeth, he zooms down to help her and save the Cave. Will Sparky be able to save the cave? Will he convince people not to keep their songs, poems, and stories to themselves?

THOUGHTS: This is a beautifully charming picture book about imagination, not being afraid, and embracing who you are. The illustrations are charming and add to the overall feel of the story. The reader will want to come back several times just to look at all the little details that they may have missed on their first read. This would be a great book for a creative writing prompt, or even an art class (as the front of the Bureau is top secret and no one knows what it looks like). Highly recommend this book for either a fun read aloud or the beginning of a fun lesson.

Picture Book

MG – The Ogress and the Orphans

Barnhill, Kelly. The Ogress and the Orphans. Algonquin Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-64375-074-3. $19.99. 392 pages. Grades 4-8.

Once there was an Ogress. In her long life she had many adventures, and lived in many places, always searching for a community in which to belong. The Ogress hears of a town called Stone-in-the-Glen that used to be quite lovely and that has fallen on hard times. The Ogress has experienced grief and disconnection and believes she can help the people of the town. She creates a home for herself on the outskirts of Stone-in-the-Glen, and anonymously sets out to perform random acts of kindness for the people of the town. Stone-in-the Glen was once regarded as a friendly and kind place where people took good care of each other. The citizens adored their dragon-slaying Mayor who was charming and protective. When the town library burns to the ground, the town itself begins to unravel. More community institutions are destroyed, crops fail, and slowly the people of Stone-in-the-Glen stop taking care of their neighbors. In fact, hard times make the citizens distrustful of each other. An orphanage on the edge of Stone-in-the-Glen houses 15 orphans, cared for by an elderly couple. The 15 young children are plucky and smart, and love each other dearly. They enjoy helping and learning, but most of all they care for each other and consider each other family. When one of the children goes missing, the Mayor gleefully prods the citizens of Stone-in-the-Glen to turn on the Ogress. It is up to the orphans to save each other, their home, the Ogress, and ultimately their community.

THOUGHTS: A stunning allegory with many themes to explore. What is a neighbor? What makes a community a community? How do we live with people and ideas that are different from our own experiences and beliefs? Kindness ultimately wins the day. Strong themes of the power of libraries and reading throughout this beautiful and well-told story.

Fantasy          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – This Book is Not for You!

Hale, Shannon. This Book is Not for You! Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-984-81685-6. $18.99. 40 p. Grades PreK-3.

Stanley is excited to visit the bookmobile to find a new book. He is disappointed to find that Ms. Christine, the “bookmobile lady,” is on vacation, leaving a substitute librarian (described as a very old man) in charge. Stanley picks a mystery, but when he goes to check the book out, the librarian questions his book choice, claiming Stanley probably doesn’t want to read a book about a girl. Stanley becomes embarrassed and decides to pick a different selection. When his good friend Valeria approaches the bookmobile, she is encouraged to pick a book about a girl. Stanley likes cats, so he attempts to check out a book about cats. The sub librarian refuses to check a book about cats out to a boy, claiming only cats can read books about cats. Luckily a cat is next in line and agrees to take the cat book. Stanley’s request for a book about robots is also discouraged because he is not a robot. Coincidentally a robot happily takes the robot book. Frustrated, Stanley considers leaving without a book and never returning to the bookmobile again, but he notices the cat, robot, and Valeria are all happily reading under a nearby tree. Stanley glumly agrees to check out a book the sub librarian says is perfect for Stanley. Stanley tries to read but finds the story is not holding his interest. Valeria is equally bored with the book she checked out. The two decide to swap books. Stanley becomes immersed in the book Valeria struggled with. He is so mesmerized by the story that he doesn’t notice that the cat and robot have also exchanged books, and Valeria is laughing out loud at her new reading selection. When a confident dinosaur politely but firmly requests a book about ponies, the substitute librarian instantly fulfills the request without question. Bolstered by the dinosaur’s example, Stanley returns to the bookmobile, picks a new selection, and announces his intentions to check out a book he is interested in reading. The substitute librarian looks out at his array of patrons reading about many different subjects and agrees that Stanley should pick a book that fits his own interests. Stanley, Valeria, the cat, robot, and dinosaur all curl up on the grass to read happily. The substitute librarian even joins them. This book is illustrated by Tracy Subisak.

THOUGHTS: A fabulous selection for discussing independent reading selection, this book would make a perfect beginning of the school year read aloud during library class. Even young readers will understand the absurdity of the substitute librarian’s insistence that patrons only read books that mirror their own experience. A delightful and whimsical take on a much larger discussion about book choice, this title also is a good reminder for adults about the potential dangers of book shaming.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

This Book Is Not For You follows a young boy going to the bookmobile to get a book. When he gets there he is told repeatedly that these “books aren’t right for him” which frustrates him. Finally, once he gets a book and he begins to read, he falls in love with the story he is reading. He quietly switches with another reader who got the original book he wanted off the bookmobile, and he finds himself falling into that book as well. The individual who is ‘subbing’ for the bookmobile librarian sees everyone reading books and decides that maybe certain books don’t have to be for certain people.

THOUGHTS: This was a great book to start the conversation that anyone can read anything that they want to, regardless of what the book is about. The illustrations are beautifully done and really add to the story and to the main character’s feeling about not being able to find the book he wants. This book is a must own for any elementary collection.

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem./MG – The Beatryce Prophecy

DiCamillo, Kate. The Beatryce Prophecy.Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-536-21361-4. $19.99. 247 p. Grades 3-8.

“There will one day come a girl child who will unseat a king and bring about a great change,” reads the fearsome prophecy which the reader soon discovers is The Beatryce Prophecy. This magical story involves a bald, brave girl in monk’s robes; a gentle monk named Brother Edik who hands out maple candies; a slip of a boy, Jack Dory, orphaned by thieves and nurtured by an old woman—now deceased—Granny Bibspeak; a laughing, runaway king, Cannoc; and a wayward, stubborn but loyal goat, Answelica. Brother Edik comes upon a sickly Beatryce with her goat companion and nurses the girl back to health. He well knows the prophecy and when he discovers Beatryce can read and write, thanks to the foresight of her parents, he protects her by shaving her locks and disguising her as a monk. Twelve-year-old Jack Dory gets dispensed to the Brothers of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing to fetch a monk who can record the last words of a dying soldier and returns with Beatryce and Answelica with the strong directive from the monastery’s abbot not to return. Beatryce, though, cannot stomach the soldier’s confession and abandons the task. She and Jack Dory find themselves in the dangerous dark forest where they meet the jovial Cannoc who eventually tells them he once walked away from the gruesome responsibility of being the king. They seek safety from the king who threatens Beatryce’s life in Cannoc’s cozy tree- trunk home and are soon joined by Brother Edik. When Beatryce is abducted, the remaining four (the goat is included) vow to rescue her. A proverb comes to mind, Pride goes before a fall. The foolish king and his sinister counselor choose murder and lies to soothe their fragile pride: They cannot accept that a girl can read and write at a time when, as Brother Edik tell her, “Only men of God can read, and the king. And tutors and counselors. The people do not know their letters” (140). At its root, The Beatryce Prophecy is a simple good vs. evil story. But simply written it is not. Can any other author repeat a phrase or line with more meaning than Kate DiCamillo? DiCamillo illuminates this unenlightened world with characters who radiate kindness, goodness, and joy. They also turn out to be the strong ones. Perhaps The Beatryce Prophecy is a feminist story, but it is also a story of courage and friendship. In the capable hands of this author, the reader is ever more convinced that what makes the difference in people’s lives is love. . .and stories.

THOUGHTS: As a vehicle for teaching language and imagery, an example of characterization and plot development, The Beatryce Prophecy is a key tool. The story sweeps you up and the words envelope you. A good read aloud.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke  SD Philadelphia

Elem. – Lila Lou’s Little Library

Bergstresser, Nikki. Lila Lou’s Little Library. Cardinal Rule Press, 2021. 978-1-735-34511-6. 25 p. $16.95. Grades K – 2.

Lila Lou loves to read! Her house is overflowing with books, which causes her mother to lose her in the house due to all of Lila Lou’s books. Lila Lou has an idea, to use a stump outside of her house to create a Little Free Library. This allows Lila Lou to share her books with others, as well as for her to get some new ones. At the beginning of the book, there are tips to help the reader for before, during, and after reading. At the end of the book, there are hints on how to make a family library. There is also a glossary for the Spanish words that are found throughout the book.

THOUGHTS: This is an adorable book to read aloud with students!

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Taste Test What’s New in YA Fiction


Avasthi, Swati. Chasing Shadows. New York: Random House, 2013. 978-0-375-86342-4.  320 p. $ 17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Avasthi’s gritty novel, Chasing Shadows, is told in prose and enhanced by Craig Phillips graphic novel style illustrations of both the real world and the Shadowlands.  The Shadowlands, a world of superheroes, is seen by a young girl, Holly, while in a coma.  Corey and Holly are seventeen year old twins who along with their friend Savitri practice the dangerous hobby of freerunning across Chicago’s cityscape.  Savitri witnesses a hooded gunman target the twins, killing Corey and leaving Holly in a coma.  Holly awakens from the coma unable to cope with the death of her twin and becomes increasingly unstable.  Told through both verse and illustration, Holly’s emotional state manifests in the Shadowlands weaving together with her real life.  Savitri tries to be a friend to Holly while also grieving Corey, her boyfriend.  The book is fast paced and told through the alternating voices of Holly and Savitri.  This title is a good addition to graphic novel and fiction collections.

Urban, Fantasy (Mythology)              Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

This is a truly unique novel that blends text and hyper stylized graphic novel illustrations to tell a tough story about love and loss.  I found this book to be a good addition to my urban fiction collection but it will also appeal to student interested in mythology.  The Shadowlands world includes elements of both the real world, Chicago, and a mythological world of superheroes and villains taken from Hindu deities.  The content is graphic and best suited for high school and public library collections.



Black, Yelena. Dance of Shadows. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 973-1-59990-940-0. 384 p.  $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

A classic horror story wrapped up in the world of professional dance in New York City.  Vanessa follows her older sister, Margaret, to New York City as a member of the New York Ballet Academy, but like her sister she quickly finds herself drawn into the mystery of  rituals and demons in the basement of Lincoln Center.  Readers learn that Vanessa’s sister was cast in the role of a principal dancer and has since disappeared.  When Vanessa is cast in the same role she begins to piece together what happened to her sister.  This is a coming of age story with a classic horror storyline and a smattering of romance.  The romance is an after thought and does not add much to the main storyline, what happened to Margaret.  The eerie tale does not tie up all of the loose ends and is the first book of a planned trilogy.

Horror, Fantasy (Paranormal)                    Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Readers who enjoy creepy stories with a psychological twist will be drawn to the series.  However, several students had a difficult time reading the book with the many references to the world of dance and terminology.  There is a lengthy midsection that deviates from the mystery of what happened to Vanessa’s sister and sets up a lackluster love triangle.  Recommended for collections lacking in both horror and/or dance stories.



Blythe, Carolita. Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty Girl. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 978-0-375-99081-6. 336 p. $16.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Faye hates her Brooklyn Catholic school, her friends, her home life, and has been a victim of abuse for much of her life.  Along with two classmates Faye commits a robbery and during the groups get away knocks their elderly victim to the ground.  Racked with guilt she returns to the scene of the crime two days later to find the elderly woman still on the floor, but alive.  Faye helps to the woman to recover from her injuries, run errands for her, and cleans her house.  The woman Evelyn, now an aging former movie star befriends the fourteen year old and share with her much about acceptance and forgiveness.  The story unfolds slowly but Blythe examines what it means to be beautiful, realities of physical appearance, and taking responsibility for ones actions.

Realistic, Historical (1980’s New York)                 Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

I really enjoyed this complicated story of friendship and redemption set against the backdrop of 1980’s New York.  Blythe offers no easy answers or happy endings for her characters but instead examines the traits both good in and bad in all of us.  This coming of age story gives a glimpse inside the mind of a teenage girl who has suffered abuse but is not just a victim.  Faye, a teenager, realizes that she has been applying the same superficial judgements she objects to with herself to all of the people in her life.  Although her mistakes are not easily fixed she shows maturity in dealing with the gritty realities of daily life.  The story although set in a different decade will appeal to teen seeking characters they can relate to who are also struggling with their identities.



Cherry, Alison. Red. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 978-0-385.74293-1. 320 p.  $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Felicity St. John is the IT girl of Scarletville.  As a red haired girl in a town where red hair is a sign of status and beauty she is poised to be Miss Scarlet.  However, all of her plans are put to the test when someone in town discovers that her red hair is from a bottle.  Felicity finds herself at the mercy of a blackmailer and must complete any task asked of her.  Embracing ones flaws is a theme throughout the novel although told in a light hearted manner.  The mystery is witty but has many elements that will hit home with teenage girls.  The story will challenge readers to reconsider how they define beauty and find beauty in their own selves.  A lighthearted addition for high school library collections looking for mysteries without the angst.

Mystery, Realistic                                       Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

The premise for this story may seem silly at first, but the themes of acceptance and self worth will resonate with readers.  The story makes many interesting points of examining social standing and teenage issue of acceptance both with oneself and the world around them.  Although not a must have title a good book to pair with other popular realistic fiction and girl power centric titles.



Doller, Trish. Where the Stars Still Shine. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 978-1-616963-144-1. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Callie has never known what it is like to have a stable home or a place to even call home.  She and her mother have been on the run since she was a young child.  The running comes to end when her mother is arrested for her kidnapping ten years later.  Upon being returned to her family and father Callie learns all that her life could have been and how to move on with her new life.  The transition is not easy and Callie who has never been to school has many hurdles to her happily ever after.  A good addition for romantic realistic fiction titles in high school libraries.

Realistic                                                                                                                Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Callie may not have had the life of an average teen but students in my school found her struggles relatable.  Many students have home lives that involve separated parents, step parents, and unique living situations.  Although Callies situation is extreme with a parental kidnapping her introduction to a new life and living situation rang true for my students.  Doller writes in a very moving manner that allows the reader to commiserate with Callie’s pain but also see past the hurt to what live could be like for those willing to change their outlook.  The outlook for Callie require her to accept the good and bad parts of her life in order to move forward with a new life as a complete person.  Complex issues ranging from mental illness, parental neglect, and trauma make the text cathartic for those dealing with similar situations.



Durst, Sarah Beth. Conjured. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 978-0-8027-3458-7. 368 p.  $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Eve does not know who she is, where she has been, or why she is part of a witness protection program.  Her memory problems are compounded by the fact that every time she uses magic she blacks out and loses large chunks of time.  The novel is a blend of magical worlds, psychological thrills, and teen romance.  Durst’s writing is describes the truly grotesque violence and magical transformations of characters is great details.  There is a Twilight Zone tone to the book that anything could happen and even the writer might not know what is real and what is only in one’s imagination.

Fantasy (Paranormal)                                                                                      Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

This story is a tale of what appears on the outside to be a typical young girl who shelves books at the local library but in actuality is a person who can wield the powers of magical.  Due to Eve’s memory loss and the story being told in a first person narration they learn along with Even bits and pieces to the mystery of her life.  The title is a good fit for paranormal fans and would be a good addition for high school collections.



Feinstein, John. Foul Trouble. New York: Random House, 2013. 97800-375-86964-8. 400p.  $16.99. Gr. 9 and up.

The number one high school basketball player, Terrell Jamerson, is close to having it all or losing it all.  The outcome all depends on Terrell’s ability to hold true to himself and learning who he can trust in his life.  Terrell’s teammate and friend, Danny, also must decide if quick money is worth risking eligibility to play in college.  The story is told by a third person narrator and the alternating voices of each young boy throughout their senior year of high school.  Readers will be able to relate to both young boys’ struggle of family obligations and making good choices for the future.  The book concludes with a press conference where each boy announces their plans post high school.  This title is timely and touches upon several real life sports issues; recruitment incentives, NCAA officials, and the exploitation of young athletes.

Urban                                   Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Sports books are hard to find for high school students and Feinstein’s latest novel is a must have addition for high school collections.  I found myself eagerly reading this title to find out what Terrell and Danny do after graduation and the impact each’s decisions have not only on their futures but their families.  Students found the characters realistic and taught me more about college level athletics and the recruitment process through a book talk on the title.  A great addition and a must have for high school libraries looking for titles for male patrons.



Fiore, Kelly. Taste Test. New York: Walker Books, 2013. 978-0-8027-2838-8. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Reality television is a mainstay on television and for Nora Henderson it is her chance to make her culinary dreams come true with a $50,000 scholarship to study cooking in Paris.  As a contestant on Taste Test, Nora finds herself embroiled in behind the scene antics, love triangles, and sabotage.  The food descriptions throughout the book are detailed and will have readers hungry for more books by Fiore that combine food, mystery, and romance as the perfect recipe for reading.

Mystery, Realistic                       Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Fiore’s debut novel is a refreshing story that is accessible to readers and rooted in the reality of teenagers’ social media lives.  The story is fast paced and quickly introduces characters who are part of the reality landscape we have all come to know on television.  Students who love reality shows, especially those such as Top Chef, will enjoy this book.  The narrator, Nora, is the everygirl and will be relatable for teens despite the circumstances of her life.  I highly recommend this title for high school collections.



Klein, Lisa. Love Disguised. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 978-1-59990-968-4.  320 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Williams Shakespeare longs for life in London and finds love triangles, mistaken identities, villains, and inspiration for what will become the classic plays readers will recognize from their English classes.  Fact and fiction are woven together in this book to reimagine Shakespeare’s  youth through vivid writing that is full of historical details.  The endnotes provide a full historical context, story inspiration, and further reading suggestions to complete the tale of what happened to young Shakespeare.

Historical (Elizabethan England)              Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

This book is a great extension of what students may learn in English classes about both Shakespeare’s personal life and the lives of those in Elizabethan England.  The story is focused on Shakespeare’s move from Stratford to London and his early romances that shaped his writing and inspired some of his most well known characters.  The language Klein uses is authentic to the time period and will be difficult for some readers.  However, those who continue reading the entire book will be rewarded with a rewarding story of friendship and romance.  An excellent title to use as an extension for English classes studying Shakespeare.


Starry-eyed: 16 Stories That Steal the Spotlight. New York: Running Press, 2013.978-0-7624-4949-1.  400 p. $9.95. Gr. 9 and up.

A collection of short stories by some of the most popular young adult authors examines how difficult the teen years can be for anyone.  Characters in many of the stories feel out of place in their everyday lives and experiences but are able to find acceptance on stage through creative outlets.  Throughout the book are personal stories from many current day performers.  Readers do not need to be fans of the various authors and performers to relate with their own experiences growing up and growing into who they will become despite common teenage problems such as; insecurity, jealousy, young love, etc.

Realistic (Short Stories)               Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Students will enjoy reading not only the short stories but also the biographical sketches about their favorite performers and what their lives were like prior to fame.  The stories will resonate with readers and touch on many issues about self and acceptance that teenagers face daily in their lives.  The introduction written by Clay Aiken is touching and explores the theme about what it means to be true to oneself.  The short stories are focused on art and performing as more than an extracurricular but instead focus on each as a vocation or calling.  Highly recommended for high school collections.



Tabu, Melinda. Still Star-Crossed. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 978-0-385-74350-1. 352 p. $16.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Students who have already read Romeo and Juliet will recognize the main characters in Still Start-Crossed as supporting player now left to pick up the pieces after the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.  The novel is billed as a sequel to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet following the arranged marriage of Rosaline and Benvolio’s tale as historical fiction, detective story, and an action packed adventure tale.  The fast paced story brings a happy ending to what has been known as a tragic tale by focusing on the supporting characters from the original text.

Historical (16th Century Verona), Mystery                                                Robin Burns, Salisbury High School           

Tabu’s book works as either a stand alone novel or as an extension of the original work, Romeo and Juliet.  A great mix of old and new this story is unique and allows readers to access a piece of literature in a more tangible way with supporting characters.  I like many who have read Shakespeare often wondered what happened to those left behind.  This title is a good extension text or stand alone for its rich story and attention to detail of the original work.



Wallace, Sandra Neil. Muckers. New York: Random House, 2013. 978-0-375-86745-5.  288 p.  $16.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Based on a true story, Wallace’s novel examines small town life coping with the economic and political realities of life after World War II in America.  The story is complemented by excerpts from local newspapers that provide the feel for what life was like during this time of change and reexamination of what life was like in America.  The true events of a racially mixed high school football team’s last season in Arizona and their final chance to win the state championship.  The town’s mines are no longer profitable and with the loss of jobs the 1950 year’s team will be the last in history for Hartley, Arizona.  Readers without much knowledge of football will enjoy the historical context and individual stories of players on the scrappy team of “Muckers”.

Historical (1950’s Arizona), Realistic            Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

This story will appeal to readers who gravitate towards sports stories but also those who enjoy historical fiction.  There is a vintage feel to the story and knowing that the events described are based upon what really took place in one small Arizona town decades ago.  The fast pacing of the story with shorter chapters makes the text suitable for students in middle school through high school.  Several of my students who are not regular patrons have checked out this title and found it an accessible read due to the language used and details about something they are interested in, football.  I highly recommend adding this title to both middle and high school collection in need of sports stories.  Many of the social issues discussed in history classes such as integration of sports team, the Chicano rights movement, and Mccarthyism are tacked in this highly engaging book.



Zarr, Sara and Tara Altebrando. Roomies. New York: Little Brown & Co, 2013. 978-0-316-21749-1.  288 p. $18.00.  Gr. 9 and up.

A coming of age story and right of passage in many young people’s lives, going away to college, is explored through two very distinct voices of popular young adult author, Zarr and Altebrando.  Two college roommates begin to influence each other lives prior to move in day through emails the summer of their freshman year.  Elizabeth Owens lives in New Jersey and ready to leave behind her life for Berkeley to study landscape architecture.  Lauren is staying closer to home a San Francisco native who is used to sharing with five siblings was hoping for a single dorm but through email exchanges both girls share personal information and their life stories.  By the end of the summer both girls believe their rooming assignment may just work out their freshman year.  The main characters back stories are engaging and the supporting cast of family members and friends add depth to each girl’s story.  This book is recommended for high school collections due to the realistic and difficult topics covered including divorce, child abandonment, prejudice, etc.

Realistic                                  Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Zarr and Altebrando alternately narrate the entire book as each character, Elizabeth and Lauren, while maintaining two unique stories coming together through a random roommate assignment.  Readers will enjoy both girls unique story and find many similarities with each’s lives as well as difference.  This title works well in a high school library and has been read continuously since being added to my high school collection.  Student who enjoyed the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series as younger readers will find several similarities to the style and tone of the book.  However, Zarr and Altebrando take what could have been a very formulaic plot and make each character’s struggles come to life for the reader.