MG – Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot

Key, Watt. Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020. 215 p. $16.99 978-0-374-31369-2 Grades 5-8. 

Adam survives the car crash that apparently killed his parents–at least, they have disappeared. When questioned by police, he speaks bewilderedly but honestly of what he saw in the wooded road near the Suwanee River: not a person or a bear, but something bigger than a bear, covered in hair, with a human face and huge black eyes. When the local paper runs a story about the accident including a “Sasquatch-like creature,” Adam regrets saying anything. The questions and the disbelief become overwhelming, especially from his Uncle John, who takes him in while the search for his parents continues. Adam can’t forget the creature, and due to disrupted sleep and nightmares, he begins searching online for information. He learns of a local Sasquatch appearance nearly 30 years ago, and sets out to question the man who reported it. He finds the near-hermit “Stanley” who reluctantly, then completely, tells Adam all he knows about the creatures, with a strong warning that the search for answers destroys your life. Adam decides he needs answers, and sets off on his own with some basic supplies.  What follows is a hard-core survival story wherein Adam becomes so attuned to the forest and animals that he lives as one of them, soon close to starving. Then he sees one of the creatures, then more. The scenes with the creatures shift from past tense to present tense, adding to the sense of unreality. Adam has found what he came for, but can he survive, can he find his parents, and can he get proof of the creatures’ existence?

THOUGHTS: With a likeable narrator, reasonable length (215 pages), and an attractive cover (see the creature in the trees?), Key has written a suspenseful survival story that will attract middle school readers curious about Bigfoot. Key includes helpful explanatory information about Sasquatch sightings.

Fantasy, Paranormal 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 – 96 Miles

Esplin, J.L. 96 Miles. Starscape, 2020. 978-1-250-19230-1. 266 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

96 Miles by J. L. Esplin has the look and feel of an apocalyptic novel. Twelve-year-old John and eleven-year-old Stewart Lockwood are the offspring of single-parent and survivalist, Jim Lockwood. Their father is away on a business trip when a massive power outage strikes their area of the Nevada desert. The boys are unfazed because they have six months’ worth of water and supplies, plus a generator. What they don’t anticipate is the ruthlessness of people as materials grow scarce and the situation drags on. Forced at gunpoint to abandon their property, the narrator John immediately assumes the role of protector, a position his younger brother sometimes resents. He sets out to walk to Brighton Ranch, the home of a close family friend, 96 miles down the highway, in three days. Before long, the brothers are accompanied by two other children, Cleverly Iverson and her little brother, Will. John reluctantly accepts them on their journey at Stew’s urging, and he soon realizes the benefit of their presence, especially Cleverly, a selfless, intelligent girl who is mature beyond her twelve years. Newcomer J. L. Esplin unpacks the plot gradually, feeding the reader a bit of information to put together the puzzle. She transcends the expected blisters, sunburn, and dehydration to make 96 Miles a page-turner full of surprise and suspense that made this reader gasp aloud at least twice. Though the narrative is dire, the author provides the deftly drawn characters with senses of humor and sufficient depth to deem them worthy of their self-named tag, Battle Born. This moniker takes on a significant meaning when it becomes apparent that “survival of the fittest” is an innate impulse even in these likeable characters.

THOUGHTS: This book gives lots of survivalist tips that teachers may be able to incorporate into science lessons. Critical thinking skills are also relevant because John is challenged to make important decisions that effect his life and the lives of his companions. Different times in the story “survival of the fittest” is put to the test causing discomfort or generating discussion. Is there evidence at the end that the Battle Born are willing to let bygones be bygones? Stew and the family friend have diabetes, a factor that lends to the urgency of the quartet’s travels. Reminiscent of Susan Beth Pfieffer’s Last Survivor series and Mike Mullin’s Ashfall.

Action/Adventure          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

YA – Opposite of Always; Rebel; The Girl in the White Van; I Am a Feminist; The Revolution of Birdie Randolph; Slay; Frankly in Love; Hack Your Cupboard; All Eyes on Us; The Grief Keeper

Reynolds, Justin A. Opposite of Always. Katherine Tegen, 2019. 978-0-062-74837-9. $17.99. 457 p. Grades 9 and up. 

Jack King has spent most of his life on the sidelines – figuratively and literally. He attends his high school’s sporting events but only to cheer on his best friend Franny from the stands. Jack also is on the figurative sideline in his friend group. Though he had a major crush on Jillian during freshman year, she started dating Franny before he could tell her how he felt. He has spent much of high school content with being their 3rd wheel, supporting them through their family struggles. During senior year on a visit to a nearby college the trio of friends is hoping to attend, Jack meets Kate on a dingy stairwell, and he feels as though he finally has a chance at getting off the sidelines. Jack feels that he is falling in love with Kate, and she seems to return his feelings, but she keeps secrets and fails to commit completely to a relationship. When Kate suddenly falls ill and dies, Jack inexplicably time travels back to the moment they met on the stairwell and relives it all again… and again… Armed with knowledge of Kate’s future and the future in general, can Jack change the course of events and save Kate’s life? Can he fix his friends’ problems, too? Opposite of Always tells a mostly realistic but also slightly fantastical story that explores the concepts of time, priorities, relationships of all kinds, and what really matters. 

THOUGHTS: Contemporary YA romance meets Groundhog’s Day probably best describes Opposite of Always. As a result, the plot – by nature – is a bit repetitive. However, Jack’s self-deprecating humor makes him an easy character to root for, so with each iteration of the plot, the more he tries, the more readers will want to see him succeed. Though the narration is often heavy in dialogue, that’s okay because the snappy banter between Jack/Kate or Jack/Jillian is delightfully laugh-out-loud funny. Any YA book with a relatable male narrator gets my recommendation, but add the fact that Jack and his friends are black, and that makes this an excellent addition to any collection, especially one where students demand books with diverse characters. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Lu, Marie. Rebel. Roaring Book Press, 2019. 978-1-250-22170-4. $18.99. 376 p. Grades 7 and up.

One decade ago Eden’s older brother Daniel – better know by the nickname Day – took the Republic of America by storm, rising above poverty to become the nation’s most notorious criminal and later the rebellion’s hero. Now settled into Ross City, Antarctica, Eden is a top university student, and Daniel works for AIS, the Antarctican Intelligence System. The leveling system of Antarctica ensures the boys are living comfortably on the Sky Floors – but what neither boy realizes is how unhappy they both are. Alternating narratives show Daniel as an overprotective, older brother and Eden as an independent, frustrated younger brother. While the boys live together, they’re beginning to drift apart, and both feel frustrated by their relationship. Tired of living in his brother’s shadow, Eden is ready to make a name for himself, even it if takes him into the dark and dangerous Undercity. With friend Pressa by his side, Eden is ready to test his skills in a big way – an illegal way – entering Undercity drone race. When Eden’s invention catches the eye of Daniel’s and AIS’s target, life becomes more dangerous. This of course is right around the same time June and the President of the Republic of America are scheduled to arrive in Ross City. What follows is a fast-paced story about brothers and what it means to look out for each other while becoming who you were born to be.

THOUGHTS: Fans of Marie Lu’s writing will rejoice with this new installment to the Legend series. Though Lu takes a new approach with narrators in this fourth book, there is still enough of June’s character to satisfy earlier readers. References to previous events (and Daniel’s struggle to remember them) make this most suited for readers of the series; however, new readers can follow along as a new cast of characters surround the main conflict. Highly recommended for secondary libraries, especially where dystopian or sci-fi books are popular.

Dystopian Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Henry, April. The Girl in the White Van. Henry Holt & Company, 2020. 978-1-250-15759-1. $17.99. 224 p. Grades 7-12.

About 7 months ago Savannah and her mom relocated to Portland to live with her mother’s newest boyfriend. Tim isn’t exactly what his online dating profile promised. Though Savannah is trying to make the best of life in Portland, she hasn’t really found her place except in the Kung Fu dojo. There she finds solace, and she’s working on building her strength and her confidence. With her mom working nights Savannah is forced to spend some time with Tim. Luckily, Kung Fu gets her out of the house for a bit most nights. When Tim threatens to take away Kung Fu, Savannah runs out of the house and loses herself in that night’s class. Daniel, a fellow student, notices that Savannah seems distracted. Afraid to get too close to anyone only to move away again (they’ve lived in many different towns and states throughout Savannah’s life), Savannah doesn’t let herself get too tied to Portland. Distracted on her walk home and trying to figure out how to apologize to Tim, Savannah doesn’t notice she’s not alone. All of her Kung Fu lessons can’t save her from Sir, who overpowers Savannah and kidnaps her. Savannah isn’t alone in the RV, though. She’ll need to rely on her determination and convince Jenny that life is still worth living if they have any hope of getting free.

THOUGHTS: With fast-paced, compelling stories and characters readers will root for, it is no wonder why April Henry’s books are popular in my high school library. The Girl in the White Van is no different and is a must have for secondary libraries where mysteries or other books by Henry are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Orca Issues. Orca Book Publishers, 2019. $21.41 ea. $64.23 set of 4. 175 p. Grades 9 and up.

Polak, Monique. I Am a Feminist: Claiming the F-Word in Turbulent Times. 978-1-459-81892-7.
Siebert, Melanie. Heads Up – Changing Minds on Mental Health. 978-1-459-81911-5. (2020)

Stevenson, Robin. My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights. 978-1-459-81712-8.
Tate, Nikki. Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die: The Complexities of Assisted Dying. 978-1-459-81889-7.

Polak’s narrative explores multiple aspects of feminism starting with a chapter on its history from the suffragists of the early 20th century up to the current movement including the Women’s Marches in 2017. The book covers feminism around the world, highlighting many issues girls and women on this continent do not typically have to deal with like lack of access to education and genital mutilation. It looks at feminism in the workplace, feminism as it relates to love and relationships, rape culture, body image, issues of diversity and sexuality, and more. Finally, Polak discusses the toxic masculinity that exists in our culture and offers suggestions for readers to support men in becoming feminists, too. The book contains colorful photos and illustrations on nearly every page. Sidebars highlight specific news stories, individuals making a difference, or unique products that support the movement like, for example, a nail polish that changes color when it comes in contact with a date rape drug. The book also contains a very thorough glossary and list of resources at the back. Though Polak is from Canada and many of her references and examples come from that country, she also cites people, studies, and stories from the United States, so readers from the US do not feel like the book is irrelevant.

THOUGHTS: This book is an excellent resource for students doing a research project on feminism or simply seeking personal awareness on the topic. A relatively quick read, it could be read cover-to-cover, but could also be easily searched for a single specific topic using the index. While the lexile suggests the writing is at a high 9th grade reading level, Polak’s style is simple and conversational enough that it is accessible for a wide range of readers. Polak points out on several occasions that equal treatment for all is the aim of feminism, whether a woman wants to subscribe to traditional gender roles or not. As her title suggests, her purpose is to have all readers proclaim that they are feminists and shed the word’s negative connotation it has gained in recent years.

305.42 Feminism          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Colbert, Brandy. The Revolution of Birdie Randolph. Little Brown, 2019. 978-0-316-44856-7. 336 p. $17.99 Grades 8 +. 

A sweet and empathetic coming of age story about a sixteen-year-old growing up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago. Dove Randoph, affectionately called Birdy by her family, has led a sheltered life kept away from trouble and temptation by her protective parents. The unexpected arrival of a new boyfriend and her long lost Aunt Carlene shows Birdie a different view of life away from the high expectations and straight lines drawn by her loving but controlling parents. These two new individuals in Birdie’s life both have checkered pasts. Carlene is in recovery, overcoming years of drug addiction and life on the streets and Booker has spent some time in juvenile detention, which definitely marks him as unsuitable in the eyes of Birdy’s parents. But both Carly and Booker expose Birdy to a new way of experiencing life, and this adds spark and adventure to her sedate existence. These new experiences and conversations open Birdy’s eyes and lead her down a path of her own choosing, rather than that of her parents’. This touching novel shows a teen figuring out how to live life on her own terms, walking the line between her loyalty to her family and following her own heart. Colbert expertly weaves together so many interesting and important themes, rebellion, family, addiction, rehabilitation. She gives an empathetic portrayal of the troubled Carlene and Booker and shows the potential for redemption every person may have inside of them.

THOUGHTS: With several of the author’s previous books on bestseller and awards lists, this novel is sure to be a teen favorite.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Morris, Brittney. Slay. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-44542-0. 321 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Kiera Johnson lives a double life. By day she is one of four African American students at Jefferson Academy. She excels academically and works hard to fit in, never wanting to be seen as an outlier. But by night, Kiera lives in a world she has created, one in which she can truly be herself, the world of SLAY. An underground game that requires a passcode to get in, SLAY caters to the black community all over the world. More than 500,000 gamers use SLAY as a sanctuary from the real world, and Kiera, along with her developer Cicada, gives them all a safe place to be themselves. Known only as Emerald within the game, Kiera keeps her double life a secret from even her closest friends and family. But when an unexpected tragedy thrusts the game, and Emerald, into the limelight, Kiera must fight to keep her world and her online community safe from intruders.

THOUGHTS: Slay was an incredibly fun read. Morris explored the deeply important ideas of community and belonging in a way that was fresh. An empowering read.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Yoon, David. Frankly in Love. Putnam, 2019. 978-1-984-81220-9. 406 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Frank Li knows his parents are racist. They look down on anyone who isn’t Korean, so much so that when his sister married a black man she was disowned. As Frank tries to cope with senior year and the girls that come with it, he finds himself in a cultural conundrum. His parents would like nothing more than for him to date a nice Korean-American girl, but Frank Li only has eyes for Brit Means, a white girl who is definitively not Korean. Joy Song, a close family friend, finds herself in a similar situation prompting the teenagers to make the obvious choice, pretend to date each other so neither their parents nor their significant others ever find out that there is an issue. What follows is a whirlwind story that will take the reader on a journey to explore race, relationships, and what it takes to be true to yourself.

THOUGHTS: Frank Li’s story will resonate with anyone who has ever felt their choices would never be supported by their parents and has had to deal with the emotional fallout of that thought.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Wiegand, Alyssa, and Carla Carreon. Hack Your Cupboard: Make Great Food with What You’ve Got. Zest Books, 2019. 978-1-942-18607-6. 168 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Let’s face it: grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen are three big components of “adulting” that must all master eventually. Hack Your Cupboard is here to guide the way from cereal-for-dinner to a fancy date-night dinner with minimal kitchen catastrophes. Authors Alyssa Wiegand and Carla Carreon have organized their collaborative cookbook into four sections: Your First Kitchen, Dorm Room Dining, First Apartment Dining, and First Solo Kitchen. Within each section are tips on stocking your pantry, food storage, selecting kitchen equipment, and mastering kitchen techniques from beginner (basic vinaigrette) to intermediate (caramelizing onions) to advanced (deep frying). The cookbook’s signature element is the concept of “hacking” recipes by using what’s on hand to improve each dish or tailor it to your personal tastes. Recipe pages are liberally peppered with gourmet, spicy, budget, healthy, and hearty hacks: incorporating nuts or fresh herbs, adding protein like chicken or shrimp, marinating veggies for more flavor, and preparing part of the recipe in advance to maximize prep time. 

THOUGHTS: The cookbook benefits from the authors’ “you’ve got this!” tone and beautiful, full-color photographs of each prepared recipe. Ramen noodles topped with shredded rotisserie chicken and red peppers have never looked so delicious! Hack Your Cupboard is a worthy addition to every library’s cookbook section, and it will appeal to cooking novices or anyone looking for ways to rejuvenate their worn-out recipes.

641.5 Cooking          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Frick, Kit. All Eyes on Us. Margaret K. Elderry, 2019. 978-1-534-40440-3. 374 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Logansville’s elite girl Amanda Kelly has it all: she’s pretty, she’s popular, she’s rich, and she’s witty to boot. To top it all off her boyfriend is none other than Carter Shaw, of Shaw Realty, and together they make the perfect power couple, the new generation that will take over the town. But Amanda’s life isn’t as perfect as it seems; Carter’s been cheating on her, slumming it with Rosalie from Culver Ridge. Rosalie, for whom going out with Carter is nothing more than a convenient cover, has no intentions of keeping Carter around once high school is over. She plans to move into an apartment with her girlfriend. All is well for both Amanda and Rosalie as long as no one knows. But when a Private number begins sending the girls threatening messages and ultimatums attempting to expose their secrets to their families and communities, will they choose to work together to save their futures?

THOUGHTS: A fun, fast-paced mystery that will keep you guessing until the end!

Mystery          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Villasante, Alexandra. The Grief Keeper. Putnam, 2019. 978-0-525-51402-2. 310 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up. 

How much would you give up to ensure your safety? Your family’s? Marisol and her little sister Gabi have fled El Salvador and purchased illegal passage into the United States. Their family, torn apart by gang violence, is no longer safe. The sole future the girls have is to be granted asylum. Trapped in a Pennsylvania immigrant detainment center, the only hope for the girls is their ability to prove their need to stay in the asylum interview. When the interview does not appear to go as Marisol had hoped, she and her sister flee the center at the first chance they get. Unexpectedly, an opportunity presents itself that seems to be too good to be true, take part in an experiment that will potentially treat the grief of others for one month, and they will be allowed to stay legally. Marisol jumps at the chance but the toll is one she never imagined. How much can one person be expected to endure?

THOUGHTS: Touching on immigration and exploitation, The Grief Keeper is a thought-provoking novel that brings to light the plight, hopes, and fears of those who have nowhere left to go.

Realistic Fiction           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – The Virtue of Sin; The Prom; There’s Something About Sweetie; The Starlight Claim; Rules for Vanishing; The Toll; The Speed of Falling Objects

Schuren, Shannon. The Virtue of Sin. Philomel Books, 2019. 978-0-525-51654-5. 420 p. $17.99. Grades 8 and up. 

Girls and boys don’t get to speak to one another – not in this community, not until they’re married. But, as usual, youth finds a way. When it is time for a Matrimony for all those of age, Miriam is sure that she knows who will choose her. The night, however, doesn’t go as planned, leaving Miriam to question everything she’s ever known. Married to an outsider who she doesn’t love (and who apparently doesn’t believe) Miriam is faced with a choice: comply and become the docile wife of someone she doesn’t want or face the reality that Daniel, their voice of God, may not be all that he claims to be. As the world begins to shift around her, Miriam begins to find her own path in a life that has always been dictated for her.

THOUGHTS: Miriam’s story is a powerful depiction of the control that people can hold over others and the determination it takes to let yourself be free. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Mitchell, Saundra. The Prom. Viking, 2019. 978-1-984-83752-3. 212 p. $17.99. Grades 7 and up.

All Emma can dream of is dancing with her girlfriend at prom. One special, magical night where the two of them can not only be seen in public but be normal. However, that’s entirely too much for Edgewater, Indiana to handle. When the PTA finds out that someone different wants to disrupt their perfect prom, crisis mode ensues. Emma, a cover artist on YouTube, makes headlines nationwide after taking the PTA (and their new exclusive rules) to task in her latest video. Before she knows it, big names are stepping to her side while her town turns its back, and Emma is left in one big, complicated situation when all she wanted was something so simple.

THOUGHTS: Based on the hit Broadway musical, this heart-wrenching description of the challenges LGBTQIA+ youth face is all too real. From the bullies and the isolation to the unexpected support and acceptance, readers will feel every step of the way as they follow Emma along her journey. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Menon, Sandhya. There’s Something About Sweetie. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-41678-9. 376 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Sweetie Nair is phenomenal. She’s sweet and kind, a star athlete, a model daughter with a perfect life and, oh yeah, she’s fat. Growing up fat in an Indian-American household hasn’t been simple for Sweetie; her mom is constantly trying to get her to lose weight so she can have an easy life, and society always has something to say about the way she looks. When Sweetie is offered the opportunity to date the ultra-attractive Ashish Patel, a star basketball player and ladies’ man, she learns the truth about just how far her mother’s prejudices go. Not to be deterred, Sweetie decides to take matters into her own hands: it’s time to show the world just who she really is.

THOUGHTS: Set in the same world, this companion novel will fill the When Dimple Met Rishi sized hole in your heart. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Wynne-Jones, Tim. The Starlight Claim. Candlewick Press, 2019. 978-1-536-20264-9. 240 p. $17.99. Grades 8 and up. 

Nate Crow has grown up spending summers at his family’s isolated cabin on the lake learning how to respect nature and the elements. Joined by his friends Dodge and Paul, the boys lived idyllic childhoods enjoying their surroundings in the fair weather. But come fall, it’s time to secure the cabin and head for sturdier lodging. It’s possible to winter in the cabin, sure, but life is as hard as the snow is deep and with only one train in or out of the area the isolation could be deadly. When Dodge goes missing and is presumed dead after a winter excursion to his cabin, Nate is haunted by dreams of his former best friend. He knows he needs to do everything he can to ensure that Dodge is not still out there, alive but hurt. Nate makes the arduous hike to the cabin, only to find that the isolated cabin isn’t deserted after all. Miles away from anyone who could help, with limited supplies and a blizzard moving in, Nate must figure out how to survive.

THOUGHTS: The Starlight Claim is a thrilling survival story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. This book has a bit of everything and will appeal to anyone interested in the outdoors, life or death survival, and jail breaks. 

Action/Adventure        Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Marshall, Kate Alice. Rules for Vanishing. Viking, 2019. 978-1-984-83701-1. 402 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

The tale of Lucy Gallows has lived on in Briar Glen for generations. Legend has it that once a year a road will appear in the woods, and the ghost of Lucy Gallows will appear. Those who follow the road are supposedly granted a wish. Sara’s sister Becca disappeared one year ago right around the time the road should have appeared. When Sara finds a journal of Becca’s with clues to the road, she knows where Becca went and is determined to go after her. Despite having resolved to go alone, former friends rally to join Sara on her journey, none of them knowing the challenges, dangers, and sacrifices that lay ahead- after all, the road doesn’t want them to leave.

THOUGHTS: While the story was more gory than I usually like to see, I appreciated that the plot line was original. The road was lined with challenges both fantastic and psychological with horror elements that truly made it a gripping and haunting tale. 

Horror Fiction         Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Shusterman, Neal. The Toll. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-481-49706-0. 625 p. $19.99. Grades 7+.

Good and evil forces are aligned to fight for the fate of human and scythekind in this gripping and satisfying conclusion to the highly popular Arc of a Scythe series. Even in a perfect word designed by an advanced AI to solve all of humanity’s problems, the foibles and weakness of humans derail the best laid plans. The power within the worldwide Scythedom is being consolidated under the self-serving control of Scythe Goddard and the ugly realities of bigotry, fear mongering, and political intrigues are on display. Our favorite characters seem helpless, the honorable Scythe Faraday has retreated in despair to an atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Citra and Rowan are found in the wreckage after the Endura disaster and are now hunted by Goddard’s minions. Also on Goddard’s hitlist is Greyson Tolliver, the sole person to whom the Thunderhead speaks and the spiritual leader to the Tonists. The Thunderhead, by its own law, cannot intervene in the affairs of the Scythedom. But can a small group of thoughtful, committed, major characters change the fate of the world? Overall, an engaging and thought-provoking read.

THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for Grades 7+. This book already has a long waiting list for fans of this top notch dystopian sci-fi series; our library purchased two additional copies to meet demand. Interest in the series should continue as a motion picture is in the works.

Science Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Fischer Richardson, Nancy. The Speed of Falling Objects. Harlequin/Inkyard Press, 2019. 978-1-335-92824-5. 336 p. $18.00. Grades 9 and up.

Danny is not like her absentee father in any way. He’s the in-your-face TV personality “Cougar,” a world-famous survivalist that is always flying off to exotic locations with celebrities to show the television audience how to survive in whatever dangerous situation unfolds. Danny’s given name is actually Danger Danielle Warren, but because that’s the opposite of her careful, quiet personality and because her father, who left her and her mom when he struck it rich with his television show, is the one who christened her with that name, she goes by Danny instead. She’s certain that her father is disappointed in her because she isn’t daring and athletic like him, and she suspects she is also the cause of her mom’s bitterness toward her dad. Danny’s caution stems from her struggles with her balance and perception due to a childhood accident that caused her to lose an eye. When Danny is just about to turn seventeen, and after years of neglect, Cougar reaches out to her for the chance of a lifetime to go to the Amazon Rainforest with him and one of the most popular heartthrobs in the world for an adventure. She jumps at the chance to prove her worth even though her mother is against it. The book takes a dark turn when there is a plane crash, and Danny is confronted with the truth of her father and a family secret and her need to summon her own survival skills to try and make it out of the jungle alive.

THOUGHTS: Although the characters and events were a bit contrived, it made the story possible, so I can forgive them. This book will appeal to some of my students who will enjoy the survival aspect. Fair warning that many people die while trying to survive the plane crash and rainforest, and there is romance.

Action/Adventure          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

MG – The Light Jar; An Invisible Thread; Pay Attention, Carter Jones; How to Win a Nobel Prize; The Lost Girl; Click; Klawde (books 1 and 2); U.S. Government Behind the Scenes; Art Skills Lab; Legendary Goddesses; Operatic; Behind the Scenes with the Pros; The Tornado Scientist

Thompson, Lisa. The Light Jar. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-21630-1. 240 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Nate and his mother escape in the middle of the night from his abusive stepfather Gary.  Due to an argument between his mother and grandmother, and because Gary would look for them at Nate’s grandmother’s house, Nate’s mom takes them to an old cottage of a friend. They hope they have found quiet refuge, but the cottage is in filthy condition and a bitterly cold climate. Just as Nate realizes this is nothing like what he’d hoped, his mother leaves to get them some much-needed food. And she doesn’t return. Fears old and new close in on Nate. Is he completely alone? Can he trust anyone? What if his mom has returned to Gary? Then Nate’s old friend Sam reappears. Seriously, he thought his imaginary friend was gone! How could he be such a baby? Nate wants to be brave, but Sam is comfortable, and it sure is nice to have someone to talk to. Then a young girl named Kitty appears, from the adjacent estate, and pulls him into a local treasure hunt unsolved by a girl who died years ago. Again, he’s torn. Companionship helps, but his fears are huge and his questions unanswered. As he helps Kitty and waits for his mom, Nate remembers his anger at how his own father left, how Gary seemed so nice, and how slowly he and his mom became subject to Gary’s anger and abuse.  The story concludes as Nate finds strength to survive and make hard decisions…and says goodbye to Sam and Kitty.

THOUGHTS: An unusual and well-meaning story, with uneven character development. Nate’s past seems real, but his present reality is marred by his own contradictory responses. In the early chapters he seems to be an 8 or 9-year old unaware of why his mom is leaving and why she is afraid, while a week later he seems to be the 12-year-old who fully understands the dynamics and is ready to forge ahead. The return of Nate’s mom, and his dad, the restoration of their relationship with his grandma, and amazingly, the vanishing of Gary make for a happy, if unbelievable, ending. Best for upper elementary.

Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Schroff, Laura, and Alex Tresniowski. An Invisible Thread. A Young Readers’ Edition. Simon & Schuster, 2019.  978-1-534-43727-2. 212 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.  

This title is the young reader’s edition of the 2011 An Invisible Thread. It details the early life of 11-year-old Maurice, essentially homeless in Manhattan in the mid-1980s, who often goes for days without food and must beg for change in hopes of a meal. He is always between temporary homes with his grandma, two sisters, mom (when not jailed for fighting), and a rotating group of up to a dozen family and friends. On the street one day, Laura Schroff, USA Today advertising executive, declines to give him money, then returns and offers to buy him lunch at McDonald’s. Maurice is grateful for a full stomach but wary when she offers to meet regularly on Mondays; he’s been taught that no one does something for nothing. Trust no one. His hunger wins out, and a friendship with Miss Laura begins. They meet regularly for four years, Maurice learning various life skills and Laura learning compassion and how to keep a promise. What Maurice says he loves the most is “the big table”–that is, Laura’s Thanksgiving family meal that goes on for two hours, with family talking and laughing. For the first time in his life, he makes a goal for the future: “Someday, when I grow up, I’m gonna have a big table like that for me and my family. And we’re all gonna sit around and talk and laugh just like your sister’s family does” (120). The story is told largely from the point of view of Maurice, with good results. Readers see his confusion about social expectations, his awe of huge meals, and his growing confidence as he takes in not only food but also helpful lessons all new to him.  

THOUGHTS: An inspiring and eye-opening tale for young people who may never have imagined a homeless life or what it takes to change one life. Perhaps the strongest message comes from Maurice’s teacher, when she meets Miss Laura at a parent-teacher night: “Children like Maurice are always disappointed. Every day someone else lets them down. I hope you realize that you can’t just come in and out of Maurice’s life. If you are going to be there for him, you have to really be there for him. You can’t just wake up one day and abandon this boy” (101). That message of resilience–in the face of need, lies, difficulties, or let-downs–is a necessary one for would-be helpers to hear. Recommended.

Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Schmidt, Gary. Pay Attention, Carter Jones. Clarion Books, 2019. 978-0-544-79085-8. 217 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.  

Carter Jones’ first day of sixth grade is memorable for the mayhem of his family–he and three younger sisters under the care of their overburdened mother. And it is memorable for the arrival of the butler–Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, former employee of their grandfather, willed to the family after his grandfather’s death. Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick drives a purple Bentley (dubbed “the Eggplant” by Carter) and preaches proper decorum while having an appropriate, timely solution for just about everything and remaining impeccably neat. The humor is palpable as he chafes at American slang, dress, food, and more. His arrival is perfectly timed, for Carter’s father is deployed to Afghanistan, and the family is struggling with a loss slowly revealed by Carter. As Carter rightfully struggles with anger and grief, the butler teaches him and his classmates cricket, which improbably becomes wildly popular at their school. The school is led by Principal Sweiteck–the novel is thus linked to Schmidt’s Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now. The butler also teaches Carter how to handle his overwhelming emotions–with proper decorum befitting a young man on either side of the pond.  

THOUGHTS: Gary Schmidt understands growing up and gets to the heart of how to do so in the midst of devastating pain. This fantastic novel will make many wish for a Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick of their own and is highly recommended for every middle school library.   

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Marshall, Barry, and Lorna Hendry. How to Win a Nobel Prize. Kane Miller, 2019. 978-1-610-67829-2. 178 p. $6.99. Grades 3-6.

Mary is an aspiring scientist who dreams of one day winning the Nobel Prize for something that she contributes to the world of science. As the tale begins, she is waiting to meet a real Nobel winner named Barry Marshall, but he is late, so she starts to snoop around. Somehow she stumbles into a room full of winners from across and space and time, and Mary bargains with the group to see their moments in history and gather advice from each member. What follows is a series of short, informative chapters which introduce discoveries and Nobel Prize winners familiar (Einstein, Curie, Fleming) with many unfamiliar voices. In fact, the travels wonderfully highlight the diversity and varied backgrounds and countries that the selected winners represent, including commentary about equal rights for women in their fields. The book also does a great job of taking concepts that are complex and explaining them into an understandable scientific terms. To assist, there is an activity associated with each chapter which allow for the readers to experiment, observe, and try it yourself. Extra notes and illustrations accompany each chapter and keep the tone and information appropriate for readers looking for an introduction to this unique world of world-changers!

THOUGHTS: As the author is himself a Nobel Prize winner and main character in the story, there is a sense of both relatability and authority to the nonfiction story. Though some subplots and patterns are inconsistent during the story, it is a fine example of how to merge fiction (science fiction time travel) in with nonfiction and biography. It could compare well with the Kid Series (Kid Athletes, Kid Scientists) by Quirk Books.

Science Fiction          Dustin Brackbill State College Area SD


Ursu, Anne. The Lost Girl. Walden Pond Press, 2019. 978-0-062-27509-7. 368 p. $16.99  Grades 4-7.

Twins Iris and Lark are “identical, but not the same.”  Practical, responsible Iris has always looked out for Lark, who has a big imagination but is introverted and a worrier. They’ve always been inseparable–until fifth grade, when they are placed in separate classrooms for the first time, and forced to join different after-school clubs as well. Both girls struggle. Lark does not like her teacher, who encourages her to participate when she would rather stay in the background. Iris feels bereft, and worries that Lark is falling apart without her. Meanwhile, things are going missing: everything from Lark’s favorite bracelet to a famous painting in a city museum. Iris is sure something is amiss, something she can’t quite name but that terrifies her all the same. As she starts spending more time in a local antique shop with a very peculiar owner, Iris finds herself drawn into a full-blown magical mystery. The sometimes-intrusive narrator’s identity is not revealed until the end of the novel.

THOUGHTS:  The Lost Girl is a beautifully written story, rooted in reality for the most part, but interwoven with hints of folk- and fairy-tales, and a fantastical ending. This is a complex, thought provoking novel that, among other things, offers a positive portrayal of different ways girls can be strong and powerful, and can give and ask for help. Highly recommended for middle school libraries.

Fantasy Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Miller, Kayla. Click. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2019. 978-1-328-70735-2. $24.99. Gr. 4-6.

Olive has the ability to be friends with everyone; she just naturally clicks! The 5th grade is going to be hosting their annual Variety Show which is great, except for the fact that not one specific person wants Olive to be in their act. Olive feels pulled in every direction and can’t see why she doesn’t have just one best friend or just one person who would want her in her group. How can she find her own place and her own person, rather than just being friends with everyone? It isn’t until she has a sleepover with her eccentric Aunt Molly that she finds a way to work with everyone…a way to make everything click!

THOUGHTS: The idea of finding that one special friend that you are best friends with can be hard, especially for someone who gets along with everyone! This story is told in a graphic novel format, allowing for an easy read for students, especially girls, who may be struggling to find their own clique in school.

Graphic Novel          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


Marciano, Johnny, and Emily Chenoweth. Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat. Book 1. Penguin Workshop. 2019. 978-1-524-78720-2. $14.99. Grades 4-8.

For an evil warlord cat, what could be worse than being banished to the worst possible place in the galaxy? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Which is exactly what happens to former Lord High Emperor Wyss-Kuzz. Thankfully, there is something that comes even sweeter after being banished… revenge! After being banished to Earth, Wyss-Kuzz decides to force his way into one of the ogre’s dwellings and create a device to return back to his home planet for his sweet revenge.

At the same time, Raj is bored. His family has just moved from New York City to the middle of nowhere. Not only that, his mother has signed him up for Survival Camp! When a green flash appears in the night and the doorbell rings, Raj is delighted to see a cat on his doorstep! After convincing his mom to let him keep the cat, Raj has no idea what he has let into his house or his new pet’s plan…until newly named Klawde begins to talk to him about his plans. Can Raj help Klawde return to his home planet? Or even more important, can Raj survive Survival Camp?

THOUGHTS: The first in a series, Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat holds a lot of inside jokes that older elementary and middle school students would greatly appreciate. The double-sided story of both Klawde and Raj are captivating, making the reader feel as though they are diving into two different worlds. The illustrations accompanying the story are funny yet allow readers to still their imaginations. A great story for reluctant readers that can continue as the series grows.

Adventure/Action/Fantasy           Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


Marciano, Johnny and Emily Chenoweth. Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat: Enemies. Book 2. Penguin Workshop. 2019. 978-1-5247-8722-6. $14.99. Grades 4-8.

After being sent back to Earth, Klawde is furious! Not only has he been sent back, but his number one loyal subject has taken his job and is now the ruler of his previous homeland! This is absolutely ludicrous. The only that that could be worse has happened; his number one enemy Ffang has been banished to Earth as well. It is up to Klawde to show Ffang who is the number one most evil ruler of them all.

Meanwhile, Raj is facing his own enemy. After starting school and really enjoying his new robotics class, his enemy from Brooklyn has joined him. How can Raj stay friends when Cameron seems to take them all away from him? Everyone things Cameron is so cool since his mom is a famous comic book writer. Raj decides to take a note from Klawde and perform sweet, sweet revenge…

 THOUGHTS: A great second book to the Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat series!  This books lets us dive further into real life and alien life trouble with two completely different characters. Readers will enjoy the growth and depth as they continue to read about Raj and Klawde.

Adventure/Action/Fantasy         Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


U.S. Government Behind the Scenes. Capstone Press, 2019. $26.49 ea. $105.96 set of 4 (hardcover). 64 p. Grades 6-8.

*Burgan, Michael. The Department of Justice. 978-0-7565-5903-8
Burgan, Michael. The Department of Energy. 978-0-7565-5900-7
Kenney, Karen Latchana. The Department of Homeland Security. 978-0-7565-5901-4
Rechner, Amy. The Department of Education. 978-0-7565-5902-1

This series takes readers on a behind the scenes tour of several government departments. The title I reviewed, The Department of Justice, does a wonderful job of explaining the role, function and make up of the justice department. The title includes pictures of current individuals in the government, a timeline, charts, and even a section on how kids can find lawmakers in their area and get involved. There is also a comprehensive bibliography and source notes which provide a perfect example of how to cite sources for students. 

THOUGHTS: This book will appeal to students who are interested in becoming involved in making change in our government. With easy to read chapters and valuable resources included, this title and series would be an upgrade to your government collection. The series would provide an in depth look into several government departments that have been in the news recently.

347.73 Civil Procedure & Courts          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Art Skills Lab. Crabtree Publishing, 2019. $8.95 ea. (paperback). 32 p. Grades 4-7.

* Ewasiuk, Sandee. Drawing Skills Lab. 978-0-7787-5234-9
Ewasiuk, Sandee. Mixed Media Skills Lab. 978-0-7787-5235-6
Ewasiuk, Sandee. Painting Skills Lab. 978-0-7787-5236-3
Hodgson, Sarah. Collage Skills Lab. 978-0-7787-5233-2
Hodgson, Sarah. Printmaking Skills Lab. 978-0-7787-5237-0
Yates, Jane. 3-D Art Skills Lab. 978-0-7787-5225-7

This series provides a hands-on approach to assist students in building their art repertoire. Each book provides techniques, tools, and skills that can be used to hone students’ skills in various mediums and methods of art. Each book provides tips, a “try this” section, and examples of different art pieces. Each title also provides inserts on famous artists and what they became famous for (including a picture of their work) that relates to the skill being presented. The projects allow readers a chance to apply the techniques discussed in each title to create their own amazing art. The titles in the series highlight various types of art from pencil and paper to 3D art.

THOUGHTS: This series is easy to read and full of excellent tips and strategies that can make anyone feel like an artist! The information regarding a skill can be found on a single spread in the title, making it easy to follow all directions and to be able to see the final product. This series is a valuable asset to any school looking to provide a positive experience when it comes to creating your own artwork.

741.2 Drawing          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Legendary Goddesses. Capstone Press, 2019. $21.49 ea. $85.96 set of 4 (hardcover). 32 p. Grades 3-9.

Gagne, Tammy. Aphrodite: Greek Goddess of Love and Beauty. 978-1-543-55451-9
* Gagne, Tammy. Hera: Queen of the Greek Gods. 978-1-5435-5453-3
Leavitt, Amie Jane. Persephone: Greek Goddess of the Underworld. 978-1-543-55454-0
Schwartz, Heather . Athena: Greek Goddess of Wisdom and War. 978-1-543-55452-6

Legendary Goddesses focuses on the women deities of Greek mythology. The series explores several well known goddesses and the stories that made them famous. Each title is divided into chapters with distinct focus on their powers and skills and how they played a role in history as well as modern culture. There is a glossary, a list of titles to read more about the goddesses, and internet sites related to the title provided through FactHound. The layout of the text is reader friendly with pictures and captions, challenging words with their definitions, and Goddess Facts. 

THOUGHTS: This series would be a welcome addition to a library collection that is Greek God heavy (Zeus, Poseidon, Ares, Apollo, etc.) and provide a look into the power and cunningness of the Greek Goddesses. There are little known facts and interesting stories about the goddesses that will leave readers impressed with the women of mythology.

292.2 Classical (Greek & Roman) Religion          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Maclear, Kyo. Illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler. Operatic, 2019. 978-1-554-98972-0. 160 p. $19.95  Grades 5-8.

Maclear’s spare text paired with Eggenschweiler’s lush, broadstroke monochromatic illustrations are the perfect vehicle to deliver a story exploring the perennial issues facing middle schoolers. Charlie, one of three Asian girls in her middle school, knows that you should always “look bored” (32) and never let anyone know you care about anything . . . or anyone. Yet, she’s fascinated by the enthusiasm of her music teacher, Mr. K., who challenges his students to find a song that speaks to their souls. When Mr. K. introduces the class to opera, Charlie is entranced, and decides to learn more about Maria Callas, a woman who was not satisfied to be quiet and stay in the shadows. Meanwhile, she’s also entranced by her crush, Emile . . . who can’t return her romantic feelings, but turns out to be just what she needs in a friend. Without being preachy or coming to simple, tidy conclusions, Maclear and Eggenschweiler show their characters wrestling with taking risks when it comes to standing out and reaching out. Separate storylines and time periods are indicated by color: yellow for the current, end-of-school springtime; blue for the previous fall; and red for Maria Callas’s biography as told by Charlie.

THOUGHTS:  This nuanced portrayal of the deep emotional lives of middle school students infused with music history (there’s more than opera here) will be a big hit with the intended audience. Highly recommended for middle school libraries; a solid purchase for high school libraries. 

Graphic Novel          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Behind the Scenes with the Pros. Capstone Press, 2019. $21.49 ea. $85.96 set of 4 (hardcover). 32 p. Grades 3-9.

Koehn, Rebecca. Behind the Scenes of Pro Football. 978-1-543-55525-0
Nicks, Erin. Behind the Scenes of Pro Hockey. 978-1-543-55426-7
Velasco, Catherine Ann. Behind the Scenes of Pro Baseball. 978-1-543-55427-4
*Velasco, Catherine Ann. Behind the Scenes of Pro Basketball. 978-1-543-55424-3

This series gives insight into the way a sport is run behind the scenes. Readers will learn how players train to keep their bodies healthy, how they recover after games, get endorsements, and how players are traded between teams. The text is easy to read, and each section is displayed on a two page spread. The challenging words are in boldface type and explained at the bottom of each page. The title has photographs of current players as well as intriguing fast facts. The series covers a variety of sports and uses FactHound to allow readers to access other websites related to the content of the book.

THOUGHTS: This series is great for kids who are interested in learning more about what goes into becoming a major league sports player. There is decent content connected to famous players to keep readers interested. Definitely for upper elementary to lower middle school even though it is for grades 3-9.

796.323 Basketball          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Carson, Mary Kay. The Tornado Scientist: Seeing Inside Severe Storms. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-0-544-96582-9. $18.99. 75 pg. Grades 4-6.

This narrative nonfiction title on storm hunting is sure to grab the attention of any student that has a passion for meteorology. The title chronicles the life of Robin Tanamachi and her passion for studying tornadoes and supercells across the nation. Broken into seven chapters that focus on topics from where tornadoes are prevalent to the science behind the formation, this title has it all. Each chapter supplies stunning photographs of tornadoes, damage caused by tornadoes, and the scientists in action. The text provides graphics to explain tornado devastation and is the perfect balance between science and storytelling. There is a detailed collection of words and acronyms storm chasers use which is helpful to decoding parts of the more “sciency” chapters. Links at the back of the title provide further information on tornado safety, the Vortex Southeast team, as well as Robin’s blog. 

THOUGHTS: For avid storm chasers, this title is a must! This book reads quickly and provides jaw dropping photographs of just how powerful a tornado can be. Will surely inspire students to want to know more!

551.55 Meteorology          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA – Thicker Than Water; The Sisterhood; White Rose; A Curse so Dark and Lonely; Parkland Speaks; With the Fire on High; Shout; Happy Messy Scary Love; Aurora Rising; Cicada; That Night

Deen, Natasha. Thicker Than Water. Orca, 2009. 978-1-459-82198-9. 128 p. $9.95. Grades 7-12.

Zack is an aspiring criminologist, so the recent disappearance of his friend Ella has him searching for answers. He’s keeping it secret that they had a disagreement that day, and worse, that after they parted, he saw Ella meet with his dad (their school guidance counselor) and get into his dad’s SUV. His dad hasn’t spoken a word, and Zack worries and imagines the worst, trying to piece together the truth while protecting himself and his dad. Zack’s friend Ayo Mohammad repeatedly offers logical perspective, and reminds Zack of his all-too-frequent over-reacting, likely due to crime show binging. Zack is on to something, but it isn’t what he thinks, and he needs a wake-up call in order to set things right. Ayo stands out as a solid friend and necessary voice of reason.

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the Orca Soundings series, this is a realistic story written at 3rd-4th grade level for young adult readers and worth considering for reluctant readers.

Mystery          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Grainger, A.J. The Sisterhood. Simon & Schuster, 2019. 978-1-481-42906-1. 298 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.  

Sixteen-year-old Welsh teenager Lil has withdrawn since the disappearance of her older sister, Mella, four months ago. She devotes most of her time to updating a blog about Mella, questioning her police officer aunt about the case, watching her single mom deteriorate, and having detailed conversations in her head with Mella. While biking one day as a terrible storm approaches, she stumbles upon a young woman who is unconscious and injured in the road. “Alice” is fearful and willing to run if Lil involves authorities, and Lil becomes determined to not let Alice down the way she feels she’s let her sister down. Lil takes Alice home, and she and friend Kiran debate the girl’s odd speech, intense fear, and slow reveal of the Sisterhood, led by the charismatic Moon. Soon it becomes clear that Mella is involved in the dangerous cult, and Lil must walk a fine line between exposing Alice and losing her sister. Lil’s devotion to her clearly difficult sister shows how a strong personality can mold and rule a family; Mella consistently turns the spotlight on herself, erupts in tantrums, and lately, vanishes at will. The secluded atmosphere lends itself to the story, though readers may wish for more details on the cult’s inner workings. Told largely from Lil’s perspective, the novel benefits from occasional slips into Mella’s mind, as well as frequent inside views of Moon and the Sisterhood.

THOUGHTS: This book will find an audience among those who find cults fascinating.

Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Wilson, Kip. White Rose. Versify, 2019. 978-1-328-59443-3. 358 p. $17.99 Grades 5-12.

Sophie Scholl was one of five siblings in a strong, close-knit family who watched as Hitler rose to power in Germany. This novel in verse gives Sophie a strong voice, showing her early teenage years as she and brother Hans were enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth. Their enthusiasm waned, then vanished, as they witnessed increasing restrictions and discrimination. Years passed and as university students in Munich, Sophie and her brother Hans and some like-minded students began the White Rose society, dedicated to spreading anti-Nazi messages. Hans wrote content for the leaflets, and Sophie found duplicating machines and all members found ways to distribute the leaflets. Such treasonous activity as free speech was punishable by death, a fate that she and Hans and friend Christoph Probst met in February 1943 (three other White Rose members were arrested, tried, and killed later the same year). Told primarily from Sophie’s perspective, the novel is strengthened by letters from Hans, boyfriend Fritz’s thoughts, and the clinical coldness of Robert Mohr, Gestapo investigator who tracked down their illegal activity. This book effectively shows Sophie’s steadfast and tenacious desire to make a difference, and her realization that simply remaining silent was akin to endorsement of Nazi beliefs.  

THOUGHTS: This is a suspenseful, powerful novel made richer for the paucity of words per page. Wilson illuminates the steel in Sophie’s mind and soul; her story should be should be widely read and remembered. Recommended for all middle and high school libraries.

Historical Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Kemmerer, Brigid. A Curse So Dark and Lonely. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19508-7. $18.99. 477 p. Gr. 8 and up.

Harper’s mother is dying of cancer, and her brother is in trouble with some loan sharks, but these are conflicts only revealed in the opening chapter of this Beauty and the Beast retelling. Life then gets even more complicated for Harper when she is swept from Washington, DC into a parallel fantasy universe, the kingdom of Emberfall. As in the original fairytale, Prince Rhen, heir to the throne, is cursed by an enchantress, a curse that can only be broken by falling in mutual love. Prince Rhen’s beast form only manifests each autumn though, making it seemingly easier to fall in love with him. However, also in a similar fashion to the original, Harper’s worry for her ailing family prevents her from fully committing to life in Emberfall. Likewise, politics and threats from neighboring kingdoms prevent Prince Rhen from wholly throwing himself into wooing Harper to break the curse, not to mention appearances by the enchantress Lilith who cast the curse, Rhen’s handsome and loyal Guard Commander Grey, and Harper’s cerebral palsy. Despite all the hurdles Harper and Prince Rhen face, the struggling kingdom of Emberfall and its people unite them with a common cause that propels this story, which is told in alternating points of view from Harper to Rhen. Harper’s cerebral palsy is almost never mentioned after the opening chapters, which was intentional on the part of the author to prove a point, though sometimes it simply feels forgotten. Regardless, Harper’s character is definitely strong and likable, and the friendships she forges with the people of Emberfall are a bright spot in the slower mid-plot before the book becomes unputdownable in the final 100 pages.

THOUGHTS: Far more violent than the Disney version and with its own very original plot, this fairytale retelling will be enjoyable for fans of both YA speculative AND contemporary fiction as the characters hail from both worlds.

Fantasy (Fairytale)          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area High School


Lerner, Sarah, editor. Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-84999-1. 192 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.   

This collection of poems, photos, essays, and journal entries by students that survived the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida will leave you feeling ripped apart and connected to each student at the same time. The anthology features a scrapbook like feel with handwritten entries, scraps of paper seemingly taped onto the page, as well as both student artwork and photographs. Although some entries are short with little detail, others vividly account what was experienced that day. There are several themes prevalent throughout their poems, stories, and speeches that will resonate with every reader. They include facing grief from the tragic loss of 17 Eagles, anger with the government for change not occurring fast enough, and betrayal that another school shooting resulted in the loss of life. Readers will also find messages of hope, love, and strength threaded throughout their first hand accounts. This book may be difficult for certain individuals who may struggle with the fear and uncertainty that follows a school shooting.

THOUGHTS: The handwritten pieces and images in the text allow you to feel connected to each student who survived the horrific events at MSD High School. The book allows all readers to reflect on the importance of protecting those you love and inspires us to work toward instituting change in our schools to make them safe places for learning.

371.1, Teachers & Teaching          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Acevedo, Elizabeth. With the Fire on High. HarperTeen, 2019. 978-0-062-66283-5. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Emoni Santiago loves to cook.  She has a natural connection with spices and flavors that evokes emotion, not just a good taste. Raised by her ‘Buela after her mother’s death and father’s return to Puerto Rico, Emoni has learned to use her passion for food in good times and bad. With her senior year looming and her future not far away, Emoni enrolls in Culinary Arts; it seems like an easy-A, but she soon learns that although she is a natural in the kitchen, she has a lot to learn. Meanwhile, Emoni’s structure begins to unroll with the entrance of new student, Malachi Johnson. With a smile that melts, Emoni’s rule of no dating is challenged. But Emoni has more than just herself to consider; she has her daughter, Emma (Baby Girl), too. On top of it all, Culinary Arts includes an immersion trip to Sevilla, Spain, over spring break. There, Emoni is challenged to find her way while remaining true to her own desires.

THOUGHTS: With the Fire on High shares present day struggles for many students through a universal topic: food. Acevedo takes the familiar and weaves an individual story of wants, desires, and the here-and-now. She looks at the struggles faced by many but does not dwell on any of the struggles. Instead, she gives realistic hope to readers through Emoni and an understanding that each choice one makes connects to their overall story, and one choice does not define a person. This novel is a wonderful addition to high school collections.

As a side-note, I did not love With the Fire on High like I did The Poet X.  Although I greatly enjoyed Fire, Poet X evoked emotions from me that I hadn’t felt in a while. I deeply connected with Xiomara, but not so much with Emoni, although I liked her story. I would have liked Acevedo to delve deeper into the social issues she skims in Fire.  I guess I wanted more.

As a second side-note, I love Acevedo’s audio recordings. The fact that she reads her work adds a layer of intimacy with the text and the characters that reading the words doesn’t give. I hope she continues to read her novels in the future.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elizabeth Acevedo has a hard act to follow:  herself. The Poet X, her debut novel, won an almost impossible trifecta of awards (The Printz Award, the National Book Award For Young People, and the Carnegie Medal).  However, her new release, With The Fire on High, does not disappoint. African-Latina-American Emoni is a senior in a Philadelphia charter high school and the mother of a two-year-old girl, Emma (“Babygirl”), whom she is raising with the help of her Abuela. Babygirl’s father, Tyrone, is a better parent then ex-boyfriend, and Emoni is slow to trust when a boy in her culinary arts class, Malachi, seems too good to be true. Becoming a chef is fiery, fierce Emoni’s dream . . . but she’s not sure what dreams are in her reach. Emoni’s struggles with parenting, families, relationships, school, college applications, and trying to decide what’s best for both her and her daughter’s futures are realistically portrayed in this fast-paced novel with short, snappy chapters. Recipes with more of a literary than culinary purpose are included, but they might work for bold-spirited cooks willing to interpret ambiguous and playful directions.

THOUGHTS: Vivid prose, well developed characters (including Emoni’s best friend, Angelica, who is a lesbian), and a narrative that includes but does not center on romance will have teen readers eating up this book. Highly recommended. 

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

This book made me hungry for Emoni to find success in her life. Despite having multiple roadblocks (becoming a mom as a teen, working while going to school, living with her grandmother who is nursing an injury), she finds a way to constantly strive for what’s best for herself and her daughter. She knows what she wants out of life, and that is to be a chef. She is even in a culinary arts class at school with the possibility of a week long apprenticeship in Spain, not that she can afford it. There is a truth to the balance of Emoni’s struggles at school, at home, and at work all while raising a three-year-old and navigating the balance of an amicable relationship with her daughter’s father and his family. 

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the urban fiction cannon that should be on a high school shelves. Emoni’s positive outlook in a less than desirable environment will motivate the less than inspired students. The addition of recipes and creative descriptions of the food she makes will make the readers hungry for more.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Anderson, Laurie Halse. Shout: A Poetry Memoir. Viking, 2019. 978-0-670-01210-7. 291 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up

Laurie Halse Anderson’s memoir of growing up in a shattered family and surviving a sexual assault at the age of thirteen is heart-wrenching and beautiful. Her father, a World War II veteran, suffered from memories of death and destruction during the war. Her mother, shattered from miscarriage after miscarriage of sons and abuse from her husband, tried to repair the torn family and be the “proper” pastor’s wife. Laurie and her sister were born out of heartache and desire. A desire for something more; a desire to move beyond the past into the present and future, but the past is hard to escape. As the daughter of a pastor, Laurie learned to accept what she had and developed a creativity that helped her through her days. Sharing her torn family life, she sheds light on situations often left undiscussed. As she moves from her shattered family, to her rape and then into her time in Denmark where she saw a family structure different from her own, Anderson highlights the hope within darkness. In Part II of Shout, she looks at the impact of her writing and her school visits. She addresses the censorship she has dealt with along with the numerous stories of assaults shared with her by students. Shout is a beautifully written memoir-in-verse that proves life and hope can grow from tragedy and hardship.  

THOUGHTS: Anderson once again delivers an emotional story of survival. Much like her novels, Shout forces readers to examine what they know (or think they know), and then face reality head on. She does not sugar coat the abuse and hardships of her family or glaze over her own rape at thirteen. Anderson’s overt style, without being in-your-face and vulgar, is breath-taking and much appreciated. This is a must have for all high school collections.

811 Poetry or 92 Memoir          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Written in free verse, Anderson delivers her own story in a powerful memoir. Shout has clear parallels with her first novel, Speak which make reading Anderson’s story that much more painful. She chose to tell her story beginning with an act of assault that she has had to live with, and the rest of the book is the journey Anderson takes to heal. She is fierce and effective at getting her point across in the current climate of our world.

THOUGHTS: This memoir should be required reading for all high school students and staff. It belongs on the shelf of every high school library to allow those who are victims an opportunity to heal and those who are lucky enough not to have been abused or assaulted a glance into the mind of someone who has and survived.  

Memoir          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Konen, Leah. Happy Messy Scary Love. Abrams, 2019. 978-1-419-73489-2. $18.99. 336 p. Gr. 7 and up.

Olivia Knight dreams of attending film school, but procrastinating on writing her horror screenplay is not helping her attain that dream. She’s failed to get into an NYU summer writing program and now must spend her summer in the Catskill Mountains with her parents while her friends have their dream summers. To pass time through her writer’s block, Olivia watches lots of horror films on Netflix and messages Elm, another horror film addict she meets on a discussion board where she goes by the name “Carrie” – after her favorite film, of course. When Elm suggests they exchange photos, self-conscious Olivia panics, especially when he sends his picture, and he’s cute! Assuming they’ll never meet in person anyway, since she’s from Brooklyn and he lives in North Carolina, Olivia sends back a selfie of her best friend Katie who is the traditional definition of attractive. Awkwardness averted… at least until Olivia shows up to her summer part time job in the Catskills to find Elm is working there as well. Though she wants to tell him the truth, the thought of trying to explain herself is more horrifying than her favorite films. As she admits, “Being close to people, being honest with them, not being afraid to fail – that’s the scariest thing of all.” So as Olivia and Elm’s real-life relationship develops, “Carrie” must also maintain their online relationship, all while trying to finish her screenplay and navigate a summer job for which she feels ill-equipped. Some surprises along the way create a Shakespearean comedy-like plot while exploring relevant and important themes for high schoolers such as body image, self-worth, breaking out of one’s comfort zone, and friendship.

THOUGHTS: A delightful summer read, this book will be fun for hardcore horror fans, but it’s not so full of jargon or allusions that non-fans can’t enjoy it.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Kaufman, Amie, and Jay Kristoff.  Aurora Rising. Alfred Knopf, 2019. 978-1-524-72096-4. 480 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up. 

Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have squarely secured their place as scions of young adult science fiction. Their sophomore series, The Aurora Cycle, like the Illuminae Files, propels readers once again into a wild conspiracy featuring a scrappy crew of space cadets, shadowy overlords, a girl who shouldn’t exist, and an intricate spider web of a plot. The crew’s leader is golden boy Tyler Jones, the highest ranked Alpha at Aurora Academy, who is primed to hand-pick his squad from the best of the best. His plan goes completely awry, however, when he discovers not only a generation ship thought to be lost two centuries earlier, but also a surviving passenger – Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley. Now Ty is saddled with a squad he had no say in – though fortunately for him, his twin sister, Scarlett, and his best friend, Cat, both choose loyalty to Ty over ambition – and a girl two centuries old who is much more than she seems. When Ty’s team is sent on their first humanitarian mission, it goes completely wrong, and sets off a chain of events that leave the squad questioning everything they thought they knew about their world, and running from the highest authorities in the galaxy, authorities who are determined to eliminate Ty’s crew, and capture Auri for their own nefarious purposes. Kaufman and Kristoff’s plot is twisty, complex, and fun as all get out. The story is told from multiple perspectives – not an easy feat, given there are seven unique characters – and crew members narrates their own chapter, in their own voice, with their own personalities shining through. This is a page-turning romp through space that will leave readers clamoring for book two.

THOUGHTS: While all of the characters are well-developed, Zila, the crew’s scientist, provides the most interesting perspective – she struggles mightily in social situations and has an underdeveloped sense of empathy, making it almost impossible for her to gauge and understand human emotions and motivations. Her chapters are often very short, very funny, and very poignant.

Science Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Tan, Shaun. Cicada. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019. 978-1-338-29839-0. Unpaged. $19.99. Gr. 6 and up.

For seventeen years, Cicada has worked in an office where it is mistreated and ignored. Although Cicada works harder than the humans, it cannot use a bathroom in the building (it must go downtown for a bathroom). It cannot afford rent, so it lives at the office. It does not receive any benefits or resources like the humans and is verbally and physically abused by the humans regularly. When Cicada decides to retire, it leaves without fanfare and goes into the unknown; it has no home, no money, and now, no job. At the top of the tall office building, Cicada stands at the edge. Has Cicada’s journey come to an end, or is it just beginning?

Tan’s illustrations are breathtaking. Using oil on canvas and paper, he creates a world of gray for Cicada. The illustrations enhance the abuse and mistreatment faced by Cicada. They evoke emotion from the reader as they intensify the symbolism of Cicada and its dismal life.  

THOUGHTS: Cicada is a timely (2019 is the year of cicada) look into mistreatment and cruelty. By addressing mistreatment, it highlights the spiral of cruelty beyond work into one’s home and personal lives. This YA picture book forces readers to consider social injustices and, through symbolism, dive deeper into the impact of society and how people are treated by governments, economics, and one another. As a minimalist picture book, it is an impactful case study for English and social studies courses into symbolism, human interaction, social justice, law and policy, mental health, discrimination, and more.  Highly recommended for all middle school and high school collections.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Balog, Cyn. That Night. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-67904-2. 320 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up. 

One year ago Hailey’s boyfriend Declan ended his life, and she has lived in a fog ever since. A stay in rehab only blurred her memories of the weeks surrounding Declan’s death. One thing is certain in her mind, though, Hailey knows Declan never would have killed himself. All she wants is to remember. It is Declan’s step-brother Kane, who has been Hailey’s best friend forever, that helps her begin to remember the last year. Kane and Hailey have a complicated relationship, but with the help of a box of Declan’s things, Hailey begins to remember the past as she tries to move on. She can’t understand why Kane’s on again of again girlfriend (and Hailey’s former best friend) won’t even look at her. As she tries to puzzle through her memories, this fast-paced mystery flashes between Hailey’s present grief and the year leading up to Declan’s death. The answers might not be exactly what Hailey was looking for, though.

THOUGHTS: Thriller fans will devour this unpredictable read. Recommended for high schools where mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA FIC – See All the Stars; The Opposite of Innocent; Meet the Sky; And She Was; The Belles; Spinning Silver; Driving by Starlight; Mapping the Bones; Spill Zone: The Broken Vow; The Broken Girls; Fragments of the Lost; My Real Name is Hanna; Jazz Owls

Frick, Kit. See All the Stars. McElderry Books, 2018. 978-1-534-40437-3. 320 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

THEN it’s the summer before junior year, and Ellory has everything going for her – three best friends who are her whole universe, a boy she meets and starts to falls for, and plans for her future.

NOW it’s the star of senior year, and Ellory’s world has imploded because of secrets. Following an extended suspension (reason unknown), she has to start over all alone back at Pine Brook High School. Outcast and feared by most, Ellory walks the halls and suffers through classes while wrecked with guilt over everything she’s lost.

Told in alternating time periods, readers will piece together the destruction of Ellory’s life as she knew it.

THOUGHTS: The mystery of Ellory’s junior year definitely will encourage readers to devour this book. Give See All the Stars to fans of realistic mysteries and fans of multi- or unreliable narrators like We Were Liars! PS – It’s also locally set on the West Shore of South Central, PA!

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Sones, Sonya. The Opposite of Innocent. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-0-062-37031-0. 272 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Lily has grown a lot since Luke left two years ago, and her childhood crush has deepened. Though Luke is older, he is perfection in Lily’s eyes. When Luke moves in with Lily’s family until he gets on his feet, she feels like the stars have aligned. Her friends don’t understand her crush on an older guy and are distracted by more age appropriate love interests.

As Lily spends more time alone with Luke, she knows their love is real. Even if they can’t be seen on a date in public, Lily dreams of one day. At first the secrecy is exciting. Eventually Lily catches up to her friends’ opinions and questions Luke’s intentions, but it may be too late to save herself from heartbreak.

THOUGHTS: A must-read for fans of dark romances, readers are drawn into this intense, page-turning verse novel. Mature relationships and underage drinking make this most suitable to high school readers.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Hoyle, McCall. Meet the Sky. Blink, 2018. 978-0-310-76570-7. 256 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

There’s no doubt that Sophie is a hard worker. She’s a good student, and she does everything she can to ease the pressures at home. Ever since the accident that destroyed her family, Sophie has put her dreams – her life – on hold to take care of her sister and help their mom run the family business, caring for the animals.

When Finn Sanders returns to town, Sophie knows there’s no way she’ll let him get close to her again. Finn doesn’t seem to understand why Sophie is so annoyed with him. Unbeknownst to Sophie, Finn has experienced hardships of his own. In the chaos of of mandatory evacuation, Sophie is separated from her family and becomes trapped on the island with Finn. They must work together in order to survive, but personalities will clash as they struggle to beat the storm.

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Sophie and Finn as they race through the roaring storm, desperately trying to survive. The intensity of the storm mirrors the emotions both characters face as they come to terms with their situation and the past years of their lives. This character driven novel is great choice for any middle or high school library.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Verdi, Jessica. And She Was. Scholastic, 2018. 978-1-338-15053-7. 361 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

When her mom casually dismisses Dara’s shot at achieving her dreams by providing a copy of Dara’s birth certificate, she questions why and takes matters into her own hands. Her mind reveling at the what ifs, Dara doesn’t expect confronting her mom will lead her to discover that her whole life is built on lie, or that the one person who has been there for everything isn’t who she thought. When faced with a copy of her daughter’s birth certificate and two unfamiliar names listed as parents, Dara’s mom Mellie finally reveals she is transgender. Outraged at being kept in the dark, Dara gets what little information she can about her birth mother’s family and sets off on a road trip with neighbor and best friend Sam to learn about from where she comes. As Dara gets closer to meeting her extended family, Mellie shares details of her story – their story – with Dara in a series of emails. Not yet ready to forgive Mellie’s betrayal, Dara goes against her wishes to discover the life she could have lived. As Dara learns more about her family and her mom, she has the opportunity to make her own decision about what path her life will take. Mellie’s reasoning will be obvious to readers before Dara, but for the first time in her life the ball is in Dara’s court.

THOUGHTS: Mellie’s story of transitioning is raw and honest and sheds some light onto an area of YA lit that is growing. Trigger warning: Mellie has her reasons for shielding herself and Dara from the extended family; their conservative viewpoints are quite obvious and sometimes extremely offensive/insensitive. And She Was will be an excellent addition for high schools looking to diversify or expand their LGBTQ+ collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Deracine, Anat. Driving by Starlight. New York: Godwin Books, 2018. 978-1-250-13342-7. 280 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Meet Leena and Mishail, teenage girls living in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia; best friends who have an “us against the world” mentality, and whose relationship is the driving force behind Anat Deracine’s debut, Driving by Starlight. Leena and Mishail feel the burden of being a woman in Riyadh, where so many things are haraam – forbidden – and where a woman can’t do anything without the permission or escort of a male guardian, leaving the two girls to plot small rebellions in order to push back against these unjust laws. Both girls are in precarious positions socially and politically – Leena’s father is in prison for leading an insurgency against the government and its harsh laws against women, leaving her and her mother to fend for themselves; and Mishail’s father is Minister of the Interior, meaning there is no room for rule breaking in her household, as it could jeopardize her father’s place in the government. The two are inseparable, insisting, over and over, that “nothing they do can touch us.”  Their bonds of friendship are put to the test, however, with the addition of a new girl, Daria, to their class – Daria, who is half American, who has lived in New York, who has kissed boys, and who fans the sparks of Mishail’s rebelliousness into flames. And when Leena snags the attention of the boy Mishail’s crushing on – a boy who admires Leena’s father, and is determined to continue his work – it sends them spiraling further and further apart. While some of the Saudi Arabian laws and terms are hastily explained, it doesn’t get in the way of what’s at the heart of this story: the bonds of women, and the power of female unity. Although the culture, laws, and customs may be unfamiliar to Western readers, the love, angst, fear, rage, and helplessness that accompany female friendships will resonate with all readers.

THOUGHTS: This book wonderfully highlights Saudi culture and customs, and readers will come away with a better understanding of what life is truly like for the women who live there. A worthy addition to all middle and high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Clayton, Dhonielle. The Belles. New York: Freeform, 2018. 978-1-484-72849-9. 448 p. $17.99. Gr. 8-12.

Camille Beauregard and her sisters have been raised as Belles, powerful beings who have the ability to manipulate beauty and save their fellow citizens “from a life of unbearable sameness” (12). At her debut, Camille wows the crowd and the royal family with her creativity and poise, but is disappointed when her sister is picked as the Queen’s favorite, securing the coveted role of royal Belle. Camille begins working in a tea shop transforming local patrons, but a mysterious change in circumstances soon brings Camille to the palace. Under the tutelage of the Princess, Camille’s powers are tested – as is her loyalty to the crown. As time passes, Camille begins to see dark undertakings in the castle and questions her role as Belle. But being a Belle is all she knows, and Camille must confront the evasive history of the Belles in order to move forward.

THOUGHTS: Clayton does an excellent job of weaving class, race, and gender politics into her story and allowing readers to reflect on our own beauty obsessed world. This is an enthralling, unique fantasy with rich characters and vivid world-building. Perfect for fans of the Uglies series.

Fantasy          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

The citizens of Orleans revere beauty, but they are all cursed with gray skin, red eyes, and hair like straw. Only the Belles, the blessed descendants of the Goddess of Beauty herself, have the ability to help them achieve the glamorous appearances they crave. Camille is part of the latest generation of Belles, well trained in the art and science of transformation. She is excited to be called to the kingdom with her sisters to learn which one of them will be chosen the favorite: the Belle who will serve the royal family and the courtiers of Orleans. The Belles themselves are all beautiful, but in different ways; they have various skin, hair, and eye colors. But Camille and her sisters soon learn there is a dark underside to the world of Orleans, and the glamorous life they long imagined for themselves is not at all their new reality. Separated from each other and unable to access reliable information, all of the Belles struggle to make sense of the world they find themselves in, a world nothing like the one they have been preparing and planning for. Camille is physically exhausted by the demands made on her, and tormented by the moral dilemmas she faces when the horrid Princess Sophia orders her to do things she finds increasingly unconscionable. The ending is satisfying, but will leave the reader eager for the next installment.

THOUGHTS: This is a fast-paced, fun, and yet thought-provoking read. Orleans is reminiscent of The Capitol in The Hunger Games, with its emphasis on outrageous fashion. There is much to dissect here concerning the value of beauty and the dangers of objectifying the human body, especially women’s bodies. The fact that the book features a gorgeous dark-skinned girl on the cover, and includes descriptions of various skin colors as beautiful, is also an important positive aspect.  Highly recommended for high school libraries and for middle school libraries seeking fiction with appeal to older readers.

Dystopian; Fantasy          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Novik, Naomi. Spinning Silver. New York: Del Rey, 2018. 978-0399180989. 480p. $28.00. Gr.  9 and up.

Naomi Novik takes us on a journey of female empowerment and collaboration, magic and mayhem, in her newest novel, Spinning Silver, loosely based on the fairytale, Rumpelstiltskin. Meet Miryem, Wanda, and Irena – three very different women from very different backgrounds, but whose stories twist and intertwine, as they each battle their own particular demons. Miryem, a Jewish moneylender (two marks against her, as far as her neighbors are concerned), who is exceedingly good at her job; her demon comes in the form of the Staryk king, a beautiful, cold – figuratively and literally – fey creature obsessed with obtaining gold at all costs. When he takes Miryem for his wife against her will, after she succeeds in turning Staryk silver into gold, she must use all of her wit and cunning to not only survive, save her family and the rest of the villagers from a perpetual winter. Wanda lives with her demon of a father, a brutal drunkard who find any excuse to beat and berate Wanda. When she becomes a servant in Miryem’s household, she allows herself to visualize a life for herself and her two brothers beyond her father’s clutches. Irena, invisible daughter of a duke, who has little to recommend herself to members of the opposite sex (at least, according to her father), unexpectedly becomes Tsarina, when Mirnatius, the spoiled and entitled Tsar, insists on marrying her; however, he is quite literally a demon, or at least is possessed by one – a fire demon, determined to devour Irena, who carries Staryk blood in her veins. She, too, must fight for her life, and after a chance meeting, she and Miryem become accomplices, combining the powers of their intellect and sheer lust for life, to concoct a plan to conquer Mirnatius and the Staryk king. This is a breathless, epic tale, showcasing exactly what a woman is capable of when you threaten her, and the people she loves. All three protagonists are exceedingly well-rounded, each with a unique voice and perspective, and each given a chance to shine. Particularly captivating is the shift in Wanda’s relationship with her two brothers – initially cold and distant, and then, after her eldest brother, Sergey, runs afoul of the Staryk and almost dies, blindingly loving – and, in turn, their connection to their deceased mother, who seems to live on in as a white tree in their yard.  Fans of Novik’s Uprooted will not be disappointed with this second fairytale retelling.

THOUGHTS: While this is an adult novel, all of the female protagonists are around eighteen years old, and will resonate strongly with young readers. These are smart, capable women who use all of the resources at their disposal to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles – they’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Fantasy          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Yolen, Jane. Mapping the Bones. New York: Philomel Books, 2018. 978-0-399-25778-0. 417 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Survival and family are at the forefront of Jane Yolen’s Mapping the Bones, a Holocaust story loosely based on Hansel and Gretel. Twins Gittel and Chaim, and their parents, have been relatively lucky so far; they have a fairly spacious apartment all to themselves in Lodz, the Polish ghetto they’re living in, they’ve managed to stay fed, and while there’s always danger lurking in the form of Nazi soldiers, they all know how to keep a low profile. Then the Norenberg’s come to stay with them – a German-Jewish family, who are not used to dealing with any hardship – and all of their lives are changed forever, as the fates of both families are inextricably entwined. The story takes place in three central locations, and the action is divided up accordingly: in the ghetto; on the run in Bialowieza Forest; and at Sobanek, a labor camp for Jewish youth. At the heart of everything are Chaim and Gittel; they are two sides of the same coin, and have a deep-rooted connection that began in the womb. Chaim does not speak – he limits himself to five words at a time, except when he’s writing, or reciting, his poetry; poetry is his life blood, and for him, it is his duty as a witness to the horrors of war to write, and write, and write. Gittel is their spokeswoman – she is infinitely adaptable, personable, and clever, and because she narrates half of the chapters (they’re titled “Gittel Remembers”), we know that at least she survives. Nothing about this story is easy – because we see everything through Chaim’s lyrical lens, life (and death) in the ghetto and at Sobanek is painted in vivid, often brutal, detail; the conclusion of the book is especially gruesome. While Chaim and Gittel are phenomenally fleshed out, the supporting characters are less so, and many of them come off as one-dimensional.  This is particularly true in the case of Sophie and Bruno Norenberg; we never really get to know Sophie, though she seems innocuous enough, but Bruno is the quintessential spoiled brat – greedy, selfish, and weak-minded, it’s easy to dismiss him as a coward and a villain. Except that we need to remember that he’s just a 12 year old boy, thrust into the most horrific situation imaginable, with absolutely no adult guidance. As readers, let’s save our ire for those who truly deserve it. Despite this, Mapping the Bones is an honest, compelling, and, at times, hopeful take on the Holocaust told by a master storyteller.

THOUGHTS: This book is categorized as juvenile fiction, but because of its often graphic portrayal of violence, and Yolen’s mature and complex language, this is better suited for older adolescent readers.

Historical Fiction (Holocaust)          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Westerfeld, Scott. Spill Zone: The Broken Vow. Illustrated by Alex Puvilland.  First Second Books, 2018. 231 p. 978-1-626-72150-0. $22.99. Grades 7-12. (Series: Spill Zone, #2)

Three years ago, Addison’s world changed when another world mysteriously and powerfully entered ours; it killed her parents and left her younger sister Lexa unable to speak. Addison supported herself and Lexa by photographing inside the off-limits Spill Zone that Poughskeepie has become, trying hard to think only of the effort to live, and not to dwell on the nightmarish creatures and images stamped on her mind from her encounters. Book 1 brought Addison her big break: an art collector willing to pay her for not only her photographs but also for retrieving a unique object from the Spill Zone. Addison daringly accomplishes the task, but she has been left changed. No one can explain to her what has happened, until a North Korean agent, Don Jae, recognizes in her the same changes he has encountered in himself and in his country. Their zone is dead, but this zone is alive–and about to make an audacious move. Will Addison and Don Jae make the right decisions to help their world, or simply invite more terror? Meanwhile, Addison and Lexa struggle to come to terms with Lexa’s doll, which has its own power over Lexa since the Spill–but why? Westerfeld (sci-fi creator of Uglies and Leviathan and more) has created a horrifically twisted world where humans and hope still live. Puvilland’s art enhances this striking and fearful tale.

THOUGHTS: For anyone interested in science fiction and graphic art.  With volume 1, this duo is a must-have in either genre.

741.5 Graphic Novel, Dystopian          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


St. James, Simone. The Broken Girls. Berkley, 2018. 326 p. 978-0451-47620-3 $26.00  Grades 9-12.

Idlewild Hall in Vermont.  In 1950, it was where unwanted, troubled, or troublesome girls were sent, where embarrassment and illegitimacy could be hidden.  Visitors were few, teachers were strict (and mostly uncaring), and the rumors of the ghost Mary Hand were prevalent. If you were at Idlewild for very long, Mary Hand would visit you, and you would remember. This is where four classmates, out of necessity, share with each other the turmoil that brought them to Idlewild, and forge a friendship that is stronger than this awful place–or do they?  Then one of them disappears. She’s officially listed as a runaway, but her three friends know something different.

Vermont 2014, Fiona Sheridan writes fluffy freelance pieces for small-time newspapers.  It’s nothing at all like the in-depth reporting her world-renowned father, Malcolm Sheridan, has accomplished.  His name still brings awe to those in the industry. But Malcolm, like Fiona, has changed in the twenty years since his daughter Deb was murdered, her body found near Idlewild Hall. Deb’s boyfriend was convicted of the murder, but doubts still linger in Fiona’s mind. Something still feels wrong. Now, Fiona hears of an investor attempting to restore Idlewild Hall–crumbling buildings and ghostly stories be damned–and she decides to write a story about it. But who is this investor, and why Idlewild, why now? St. James tells her story from multiple perspectives: each of the four girls in 1950, and Fiona in 2014. The result is an insightful and appropriately suspenseful story linking the past to the present.

THOUGHTS: A clever crossover novel that will appeal to YA and adult audiences. St. James successfully mixes modern suspense, gothic horror, and shameful history into a page-turner with believable characters and an ending clever enough to match the journey. Not to be missed by any gothic or suspense fan.

Mystery, Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Miranda, Megan. Fragments of the Lost. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018.  369 p. 978-0399-55672-2 $17.99 Grades 7-12.

Jessa Whitworth feels completely awkward and fully grief-laden in her ex-boyfriend’s room, three months after their breakup, and two months after his death. But Caleb’s family is moving, and his mother insists that Jessa clean it out, saying it’s too painful for her, and that the room is full of Jessa, anyway. Since Jessa feels the blame from most of the community for his death (why did he go to her track meet the night he died? If he hadn’t, maybe he wouldn’t have crashed into the river….), she feels this could be a sort of penance, and maybe she deserves it. But Jessa finds that his room is full of her, and too many items bring back happy or painful memories.  The memories leave her wondering if their relationship was all that she thought it was, or if she misread herself and Caleb completely. Was Caleb hiding something from her? Why (she realizes now) was he one person with her, and another person with everyone else? And is it just grief compelling his mother to ask this of her, or does she have another motive? Jessa finds herself questioning Caleb, his past, and her own instincts. This suspenseful tale is slow in the revealing of secrets that Jessa didn’t know, and what she uncovers will surprise her.

THOUGHTS: A good choice for fans of Natalie Richards (Six Months Later, One Was Lost) who like a bit of romance and a strong female character who grows through adversity. Jessa is a likable, realistic narrator who is able to see her own shortcomings and overcome them.

Realistic Fiction, Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Masih, Tara Lynn. My Real Name is Hanna. Mandel Vilar Forge. 2018. 978-1-942134-51-0. $16.95. 208 p. Gr. 7-12.

Hanna Slivka lived a normal life, exploring her town, going to school, and giggling over her crush Leon. Everything was fun and normal until Hitler’s army crossed into the Soviet-ruled Ukraine and took over. Now, her life is going to change as Hitler and the Gestapo declares that her town, and many others, need to be shtetele, or Jew-free. Hanna and her family will soon face challenges that they did not expect – cold and dirty stares and comments from neighbors they have known for years, limited food and supplies, and running to stay alive. Thankfully Hanna has one good neighbor, Alla, who assists as much as she can, helping with the simplest things, such as creating a pysanky egg. Hanna and her family flee to the underground caves to hide, fighting against Hitler’s army and their own minds and bodies as negativity, despair, and starvation set in. The fight to survive may be more difficult then the fight against the actual army, but Hanna and her family will do anything to live on and tell their story.

THOUGHTS: A true-based story of one of the only surviving Ukrainian families during the Holocaust. Hanna’s tale is heartbreaking and gripping, leaving the reader with a sense of fear that needs to be told again and again not to forget the lost souls of the Holocaust.

Historical Fiction (Holocaust)          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


Engle, Margarita. Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots. New York: Atheneum, 2018. 978-1-5344-0943-9. 179p. $17.99. Gr.  7 and up.

In Jazz Owls, Margarita Engle has put a spotlight on a little known slice of history, the Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots, that unfortunately will resonate in today’s increasingly xenophobic political landscape. In the summer of 1943, a group of white, American sailors went roving the streets of Los Angeles assaulting and humiliating Latino men and teenage boys, specifically any man or boy wearing a zoot suit, a style of clothing that was perceived as “other”, and therefore, dangerous; none of the sailors were arrested, but the victims were rounded up and arrested “for their own safety.” This novel in verse focuses on one Mexican-American family, in particular three siblings – Marisela, 16; Lorena, 14; and Ray, 12; they’re eldest brother, Nicolás, is off fighting overseas. Marisela and Ray love to dance, and especially love the Latin music popular in some of the clubs; Lorena, more introspective, is a reluctant accomplice to their nighttime entertainment. A violent altercation a lake sets the tone early on – it is clear, by Engle’s use of two reporter’s perspectives (simply addressed as “Reporter #1” and “Reporter #2”), that anyone perceived to be Mexican will be treated as a threat.  Indeed, the siblings all get arrested after this incident, even though they were merely bystanders, and had nothing at all to do with what happened. Each sibling internalizes this ordeal, as well as the riots, differently – while she’s angry and scared, Marisela just wants to be free to dance and fall in love; Lorena is furious and outraged, especially after the riots, which she points out should be called the “Sailor Riots”, as they’re the perpetrators; and Ray, as one of the subjects of these vicious attacks, feels “peeled,” but ready to fight. There are some wonderful moments in this book, with Lorena in particular, whose character development is the most dramatic, but overall, the writing feels a little haphazard, and will most likely leave younger readers confused about the time period rather than curious. If, instead of the two characters of the reporters (who often come off sounding like cartoon villains twirling their moustaches) Engle had put in snippets from actual primary sources, she would have accomplished the same thing in a more authentic way.

THOUGHTS: While Margarita Engle has done a service to history by giving voice to these horrific race riots, this books needs some context, and would be best as an in-class read paired with articles and/or photos from the time period.

Historical Fiction (1943)           Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

YA FIC – The Secrets We Bury, One Small Thing, People Like Us, Not If I Save You First, Time Bomb

Ramey, Stacie. The Secrets We Bury. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018. 978-1-492-65420-9. 320 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Dylan is on the run; he only has a few months until he can decide for himself that he’s not attending the school for psychologically challenged students where his family wants him. Though he lacks survival and hiking experience, Dylan decides the Appalachian Trail is the perfect place to hide. A few months of hiking until he’s 18 is nothing, right?

Most people that know Dylan would say his issues would get in the way of hiking the Trail, but Dylan finds himself at home and able to think of others for the first time. Dylan isn’t the only one hiding on the Trail, though, and others need the serenity as much as he does. When it comes to survival in his carefully, yet unpredictable world, will Dylan be selfish or put the needs of others before his own.

THOUGHTS: Readers that like a character-driven novel will root for Dylan as he tries to remain anonymous. As more details are made available through his hike, readers come to understand why he’s in the situation he is. Readers looking for a realistic adventure with a bit of mystery and a subtle love interest will devour Ramey’s newest work to see if Dylan can make it.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Watt, Erin. One Small Thing. Harlequin Teen, 2018. 978-1-335-01727-7. 384 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Beth feels trapped in a cage – her house – ever since her older sister died tragically. Fed up with not being seen or heard by either of her parents, Beth is looking for a little taste of control in her life. Sneaking out to a party in the next town and hooking up with a guy she meets is just what Beth needs. Afterwards, though, she begins to realize how monumental her decision was, and part of her feels regret. Luckily, she’ll never see him again.

Now out of juvie and determined to live life under the radar, Chase attempts to assimilate with his former life. A welcome home party and a pretty girl who throws herself at him is just what he needs.

It isn’t until Beth and Chase realize who the other is that they truly realize the impact of their connection. Forbidden from being together yet drawn to the other, Beth and Chase struggle with their feelings as well as with grief, guilt, and loss.

THOUGHTS: Initially drawn in by the cover and the title, One Small Thing left me feeling torn. As a parent, I can understand wanting to protect your child, but Beth’s parents take protection to a suffocating level. Teens will devour this story of first love, desperate to know the outcome for Beth and Chase. Underage drinking and mature relationships make this more suitable to high school readers.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Mele, Dana. People Like Us. G.P. Putman’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-524-74170-9. 384 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Bates Academy was Kay Donovan’s ticket out of her old life. Being at the top of the social food chain has had its advantages for Kay. She’s a soccer star, has a great group of friends, and has plans to earn a college soccer scholarship.

When a classmate is found dead the night before a major scouting tournament, games are cancelled and Kay begins to panic. A mysterious email from the deceased classmate that arrives the following day sets Kay on a path to make sure her long-hidden secrets stay that way. Though she’s been enjoying life at the top, Kay will do anything to get what she wants.

THOUGHTS: This deceptive, fast-paced scenario will leave readers racing ahead to see if Kay stays on top or is ruined by her past secrets. As she fights the clock to solve the mystery, Kay becomes more involved and more suspect. Fans of mystery fiction (especially those with a small town and/or private school flare) will enjoy this read. Underage drinking and casual descriptions of sexual relationships make this more suitable for mature readers.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Carter, Ally. Not If I Save You First. Scholastic Press, 2018. 978-1-338-13414-8. 304 p. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Maddie and Logan don’t live the typical 10 year old’s lifestyle. In their spare time, they find secret ways to get from one place to the next – in the White House. Together they enjoy escaping the adults and the high profile lifestyle they live as the President’s son and the President’s Secret Service agent’s daughter.

Life changes drastically after shots are fired during a botched kidnapping attempt. Maddie and her dad leave DC behind and move to Alaska, where there isn’t another person around (or any way other than written letters for Maddie to contact one) for miles. In Alaska Maddie learns a new skill set to help her survive the harsh wilderness. Though she misses her best friend and writes him daily, Maddie gradually moves on and accepts her life.

Flash forward six years, and Logan hasn’t been the model First Son. He’s now being shipped to Alaska (and back into Maddie’s life) to learn a lesson. Before Maddie has the chance to give Logan a piece of her mind, they are attacked in the woods, and Logan is dragged off. Maddie wants Logan dead, but she also wants the pleasure of getting her own revenge.

THOUGHTS: Fans of survival and mystery stories will be delighted by the treacherous Alaskan setting. A strong female heroine shows that girls can have brains and beauty. Readers will be disappointed that this Carter book isn’t part of a series.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Maddie and Logan were best friends until the fateful night when terrorists gained access to the White House, and Maddie’s dad was shot. Now, six years later, Logan is back in Maddie’s life, but it’s not the life she had. Before her dad was shot, Maddie lived in Washington D.C., and her best friend was the president’s son. Now, she lives in the wilderness of Alaska with no friends, no school, and a dad who’s away for work often. Logan’s return to Maddie’s world brings back all of her anger towards him and his disregard for their friendship after she left. But when Logan is kidnapped by a henchman of “the Wolf”, the man who six years prior infiltrated the White House, Maddie must bury her anger and save her friend before the Wolf or Alaska kill him. Will Maddie’s wit and knowledge of the Alaskan wilderness be enough to save Logan and out maneuver a terrorist seeking revenge, or will Alaska win before Maddie has a chance to save Logan first?  

THOUGHTS: This is another fast-paced adventure from Ally Carter author of the Embassy Row and Heist Society series. The strong female protagonist will appeal to all readers because of the relationship between Maddie and Logan and the relatability of the two. Highly recommended for middle school and high school readers.

Adventure          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Charbonneau, Joelle. Time Bomb. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-0-544-41670-3. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Each in school for different reasons, characters take a turn as the lead suspect when the radio announces one of them is the bomber. Narrated by a diverse cast of characters, seemingly innocent and not connected to each other, Time Bomb will grab readers right from the beginning and hold them hostage as the seconds tick by.

THOUGHTS: Loving character-driven, multi-point of view narratives, I knew right from the description (and author) that Time Bomb was going to be a book for me. Reminiscent of Karen McManus’s One of Us Is Lying‘s Breakfast Club style cast of characters, readers will be hooked from the beginning. Hand this one to fans of Hate List by Jennifer Brown, This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp, and Violent Ends by various authors. Though intense in topic, this book is still suitable for younger high school readers, especially given recent national events.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD