MG – Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem

Messner, Kate. Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem. Millbrook Press, 2020. 64 p. $24.04 978-1-541-55706-2 Grades 4-8.

Once native only to Asia, Burmese pythons have invaded Florida!  Researchers speculate that animals kept as pets were released and quietly flourished undetected in the lush, protected swamps of Florida. Native animals such as alligators and mink, herons, deer, possums and more, are being affected by the insatiable appetite of the pythons. “People will ask me what pythons eat. The question should be, What don’t they eat?” says Bartoszek (44). Kate Messner follows researchers Ian Bartoszek and his colleagues from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida as they explain the scope of the problem and their efforts to control it. Scientists can respond to an invasive species in four ways: prevention, eradication, containment, or control. The burmese python population in Florida, estimated to be in the tens if not hundreds of thousands, is well beyond the first three responses, and even controlling the population is proving difficult.  Bartoszek and colleagues track the pythons using radio telemetry, capture them for analysis and transmitter implantation, and try to better control the population. “Another big goal is to advance snake science in general. We kind of owe it to the pythons. We have tremendous respect for this animal, so we try to gather as much scientific information as possible” (44).  Each chapter includes segments on “How to Catch a Python” (some surprising stories and methods) as Messner shares lessons learned, “python CSI,” and the wonder of the undetectable python, even when standing atop one! The book includes QR codes showing python releases and telemetry flights, and extensive back matter.

THOUGHTS: A compelling look at an amazing animal and its effects on an ecosystem, this book will engage readers with an interest in animals, the environment, and scientific careers.  A top example of narrative nonfiction.

597.96 Burmese Pythons        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Unconventional Science

Unconventional Science. ABDO Books, 2020. $23.00 ea. $138.00 set of 6. 48 p. Grades 5-8. 

Burling, Alexis. Turning Poop Into Power. 978-1-532-11901-9.
Hand, Carol. Controlling Invasive Species with Goats. 978-1-532-11898-2.
Hustad, Douglas. Cleaning Up Plastic with Artificial Coastlines. 978-1-532-11897-5.
McCarthy, Cecilia Pinto. Capturing Carbon with Fake Trees. 978-1-532-11896-8.
—. Eating Bugs as Sustainable Food. 978-1-532-11899-9.
—. Harvesting Fog for Water. 978-1-532-11900-2

This series expertly presents new scientific ideas that many adults and students never may have considered, and aims to give some explanation about the pros and cons of each idea. In four chapters, readers learn about the environmental problem which led to the idea being considered, how well the idea could work, and problems with adopting the idea as a solution. The gross factor of Eating Bugs or Turning Poop into Power may turn off readers or prove irresistible to them.  Chapters end with either compelling deeper thinking questions, or segments linking other documents to the text, again with thoughtful questions. The end matter includes glossary, index, fast facts, and further resources, and is notable for the “Stop and Think” section and the ABDO Book Links website (readers scan QR code to access resources for each specific book).

THOUGHTS: This is a well-presented, engaging format with refreshing and unusual ideas, perfect for middle school learners. ABDO has paid attention to what young learners (and their teachers) need. Librarians may want to give more attention to the various series in ABDO’s Core Library (“nonfiction for grades 3-6”). Free teaching resources are available for download via Follett’s Titlewave. (Title reviewed: Eating Bugs as Sustainable Food.)

363; 628 Science, Engineering        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Engineering Disasters

Engineering Disasters. ABDO Books, 2020. $23.00 ea. $138.00 set of 6. 48 p. Grades 5-8. 

Huddleston, Emma. Ford Pinto Fuel Tanks. 978-1-532-19-072-8.
—. The Johnstown Flood. 978-1-532-19073-5.
—. The New Orleans Levee Failure. 978-1-532-19074-2.
Kortemeier, Todd. Air France Flight 447. 978-1-532-19070-4
—. Chernobyl. 978-1-532-19071-1.
—.  The Space Shuttle Challenger. 978-1-532-19075-9.

This series looks at well-intentioned concepts which ultimately failed in some way. The solid format covers the disaster, the search for the cause, and the changes enacted to avoid further disasters. The text is clear and factual, with various sidebars and charts adding meaningful supplemental perspectives. A full-page “Straight to the Source” occurs twice in the book, linking another text with useful questions for further thinking and writing, while a “Stop and Think” segment is part of the well-rounded back matter of Fast Facts, glossary, index, and ABDO’s free online resources.

THOUGHTS: This is a well-presented series on major failures and how the engineering in question has changed. (Title reviewed: The Space Shuttle Challenger.)

363 Manmade Disasters            Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray; Gabi’s Fabulous Functions; The Good Egg; Sal and Gabi Break the Universe; ¡Vamos!; Because

Keating Jess. Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-29521-4. 277 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

When a book opens with the accidental firing of a death ray, you know you are in for a fun ride, and Jess Keating does not disappoint. Young Nikki Tesla is a mechanical whiz and scientific genius. But mom has warned her before about blowing up the house (technically it was more vaporizing), and this time there are consequences. Nikki’s mom wants her to attend a school for geniuses, where Nikki can experiment to her heart’s content and meet other prodigies her age. This is where Nikki balks. She has a bad track record with making friends; she has been home-schooled to avoid the bullying and teasing. Nikki reluctantly agrees, but is sure she is going to be sent home when the orientation activity requires her to work as a team with the other six students at the school, Al Einstein, Mary Shelley, Leo DaVinci, Charlie Darwin, Mo Mozart, and Grace O’Malley. Soon after surviving orientation, Nikki learns the true purpose of the elite group is to save the world, and their skills are immediately tested when Nikki’s Death Ray is stolen from the school’s arsenal. The seven youngsters take off on a globe trotting whirlwind, attempting to catch up to a diabolical madman who may be hitting too close to home for Nikki. This series opener hits the ground running and never lets up. While not all the characters are fleshed out yet, Nikki is well crafted. Her inability to trust her new friends, along with her damaged self esteem, almost cost the group their mission, but in the end Nikki relies on the group to save the day and the world.

THOUGHTS: An edge-of-your-seat series opener that ends with a shocker cliff-hanger. Readers will be begging for the next book.

Action Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Karanja, Caroline. Gabi’s Fabulous Functions. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-515-82743-6. Unpaged. $27.72. Grades 1-5. 

Gabi and her friend Adi are busy in the kitchen making Gabi’s father a special meal for his birthday. As they follow the recipe, the two girls notice the similarities between following a recipe and functions in coding. The girls input berries, yogurt, and granola, and the output is a parfait. The two even create a input/output machine to “create” the different dishes for dad, who happily gobbles up the “output.” The simplistic story is successful as a way to explain the challenging concept of functions in terms most students will understand. As an added bonus, it features female coders of Hispanic and African American ethnicities. 

THOUGHTS: Consider purchasing where coding is taught, or students have an interest in coding. 

005.1 Computers          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


John, Jory. The Good Egg. Harper, 2019. 978-0-062-86600-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Jory John follows his delightful book The Bad Seed with The Good Egg. Egg has always been good, as far back as when he was living in the store with his 11 siblings. But Egg was frustrated with the bad things his siblings did, and was one frazzled egg trying to fix their messes. Soon he felt like he was cracking up. So, Good Egg leaves home to get away from the pressure of having to be so good. He learns to think about what he wants and needs, and eventually decides to return home to his siblings. Given the popularity of The Bad Seed, this book will have an immediate following. Children will enjoy Pete Oswald’s illustrations, and the cautionary tale of trying to be too perfect will make for interesting discussion. 

THOUGHTS: This will be a must have where The Bad Seed was popular. 

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Hernandez, Carlos. Sal and Gabi Break the Universe. Rick Riordan Presents, 2019. 978-1-368-02282-8. 382 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Sal is having a hard time adjusting to his new Miami school for the arts. He is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days when he meets Gabi, a whirling dervish of a girl who, as student council president and editor of the school paper, knows everything about everybody. So she makes it her new mission to know Sal, and there is a lot to know about Sal. A type-1 diabetic with a passion for sleight of hand, Sal also has the unique ability to reach into other universes, even somehow conjuring his dead mother to cook Cuban food for him. Sal needs to learn how to control his ability before he permanently disturbs the Universe. Gabi is dealing with a seriously ill infant brother. Can the two precocious kids navigate friendship and family without breaking the universe? This book covers much territory, from diabetes, to magic to bullying, but ultimately, the story is about family, in all its many forms. Sal grieves his lost mother, and learns how to navigate his new family with his American Stepmom. Gabi’s family includes her multiple, unique dads (even a robot dad), as well as her baby brother. And Sal learns not all families are the safe haven they should be, and then friends become family. Filled with Cuban culture, mouth-watering food and loud, exuberant characters, this book invites every reader to become a member of the family and enjoy the cosmic ride with Sal and Gabi. 

THOUGHTS:  A must have for middle grade collections. This breathless journey through the multiverses will have readers clamoring for the next book in the series.  

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gonzalez, Raúl. ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market. Versify, 2019. 978-1-328-55726-1. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades 1-3.

Little Lobo and his dog, Bernabé, have a lot to do today, and we are going to ¡Vamos! with them, learning Spanish as we go. This cheery story immerses readers in Spanish vocabulary as we weave our way through the busy mercado. The pages are saturated in terra cotta hued colors. Speech balloons contribute narration largely in English, while the illustrations and insets seamlessly provide Spanish vocabulary in context. Captions within the busy pictures supply additional Spanish terminology. While the plot is  minimal, children could spend hours examining the exuberant illustrations, soaking up Latino culture as well as language. However, the author does not inform the reader as to what country the story takes place. A bare bones glossary is provided at the end of the story, (without pronunciations) but does not contain all the Spanish words used in the book. Readers are urged to look up additional words in a Spanish/English dictionary.

THOUGHTS:  A clever, entertaining way to introduce Spanish language and Hispanic culture to young readers. The illustrations have a Where’s Waldo quality that will engage readers, and those interested in learning some Spanish will enjoy poring over the book again and again.

463 Spanish Language          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Willems, Mo. Because. Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-01901-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Because is a very unusual offering from the author of such perennial favorites as Elephant and Piggy and Pigeon books. Because shows readers the power of a moment, and, like the familiar cliche of a butterfly flapping its wings, how it can change a life. In this case, because a composer inspired another musician to compose, a young girl eventually is taken to the symphony and is enthralled by the world of music and beauty opened to her. Quiet illustration by Amber Ren accompany Willem’s sparse but powerful text, guiding us through the chain of events (and a little luck, too, Willems points out) leading to the heartwarming conclusion of the story. The musically inclined reader will delight in the book’s endpapers, which reproduce portions of the two musical scores which bookend the story. The book makes a lovely read-aloud, but it also begs to be used as a creative prompt with students of any age.

THOUGHTS: A thoughtful story that will surely set young imaginations soaring. Be sure to share it with classroom teachers as well as youngsters. 

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

This is a beautiful book about those unexpected events that change our lives. It follows the build up to a night at the symphony, introducing the reader to everyone who makes such the night possible, from the composer who wrote the music to the event planners, musicians, train conductors, and ushers. Each person is as important as the next, and they all come together to make this one event happen. Because all this happens, one little girl is forever changed.

THOUGHTS: This book gave me chills. I love all the people who made the event happen and how beautifully everything is portrayed. There’s also an online video about the inspiration and creative process behind the book. And be sure to look in the end pages to learn more.

Picture Book          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

YA – Hot Dog Girl; Every Moment After; Like a Love Story; Bloom; The River; Rough Magic; Between the Water and the Woods; Cyber Nation; The Raven’s Tale; Tell Me Everything; You Must Not Miss; Never Caught; You Owe Me a Murder; Love from A to Z; Serious Moonlight

Dugan, Jennifer. Hot Dog Girl. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. 978-0-525-51625-5. $18.99. 320 p. Grades 8 and up.

The summer before senior year should be carefree and fun-filled, but Elouise (Lou) Parker’s summer is off to an awful start. Magic Castle, the amusement park she has frequented since childhood and has worked at since last year, has announced this summer will be its last. To add insult to injury, Lou gets stuck with one of the worst jobs in the park. Again. She’ll play the role of the dancing Hot Dog Girl in the food court. The unflattering, hot, vomit-inducing costume is yet another reminder that she is just not crush-worthy. Her feelings for her crush Nick – the Pirate Diver in one of the park’s shows – will never be reciprocated, especially not when he’s dating Jessa, the girl who plays the princess at Magic Castle. Lou decides to revive her summer by secretly scheming to save Magic Castle via some questionable methods and rejuvenating her best friend Seeley’s love life by fixing her up on a date with the perfect girl. Lou’s scheming goes a little far, though, when she involves Seeley in her quest to break up Nick and Jessa. Subplots with family conflicts give the plot a little more substance, as well, but ultimately, this is a solid coming-of-age tale about love and facing inevitable change.

THOUGHTS: Laugh-out-loud funny at times and written in an authentic first-person teen voice, this book will appeal primarily to female readers looking for a fun summer read. The-dying-old-business-that-holds-so-many-childhood-memories-it-must-be-saved plot feels a bit stale, but the complex relationships are what make this book a good addition to teen collections, especially where there is a high demand for LGBTQ titles. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Moldover, Joseph. Every Moment After. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-1-328-54727-9. $17.99. 362 p. Grades 9 and up.

Cole Hewitt and Matt Simpson are well-known in their suburban New Jersey town, but it’s because they are some of just a few survivors of a tragic school shooting that happened in their first grade classroom when 18 of their classmates were killed. And that depends on one’s definition of “survivor;” the only reason – in Matt’s mind – that he survived is because he was home struggling with his diabetes that day. In the years since the shooting, the town has turned into a living memorial. Monuments both large and small pop up everywhere. The diner in town posts every failed gun control bill on its walls. The survivors themselves serve as living reminders, and the boys each handle it differently. Cole is reserved and awkward, not wanting people to recognize him as the boy in the viral photo from the shooting. Matt is wracked with guilt over not being there that day and constantly questions whether or not he is meant to live. Now they are graduating from high school, and a time in life that is scary enough for any teenager is exponentially more complicated for Cole and Matt. They must navigate family, love, and their friendship through the summer after high school carrying with them the after-effects of the tragedy that they will never forget. Told in alternating points of view between Cole and Matt, this book – which is Muldover’s debut novel – will appeal more to male readers, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

THOUGHTS: This book is heavy. Though not graphic, it obviously deals with matters of life and death. Additionally, just as a warning, it contains more offensive language than the average YA. However, the fact that it also deals with typical YA themes like love and friendship with MALE narrators is a huge plus for this book. Cole and Matt’s friendship is real and raw and touching, and this is one of the best male-narrated YA books I’ve read. I find it similar in style and tone to a John Corey Whaley novel. In an English or Social Studies class, this novel would pair well with a non-fiction book about a school shooting or gun control. Moldover focuses on the human element of a tragedy such as this, but still manages to touch on both sides of a deeply personal and passionate political debate without being overly political.

Realistic Fiction           Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Nazemian, Abdi. Like a Love Story. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 978-0-06-283936-7. $17.99. 413 p. Grades 9 and up.

It’s 1989. The AIDS epidemic evokes fear in the gay community, and Madonna’s music is at peak popularity. This is the New York City in which Art, Reza, and Judy live. Reza, originally born in Iran, just moved to Manhattan from Toronto. He and his mom and sister fled from Iran during the revolution, and now his mom is remarried. When he starts school, Reza quickly befriends edgy aspiring fashion designer Judy. Her best friend Art is the only known gay student at school. At first Judy misreads Reza’s fear of Art as homophobia, but Reza’s fears have more to do with himself. Reza’s known for some time he likes boys but is afraid to come out for multiple reasons, namely fear of his Iranian family’s reaction but also of contracting AIDS – which at this time was thought to be a disease that plagued only the gay community. As Reza starts dating Judy, he gets to know Art better and develops a secret crush on him. He also gets to know Judy’s Uncle Stephen who is gay too and suffers from AIDS. Stephen is an activist for AIDS research, and Art and Judy attend meetings and protests with him; eventually, Reza joins them, despite fear of what his parents would think if they found out. Art also introduces Reza to Madonna, and they all bond over their love of her music and the ideas for which she stands. Can Reza keep hiding who he really is – and his feelings for Art? Find out in this funny and moving coming of age novel about self-expression and owning who you are no matter your age, race, gender, or orientation. 

THOUGHTS: This book is more than just an LGBTQ love story. Because of its setting and Uncle Stephen’s position in the ACT UP activist group, it serves as a history lesson on the AIDS crisis and how far gay rights have come in the last 30 years. As a lifelong fan of Madonna, I found her role in this novel and the allusions to her songs particularly enjoyable as well. Current teen readers may not understand or appreciate these references as much, though it may serve as a good education for them on the Queen of Pop (Recently, a student actually asked me if Madonna was even still alive). Excellent addition to any YA collection, and possibly a good supplementary novel for health, history, or any class studying the AIDS crisis. Appealing to not only LGBTQ readers but also anyone fighting discrimination of any kind. The hopeful message to all readers is to “Express Yourself” no matter who your “True Blue” self is!

Historical Fiction           Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Panetta, Kevin, and Savanna Ganucheau. Bloom. First Second, 2019. 978-1-626-72641-3. 351 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Ari Kyrkos wants to move to the city with his bandmates to try and make their music career happen, but his parents want him to stay home and work full-time at their struggling Kyrkos Family Bakery. If he can find a qualified employee to replace him, maybe Ari can move without leaving his family in the lurch. Enter dreamy Hector Galeai, who has just finished his first year at culinary school and is in town to empty his Nana’s house. The boys bond over sourdough rolls, stargazing, and a road trip to the Maryland State Fair. But just when they connect physically, an accident at the bakery and misplaced blame drive them apart. Can Ari swallow his pride and reconnect with the boy he loves, delivering readers a happy-for-now ending to this sweet summer romance?

THOUGHTS: This winning graphic novel in beachy blues and greys is the perfect choice for readers seeking a romance with heart and a realistic conflict that doesn’t hinge on the characters’ sexual identity. Well-developed supporting characters, a recipe, and a playlist round out a delightful read.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Heller, Peter. The River. Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 978-0-525-52187-7. 253 p. $25.95. Grades 10 and up.

Dartmouth students Jack and Wynn, best friends who have just wrapped up a summer working as wilderness instructors in the Adirondacks, are now taking a month-long canoe trip through the lakes leading into the Maskwa River (Canada) and eventually the Hudson Bay. After smelling smoke for two days, they observe a potentially deadly forest fire. They do their best to warn other campers about the fire, including a couple they previously overheard arguing loudly on the lakeshore. But when they find him, the man is alone, injured, and claiming his wife disappeared in the night. Jack and Wynn double back to find her, touching off a chain of events that pits them against their fellow adventurers as well as the elements. This slim novel successfully blends elements of psychological suspense, survival, and transformative journeys. The prose is beautifully austere, with Jack’s and Wynn’s backstories filling in the calm stretches between whitewater and other perils. The River is a literary achievement that’s also a pageturner; it’s as taut as a spring-loaded snare trap! 

THOUGHTS: With main characters in their very early twenties, The River is an excellent crossover selection for readers who enjoy adventure stories with a tinge of menace. Comparable crossover thrillers include Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta and Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin.

Each year, seniors in Ridley High School’s Advanced Placement English Literature class participate in an end-of-year book club during the month between their A.P. exam and graduation. Recent selections include Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann and Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. I will definitely suggest The River as an option for next year’s book club!

Fiction (Crossover)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Prior-Palmer, Lara. Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race. Catapult, 2019. 978-1-948-22619-6. 288 p. $25.00. Grades 9 and up.

When Lara Prior-Palmer was nineteen, she entered the Mongol Derby, touted as the world’s toughest horse race, on a whim, and much to everyone’s surprise, including her own, she won, becoming the first female, and the youngest rider ever to do so. It’s telling that the title of the book uses the adjective “loneliest” rather than “toughest” to describe this race; not once throughout the entire 1,000 kilometer journey does Prior-Palmer allude to the toughness of the experience, while her solitude is palpable. With little hope of winning, let alone finishing the race, Prior-Palmer sets her expectations low, and when she is in close to last place at the end of the first day, it seems like a good plan. It is just this freedom from the trappings of competition, along with her ambivalence towards riding solo, that allows her to move up the ranks. Once she realizes that she’s doing well, however, she doesn’t shy away from her (somewhat shameful) need to remain at the top of the pack. She is an unusual narrator, given to philosophical musings, and starkly honest self-reflection, and writes very much in the vein of the 1950s Beat movement. Just like the race itself, the book is a meandering, introspective, yet gripping, narrative. Peppered throughout are quotes from the Tempest (the only book she brought with her), letters to her mother, Mongolian sayings and cultural references, and poetic descriptions of the landscape. This is not an endorsement for the Derby itself, nor is it a motivational guide to risk-taking and living life to its fullest; it is a no-nonsense, strangely compelling, almost epistolary exploration of this singular moment in Prior-Palmer’s life, told without hubris, but with a dash of dry British wit.

THOUGHTS: Prior-Palmer speaks often about her inability to fit in anywhere, and especially her frustration with the rigidity of the institution of education; her story, and her narration, will speak to those students who have similar feelings of frustration, isolation, and a touch of wanderlust, which, let’s face it, is most adolescents.

Memoir          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Snaith, Simone. Between the Water and the Woods. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-44020-7. 311 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up.

Magic, chivalry, monsters, secrets – these are just a few things that drive Simone Snaith’s debut novel, Between the Water and the Woods. We first meet the Bird family – Emeline, her younger brother, Dale, and Dada, their father – living a quaint country life in the small village of Equane. Their quiet lives are shattered, however, when Emeline and Dale encounter an Ithin, a monster of myth, living in the haunting woods across the moat. After reviewing the laws of the land, it is determined that the family must travel to the capital to tell the king in person about their encounter. The Birds, along with their driver, Fish, and their stowaway, Aladane (Dale’s good friend, with a serious case of FOMO), are unprepared for the ruthlessness of the world, and in short succession come across highway men, an assassin, a haughty Lash Knight, and a wealthy Sapient who is the potential heir to the throne. When they finally arrive in the capital, the villagers find themselves in the middle of a philosophical war between the Sapients – those who only believe in science and technology – and the Theurgists – those who believe deeply in magic, and the old tales. In the midst of all of this, Emeline discovers that she possesses true elemental magic, and has the ability to control water plants. She keeps it a secret, even from her family, for she knows that in the wrong hands, this knowledge could have potentially dangerous consequences for her and for her family. This is a rollicking adventure, with a courageous heroine at its heart who readers will root for. There is a sweet, chaste romance, as well, along with more serious treatment of class divisions, oligarchy, and, in a small way, the trappings of wealth. Readers will eagerly await the next installment.

THOUGHTS: A perfect book for fans of medieval tales of knights and chivalry, and for middle grade readers looking to graduate up to more complex fairy tales.

Fantasy          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Hulick, Kathryn. Cyber Nation: How the Digital Revolution is Changing Society. ReferencePoint Press, 2019. 978-1-682-82469-6. $29.95. 80 pg. Grades 6-12.

This stand alone title focuses on how digital technology is changing the way people interact, learn, and form their identities online. Broken into chapters focusing on relationships, society, information overload, identity dilemma, and future issues, this title is full of information and real life connections. Chapters are broken into subsections that highlight how easy it is to “hide” your true self while online – leading to cyberbullying, addiction, and overstimulation. Information is provided on how digital culture is affecting change in how people spend money and the need to have items “now.” Topics also addressed in brief detail include fake news, cybercrimes, censorship, and propaganda. The final chapter will hit home with students as it focuses on how the internet will greatly affect their future with virtual reality, AI, and how “smart” cities can help fix worldly problems. 

THOUGHTS: A great title for students researching the cause and effects of constant access to the internet and the future of digital access. A bit dry at times, the information is useful and applicable to the topic. The source notes, websites, and organizations available in the back of the book allow students to delve further into how the cyber world is shaping our lives.

302.30285 Social Interaction        Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Winters, Cat. The Raven’s Tale. Amulet Books, 2019. 368 p. $17.99. 978-1-419-73362-8.  Grades 9-12.  

1826, Richmond, Virginia. Seventeen-year-old Edgar Allan Poe longs to escape his foster father, John Allan. The Allans took in three-year-old Edgar when his parents died, and though his foster father showed some pride in Edgar for a while, that feeling has vanished in the face of Edgar’s writing, a talent in which businessman John Allan sees no future. Freedom is less than two weeks away, when Edgar leaves for college in Charlottesville. That’s if Edgar can make it that long. The situation worsens when Edgar’s muse physically appears in town, making residents fearful with her garish, increasingly raven-like appearance. Edgar–and John–know muses are real–John killed his own muse years ago by pushing her into a fire, and he’ll be damned if Edgar gives in to the same weaknesses. Edgar faces a devastating choice: obey his wealthy “Pa” and succumb to mindless business career, or follow the macabre muse he names Lenore and live penniless and shunned, unable to support himself let alone his secret love Elmira Royster. Yet Lenore is relentless: “Let them see me!” she demands. Edgar’s circumstances worsen at college as his foster father denies him adequate funds, and Edgar turns unsuccessfully to gambling. Many recognize his giftedness, including a second would-be muse, Garland O’Peale. Both O’Peale and Lenore hope for victory over Edgar’s soul, but neither will find this an easy fight. Edgar is young, tortured by death, and so very alone. 

THOUGHTS: Drawing on extensive research into Poe’s life, Winters crafts an elegantly written tale, told in alternating chapters from Edgar’s and Lenore’s points-of-view. The result is a novel appropriately suspenseful and macabre, weaving in Poe’s writing and creating an atmosphere which evokes a grim yet creative life that brings to mind the tortured Mary Shelley depicted beautifully in Lita Judge’s Mary’s Monster. Highly recommended for high school collections, this will entice many readers into a new or strengthened following of Poe’s horror writing.      

Historical Horror: Poe, Muses          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Enni, Sarah. Tell Me Everything. Scholastic, 2019. 282 p. $17.99. 978-1-338-13915-0.  Grades 7-12. 

Ivy thrives on art and photography, but people or the spotlight, not so much. She does well enough keeping to herself, though she’s just endured a boring summer without her best friend since fourth grade, Harold, by her side. Harold is an intelligent go-getter whose summer was spent at an Ivy League prep camp, an experience both exhilarating and sobering. Now Harold is diving into any class or club that he can, determined to impact the world, while Ivy prefers the newly minted anonymous art-sharing app VEIL. VEIL has made headlines nationwide, but it stays local, and wipes itself clean every Sunday. Though Ivy never posts any of her own artwork, she follows the posts eagerly, feeling curious about the artists and so inspired that she wishes to thank artists for the connection she feels. This desire to help and encourage others is Ivy’s strength, and she gives gifts, anonymously, then openly, to various people she has identified by their posts. But the pressure is high for Harold, and so, when Ivy discovers what she thinks is his secret, she decides to throw him a party. However, her assumptions about Harold, and her disregard for the “anonymous” label, create some horrible breakdowns in friendships. Meanwhile, a hateful anti-gay VEIL post has parents concerned and suing the creator, who unexpectedly folds the app. Where can Ivy go now?

THOUGHTS: Ivy is a likable character with a huge heart and talent, and thankfully, a strong friend in Harold.  Several adult characters, including Ivy’s art teacher and refreshingly, her parents, counsel her wisely and with compassion. Enni has a knack for current slang and a feel for how teenagers relate on and offline. The novel uses social media and art as a clever way to investigate anonymity, bravery, and character change. Though Ivy and Harold are sophomores, the novel feels written for junior high, and will work for grades 7-12.      

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Leno, Katrina. You Must Not Miss.  Little, Brown & Company, 2019. 294 p. $17.99. 978-0-316-44977-9. Grades 10-12.  

Six months ago, sophomore Margaret “Magpie” Lewis had a decent life. Normal family, close best friend Allison, and reasonable grades. But in one night, everything collapsed. She and Allison walked in on Magpie’s naked dad and aunt having sex, her mom retreated into alcohol, and her college sister Eryn kept her promise to leave if her mom ever got drunk again. To add to the pain, Magpie got drunk and was sexually assaulted by Allison’s boyfriend Brandon, and popular Allison immediately decimated Magpie’s social life. Now, a very depressed Magpie attends school, does no schoolwork, sits at the outcast lunch table, and is in danger of repeating her sophomore year. She holds her new social circle at arm’s length–Clare, whose father committed suicide; bisexual Luke; trans Ben; and Brianna, who is not allowed to live down a humiliating school incident. In a yellow notebook, Magpie creates Near, a place where her former life never fell apart, where everything is perfect, and she feels no pain, only happiness.  She believes in Near so strongly that she brings it to life, accessible via the shed in her backyard. It becomes not only a refuge, but a plan of revenge. Magpie introduces Clare to Near but quickly sees the difficulties. She instead uses Near to exact revenge on those who have hurt her–her father, her sister, Brandon, Allison (who escapes), and oddly, her teacher but not her mother. This is a slow read of an interesting premise whose details are not fleshed out well. Her alter-ego “Hither” warns her of consequences, but nothing more than exhaustion and migraines affect Magpie.  Magpie disappears into Near, but her teacher and her father return (with no memories), though they were all eaten by monsters like Brandon (who does not return). Then Allison herself chooses Near.

THOUGHTS: This is a dull read of a girl who gets temporary revenge that changes only Allison’s opinion of her, but Magpie never gets the help she needs to face reality.   

Fantasy          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Dunbar, Erica Armstrong, and Kathleen Van Cleve. Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away. Simon and Schuster, 2019. 254 p. $18.99. 978-1-534-41617-8. Grades 5-12.

Ona “Oney” Judge was born into slavery on George and Martha Washington’s estate.  At ten years old, she became Martha’s personal attendant, working to smooth all the details of Martha’s wardrobe, comfort, and volatile personality. But times were changing, and many in the country were pushing for laws to free slaves, whether immediately, gradually, or at the owner’s death. As evidenced by their letters, George’s views conflicted, but Martha’s did not; she clung to the life she had been born to expect, and slaves were part of that world. As a teenager, Oney accompanied Martha to Philadelphia, seeing a completely different world: a largely free black society, white servants, and making friends in the free black community. Upon learning that Martha planned to give Oney as a wedding gift to her granddaughter–a spoiled girl who grew into an incorrigible woman–Oney decided to escape. On March 21, 1796, at twenty-two years old, Oney chose the one time of day she was least needed, during dinner, and escape by walking from the estate onto a ship bound for Portsmouth. Enraged at the humiliation by a girl “brought up and treated more like a child than a servant,” (177) the Washingtons maintained that Oney “ought not to escape with impunity” (177). What follows is a pursuit thwarted by Oney’s stalwart resolution not to return to Mount Vernon to be freed: “I am free now and choose to remain so.” It was also thwarted by abolitionists: New Hampshire Governor Langdon, who tipped off Oney to a pursuer’s second attempt to take her by force, and by customs officer Joseph Whipple, who after meeting Ona communicated clearly to George Washington to consider abandoning slavery nationwide, follow the established laws (which Washington was sidestepping) and acknowledge the changing tide of opinion on slavery. Due to political changes and to George Washington’s death in December 1799, Oney was no longer pursued, but neither was she technically “free” unless freed by Martha or Martha’s descendants (she never was). Her life in New Hampshire was one of her own making–she chose to marry a free black sailor and raised three children–it was also a life of great poverty and hardship (she outlived her husband and children, and never learned of her Mount Vernon relatives again).

THOUGHTS: A little-known story of a young woman whose “audacity” to live free astonished leaders of our nation and certainly helped to push for anti-slavery laws. Many “supposed” thoughts are inserted into Oney’s (and others’) actions, “Maybe she closed her eyes and imagined her mother…maybe she thought about the new black church that was forming just a few blocks away…” (97). This is an uncomfortable interpretation on history that is more than overdone in the book, but it could serve to make these characters feel more real to young readers. A solid addition to middle and high school collections.               

Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Cook, Eileen. You Owe Me a Murder. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 9781328519023. 346 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10. 

Kim is on her way to Europe, but rather than being excited, she is miserable. Her ex-boyfriend is also on the trip, with his new girlfriend. When a friendly girl named Nikki starts talking to Kim on the plane, they find they have many interests in common, including being so mad at someone they could just kill them. Nikki proposes that she will kill Connor, Kim’s ex, if Kim kills Nikki’s mother. After the flight lands in London, Kim doesn’t give the conversation another thought, until Connor dies. Was it an accident? Or did Nikki really kill him? All doubts are erased when Kim receives a note: You owe me a murder. At first she shrugs it off; how can Nikki make her commit murder? But it soon becomes evident that Nikki has plotted this well, and Kim will have to out-think Nikki to be free of her control. The tension is high throughout the book, with red herrings and plot twists to keep readers guessing until the very end.

THOUGHTS: A taut psychological thriller that will captivate fans of One of Us is Lying.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Ali, S.K. Love from A to Z. Salaam Reads, 2019. 978-1-5344-4272-6. 335 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Oddity: When Zayneb gets suspended from school for (once again) defending her Muslim faith to her Islamaphobic teacher, her frustrated mother decides to send her to Doha, Qatar, to visit her aunt. Oddity: Adam, coming to terms with a diagnosis of MS, the disease that killed his mother, decides to drop out of college and return home to Doha, Qatar. Marvel: They notice each other in the London airport. Marvel: They speak on the plane to Qatar. Marvel: Her aunt works with his dad. They meet. There is attraction. But Zayneb is on her best behavior, trying to develop a more mellow personality than her outspoken activist self. Adam has yet to reveal his medical prognosis to his father. Can true love flourish under these conditions? This journal-style narrative switches viewpoints between Zaynab and Adam, slowly revealing the layers of their personalities. Intertwined is their devotion to their faith, which gently allows Ali to discuss Islamophobia, cultural appropriation and Muslim culture, including wearing the hijab and dating mores. Readers may be attracted by the plot but will be all the richer for having read the book.

THOUGHTS: A first purchase where romances are popular and an excellent addition to multi-cultural collections. 

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Bennett, Jenn.  Serious Moonlight. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-42514-9. 425 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up.

Birdie Lindbergh, mystery lover extraordinaire, is in something of a pickle. The boy she had both a wonderful and disastrous one night stand with just happens to be working at the same hotel where she has landed her first job. Daniel is everything Birdie is not – gregarious, charming, friends with everyone, and in Birdie’s estimation, uncomplicated. Despite their obvious attraction to each other, and Daniel’s solicitous behavior towards her, Birdie is floundering, unsure of her own feelings. Birdie, whose mother passed away when she was young, has lived under her grandmother’s conservative and overprotective thumb for so long, isolated from peers who her own age because of homeschooling, that she second guesses every interaction. When Daniel suggests they work together – strictly as friends – to solve a mystery at the hotel involving a hyper-famous mystery writer, she can’t resist. Jenn Bennett, just like magic-loving Daniel, masterfully utilizes misdirection throughout the novel; just when the reader thinks they know exactly what path Birdie and Daniel are going down, she veers off into an unexpected, but wholly welcome, direction. The secondary characters, particularly Birdie’s sweet natured grandfather, and her outrageous, larger-than-life auntie, are well developed and play vital roles in Birdie’s life. While Birdie is our main protagonist, it is actually Daniel who steals the spotlight over and over again – Birdie often comes off as a bit one dimensional. Daniel, on the other hand, with his outgoing, witty, and disarmingly nerdy personality draw readers in right away. A breezy, fun, and heartfelt romance novel.

THOUGHTS: This is a decidedly mature book, peppered throughout with cursing, and fairly graphic intimacy – recommended for an older YA audience.

Realistic Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Elementary NF – Sergeant Reckless

McCormick, Patricia. Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero. Balzer + Bray, 2017. 978-0-06-229259-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. 2-5.

One of my favorite new titles from 2017, Patricia McCormick’s Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero is amazing in every sense. McCormick tells the fascinating story of a hungry little mare abandoned during the Korean War who was adopted by a group of Marines and taught to haul heavy ammunition. Named Reckless by the men, the horse had a very healthy appetite and worked hard for any and all food…and ate quite a few things besides! She especially loved ice-cold Coca-Cola. The little mare proved to be quite brave and steady in the face of danger. She earned a promotion from Private to Sergeant for her work within the Marines, and she is the only animal to officially hold military rank. She also received two Purple Hearts and retired with full military honors after the men she fought with started a campaign to bring her to the United States for her retirement. McCormick’s writing is well-paced and full of action, making this story a sure favorite for all lovers of horses and military history, but it would also make an excellent general read-aloud for all students. Equal to (or perhaps even topping!) McCormick’s writing are Iacopo Bruno’s marvelous, thoughtful illustrations. Every inch of the book is marked by Bruno’s work, from the detailed, informational front and back endpapers to the excellent back matter which includes McCormick’s Author’s Note and a photograph of Reckless at her ceremony of honor. Bruno illustrated the story in a scrapbook style which includes bits of newspaper articles and headlines, a snippet of the army field manual, layers of papers and photographs, advertisements, and more, and often McCormick’s writing is displayed on signs, sheets, playing cards, and other elements of Bruno’s illustrations. The book design is ingenious and makes the book even better. THOUGHTS: McCormick and Bruno are a winning team–students will love Reckless and her story.

636.1; Technology    Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District

MS NF – Jackie Robinson; Newsmakers; Beauty Hacks; Captured Science History

Rappaport, Doreen. 42 is Just Not a Number. Candlewick Press, 2017. 978-0-7636-7624-7. $15.99. 119 p. Gr. 4-8.

This reading experience brings to life Jackie Robinson, the Hall-of-Fame athlete who donned the famous baseball jersey number 42. Readers will learn more about Jackie Robinson’s childhood, and his success at UCLA where he became the first student-athlete to letter in four sports. After college, readers may be shocked to learn that Jackie was drafted into the war. The segregation and racism that Jackie experienced as a child, a college student, a serviceman, and a negro league baseball player is detailed in the book. Jackie did not allow the cruelty he received to dash his dreams or those individuals that would follow. It was the moral integrity on top of his athletic skills that drew interest from manager Branch Rickey. The legacy of Robinson is clearly presented. A timeline at the end organizes the important dates and events.  Thoughts: The writing and research are solid. The addition of illustrations or photographs could have added to the reading experience for students.

Biography     Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

Moritz, Rachel.  Julian Assange: Founder of Wikileaks (Newsmakers series). ABDO, 2018. 9781680789645  $23.00.  48 p.  Gr. 3-6.

This book is divided into five chapters. Supplemental information includes dates, glossary, and index. Captions are in blue font. Primary source information is included. In this book, background information about the history of computer hacking is included in a fact box as readers learn about Assange’s computer interests when growing up. Following the online link, there are common core activities that can be used in the classroom along with web links including additional information.  Additional titles in the second edition of the Newsmaker series include Fidel Castro, Hillary Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Elon Musk, Donald Trump, and Ivanka Trump.  THOUGHTS: These books are contemporary biographies to add to your collection. The additional features in the book can be helpful for class research or individual curiosity.

Biography      Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

Rissman, Rebecca. Beauty Hacks. Capstone, 2018.  978-1-5157-6835-7. 40 p. $93.36 set of 4. Gr. 4-8.

Books in this series include Makeup & Skin Hacks , Fashion Hacks, Hair Hacks and Nail, Hand, and Feet Hacks. A recipe for body scrubs is one of the many hands-on activities included in Makeup and Skin. The directions provide pictures and detailed steps. Directions for ombre dye and tie-dye leggings can be found in Fashion Hacks. Each section has clearly identified headings and engaging magazine-like layout.  THOUGHTS:  The book will appeal to students that enjoy fashion magazines like Teen Vogue or Seventeen. With the wide topics and strong binding, these books will have staying power.

600s, Fashion      Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

Captured Science History. Compass Point, 2018.  978-0-7565-5660-0.  $103.96 set of four. 64 p. Gr. 5-9.

Double Helix: How an image sparked the discovery of the secret of Life by Danielle Smith-Llera contains four chapters, a timeline, glossary, additional resources and an index. The other books in this set are Hubble Deep Field, Finding the Titanic, and Mars Rover. The layout of the book includes effective use of whitespace. The engaging writing style generates the excitement that the deoxyribonucleic acid discovery generated. Background information and contemporary questions regarding DNA are detailed. Featured individuals include biophysicist Rosalind Franklin and her important photograph “Photo 51”, and one of the first molecular biologists, Oswald Avery, The timeline includes pictures to reinforce the facts. The book concludes with a glossary, additional resources, critical thinking questions, and an index.  THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful series to add to a collection to engage students and enhance science research projects. Other Captured series from Capstone include Captured Sports History and Captured World History. All series have the same exquisite layout.

Science, Technology     Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

YA Fiction – Spliced; One Memory of Flora Banks; Crown’s Fate; Liberty

McGoran, Jon.  Spliced.  Holiday House, 2017.  978-0-8234-3855-6. 368 p.  $18.95.  Gr. 8 and up.

Jimi lives in Philadelphia, sometime in the future when the “zurbs” no longer have power and and much of North America has flooded.  Her next-door neighbor and best friend, Del, makes her miss the bus to school one day, so they walk to school.  On the way they witness a police officer becoming overly violent while he is apprehending some chimeras.  (Chimeras are humans who have voluntarily spliced their genes with animal genes.)  Jimi and her friend get involved in the melee which leads them on a path filled with danger and adventure.   Woven into the story are parallels to our political climate and current events, such as police brutality, hate groups, environmental warnings, as well as some cautionary tales about technological advances. McGoran stretches the dystopian genre and makes this well-worn genre seem fresh again with this book.  THOUGHTS:  Students who enjoy action-packed dystopian stories will enjoy this, but you could also hand this to someone concerned about the environment or hate groups.

Dystopian, Action/Adventure     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Barr, Emily. The One Memory of Flora Banks. Philomel, 2017. 978-0-399-54701-0. 290 p. $15.99. Gr. 9-12.

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks suffers from anterograde amnesia. While she can remember events from her early childhood, she has been unable to create new memories since she was ten years old. This all changes, however, when she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend. She remembers everything about their kiss. Thinking that perhaps Drake is the key to curing her condition, she sets off to find him in Svalbard, Norway, where he has gone to study abroad. Throughout her journey, Flora makes discoveries about herself, about her past, and about Drake that lead her to question everything she thought was real.  A touching story of bravery, self-discovery and independence, this book will speak to any teen who desires the freedom to make his/her own decisions which is pretty much every teen. THOUGHTS: At the heart of this book is a great amount of repetition: Flora must constantly read her notes to herself about who she is and what she has done in order to figure out why she is doing what she is doing. Her thoughts are often jumbled and bounce back and forth between memories of her childhood and reminders about who she is now.  Obviously, the purpose of this is for the reader to be able to relate to her condition, although this could potentially bore and/or confuse some readers.  In Flora’s conversations with Drake, there are some sexual references which makes this book more appropriate for high school audiences. While there are not many young adult books on the market that deal with this particular type of amnesia, the 2004 movie 50 First Dates, starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, focuses on anterograde amnesia.  Therefore, this movie and Barr’s book could possibly be paired for a unit on amnesia in a psychology course.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Barr, Melissa. The One Memory of Flora Banks. Philomel Books, 2017.  978-039954710. 304p. $15.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

Flora Banks has been unable to form a new memory since she was ten years old.  Every day when she wakes up, and sometimes in the middle of the day, she doesn’t know who or where she is.  Flora’s coping mechanisms for this are impressive; notes to herself, writing on her arms, a notebook that re-explains her condition to herself.  It is fascinating to imagine what that would feel like, but this book is so much more that that.  The story becomes very complex, and the reader does not know what the truth is.  Which of the characters in the book are reliable?  THOUGHTS: This is a compelling read that fans who have outgrown Wonder and Out of My Mind will enjoy. Fans of e. Lockhart’s We Were Liars will also enjoy this.

Realistic Fiction     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Skye, Evelyn. The Crown’s Fate. Balzar + Bray, 2017. 978-0-06-242261-3. $17.99. 417 p. Gr. 8 and up.

In this sequel to The Crown’s Game, Imperial Russia is teetering on the brink of chaos. Pasha must convince his countrymen he is the legitimate heir to the throne. Vika, the Imperial Enchanter after Nikolai sacrificed himself for her, pines for her former companion, resents Pasha for causing his death, and chafes under the authority of Yuliana, Pasha’s sister. But Vika becomes aware that Nikolai is not fully dead but living in a land of shadows. As he becomes stronger and more corporeal, Nikolai also becomes more evil, exposing magic to the unsuspecting populace and challenging Pasha for the throne.  Can Vika save herself, let alone her dearest friends and the empire? THOUGHTS : A thoroughly satisfying sequel filled with magic, well-developed characters and a fascinating alternate history of Imperial Russia.  The ending leaves the possibility of further books.

Fantasy, Romance     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Portes, Andrea. Liberty. HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-06-242199-9. $17.99. 388p. Gr. 9 and up.

Paige’s parents have been missing for two years, and no one is telling Paige if they are dead or alive. Journalists, the pair was grabbed on their way to Damascus. Now Paige is in college, attempting to live in a state of suspended animation. But Paige, who speaks five languages and is an expert in several forms of martial arts, captures the attention of a super-secret government agency (after taking out two guys with AK-47s at the Altoona Applebee’s restaurant), and they have a deal for her. If she helps them learn what information a government hacker currently stranded in Russia possesses, they will reopen her parents’ case. Hard for a girl to say no, so off to Russia she goes, where she meets the mysterious Katerina and is befriended (a new experience for Paige) by the son of a Russian mob boss. THOUGHTS: The funniest book I have read in years, Liberty covers many headline issues – ISIS, Putin, Edward Snowden – with a scathing, snarky voice. Paige continuously addresses the reader, frequently advising her to google a particular topic, then come back to the book. Some readers may need to do that, to comprehend every nuance of the plot, but it is worth the time it takes. A totally delightful book, with implied sequels to come.

Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

YA Realistic Fiction – Aftercare Instructions; History of All You Left Me; Solo; When Dimple Met Rishi

Pipkin, Bonnie. Aftercare Instructions. Flatiron Books, 2017. 978-1-125-011484-6. 368 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Genesis, named for the band, is hurting. Her life has been full of pain and letdowns. Gen tells her story of being abandoned at an abortion clinic in New York City. As promised, she told no one about the pregnancy, not even her best friend, but Peter ditched her, and now she needs help. She’s from New Jersey and has to make her way back home on her own. Dark and disturbing, Aftercare Instructions focuses on Genesis’s post-abortion fallout, as she tries to understand her failed relationship and figure out when she and Peter grew apart. As Gen spirals out of control to forget Peter and the pain of losing him, she needs to figure out who she is on her own.  This unique storyline is interspersed with procedural and post-procedural instructions, flashbacks to her relationship with Peter, while revealing Gen’s current struggle to forgive or forget Peter. As if this wasn’t unique enough, Pipkin incorporates a four act throughout the novel play that gives voice to those in Gen’s life.  THOUGHTS: Aftercare Instructions gives teens an intimate view of one girl’s choices and the repercussions of them. Descriptions of sex, abortion, and teen binge drinking may not be suitable for younger readers.

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Silvera, Adam. History is All You Left Me. Soho Teen. 2017. 978.1616956929 294 pp.  $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Griffin and Theo are each other’s first loves and part of a tight knit, three piece “squad” with their friend Wade. Theo, smart, creative and confidant, is a life line for Griffin who suffers from an array of obsessive compulsive tics and anxieties. Griffin feels grounded and safe in the company of Theo and Wade. But in a surprise development, Theo decides to graduate high school early and head off to college in California, leaving the squad behind. Griffin is forlorn and reluctantly breaks up with Theo to give him his freedom in his new life.  Within months, Theo has found a new love at school and Griffin, increasingly isolated and anxious, begins to unravel at home.  Griffin and Theo’s new boyfriend are at odds;  Griffin continues to obsess over Theo, and the relationship between the three friends changes dramatically. When Theo dies in an accident, Griffin, Wade and Theo’s new love, Jackson, look to each other to mend their broken hearts. The story is told in chapters that flash back and forth from the beginnings of the friendship between the squad, the development of Theo and Griffin’s romance, the long winter when Theo left and fell in love with another,  and the aftermath of Theo’s death.   This emotional and heart-wrenching tale examines the paths people take to come to terms with heartbreak, grief, guilt and self-doubt and come out stronger in the end.  THOUGHTS: A strong and positive portrayal of LGBT relationships with well-drawn , complex characters and a nuanced plot that explores sexuality, mental health, friendship, and loss. A rewarding read.  

Realistic Fiction     Nancy Summers, Abington SD

 

Alexander, Kwame and Mary Rand Hess. Solo. Blink, 2017. 978-0-310-76183-9. 464 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Blade is a seventeen year old who has grown up living the life of a rock star legend’s son,  the good and the bad sides. He’s had everything he could ever want, but he grew up in the public eye with paparazzi watching out for every misstep. His life hasn’t been without tragedy either. At nine he lost his mother, and his father lost himself to addictions. Blade and his sister grew up with broken promises of sobriety.   When his father literally crashes one of the biggest moments of his life, Blade has had enough. He’s witnessed enough broken promises to fill a lifetime and cannot forgive his father this time. Blade begins to question everything he has known when a deeply hidden family secret comes to light. A journey from the hills of Hollywood to a village in Ghana may be just what he needs to rediscover who Blade Morrison is and for what he stands.   THOUGHTS: Like Alexander’s sports themed The Crossover and Kicked, Solo is told in verse. With the music inspired characters, this time the story is interspersed with song lyrics, many by main character Blade Morrison. Fans of music, especially rock and roll, will appreciate the references and lyrics. Within the short lines, there is much more than music. Family contentions, addiction and substance abuse, as well as one’s identity are all pieces of the puzzle. This book has so much more to offer all readers, and reluctant readers especially will enjoy its brief verse style.

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Alexander, Kwame and Mary Rand Hess. Solo. Blink, 2017. 978-03107-61839. $17.99. 464 pp.  Gr. 9 and up.

Blade Morrison hates most of his life. Seventeen and about to graduate from high school, he has grown up the son of ultra-famous rock star, Rochester Morrison.  But fame, wealth, and a Hollywood Hills address can’t make up for the spiral of drug use and unsuccessful rehab stints his father has failed to master since Blade’s mother’s death eight years ago.  The tabloids, the paparazzi, his father’s embarrassing episodes are building up anger in Blade.  The few bright spots are his secret girlfriend, Chapel, his talent and love for songwriting and guitar, his music mentor Robert, and sometimes, even his older sister.  But his anger leads to a secret family revelation, he was adopted which shakes his identity even further.  Impetuously, he heads to Ghana to locate his birth mother, but not until he smashes a priceless guitar that was a gift from his father and inks his arm “Chapel” just before he finds Chapel kissing her former boyfriend.  Needless to say, Blade is swimming in agony and anger as he leaves the States.  This is an extremely well-written novel in terms of word choice, rhythm and interest; it is clever in so many word and musical ways.  The use of American music to illustrate various situations lends insight and easily leads the reader to seek out (or call up a mental soundtrack) specifically mentioned songs, largely blues and rock.  I caught enough clever musical references to be certain I missed many more.  However, character development and the overall storyline are largely unbelieveable.  Blade changes too quickly and completely from self-centered, angry, whiny, privileged son of a rock star who hates said rock star into calm, open-minded, hopeful young man at peace with his music, his father, and his place in the world.  And this change is due to what?  Two weeks in Ghana to locate his birth mother?  Other characters and changes are fairly unbelieveable as well, mainly his father’s decision (yet again) to change, and certainly his new love interest, ultra-wise Joy, in Ghana.  Blade switches from devotion to his American ex-girlfriend who cheats on him, to new-found Joy (pun intended) within days, again, unrealistically, lustfully, or at least unhealthily.  THOUGHTS:  Overall, this is an enjoyable read for the fantastic writing skill, abundant music knowledge, and obvious love of music, but the story lacks verisimilitude.  

Realistic Fiction      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area School District

 

Alexander, Kwame. Solo. New York: Harper Collins, 2017. 978-0-310-76183-9. 464 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Kwame Alexander has struck again! In his signature verse, Alexander’s newest novel, Solo, is reminiscent of The Crossover and Booked, but with decidedly more mature content and characters. Blade is tired of being let down by his father, former rock star, Rutherford Morrison; he’s tired of Rutherford’s grand gestures that inevitably end up with Blade humiliated, or Rutherford back in rehab. Blade finds comfort in two things: his music and his very serious girlfriend, Chapel. When a bombshell revelation from Blade’s sister coincides with a betrayal from Chapel, Blade decides to travel to Ghana to find some answers to his questions about who he is, and where he came from. While Blade lacks some of the charm and likability that Josh (The Crossover) and Nick (Booked) both displayed, he’s still a compelling character. His passion for music is endearing, and his all-encompassing relationship with Chapel is definitely relatable. Give this to fans of Alexander who have outgrown the middle grade section of the library. Thoughts: While I really enjoyed this book, I found Blade’s trip to Ghana slightly unrealistic. Not only did Blade just get on the plane without any pre-planning whatsoever, he had no trouble navigating through a foreign country nor did he encounter any obstacles once he arrived at his destination.  

Realistic Fiction Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Menon, Sandyha. When Dimple Met Rishi. Simon Pulse, 2017. 978-1481478687. 384 pp. $26.00. Gr. 9-12.

Dimple Shah lives and breathes web development, so she’s thrilled when her parents agree to let her attend Insomnia Con in San Francisco during the summer before she enrolls at Stanford University. Rishi Patel is also at Insomnia Con, partly to participate in the intense six-week app coding contest, and partly to meet Dimple, whom his parents have selected as his potential marriage partner. Unbeknownst to Dimple, her parents are also in on this scheme to pair her with an “I.I.H.” (Ideal Indian Husband). Rishi introduces himself by saying, “Hello, future wife!” and a mortified Dimple flings her iced coffee at him and scurries away. To her chagrin, Rishi has requested her as a partner for Insomnia Con, and when they start working together Dimple realizes that Rishi is artistic, funny, and sincere. Rishi, meanwhile, likes Dimple’s smile and all-in approach to pursuing her goals. Their perspectives alternate as they explore San Francisco and develop their app initiatives amidst hipsters, hippies, and not-so-friendly competitors. Menon’s wonderful debut novel is spared from predictability by witty banter, a cool setting, and flipping stereotypical relationship roles upside down (Rishi is the one hoping for an arranged marriage, and Dimple is focused on her work). THOUGHTS: This delightfully of-the-moment rom-com, complete with coding and caffeine, belongs in every teen collection!

Realistic Fiction, Romance     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

Dimple Shah and Rishi Patel could not be more different.  Dimple is an independent young woman, passionate about coding, who feels confined by her parents’ expectations – specifically her mother’s, who seems bent on making Dimple into the perfect wife.  Rishi is a rule follower to his core; he wants nothing more to please his parents, even if that means setting aside his own dreams.  Rishi is thrilled with the idea of an arranged marriage with Dimple, something that he’s known about, and daydreamed about, for a long time.  Dimple, on the other hand, has no idea that there is any arrangement with Rishi, and anyway, marriage is the last thing on her mind.  So when the two of them meet for the first time at Insomnia Con, a summer coding program, it goes hilariously awry, beginning with Dimple pouring her iced coffee all over Rishi when she thinks he’s a stalker.  Sandhya Menon has written a delightful, smart, funny romantic comedy, starring two protagonists who think they know exactly what they want out of their lives, but after some unexpected revelations, realize maybe there’s more out there for both of them.  While the ending is a little too neat and tidy, it’s gratifying to see Dimple and Rishi become the people they were meant to be. THOUGHTS:  I loved this book. Dimple and Rishi are extremely relatable, and I enjoyed the reversal of gender expectations; Dimple is focused solely on college and a career, whereas Rishi is excited by the prospect of having a wife and family.  The way Menon depicts microaggressions, and the different ways that Rishi and Dimple deal with them – Dimple clams up, and Rishi confronts it head-on – is both realistic and poignant.  While the supporting characters are a little stereotypical, it doesn’t detract from the story at all.  Highly recommended for all high school libraries!

Realistic Fiction; Romance    Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Upper Elem/MS NF – Way Things Work Now; Some Writer

thingswork

Macauly, David. The Way Things Work Now: From Levers to Lasers, Windmills to Wi-Fi, A Visual Guide to the World of Machines. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.  978-0-544-82438-6. 400 p. $35.00. Gr. 3-8.

Technology has changed considerably since the first edition of Macauley’s best- selling classic The Way Things Work was published in 1988. This newest update is rife with the classic and beautiful illustrations and cutaways that are his hallmark. The wooly mammoth is back again and many of the entries are the same or only slightly revised from the previous editions.  Macauley’s clear and concise prose provides explanations of the most notable inventions and technologies and the scientific principles that link many of mankind’s greatest achievements. The clever puns and jokes are still there and the illustrations are noticeably more vibrant.  THOUGHTS: This edition includes dozens of new entries on the many developments of our digital age including the World Wide Web, smartphones and hybrid cars, which make this update a welcome and necessary addition to every elementary and middle school library; heck high schoolers will appreciate it as well.  

600; Technology     Nancy Summers, Abington SHS

 

somewriter

Sweet, Melissa. Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 978-0544319592. $18.99. 161pp. Gr. 3-6.

Perennial favorite children’s author E. B. White’s life and career are reviewed in this charming bio by Caldecott Honor winning author, Melissa Sweet.  Beautifully designed pages with gorgeous illustrations, photographs and collages reveal his charmed life, his treasured childhood memories, his happy marriage, his lifelong love of nature and animals and his gift for writing. Sweet blends White’s own words from his classic tales and his personal correspondences into her well researched and inspiring tribute. Young and old fans alike will enjoy reading about his retreat in Maine, which served as an inspiration for his best loved work, Charlotte’s Web. The book includes an afterword by the author’s granddaughter, a timeline, an bibliography and an index. THOUGHTS: A delightful biography of a beloved American wordsmith and a recommended title for elementary libraries. Terrific!

Biography      Nancy Summers, Abington SHS