YA – All That’s Left in the World

Brown, Erik J. All That’s Left in the World. Balzer + Bray, 2022. 978-0-063-05497-4. 338 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

When 78% of the world’s population has been decimated due to a superflu, and the world has headed in post-apocalyptic terrority, survival takes center stage in the lives of those remaining. Andrew decides that he needs to leave Connecticut on foot in order to settle a debt. He becomes injured and stumbles onto a remote cabin in the Pennsylvanian woods. This is where he meets Jamie. Jamie has been surviving on his own for many months, and he has not made contact with another human during this time. The two form a friendship, and their daily lives fall into a comfortable pattern until their sanctuary is threatened and the two must escape. They spend the next few months discovering just what has happened to the rest of the country.

THOUGHTS: This was a fast read. I thoroughly enjoyed the strong character development of both Jamie and Andrew as they discover their strengths and weaknesses as they fall in love in this broken world.

Science Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

YA – At the End of Everything

Nijkamp, Marieke. At the End of Everything. Sourcebooks Fire, 2022. 978-1-492-67315-6. $18.99. 400 p. Grades 9-12.

Hope Juvenile Treatment Center is a misnomer; there is no hope in this juvenile detention center. When the guards start acting odd and then its residents wake up to no supervision, the teens feel a little celebratory. Though they’ve grown accustomed to living by strict schedules and demands, now they get to make all of the decisions. And one of the first choices is do we leave to find out what’s going on, or do we stay with what we know? The answer splits Hope’s residents in half, only to have the group who leaves discover that a deadly, highly contagious disease is spreading outside of the boundary fence. Armed guards, in fact, are stationed at the gate to keep them in, and they have no words of advice or comfort. When illness breaks out at Hope, the teens must join together to survive. But getting close to and helping others goes against everything they’re used to and puts them at a greater risk of becoming sick. As more people become ill and supplies dwindle, leaders step up to help. But with no rescue or aid in sight, will these teens make it out alive or will the infectious disease take over?

THOUGHTS: Written during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Nijkamp will captivate readers with this sci-fi thriller. Narrated by a diverse group of teens, readers will root for their survival and be amazed at what limits they push themselves to in order to make it out alive. Recommended for high school collections.

Science Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – Playing a Dangerous Game

Ochieng, Patrick. Playing a Dangerous Game. Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01913-8. $17.95 186 p. Grades 5-8.

A coming-of-age young adult novel by a skilled Kenyan author, this book offers a glimpse into the life of Kenyan boys in the 1970s.  Lumush and his family are doing quite well after his father gets a promotion at his job, but the teenager is understandably worried about changing schools and still being able to relate to his long-time neighborhood friends. As Lumush and his friends hang around after school each day, talking and playing small pranks and games, they eventually work up the nerve to explore a nearby abandoned house that many people think is haunted. What the group find during their explorations is more than they bargained for, and they are caught in the middle of a dangerous, and perhaps murderous, illegal smuggling operation. 

THOUGHTS: Mystery, adventure, friendship and personal growth are all major elements of this unique novel. Lumush’s life, including his family, his friends, and his school troubles, are described in rich detail. This book offers a fascinating peek into the lives of Kenyans during the 1970s; although politics and economics are mostly mentioned in passing by adults in Lumush’s life, students with an interest in Kenyan history could use this novel as a way to contextualize the facts found in traditional history books. 

Mystery           Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – Rescue at Lake Wild

Johnson, Terry Lynn. Rescue at Lake Wild. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 978-0-358-33285-9. 181 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6. 

Madi, who idolizes Jane Goodall, loves rescuing injured wild animals. She learned how to rehabilitate animals from her beloved Nana, who died four years ago, and is determined to follow in her footsteps. Madi’s parents, however, have had enough of her exploits and forbid her to bring any more animals home. But when Madi and her two best friends, Jack and Aaron, find a pair of dead beavers that have been shot, they investigate the beaver dam and find two orphaned beaver pups. Madi vows to save the pups, parental restrictions notwithstanding, and Jack, a future game warden, sees a mystery to be solved. The three 12-year-olds proceed, despite all common sense, to try to hide the beaver pups from Madi’s mom, track down why the beavers are provoking animosity in the town, and discover who is killing them. Johnson (Ice Dogs and others) scores again with this book for younger readers. The mystery provides a plot, but the heart of the story is Madi’s love of animals. Her struggles to raise the pups with the skills necessary to return to the wild make for fascinating reading, and readers will learn much about beavers, and wildlife rehabilitation. Madi is creative, inventive, and determined to do the right thing, even though she ends up making a huge personal sacrifice. Madi and Aaron are white, Jack, on the book cover, appears to have darker skin.

THOUGHTS: A great choice for animal lovers.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Saving Animals from the Brink (Series NF)

Cooke, Tim. Saving Animals from the Brink. Bearport. 2021. Individual Book: $19.95, Set: $119.70. Grades 3-6.

A Chemical Nightmare: Bald Eagle Comeback. 978-1-636-91045-1.
Fur-tastrophe Avoided: Southern Sea Otter Comeback. 978-1-636-91048-2.
Return to Yellowstone: Gray Wolf Comeback. 978-1-636-91046-8.
Saving the Silvertip: Grizzly Bear Comeback. 978-1-636-91047-5.
A Scary Prediction: Bison Comeback. 978-1-636-91044-4.
Struggle for Survival: Florida Panther Comeback. 978-1-636-91049-9.

The reviewer read A Chemical Nightmare: Bald Eagle Comeback. This series is presented in a graphic novel format showing animals who have made a comeback from endangerment and extinction. Author Tim Cooke writes the amazing stories of some of America’s beloved creatures and the people who helped save them from extinction. Readers are able to learn the history of these animals and people in comic-book style, as well as learn more information at the end of the book with photographs of the animal. Readers will get sucked into these tales and may grow an interest in helping save some amazing animals.

THOUGHTS: A short, but interesting read about some of America’s famous animals and the people who helped save them. The graphic novel style helps pull young readers in, utilizing a favorite format of writing.

Graphic Novel          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Uncharted: Stories of Survival (Series NF)

McGregor, Harriet. Uncharted: Stories of Survival. Bearport, 2021. $19.95 ea. $119.70 set of 6. 24 p. Grades 2-5. 

Blown Away by a Blizzard! 978-1-64747-030-2.
Destroyed by a Hurricane! 978-1-64747-031-9.
Flattened by an Earthquake! 978-1-64747-032-6.
H
eat Wave Horror! 978-1-64747-033-3.
Lightning Strike Survivor! 978-1-64747-034-0.
Tornado Terror! 978-1-64747-031-9.

These action packed graphic novel stories recount various true stories of individuals who had to survive natural disasters. This reviewer had the opportunity to review Blown Away by a Blizzard!, which recounted the story of Randy Kraxberger, a skier who was trapped in the wilderness of Olympic National Park during a blizzard. Kraxberger had to build a snow cave to survive overnight during the blizzard and stay alert with exercise sessions to ward off hypothermia. Thankfully, in the morning he was rescued by park rangers. At the conclusion of the story, a two-page informational spread (not in graphic novel format) defined a blizzard and explained the science behind how blizzards form. Safety tips were also presented.

THOUGHTS: This action-packed, non-fiction graphic novel series is sure to be a hit. Readers will be kept on the edge of their seats as they wait to see how the individual will survive their situation. A worthwhile purchase for elementary libraries looking to expand their non-fiction graphic novel collections.

Graphic Novel          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD
363 Survival Stories

MG – Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City

Heidicker, Christian McKay. Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City. Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 978-1-25018-144-2. 386 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

O-370 only knows of life on the farm. The elder foxes tell him stories about wild foxes who have adventures beyond anything he can imagine. O-370 and his cousin, R-211 dream of having their own adventures like Mia and Uly, the foxes they hear about in the stories. Even though they want to have adventures, they also know that the farm is a good place for them. All the foxes who live here get food twice a day and have a warm place to sleep. Best of all, when they are done at the farm, they get to go to The Barn, a special place where foxes eat centipedes all day and play with all the foxes that have gone before them. One night, O-370 is desperate for an adventure and slips out of his cage to explore The Barn. What he discovers sends him running into the forest and to the edge of the nearby city. After meeting a group of tough city foxes, O-370 realizes he may not have the skills to survive away from the farm. O-370 decides he must use the strategies in the stories he heard as a young kit to survive in the city.

THOUGHTS: In the follow-up novel to Scary Stories for Young Foxes, author Heidicker follows a similar format. He intersperses the story of O-370 with an older fox storyteller who is relaying O-370’s story to kits. Fans of his first novel will be happy to see previous characters Mia, Uly, Beatrix Potter, and others make appearances throughout the book. This book is a great addition to middle grade libraries, especially for young fans of horror and animal stories.

Horror/Fantasy          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Ground Zero

Gratz, Alan. Ground Zero. Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-24575-2. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

Brandon, 9 years old, suspended from school for fighting, is spending the day with his father, who works at the Windows on the World Restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. He sneaks away from his dad to run an errand when a plane flies into the building. It is September 11, 2001. Brandon’s life has changed forever. Decades later, and a world away, Reshmina, a young Afghan girl, also lives with the fallout of that horrific day. Life in rural Afghanistan changed drastically when the US armed forces came to push back the Taliban. While no one likes the American soldiers, most Afghans fear the Taliban as well. Alan Gratz’s take on the 9/11, attack follows the two young people, alternating between their stories. While Brandon fights for his life as he tries to escape the burning tower, Reshmina struggles with the burden of Pashtunwali, providing aid to those who request it. Reshmina comes across an American soldier injured during a Taliban ambush. Despite her hatred of the Americans, she cannot leave him to die after he asks for help. The move places her family in danger; her twin brother has begun working with the Taliban and threatens to notify them of the soldier’s presence at their home. It won’t surprise any reader that the soldier is Brandon, 18 years later. There is nothing subtle about this book. Gratz had a point to make, and he hammers it home. The two stories aren’t just parallel, but painfully structured to be identical stories – an event in one story is mirrored by a similar event in the other narrative. And Gratz does not couch his opinion that everything the US did in Afghanistan was wrong and hurtful. While the current generation of readers looks for books set around 9/11, Gratz, a master of historical fiction adventure, who single handedly has converted young readers to historical fiction fans, falls a bit flat with this story. Gratz fans will want to read it, but it will not replace gems like Refugee or Projekt 1065.

THOUGHTS: Purchase where Alan Gratz is popular, but readers may be disappointed.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

It’s September 11th, 2001, and Brandon Chavez is accompanying his dad to work after getting suspended from school. His dad, a kitchen manager at Windows on the World on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center, is not thrilled that his son has to go with him today. He has told Brandon several times that they have to be a team, especially since Brandon’s mother passed away from cancer. While his dad is busy at work, Brandon decides to take the elevator down to the North Tower’s underground mall – but his plans are interrupted by the crash, stopping the elevator car between floors. Fast forward to September of 2019 and we meet Reshmina, who lives in a small village in Afghanistan. Her family barely scrapes by financially, mostly because the American army is fighting alongside the Afghan National Army to defeat the Taliban in what is practically her backyard. Reshmina has plenty of reasons to hate their war – her sister Hila was accidentally killed by the American army and her brother Pasoon is eager to join the Taliban, a fact that leaves Reshmina worried for his safety. She keeps out of the way of both armies until she stumbles upon an American soldier in need of help after a Taliban attack. Risking her family’s safety, she offers him refuge at their home. Pasoon, angered that Reshmina wants to help an enemy, decides to join the Taliban sooner rather than later and divulge the wounded soldier’s location. Each chapter alternates between Brandon and Reshmina, and their stories mirror each other until a twist is revealed at the end.

THOUGHTS: Author Alan Gratz is well-known for his action-packed historical fiction stories that are beloved by middle grade students. Ground Zero is no exception and is a must-have for middle grade libraries.

Historical Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Concealed

Gonzalez, Christina Diaz. Concealed. Scholastic, 2021. 320 pp. 978-1-338-64720-4 $17.99 Grades 5-8.

Katrina has been on the move with her parents for the past three years, and those three years are the extent of her memories. She cannot remember her early years or even her real name. Her amnesia after an accident convinced her parents of the danger and led them to flee. Her parents, who call themselves “B” and “L,” have explained that it is better she doesn’t remember, and their task now is to keep her safe. With the help of their contact, Agent X, her family has moved at least eleven times in the Witness Protection Program because Katrina’s father angered some influential business partners. But since Katrina is pressing for more answers, her father makes a choice to get passports without Agent X’s help, in an effort for more freedom to tell Katrina the truth.  Their latest location is fairly remote, and Katrina tentatively becomes friends with Parker, a foster kid with few personal connections but exceptional hacking skills. Soon, Katrina’s father and mother are captured separately, and Parker willingly accompanies Katrina to the safe house in Atlanta. And all the facts that don’t add up really begin to topple down. At the safe house, Agent X whisks them to Miami (en route to safety?) as Katrina and Parker doubt him and her parents. The surprising truth comes out as X retrieves Katrina’s father, everyone is in grave danger, and everyone is saved.

THOUGHTS: While not predictable, the surprises are life-changing and resolved too easily, resulting in a lost opportunity to examine major themes of genetic engineering, twins, memory loss, trauma, and the effects of secrecy and lies. Supplemental purchase.

Realistic Fiction            Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Alone

Freeman, Megan E. Alone. Aladdin, 2021. 978-1-534-46756-9. 404 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Maddie, a twelve year old girl, plans the perfect sleepover night at her Grandmas. Unfortunately, her friends cancel, and Maddie spends the night alone – only to wake up to everyone gone. Maddie learns that an “imminent threat” has forced mass evacuations and her divorced parents never knew that Maddie was alone. Maddie must now fend for herself and hope that help comes soon. Maddie visits the empty homes and starts to gather items necessary to survive for the next few weeks. But weeks turn into months, and months into years and Maddie’s only company is a rottweiler named George. On her own Maddie faces looters, tornadoes, a devastating fire, and a flash flood while navigating springtime at her mom’s house and winters at her father’s home. Maddie uses her local library to gain knowledge, and find hope that rescue will soon arrive.

THOUGHTS: A wonderful survival story with a strong female character that will leave you rooting for her. The story is well written, and fans of Life as We Knew It and Hatchet will enjoy this adventure. The author provides a variety of challenges for Maddie to face, while showing how to be brave and creative in overcoming obstacles.

Adventure          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh Middle School