Elem. – Creepy Crayons

Reynolds, Aaron. Creepy Crayons. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-668-87995-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Jasper Rabbit is struggling to pass math and spelling in school. He knows he needs to study more, but he has trouble focusing. On the way home from school one day, he finds a purple crayon in the gutter. Intrigued by how happy the crayon seems to see him, Jasper picks it up and brings it home. That night, even though he knows he should be studying for his spelling test, Jasper spends the evening watching TV before falling asleep. The next day, he decides to use the purple crayon on the spelling test. Shockingly, when he gets his test back, he has aced it! At home, his father asks him to complete his math homework. But when he picks up his math textbook, he finds a strange message written on the cover in purple: “Who needs math when you have Bunny Brawl 3?” Truer words were never spoken for Jasper, and he settles in to play the video game. The next day, Jasper uses his purple crayon on his pop quiz in math and  – surprise! – he gets every problem correct. He starts noticing other messages left by the crayon, such as “Jasper + Crayon 4ever! on his backpack and “Don’t ignore me!” on his table. Suddenly, Jasper realizes that even though he loves getting As on his schoolwork, this crayon is too creepy to keep around. Jasper has to find a way to discard the crayon for good before it makes a big mess of his life.

THOUGHTS: Jasper already has survived Creepy Carrots and Creepy Pair of Underwear and in doing so, he has become a favorite character among students in grades K-3. Young readers will love revisiting Jasper and reading about the chaos the crayon causes in his life. The creepy carrots make an appearance in this book as they did in Creepy Pair of Underwear, and illustrator Peter Brown’s signature black and white is punctuated with a powerful purple in this third creepy installment.

Picture Book         Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Two Truths and a Lie

Henry, April. Two Truths and a Lie. Little, Brown, 2022. 978-0-316-32333-8. 268 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

April Henry never disappoints, and Two Truths and a Lie is another sensational mystery from the master of YA suspense. In a pitch perfect homage to Agatha Christie, the story centers around two groups of high school students trapped at a run-down motel during an unexpected blizzard. Nell and her drama club friends Min, Adam, Raven and Jermaine are on their way to a theater competition when the weather forces them off the road. Once at the Travel Inn and Out hotel, the group meets other guests stranded for the night, including a high school robotics team. All the teens congregate in the community room and dive into a game of two truths and a lie. Then Nell pulls out a slip that stops the giggles: “I like to watch people die; my least-favorite food is mushrooms; I have lost track of how many people I’ve killed.”  The next morning, the bodies start accumulating. With over a dozen people staying at the motel, suspects abound. Henry adroitly inserts red herrings galore, and nothing is ever quite what it seems, as the teens desperately try to stay alive and uncover the killer. In this perfect locked room mystery, it seems everyone is telling a lie or two, and you can never trust the truth. The characters cover a spectrum of diversity, including Indian, Black, white, and gay individuals. In addition to the mystery, Henry touches on racism and human trafficking issues as well.  

THOUGHTS: This is a must purchase for middle school and high school libraries. April Henry attracts loyal fans, and her books are perfect picks for reluctant readers as well. Purchase multiple copies. 

Mystery          Nancy Nadig  Penn Manor SD

Nell and her drama club friends are on their way to a theater competition determined to beat the blizzard that is surrounding them when they’re forced to take a detour at the dilapidated Travel Inn and Out hotel. An expansive complex the hotel must have been impressive in its glory days (which seem to have been quite a while ago). There they meet a high school robotics team who also is stranded for the night as well as other travel guests. After checking in and finding their way to their rooms through the maze of hallways, the teems agree to meet back up in the community room and make the best of their situation. Deciding on an innocent game of two truths and a lie to get to know each other, things seem to be going well until Nell pulls a slip that reads “I like to watch people die; my least-favorite food is mushrooms; I have lost track of how many people I’ve killed.” Sufficiently spooked, the game comes to an abrupt halt, and everyone returns to their rooms. As people become unaccounted for and everyone suspects everyone else, the remaining teens race to uncover the mystery of what’s happening at this off the beaten path hotel. Who will make it out alive, or will they all become another victim of this blizzard detour?

THOUGHTS: With eerie similarities to King’s Overlook Hotel from The Shining, Henry will not disappoint fans of her thrillers. A fast-paced, quick read, Two Truths and a Lie is a must have for secondary students!

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The New Girl

Sutanto, Jesse. The New Girl. Sourcebooks, 2022. 350 p. $10.99 (paper) 978-1-728-21519-8. Grades 9-12. 

Thanks to her running speed on the track, Lia Setiawan has been given a full scholarship to prestigious Draycott Academy, and she is determined to prove she deserves it. But the school is full of extremely wealthy young people–think private jets, designer drugs, and racist, elitist attitudes. Because she begins mid-year after the dismissal of the outspoken drug-addicted Sophie, she finds few people to welcome her.  Draycott’s dirt app closely follows every student, and students anonymously post about everyone and everything (which isn’t about to end well). It turns out that Sophie had complaints about unfair grading practices of English instructor Mr. Werner, and Mr. Werner very pointedly informs Lia she does not belong in his class. Lia insists on staying in the class only to find herself failing dismally despite extreme diligence to the classwork.  She begins to suspect that some students have paid Mr. Werner for their grades, and she knows she’ll never be able to do that, and her track scholarship depends on her grades. Lia instantly connects with the drool-worthy Danny, who is another reason to fight for her place. But the dirt, the revenge, and the drugs begin to take their toll, and when Lia is the one to find Sophie dead in Mr. Werner’s office, she realizes that she needs to play the game even harder if she’s going to win–or live.

THOUGHTS: Like Sutanto’s The Obsession (2021), this novel features characters who can and will go to extremes to hide, succeed, and get revenge. By the novel’s end, nearly every character has a twisted secret revealed. And after the death Lia causes, tension rises to see if she will be revealed, too.  A good choice for suspense addicts.  

Mystery          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Realistic Fiction

MG – Dark Waters

Arden, Katherine. Dark Waters. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-0-593-10915-1. $16.99. 198 p. Grades 4-7.

Best friends Brian, Ollie and Coco are back in this third book of Katherine Arden’s spooky Small Spaces series. This time, the three friends, Ollie’s dad, Coco’s mom, and school acquaintance Phil are on a quest to find Champ, the legendary monster that supposedly lives in Lake Champlain. The group sets sail on the tour boat Cassandra with Phil’s uncle, Dane Dimmonds, so that Coco’s mom can write an article about Champ for the local paper, but the trip quickly turns deadly when a real lake monster sinks the boat, kills a member of the tour group, and strands the survivors on a remote island on Lake Champlain. Brian recognizes similarities in their plight to a story he read about a smuggler’s ship that disappeared over 200 years ago on the same lake, and he also worries that The Smiling Man that tried to trap the friends during previous adventures is involved in this newest disaster as well. Phil, Ollie, Coco, and Brian must work together with their knowledge of the Smiling Man and his evil tricks if they want to get off the island alive!

THOUGHTS: This book would appeal to a wide range of middle school readers; it combines ghost stories, paranormal activities, adventure, and survival into one thrilling story! The dynamics of this friend group are realistic and engaging, and the chilling presence of The Smiling Man provides a consistent thread throughout this series that will keep readers coming back for many future adventures.

Horror Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – Deadman’s Castle

Lawrence, Iain. Deadman’s Castle. Margaret Ferguson Books, 978-0-823-44655-1. 247 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Igor Andrew Watson does not remember his original name because he has had so many. In fact, no one in his family has their original name because every so often, they are assigned new names and a new home by The Protectors, an organization that helps keep Igor’s family safe. All Igor knows is that when he was a child, his father witnessed a horrific crime. When his father testified in court, the criminal was put in jail, and Igor’s dad made an enemy that Igor only knows as “The Lizard Man.” After their next move to escape the Lizard Man and his vengeance, twelve-year-old Igor grows frustrated with having such an odd life. He longs to go to a regular school and have real friends. After much bargaining and begging, his parents finally agree that he can attend the local middle school as long as he does not tell anyone anything about his identity or lifestyle. Igor makes two close friends and starts to live a somewhat normal life. As he explores his new neighborhood with his friends, Igor has flashbacks of memories. He thinks he has lived in this place before… and he starts to doubt that the Lizard Man even exists.

THOUGHTS: This novel’s interesting plot and cliffhanger chapters will be appealing to middle grade readers looking for a suspenseful thriller. I believe this will be a fan favorite in libraries where mysteries/thrillers are often requested.

Mystery          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – White Smoke

Jackson, Tiffany D. White Smoke. Katherine Tegen Books, 2021. 978-0-063-02909-5. 373 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Marigold’s blended family has just relocated from the sunny California coast to the run-down midwestern town of Cedarville. Their historic house, still under renovation, is part of her mother’s Grow Where You’re Planted residency with the Sterling Foundation. As the artist-in-residence, Raquel and her family will live in the home for free. Free housing means less debt, which is important after Mari’s recent stay at Strawberry Pines Rehabilitation Center. From the first page, it’s clear that she is facing real mental health challenges: programming medication reminders on her phone, repeating calming mantras, and obsessing about bedbugs. Meanwhile, Mari observes unexplained noises and disturbances in the house, including strange smells and items disappearing. The desolate neighborhood adds to the spooky ambiance. Jackson, a prolific and versatile author, is known for her real-life inspiration and plot twists. Indeed, many episodes in this haunted house story are based on real reported ghostly incidents. She also brings elements of a psychological thriller to her first horror novel. 

THOUGHTS: Spooky book season is here, and Jackson’s latest novel is almost too much fun to booktalk with students who enjoy suspenseful, scary stories.

Horror          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – The Obsession

San Jessie Q. The Obsession. Sourcebooks, 2021. 307 p. $10.99  978-1-728-21516-7. Grades 9-12.

Logan is suffering from the loss of his true love Sophie, who died by suicide two years ago. His friends don’t understand, he’s tired of trying to pretend he’s ok, and he wonders what’s left for him. Then he sees her: Delilah. Suddenly, everything is magical again. He hasn’t spoken to her beyond a brief hello, but he knows: She is the One. He begins watching her, learning her every perfect move, knowing her schedule and–from social media–her favorite music, foods, and more. Just as he did with Sophie (in fact, she’s almost Sophie’s twin), he orbits Delilah and must learn all he can about her. Logan is a true romantic.  Delilah is busy dealing with her own family problems: Since her dad died, her mom has fallen into an abusive relationship with police officer Brandon, who treats them both horribly and is convincing her mother to quit her job, have a baby, and leave the finances in his control. Delilah can’t stand how frightened of him they are. Meanwhile, Logan sets up cameras on Delilah’s house to protect his cherished girl, and that is how he witnesses the death of Brandon–aided by Delilah. Logan enchants Delilah on one perfect date (obviously easy, since he knows all her preferences), but then he reveals his secret video.  Delilah is horrified and trapped–or is she? She’s had enough of being controlled by fear, and by men. What if the perfect girl is the perfect murderer? Logan may not see the break-up coming.

THOUGHTS: Watching this story play out is interesting to see whether Logan or Delilah will gain the upper hand. How can one out-maneuver the other? Recommended as an alternative to the typical rom-com!

Suspense Fiction            Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Cut Off

Finlay, Adrianne. Cut Off. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-358-00645-9. 384 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

A group of teenagers is competing for a one million dollar prize, each with their own reasons for needing it. In order to be accepted onto the new reality show Cut Off, contestants go through a rigorous interview process and psychological evaluation. As readers are introduced to each character throughout the early days of Cut Off, interview segments and details from the evaluations are provided. Contestants need to outlast each other while spread out around a large island jungle. When they have no choice but to work together, the contestants begin to realize they might be more cut off than they thought. Their skym cameras (3D cameras that hover and follow their every move) still work, but the tap out button seems to be malfunctioning. Could something be wrong with the fully immersive reality show? Determined to figure out what’s going on, the contestants work together to survive, being more cut off than they ever thought was possible.

THOUGHTS: This action-packed adventure has three distinct parts. What starts out as serious outdoor survival takes a sharp turn towards science fiction. Readers will want to know who outlasts the others, but those who stick with it may have questions.

Science Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Illegal

Stork, Francisco X. Illegal. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-31055-9. 291 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. (Book 2 in Disappeared series)

Brother and sister Emiliano and Sara Zapata must flee from Mexico and the nefarious unnamed boss pursuing them. They cross the border into the United States, then split up.  Sara requests asylum, and Emiliano nearly dies in the desert before being picked up by an American rancher, then reunited with his father in Chicago. Emiliano carries the cell phone of a member–perhaps the leader–of a human trafficking organization that Sara has worked so hard to bring to justice. Neither Emiliano or Sara is safe, and conditions only worsen as Sara is separated and threatened in the detention facility, and Emiliano is tracked down in Chicago. Neither Emiliano or Sara is able to trust anyone immediately, and each must trust that the other will do “the right thing”–but the right thing for the victims of the human trafficking organization could be exactly the wrong thing for Sara and Emiliano. Both realize repeatedly that their lives are expendable and meaningless to others. Sara and Emiliano share one phone call in which Sara (in code) urges him to remember what he learned from Brother Patricio. Through his work for a neighbor of his father’s, Emiliano learns of a retired policeman who may help him. But Sara is to be moved to another facility–code for ‘lost’ or ‘terminated’–and both realize that time is running out.

THOUGHTS: Stork continues Sara and Emiliano’s stories (from Book 1, Disappeared), this time in the US. The various characters show human strength and frailty, stereotypes, hopes, and hatred. A must-purchase where the first novel was popular, though this novel can stand on its own.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

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