MG – The Beautiful Something Else

Van Otterloo, Ash. The Beautiful Something Else. Scholastic Press, 2023. 978-1-338-84322-4. 288 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Sparrow Malone, who’s birth name is Magnolia Grace, realizes they don’t quite tick any one gender box in this middle grade novel about family, identity, and growing up. Sparrow’s mom, Abigail, is very protective and insists Sparrow dons dresses and frills, but Abigail is also dealing with her own addiction to opioids. After a car accident, mom is sent to rehabilitation, and Sparrow is sent to live with her Aunt Mags. Aunt Mags lives on the grounds of Windy Hill, the huge estate where Sparrow’s mother also grew up. However, Aunt Mags has transformed Windy Hill into a rainbow-colored safe haven for gardeners, college students, and professors from a nearby university. While meeting friends, neighbors, and family, Sparrow begins to form a new understanding of the LGBTQIA+ community that Abigail seems to fear. Sparrow soon realizes they aren’t quite fitting the mold that Abigail desires in a daughter. The question is: will Sparrow feel empowered enough to tell their mom how they feel? Or anyone else?

THOUGHTS: The Beautiful Something Else is a great addition to diverse middle grade library collections. The characters in this book are layered and diverse, and the feelings Sparrow experiences are written realistically as they realize their nonbinary identity. A “shadow” (think: Peter Pan) is introduced throughout the book as a fantastical character that causes Sparrow to explore their identity and own their feelings. Otherwise, the book is wholly realistic fiction. While the book would be equally as strong without its “shadow,” this element is a good metaphor for readers to realize there is something itching at Sparrow and following them around. In this case, it’s simply the need for Sparrow to be true to themself. Written with care for middle grade audiences.

Realistic Fiction

MG – Maid for It

Sumner, Jamie. Maid for It. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-1-665-90577-0. 232 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Sixth-grade Franny makes daily lists and breathes deeply to keep herself calm. It’s not easy: Franny worries a lot. Franny lives with her single mom, Julia, in a tiny apartment above a laundromat. It’s a fresh start for them: They moved there just after Franny’s mom got sober. One day, Franny is called to the school office: Franny’s mom was involved in a car accident. While not at fault, Julia’s car is totaled, and she has a fractured femur. After this event, Franny begins to worry constantly about her mom’s potential to relapse into substance abuse. Because her injured mom is unable to continue work as an Uber driver or house cleaner, Franny decides to take over the latter. Without telling her mother, Franny takes over the cleaning schedule after school each day. Franny tries to keep up with the new work schedule, school, and taking care of her mother. It’s a struggle. A deal with a classmate trying to stay out of trouble brings Franny some unexpected help—and an unexpected new friendship. With the assistance of friends and her mother’s sponsor, Mimi, Franny works tirelessly to overcome her own fears while her mother recovers.

THOUGHTS: The difficult topics of parental substance abuse and sobriety are handled thoughtfully in this middle grade story. Franny’s anxieties about a potential relapse feel very realistic, and Franny’s actions—including her takeover of mom’s house cleaning jobs—are almost all driven by the overwhelming fear that her mother may begin to use drugs again. Readers will empathize deeply with Franny over her desire to seek normalcy and academic success while continuing to keep a watchful eye over her own mother. Franny’s mother is portrayed as realistic, loving, tough, and yet ultimately vulnerable at the same time. Maid for It focuses on the long term impacts of substance abuse on users and their families. While Franny and Julia are given an uplifting ending, ongoing issues with substance abuse among minor characters are still present.

Realistic Fiction

MG/YA – Dealing with Addiction (Series NF)

Dealing with Addiction. BrightPoint Press, 2023. 64 p. $33.05 ea. $$165.25 Set of 5. Grades 6-12.

Kaiser, Emma. Smartphone Addiction. 978-1-678-20380-7.
Llanas, Sheila Griffin. Drug and Alcohol Addiction. 978-1-678-20374-0.
Miller, Marie-Therese. Social Media Addiction. 978-1-678-20378-8.
Roberts, Kizzi. Gaming Addiction. 978-1-678-20376-9.
Voss, Elizabeth Hobbs. Vaping Addiction. 978-1-678-20382-5.

This reviewer evaluated Gaming Addiction and Smartphone Addiction. Each title in this series begins with At a Glance which provides readers with a quick, bulleted overview of the topic addressed. Statistics like “Researchers think between 1 and 10 percent of gamers become addicted” (Roberts 4) easily could be incorporated into basic student research or utilized for a lesson on summarizing research. The introduction gives readers an anecdote regarding the topic. In Gaming Addiction, Ben loses interest in activities with his friends, instead opting to beat his high score. Ben’s friends confront changes they’ve noticed in him. In Smartphone Addiction Riley realizes she needs help after hardly hearing her friends while she checks social media notifications on her phone and earning a poor grade on an English essay. Four chapters include What is ___?, The science of ___, The effects of ___, and Treating the ___ (___ = addiction the title addresses). Frequent color photos, charts, text box highlights, and bold-faced vocabulary words make this series highly accessible to secondary researchers. Each book concludes with a glossary, source notes, for further research, and an index.

THOUGHTS: Marketed as hi-lo YA nonfiction, the titles in this series are best suited to middle and high school libraries and would be a great update to addiction collections or for use with health classes.

616.85 Mental Disorders 
616.86 Substance Abuse

YA – Chaos Theory

Stone, Nic. Chaos Theory. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-0-593-30770-0. 288 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Not all illnesses are visible, but that doesn’t make them any less difficult to manage. Stone begins with a letter to readers about her own struggles with mental illness and a content warning (self-harm and suicide). Shelbi mostly keeps to herself to protect her fragile psyche and the safety she’s managed to build. Andy lives in the shadow of his younger sister’s unexpected death and the way his family has fallen apart since. While his mom loses herself in a political campaign, Andy drowns his grief and guilt in a bottle. A drunken text with a mixed up number leads Shelbi and Andy to a text exchange in which he promises not to drive home drunk then proceeds to do just that. When Shelbi passes a car accident on her way home, she thinks she sees Andy. Upon later inspection Shelbi, who has a scientific interest in car crashes, finds Andy’s wallet at the scene. Told in alternating chapters a tentative friendship begins, with a contract to help both teens understand the rules, one of which is “Do not, under any circumstances, fall in love with Shelbi.” Due to past trauma, Shelbi is cautious, and with his drinking out of control Andy isn’t really able to commit to a true friendship where one has to think of others. But there are beautiful moments where the two are drawn together and tragic moments where they aren’t there for the other in times of need.

THOUGHTS: Sure to be popular among fans of Stone’s writing, Chaos Theory is an emotional, character driven novel that will have readers rooting for Shelbi and Andy to find what they need. Highly recommended for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction

YA – You’d Be Home Now

Glasgow, Kathleen. You’d Be Home Now. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-0-525-70804-9. 400 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

For her whole life Emory’s family has been well-known in the town of Mill Haven. Her great great grandfather founded the mill that employed many of the town’s families for generations. But the mill has been abandoned for some time, and people have very different opinions about what should become of the space. Emory also is the little sister of Joey who overdosed and passed out while his best friend Leonard caused a life altering car accident, one that devastated their small town and Emory’s family. Now Emory is known as someone who was in the car when Candy died. Joey is on his way back from rehab, and their older sister Maddie is away at college. With workaholic parents who aren’t always around, Emory is tasked with keeping an eye on Joey who has been given some pretty serious restrictions to keep him “on the right path.” Always feeling invisible in the shadow of her perfect sister and self-destructive brother, Emory has been a good girl, a rule follower. But Emory needs someone to see her. Next door neighbor Gage, who Emory has had a crush on, shows her attention, though secretly, and it feels good for someone finally to notice her even if not out in the open. Despite some questionable choices, Emory is managing and keeping an eye on Joey. Until she isn’t. Secrets are brought to light, Joey disappears, and Emory loses herself. Will she pick up the pieces and figure out who she wants to be before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Emory and Joey while cringing at some obvious warning signs. Glasgow writes a compelling, character driven novel that shines light on addiction’s impact on family, friends, and community. Teens will appreciate the authentic portrayal of serious issues.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, SD

YA – In the Wild Light

Zentner, Jeff. In the Wild Light. Crown Publishers, 2021. 978-1-524-72024-7 429 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up.

Set in a small Tennessee town, two misfits from troubled families develop a strong bond after meeting at a Narateen meeting. Cash is struggling to come to terms with his mother’s death, the knowledge that his beloved grandfather is dying, and his fear that he has no special gift to offer anyone. Delaney is a brilliant, self-taught scientist who discovers a bacteria-destroying mold with potential medicinal benefits.  Because of this discovery, she is offered a full ride scholarship to an elite New England prep school and secures a spot for Cash as well.  Delaney is determined to start anew and pushes Cash to join her, though he believes he is not deserving of this opportunity and fears missing precious time with his grandfather. They both struggle to adjust to their new life so far removed from their roots but are fortunate to find a friendship with two other new students at Middleford Academy and to nurture their own interests and passions and the special bond between them.

THOUGHTS: A thoughtful, coming of age story with a strong focus on the value of friendship and family, with charming characters, beautiful descriptions, and some gorgeous poetry. Touching, emotional, and heartfelt, this book will be appreciated by fans of All the Bright Places and Looking for Alaska.

Realistic Fiction                Nancy Summers,   Abington SD

Elem/MG/YA – Affecting Lives: Drugs & Addiction (Series NF)

Affecting Lives: Drugs & Addiction. Child’s World, 2021. 32 p. $21.00 Grades 5-8.

Artanne, K.A. Methamphetamines Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844957.
Ayarbe, Heidi. Tranquilizers and Depressants Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844896.
Bjornlund, Lydia. Steroids Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844964.
Ford, Jeanne. E-Cigarettes Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-84487-2.
—. Prescription Opioids Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844902.
Havemeyer, Janie. Marijuana Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844858.
London, Martha. Adderall Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844889.
MacCarald, Clara. Heroin Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844919.
Martin, Holly B. Cocaine Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844926.
Rea, Amy C. Alcohol Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844865.
—. Inhalants Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844940.
Storm, Ashley. Hallucinogens Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844933.

This Hi-Lo series is intended for grades 3-6, and would work for middle and high school collections. Each book opens with a two-page Fast Facts about the drugs, defining them, stating how they are used, and the physical and mental effects. Four chapters each begin with a personal story of a person who used the drug, or a family member. These will draw in readers who will be introduced to or can relate to the scenarios and emotions involved. Posed stock photos help to show appropriate situations, such as worried family members or helpful medical staff. Each personal story shares the beginning of the drug use to the complications and follows through to help received through social workers, counselors, and rehabilitation. These positive outcomes communicate hope even in difficult situations. Each book closes with questions to think about, glossary, extra resources, and an index. Online resources via a lead to and, suitable for older children and teens. Titles seen for this review: Tranquilizers and Depressants and Prescription Opioids.

THOUGHTS: Well-done resources suitable for helping younger students to understand the dangers of addictions and options for recovery.        

610s Drug Abuse          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Grades 3-5.

Drug use, especially prescription drug use, opioids, and e-cigarettes, is prevalent in society. This set of twelve books brings awareness of the effects different addictive substances can have on a person. This reviewer had the opportunity to read Adderall: Affecting Lives. Each of the four chapters is written as a personal story and through each story, the reader learns about how adderall can affect lives in both positive and negative ways and how to get help in case of addiction. This book features bold words that are defined in the back, headings, fast facts, and back matter that includes resources for further exploration on the topic. The chapters are written in language that is easy to understand yet appropriate for a young audience.

THOUGHTS: The titles in this collection would be a good purchase for an upper elementary library or a middle grade library that includes grades five and six. 

615.5 Drug, Alcohol, and Substance Abuse           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA NF – Come on In, America; Opioid Epidemic

Osborne, Linda Barrett. Come On In, America: The United States in World War I. Abrams, 2017. 978-1-4197-2378-0. $17.95. 170p. Gr. 6-12.
Published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I, Come On In, America explores not only the history of World War I, but also the war’s impact on the American homefront. An overview of events leading up to America’s involvement of the war is presented, as well as an examination of U.S. entry and participation in the war. Chapters explore issues weaponry, the war on the homefront, and African Americans and women and their role in the war. Also discussed are topics such as war propaganda, the treatment of immigrants in the U.S. during the war, conscious objectors, and more. The book closes with chapters outlining the end of the war and the legacy of World War I. The text incorporates numerous primary source accounts as well as photographs, posters, and other images. THOUGHTS: While slim (only 170 pages), this title manages to convey an excellent overview of World War I, and is appropriate for both the casual reader as well as the researcher. The first-person accounts and numerous photographs present throughout the text bring the time period to life. Highly recommended for secondary libraries.
940.373, World War I      Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD


Marcovitz, Hal. The Opioid Epidemic. Reference Point, 2018. 978-1-68282-299-9. $29.95. 80p. Gr. 6-12.
As the opioid crisis continues to sweep the nation, the need has arisen for additional informational resources on this topic for student readers and researchers. The Opioid Epidemic aims to help meet this need. In this slim, yet informative volume, author Hal Marcovitz explores the history of opioids and their use in treating pain and injury, types of opioids, and their effects on the human body. Also presented are the social and emotional effects of opioid addiction on opioid users, their friends, family and society at large. Addiction treatment options are also discussed. Present throughout the text are first hand accounts from addicts, family members and medical professionals. Numerous statistics illustrate the growing addiction crisis across the United States. THOUGHTS: This book offers a solid overview of the opioid epidemic, written in a manner that will be easy for students to understand. A good choice for student researchers or debaters. Recommended.
362.29, Substance Abuse     Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

YA Fiction – You Bring the Distant Near; Lives of Desperate Girls

Perkins, Mitali. You Bring the Distant Near. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. 9780374304904. $17.99 320 p.  Gr. 7 and up.

Told through the alternating voices of the Das sisters and their daughters, You Bring the Distant Near is the story of three generations of women in a Bengali family, who immigrated to the United States. The bond between Sonia and Tara Das is explored as they each struggle to find their own place in America, all while obeying the cultural traditions of their family. Supportive and united, each sister takes a separate path in life, which leads Tara to success as a film star back home in India and Sonia into a full embrace of an inclusive American culture and a happy interracial marriage in New York.  Their daughters, Chantal and Anna, in turn have very different upbringings, but all the threads of this family’s disparate experiences come together when Anna is sent back to the US to finish high school.  Beautifully written with well-drawn and complex characters, the novel realistically portrays the nuanced relationships between the women.  The rich Bengali culture weaves through the three generations, influencing each of the women in different ways.  Thoughts: Strongly recommended as an addition to your collection of novels on the immigrant experience, filled with positive messages about acceptance, integration, and identity.

Realistic Fiction           Nancy Summers, Abington School District

Perkins, Mitali. You Bring the Distant Near. Farrar Straus Girox, 2017. 978–0374-30490-4 304p. $17.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

We hear the stories of five Bengali- American women in three different generations, spanning from the era of mini-skirts until just after the tragedy of 9/11.  Perkins weaves their stories together beautifully.  All of them question what it means to be Bengali or what it means to be American and each comes up with their own answers for themselves.  Some of the stories are heart-breaking, but most are easy to empathize with.  A family tree at the beginning is a good key, but because it is there, the long-term romances are easy to foretell if they will end in marriage.  THOUGHTS   This is a great book that will bring a diversity of characters to your library.  It is also a beautifully told story.

Realistic Fiction      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Common, MacKenzie. The Lives of Desperate Girls. Penguin Random House, 2017. 9780143198710. $16.99. 304 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Tragedy befalls two girls in rural Northern Ontario, but the reaction of the police and the public is different in each case.  When pretty and wealthy Chloe Shaughnessy goes missing the police investigate in earnest, and the townspeople hold vigils for her safe return. A few days after her disappearance,  the body of  Helen Commanda, a girl from the reservation, is found in the woods. There is no public outcry about this crime, and when the police find no obvious clues, her case is placed on the backburner.   Chloe’s best friend Jenny, now friendless and depressed, becomes obsessed with Helen’s murder and the entrenched racism against the natives in their town. Jenny takes up with the high school bad boy, and together they set out to discover what really happened on the night Helen died. But as the police continue to focus on Chloe’s disappearance, Jenny is equally determined to protect Chloe’s secrets. Thoughts: The novel broaches some serious issues including date rape, racism, and substance abuse, but the character and plot development fall a little short.  A secondary choice for older teens who appreciate realistic fiction with a hard edge.

Mystery        Nancy Summers, Abington School District