YA – The Box in the Woods

Johnson, Maureen. The Box in the Woods. Katherine Tegen Books, 2021. 978-0-063-03260-6. 383 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

In July of 1978, Sabrina Abbott was breaking the rules, something this too good girl had never done. She and her friends paid dearly. Student sleuth Stevie Bell, known for solving the unsolvable Ellingham Academy case is home for the summer, working the second shift at the deli counter of her town’s local grocery store in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Desperate for her next case – or something more interesting than thinly sliced meat and cheese – Stevie receives an email referencing Camp Wonder Falls, and Stevie being Stevie knows this is the Camp Wonder Falls with the box in the woods murders. The email’s sender, Carson Buchwald, knows of Stevie’s talent for crime solving, and he wants to give Stevie full access to the camp, now known as Camp Sunny Pines, in exchange for her help in creating a true-crime podcast/documentary. Stevie and her friends will be counselors at camp, but Stevie really will focus on the case. Of course, her parents never will let her go for a decades old murder investigation, so Stevie has to get creative. Once at camp, Stevie enjoys time with her friends and barely tolerates the outdoors, but having real life family members of victims is harder than Stevie thought. Then an eerie message appears on Stevie’s bedroom wall – much like the one at Ellingham – and Stevie realizes not everyone is happy with Carson’s plan to  drudge up buried memories. Someone definitely doesn’t want the truth to surface, but that’s never stopped Stevie before.

THOUGHTS: Fast-paced and twisty, this thriller/mystery works best if you have the context of the series, but it can be read as a stand alone. A must purchase for high schools where mysteries are in demand.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Stevie Bell is back. With the Ellingham mystery solved and summer in full swing, Stevie’s life has returned to “normal” until she receives an email from Carson Buchwald, owner of Camp Sunny Pines in Massachusetts. Previously Camp Wonder Falls, where four gruesome murders happened in July 1978, Carson wants Stevie’s help to solve the “Box in the Woods” murders for his podcast. Stevie is intrigued by the request and accepts a position at the camp, along with Nate and Janelle, so that she can investigate the murders further. As Stevie learns more about the murders, she realizes that the town, and those who were there in 1978, are not sharing the whole truth. While she delves into the details and ultimately figures everything out, Stevie must also deal with David and her relationship, whatever it may be, with him.

THOUGHTS: Told through alternating chapters of present day with Stevie and flashbacks to July 1978, Maureen Johnson adds another delightful mystery to her repertoire. The only downside to this stand-alone is that I wish it weren’t a stand-alone. Stevie Bell is a fantastic character who is the perfect 21st Century detective. Readers want (and need) more of Stevie, Nate, Janelle, and David.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Fans of Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious series will be delighted with this new stand-alone mystery featuring the cast of characters from Truly Devious. It’s summer break and real crime buff Stevie, fresh off solving the notorious Truly, Devious murders at her school, Ellingham Academy, is at loose ends at home. Then comes an offer too good to refuse. Wealthy, eccentric, entrepreneur Carson Buchwald purchased a summer camp that was the location of the notorious Box in the Wood murders over 40 years ago, and he offers Stevie and her friends summer jobs at the camp, with the expectation that Stevie will identify the killer of the four teen camp counselors. (So he can make a podcast on the murders.) Stevie, Nate, and Janelle head to camp, bringing their unique skill sets to help Stevie uncover what happened in the summer of 1978. A sprawling cast of characters past and present offers red herrings galore. But Johnson plays fair with the reader, offering enough clues for an astute reader to determine who-done-it, but the how and the why are largely revealed in the big, Agatha Christie inspired denouement. It is a gloriously fun book, which can be read as a stand-alone, but readers of the Truly Devious series will be delighted to reconnect with familiar characters, and hope for more books. While most characters are white, Janelle is black and queer. Stevie’s struggle with anxiety is well portrayed.

THOUGHTS: A sophisticated mystery with a dynamic, enjoyable cast of characters, this book has it all: action, danger, suspense, clues, red herring and good, loyal friends. Readers of The Box in the Woods who haven’t read Truly Devious will definitely seek the series out.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA Story Collection – Meet Cute

Meet Cute: some people are destined to meet. Alloy Entertainment, 2018. 978-1328759870. 320. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

This sweet collection of stories from a variety of popular young adult authors is a welcome respite from our current contentious reality. Each story revolves around the first meeting of two individuals in a variety of settings and situations, some realistic and some based in the future or an alternate reality. There is a diverse cast of characters throughout, and many different genders and sexual orientation preferences are represented. I found myself engrossed in each story, wondering how the characters will ultimately be brought together. Two of my particular favorites were “Hourglass” by Ibi Zoboi, which highlighted one girl’s struggle with body image, and “Department of Dead Love” by Nicola Yoon, a futuristic take on dealing with broken relationships. I found myself wishing that both stories would continue! THOUGHTS: This is a great collection of stories to serve diverse audiences in a high school setting. Highly recommended!

Short Stories     Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

YA FIC – Before I Let Go; Rules of Rain; Moxie; The Librarian of Auschwitz

Nijkamp, Marieke. Before I Let Go. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018. 978-1-492-64228-2. 368 p. $17.15. Gr. 10 and up.

Returning to Lost Creek, Alaska, for her best friend’s funeral after moving away several months ago, Corey is devastated. She never found the words to tell Kyra that there was a great big world outside of Lost, and now she’ll never have the opportunity. Guilt-ridden over never responding to Kyra’s letters, Corey doesn’t know what to expect in Lost. Lost isn’t what she remembers, and neither are the people that live there. The town that she once loved and that loved her seems like it’s hiding something. Determined to uncover the truth about Kyra’s death, Corey sets out on her own. Desperate to find answers before her return to Winnipeg and terrified for her safety, Corey races against the clock before her flight departs. Told in present tense, letters sent and unsent, and flashback narratives written in play format, Corey’s and Kyra’s stories unfold as Lost fights to keep its secrets.  THOUGHTS: The remote Alaskan wilderness amps up the creepy factor in this mystery. Through the emphasis on Kyra’s storytelling, readers will be compelled to learn what actually happened to her, but they may not feel fully invested in the novel, as the characters lack depth. Though identity and mental health issues are addressed, they are not at the center of the story. Before I Let Go is a good read for mystery fans and those interested in exploring the ways mental illness affects one’s life and experiences.

Mystery; Realistic Fiction    Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Scheier, Leah. Rules of Rain. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1-492-65426-1. 384 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up.

The connection between twins can be unique. Add into the mix one twin has autism, and the dynamics are even more complicated. Rain’s entire life has revolved around her brother and helping him navigate the world. She has been Ethan’s voice and rock for so long that she knows no different.  Now teenagers, Rain and Ethan are beginning to grow into themselves and somewhat apart from each other. She is interested in cooking and blogging about obscure recipes, while he is fascinated by the inner workings of the human body. Rain and Ethan experience many firsts and learn a lot about each other and themselves. While Ethan seems to be thriving in his independence, it is Rain who begins to unravel. THOUGHTS: This is more than a coming of age story, and there are a lot of issues involved. At the heart of the novel twins are learning as much from each other as the world around them. Their twin/sibling relationship, autism, family dynamics/relationships, parent/child roles, divorce, bullying, underage drinking, as well as teen relationships (friendship and romantic). While other issues are present, to say more would spoil the surprise. Teens with complicated home lives and/or challenging sibling dynamics will like this character-driven novel. Some mature content makes this book more suited for high school readers.  

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Mathieu, Jennifer.  Moxie.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017.  978-1-62672-635-2. 330 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Unlike her mother, who was a rebellious teenager, Vivian Carter has always kept to herself and followed the rules.  However, after witnessing incident after incident of sexism in her conservative Texas high school, none of which are corrected by the administration, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl zines of the nineties, Vivian creates and distributes an anonymous zine around her school, calling for all girls to take action in protest.  The movement gradually grows, with more and more girls participating in each new protest and some girls even taking their own actions to improve the misogynistic environment.  Inspiring and empowering, readers will keep turning pages in order to find out what the Moxie girls are going to do next–and whether or not they will be successful in changing their school’s culture. THOUGHTS: Because of its strong emphasis on feminism, I would recommend this book to teenage girls and/or those who enjoy reading fiction with strong female protagonists.  The novel would also be an excellent supplement for a social studies unit on women’s history, women’s rights, and/or social activism.  It would be sure to spark discussion and may even inspire students to conduct further research on the Riot Grrrl movement of the nineties.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD


Iturbe, Antonio. The Librarian of Auschwitz. Translated by Lilit Thwaites. Henry Holt and Company, 2017. 978-1627796187. 432 p. $19.99. Gr. 9-12.

Spanish author Antonia Iturbe tells a fictionalized story of the little-known “Librarian of Auschwitz,” a young girl whose task it was to protect the few books in the possession of Jews in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Dita Kraus arrives at Auschwitz after living in the Terezin Ghetto, and is “lucky” enough to be sent to the family camp instead of directly to the gas chambers. In this part of the camp, there is a school run by Freddy Hirsch, who sees in Dita a strong young woman willing to protect their beloved texts. The story moves back and forth between Dita’s life in the ghetto, the lives of other prisoners and Jews, and the backstory of the enigmatic Hirsch. The novel starts out slow and on occasion the language seems a bit stunted (which might be a result of reading it as a translation). However, the story and characters do shine through, and the reader becomes engrossed in this story of both the cultural and physical survival of a people. THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for high schools, especially to complement memoirs and other readings about the Holocaust.

Historical Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy

YA Realistic FIC – She, Myself, & I; Love, Hate, & Other Filters; American Street; Alex Approximately

Young, Emma. She, Myself, and I. Amulet Books, 2017. 978-1-4197-2570-8. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Paralyzed and slowly dying from a degenerative disease, 18-year-old Rosa longs for a normal life.  Brain-dead after an accident while trying to help a friend, 18-year-old Sylvia’s family is left with no hope of her ever regaining consciousness.  Their young lives are about to intertwine in ways never thought scientifically possible.  A brain transplant will give Rosa a new body and Sylvia the legacy of a lifetime.  The physical recovery will be long and difficult for both Rosa and her family as well as Sylvia’s parents and friends.  As Rosa learns how to live in her new body, she becomes deeply preoccupied with the person whose tragedy that gave her the ability to walk again.  She needs to know who Sylvia was before the accident, whether a part of Sylvia still lives on in her, and if she will ever feel like “herself” again when she looks in a mirror and sees someone else’s face.  THOUGHTS:  A dying quadriplegic teenage girl is given the chance of a lifetime — to wake up in a new body with a new future.  How does she compromise who she used to be with who she is now?  What does she, and everyone around her, see when her face is no longer her own?  While the situation itself might seem unrealistic, medical technology is rapidly advancing and brain transplantation might not be far from the horizon.  Technology aside, the existentialism of Rosa’s situation and the ripple effect on Rosa’s and Sylvia’s families and friends are not often seen in YA literature and will resonate with teens as they embark on their own journey of discovery.

Realistic Fiction      Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley School District


Ahmed, Samira. Love, Hate & Other Filters. Soho Teen, 2018. 978-1-6169-5847-3. 288 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Maya Aziz is torn between being the typical American high school senior and being the traditional Indian girl her parents wish for her to be. Maya’s parents emigrated to the U.S. with dreams; dreams that included for their daughter to have a future as a successful lawyer with a Muslim husband.  But Maya’s dreams are not her parents dreams.  She loves to make movies and has a crush on the star football player.  She is beyond excited yet also scared that she’s been accepted to NYU with a note saying they think her films “show promise”, and the star football player just might be interested in her, too.  As Maya frets over decisions that will shape her future, a terrorist attack at the state capital threatens to take it all away from her.  In the aftermath, Maya and her family must learn how to compromise their dreams with our nation’s reality.  THOUGHTS:  In sharing the story of 18-year-old Maya, born in America to parents that emigrated from India to a small Illinois town, Samira Ahmed has captured what it means to be anyone who is of Middle Eastern descent in the United States.  Ignorance and false information continues to feed racism in our country.  There are far too many Americans who conveniently forget that, unless they are American Indian, we ALL come from a long line of immigrants who were given a chance to build their own version of the American dream.  Ahmed also turns the spotlight on the issue of fear and anger stemming from the refusal to accept others as they are, particularly when the actions of one cast a suspicious net on others, and especially when religion is involved.  Oftentimes, people act out of ignorance and anger, not considering the lasting effects on all those around them.  The addition of an anonymous secondary narrator will make readers question their own preconceptions as the story weaves to its conclusion.  I would rank Love, Hate, & Other Filters right up there with Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give and should be on every high school reading list.

Realistic Fiction     Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley School District


Zoboi, Ibi. American Street. Balzer+Bray, 2017. 978-0062473042. 326 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

American Street is a powerful debut novel, and one that should find its way to every library that serves young adults. Told from the point of view of a recent Haitian immigrant to the United States, the story highlights and expands on many current issues in our world regarding immigration and poverty in urban areas. Fabiola Toussaint travels from Haiti with her mother to live with her mother’s sister and her daughters in Detroit, Michigan. Yet, when they arrive in the States, Fabiola’s mother is detained by immigration officials and Fabiola is forced to travel on to Detroit alone. When she arrives, she is quick to realize that American life might not be like what she imagined. Her three female cousins are loud and brazen, and her aunt never seems to work or leave the house, situated on American Street in inner-city Detroit. Fabiola is despondent over the loss of her mother and unsure of how to act in this new American life, maintaining her faith in her voodoo practices to seek understanding. A new relationship lightens the story, but Fabiola must soon decide what is more important to her: the chaotic family who brought her to the United States, or a mother whose love has sustained her. This book realistically and honestly describes the immigrant plight, from one poverty-stricken area to another.  THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for high school students as well as adults. This author is one to watch.

Realistic Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy


Bennett, Jenn. Alex Approximately. Simon Pulse, 2017. 978-1481478779. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Bailey Rydell has decided to join her divorced father in California, the other side of the country from her mother and her stepfather, who cannot seem to stop fighting. Not only will Bailey be able to spend time with her father, but she will also be in the same town as “Alex”, a boy whom she has been talking with on an online movie-lovers chat room for a long time. Bailey thinks that she and Alex might be perfect together, but she decides not to tell him that she is moving until she can do some detective work and find a little bit more about Alex in the flesh. Bailey is obsessed with old movies and movie stars and is excited when her father gets her a job at a local museum. The first day on the job she butts heads with Porter Roth, the son of a local surf legend and security guard at the museum. Soon, they realize that they each have experienced troubles in their pasts and try to move forward together. Will Alex get in the way of their budding relationship? This sweet story starts out slow, and Bailey can be a bit annoying at times. But, as she grows as a character she evolves into a strong young woman in her own right. The adult characters are numerous and realistic, and add a nice counterpoint to the teen viewpoint. THOUGHTS: Teens will find this novel fun yet introspective, a new-age take on the classic Shop Around the Corner (Bailey would know what this movie is, but I rather doubt most teens would!).

Realistic Fiction     Lindsey Myers, Shady Side



YA Realistic Fiction – Kill the Boy Band; Klickitat; Gutless; Holding up the Universe


Moldavsky, Goldy. Kill the Boy Band. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-86747-4. 312p. $17.99. Gr. 10-12.

Moldavsky takes a dark (yet humorous) look at the cult-like world of teen girls obsessed with boy bands in her debut novel. Four teen girls (Erin, Isabel, Apple and the novel’s unnamed narrator) are bound by their love of The Ruperts, a British boy band. Determined to meet the boys when they come to New York for a Thanksgiving concert, the girls get a room at the same swanky hotel where the band is staying. When Apple encounters her favorite member of the band, Rupert P., in the hotel hallway, she tackles him, knocks him out, and brings him back to the girls’ room. Now in possession of their very own Rupert, the four must decide what to do with him. A night filled with adventure, romance, band drama, fights, social media wars, fan riots and yes, even murder, occurs. THOUGHTS: In this dark, satirical look at the world of fame, everyone is revealed to have flaws, from the obsessed fans to the the boy banders, who turn out to be not so perfect after all. Fans of today’s popular groups will find many of the scenarios and observations present in the novel relatable and spot-on. Purchasers should be aware that language used in the book make this a purchase best suited for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS



Rock, Peter. Klickitat. New York: Amulet, 2016. 978-1-4197-1894-6. 229p. $17.95. Gr. 9-12.

Vivian’s rock has always been her older sister, Audra. She helps Vivian deal with episodes of anxiety and stress and gives Vivian the attention she does not always receive from their somewhat distant  parents. So when Audra runs away, Vivian feels lost. She holds on to the promise that Audra made that she will return for her, and they will be together once more. She looks for clues to Audra’s presence and when writing begins to appear in a blank notebook, Vivian feels a connection to her sister. When Audra returns, she is in the company of Henry, a young man she has been living with off the grid. Vivian, now off her anxiety medication, joins them in their makeshift hideout located under a house. Together they practice survival skills in anticipation of leaving the city behind and travelling northward to live off the grid together. But who is Henry, and can he be trusted? When tragedy befalls the group, Vivian returns home alone. THOUGHTS: This was a thought-provoking novel. Vivian is an unreliable narrator, and the reader at times is not sure if the events she describes are actually occurring, or are a symptom of her mental illness or her stopping her medication. While Klickitat is a quick read, it is a novel that will stay with the reader a long time as they ponder the questions raised by the story.

Realistic Fiction       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS



Deuker, Carl. Gutless. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 978-0544-649613. $17.99. 329 pp. Gr. 7-12.

Brock Ripley is approaching his freshman year and long-term challenges.  He’s a decent enough soccer athlete, but he chokes when he’s faced with pain from opponents.  Meanwhile, his dad’s health has changed; once a physically active man and a very involved father, he’s diagnosed with Steinert’s disease, a form of multiple sclerosis.  As his dad deteriorates, Brock deals with the loss and carries his own deep fears.  Stellar athlete Hunter Gates, who is two years older, has great athletic ability and a father pushing him to a pro career.  At the park one day, Hunter’s dad pulls Brock into catching passes for Hunter.  One day becomes many, and the two find they click perfectly on plays.  Brock joins the football team and struggles to prove himself and lose the shadow of being known as “gutless” on the field.  Unfortunately, Hunter’s not really a friend, and his physical superiority and deep arrogance lead to bullying of Brock and Brock’s friend, new student Richie Fang, whose differences, notably his Chinese heritage, eventually attract Hunter’s cruelty.  Brock considers Richie a friend, but how can he stand up for him if he’s not standing up for himself?  Will he stand up against Hunter, or choke every time?  THOUGHTS: This is a bleak story that feels heavy due to the isolation of characters and sense of dread over every page.  It’s clear that there’s no one but Brock to handle his problems.  Deuker offers just a sliver of hope by book’s end.  Deuker knows how to fill a sports story with field/court action while highlighting timely social issues, much like his Gym Candy (2007) deals with steroid use and Swagger (2013) targets sexual abuse.  The writing is strong and the story flows well, and readers will be drawn to this book.

Realistic Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



Niven, Jennifer. Holding Up the Universe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 978-0385755924. 400 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

With her second novel, Jennifer Niven has proven herself to be an astute observer of the teenage experience and the unique struggles faced by individuals in all walks of life. The story is reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, as it alternates between the first person viewpoints of Libby Strout and Jack Masselin, each of whom have their own inner demons to battle. Libby, once so obese that she had to be literally cut out of her house, is returning to high school after losing weight but still carrying more than she would like. Jack has prosopagnosia, meaning that he cannot differentiate faces, even those of his close friends and family, from one moment to the next. He barely makes it through some interactions without giving himself away. Libby quickly becomes the butt of many jokes and pranks, some at the hands of Jack himself. Interestly, however, Libby notices Jack’s problem, and the two begin an unlikely friendship. The characters are well-developed and authentic, and I found myself rooting for both, especially Libby, throughout. Niven gives Libby’s character such confidence, a characteristic that I wish more high school girls possessed. The plot moves quickly, and the reader is left wanting more of the story.  THOUGHTS: This is an excellent novel and should be available in all high school libraries. It will most probably be one of my top picks for the year.

Realistic Fiction         Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

Jennifer Niven is becoming one of my favorite Young Adult writers. She possesses a keen knack for understanding the teenage mind, and her novels are engaging and fun while at the same time exposing teens to new experiences and lives. My hope is that by reading her books students will begin to move past sympathy and develop more empathetic feelings when approaching issues faced by their classmates.

YA Realistic Fiction – The Romantics; 7 Ways to Lie; 20?s for Gloria; P.S. I Like You


Konen, Leah. The Romantics. New York: Amulet Books, 2016. Print. 978-1419721939. 336p. $18.95. Gr. 9 and up.

Leah Konen has written a lively, sweet, and engaging novel of love and loss among teens as well as adults. There is, however, a slight twist to this typical teen novel: Love narrates the story, interjecting opinions, facts, and definitions throughout. Love gives a specific definition to how each character experiences love and relationships. Main character Gael is a Romantic, a lover of love. He is a senior attending high school in the college town of Chapel Hill, and decides, against better judgement, to declare his love for his girlfriend of two months. His love is not only not reciprocated, but he soon sees his girlfriend kissing his best friend.  Gael’s belief in love is challenged, especially in light of the fact that his parents recently decided to separate.  Teens and adults alike will be able to easily relate to one or more characters and the definitions provided by Love. Love is, of course, a serious subject, but Konen reminds us that we should have fun and enjoy ourselves along the way. THOUGHTS: I highly recommend this for teens who enjoy positive and fun romantic novels.

Realistic Fiction       Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

I did truly enjoy this novel. After suffering through the usual teen fair of angst, unrequited love, and “serious” relationships, it was refreshing to read a novel that was honest yet heartwarming about human relationships and teens’ lives in general. When this is published in November, I cannot wait to purchase a hardcover copy for my library.



Redgate, Riley. Seven Ways We Lie. New York: Abrams, 2016. Print. 978-1419719448. 352p. $17.95. Gr. 9 and up.

The multiple perspectives in this novel truly set it apart from the general teen novel, which are often told from only one’ character’s first person perspective. In Seven Ways We Lie, debut author Riley Redgate has succeeded in authentically representing a diverse group of individuals and providing a convincing voice for each. The story opens with students in Paloma High School at an all-school assembly where the principal announces that they will be investigating allegations of a teacher-student relationship. The students are shocked, and rumors abound. The chapters alternate between 7 characters and their experience of the situation. These characters offer a good representation of the variety of students in high school settings, how their hopes and dreams differ, and what affects each student in different ways. The story deals with real issues in a mature way, not vilifying but also not exonerating the characters for their faults.  Redgate, only a recent college graduate, provides true insight into teen lives and how these lives overlap. THOUGHTS:  I found myself wanting to stay up late to finish this story, and teens will, too.

Realistic Fiction        Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

I was pleasantly surprised with this title, as it did keep my attention and make me think about all of the different experiences that teens can face in high school, and how these experiences shape their lives and friendships. I cannot wait until Redgate publishes a new novel.



Bedford, Martyn. Twenty Questions for Gloria. New York: Wendy Lamb, 2016. 978-0-553-53939-4. 273p. $16.99. Gr. 9-12.

In present day Yorkshire, England, 15 year old Gloria has just returned home after running away for two weeks with a classmate. Bedford utilizes flashbacks as well as questioning of Gloria by a police inspector upon her return to gradually reveal the events surrounding the pair’s time on the run. Gloria was living a typical British teenage life, when one day, Uman Padeem transferred into her school. Uman is smart and passionate. He defies authority and seemingly does whatever he wants. In Unman, Gloria sees everything she is not. So, when he suggests they leave town, Gloria sees a chance to escape her mundane existence and embark on an adventure. But after two weeks on the run, and after learning more about Uman, the adventure doesn’t look so appealing. THOUGHTS: This unique story will keep readers turning the page to discover what will happen next in Gloria’s story. Teens will relate to Gloria’s desire to have choices in her life and to determine her own future. Recommend to fans of contemporary fiction and mysteries.

Realistic Fiction            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS



West, Kasie. P.S. I Like You. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-85097-1. 326p. $17.99. Gr. 7-12.

Lily finds chemistry class dull, so one day to pass the time, she jots down some song lyrics on her desk. To her surprise, the next day in class she discovers a reply to her lyrics. It seems that someone who shares her desk enjoys the same music as she does. Soon these two strangers are exchanging notes in which they gradually reveal more about their innermost thoughts and feelings to one another. When Lily realizes that she has developed romantic feelings for this anonymous pen pal, she decides it’s time to discover his true identity. Could it be someone she already knows?  THOUGHTS: This enjoyable read is perfect for tween and teen fans of contemporary YA romance. Astute readers may notice some similarities to the movie You’ve Got Mail (I mean this as a compliment; it’s an enjoyable film). Lily’s life is more than just romance; a major plot point follows her as gains in confidence in her songwriting abilities. Recommended for both middle school and high school collections.  

Realistic Fiction       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

Realistic Fiction Grades 7 and up – Every Last Word; Beyond Clueless


Stone, Tamara Ireland. Every Last Word. New York: Hyperion, 2015. 355 p. 978-1484705278. $17.99 Gr. 7-12.

Samantha McAllister is one of the remaining five “Crazy Eights”—the most popular girls in her school. She’s pretty, popular and just set a county record for the butterfly in swimming. She’s also OCD and desperate to keep her secret from everyone despite her weekly therapist visits and all-too-frequent obsessive thought trains. If word gets out, if the Crazy Eights are imbalanced, everything will change, and she will lose status, friends, and sanity. Amidst this pressure, she meets Caroline, who listens without judging and introduces her to Poet’s Corner, a well-hidden room lost between the stage and custodian closet, and she is hooked. She begins writing and sharing poetry in the twice-weekly meetings, all the while keeping Caroline and Poet’s Corner a secret. She also meets and falls for AJ, a guitar-strumming poet and music lover. Unfortunately, this is the “Andrew” that she and the Crazy Eights bullied so badly in fourth grade that he changed schools. They confront this past, and slowly, they fall in love, and Sam realizes she’s gaining control over her life, apart from the Crazy Eights. Then a surprise twist makes her rethink everything.  THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful novel about coming to terms with change in oneself and others. Sam has some tremendous help from her mom and therapist, but it’s clear that her real growth comes from her own choices. This is a good look at “Pure-O”—showing more thought-driven obsessive OCD versus compulsive behaviors. The social results are positive for Sam, and it’s certainly a hopeful book about the strength needed to fight mental illness and to make peace with oneself.

Realistic Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School




Alsenas, Linas. Beyond Clueless. New York: Amulet Books, 2015. 978-1-4197-1496-2. 249 p. $16.95. Gr. 8 and up.

This is an engaging story to which many teens will relate. Before becoming the new girl in a girls’ Catholic high school, Marty was very comfortable hanging out with her best friend, Jimmy. Now, not only is Marty sent to a different high school, but Jimmy, no surprise, has hooked up with a boyfriend, Derek, and is now hanging out with two of Derek’s gay friends, Kirby and Oliver, leaving Marty feeling like the fifth wheel. When Marty successfully auditions for the school musical, Into the Woods, and gets the role of Little Red Riding Hood, she also gets lots of attention from Felix, who comes from the boys’ school and, as it turns out, appropriately plays the role of the Wolf, not only in the school production but in Marty’s superficial back-stage romance with him as well. Not coincidentally and as the book’s title implies, Marty is oblivious to the interest Oliver shows her, as the themes of mistaken identity and parental and inter-personal relationships play out in parallel fashion in the teenagers’ lives and in the production of Into the Woods. THOUGHTS: This quick, light read, with completely likable characters, is a welcome change for readers who want to enjoy a book about teenage friendships.

Realistic Fiction         Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy

YA Realistic Fiction…Everything, Everything; Whippoorwill


Yoon, Nicola. Everything, Everything. New York: Delacorte Press, 2015. 978-0553496642. 320 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

This wonderful novel by newcomer Nicola Yoon will leave readers thinking about the things we take advantage of in our lives, and how love can, in some situations, drive us to perform astonishing, or horrifying, acts. Ever since she can remember, Maddy has lived in fear of the outside; she has a rare disease that causes her to be allergic to basically everything. Her mother, a medical doctor, has created a safe haven in their home and taken every precaution to keep Maddy healthy and happy. Maddy accepts her fate stoically (what chance has she had to do otherwise?). But then, Olly moves in next door, and slowly her understanding of who she is and what she values most in the world begins to unravel. Through instant messaging, she becomes friends with Olly. Eventually, after repeated begging, Maddy’s nurse lets them meet in person. The usual boy/girl romance begins to unfold, but Yoon creates tension with the constant reminder of Maddy’s disease and her inability to be in the outside world. Maddy’s mother, who was always Maddy’s best friend and confidant, begins to wonder what Maddy is doing with her time and what her relationship with Olly truly is. Olly’s own difficult relationship with his father brings their relationship to a head, and Maddy must decide what she values most in life: living in fear or embracing her dreams? THOUGHTS: The plot can be a bit hard to fathom at times, but the characters are likeable and interesting, and Maddy’s discovery of the outside world replicates the happy time of watching a young child experience something new. Take a chance on experiencing this novel, and you won’t be disappointed!

Realistic Fiction     Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

While this is a truly wonderful story, the plot does have a few holes that the reader must patch up with a healthy amount of willing suspension of disbelief. This, though, is reminiscent of John Corey Whaley’s recent novel, Noggin. The authors do not want the science to get in the way of telling a story, and if students are willing to take this into account they will enjoy the character study. Other reviews have compared the relationship of Maddy and Olly to Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, but I have to say that I enjoyed Eleanor and Park much better. While both couples are overcoming obstacles (Eleanor and her difficult home life cause much strife in that relationship), Eleanor and Park’s story is one that could happen anywhere and in any town. Maddy and Olly have a fantastical basis for their relationship, and this can sometimes make the reader feel that the relationship is not as authentic as it could be. Yet, I did enjoy the slight tension that Maddy’s disease caused, even if I did not always believe in the plot. I definitely look forward to reading more of Yoon’s novels in the future!


Monninger, Joseph. Whippoorwill. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 978-0-544-53123-9. 275 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

In New Hampshire, “Whippoorwill” families are the ones with muddy yards full of rusted junk and trash. In the yard of Clair Taylor’s neighbors, the Stewarts, one of those items is a dog named Wally. He spends days and nights chained to a pole, treated with indifference at best, and with no clue of how to interact with humans. Clair takes an interest in Wally and begins training him with the methods of Father Jasper, founder of the novel’s Maine Academy for Dogs. In the process, Clair forms an unexpected friendship with Danny Stewart, who seems almost as hungry for affection as Wally. The story begins at a slow but steady pace as Clair gets to know Wally and Danny and begins to reveal her own pain over the death of her mother three years earlier. Midway through the book, an act of violence flips Clair’s relationship with Danny on its head and endangers her claim to the eminently lovable Wally. It’s tough to put a new spin on the “good dog in a bad situation” story, but Joseph Monninger has done it! His austere writing style is absolutely perfect for the novel’s plotline and for the voice of Claire, a refreshingly unselfconscious protagonist in YA literature. THOUGHTS: Themes of loyalty and friendship lend Whippoorwill a timeless quality, though the true hero of the story is human kindness. After reading the last page you will want to give any animal (or underdog, for that matter) in your life the extra compassion that they deserve. And just try to resist that cover image!

Realistic Fiction            Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School


More Happy Than Not


Silvera, Adam. More Happy Than Not. New York: Soho Teen, 2015. 978-1-61695-560-1. 293 p. $18.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Bronx teen Aaron Soto has had a tough year by any measure. First his father committed suicide, and then Aaron tried to kill himself in a self-described “cry for help.” Now his girlfriend Genevieve, who stood by him through it all, has left for a summer art program in New Orleans. Aaron strikes up a tight new friendship with a neighborhood kid named Thomas, a welcome distraction from missing Genevieve and the ever-present smiling scar on his wrist. By the time Genevieve returns home, Aaron has begun to question his feelings for both his girlfriend and his new best friend. Distraught over the eventual realization that he is gay, Aaron signs up for a mind alteration procedure with the Leteo Institute, which promises a surgical alternative to painful memories and unpleasant realities (think of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). But a hate crime triggers an ingenious plot twist that elevates this seemingly standard coming-of-age and coming out narrative into the “unforgettable” category. THOUGHTS:With More Happy Than Not, debut author Adam Silvera delivers a kick to the head, the heart, and the gut with equal aplomb.
Realistic, Sci-Fi            Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School
Do note that the novel also offers a very frank depiction of teenage dialogue and sexuality (both gay and straight). In other words, f-bombs of every context appear throughout the book. While this adds to the realism, it might be too much for some readers, and would make playing an audiobook excerpt inadvisable. Nonetheless, at its core, this is a love story.

New YA Realistic Fiction – Faking Perfect; Sugar; Everything, Everything


Phillips, Rebecca. Faking Perfect. New York: Kensington, 2015. 978-1-61773-881-4. 250p. $9.95. Gr. 9 and up.

Lexi is a high school girl hiding her real self, flaws and all, behind the perfect facade.  Her home life isn’t so great, and she’s figured out how to fit in, even if it means hiding her feelings from her “friends”.  As much as she tries not to, she follows in her mother’s footsteps and chooses high school “bad boy”, Tyler Flynn, to secretly date.  Even that seems perfect, since he doesn’t want much more than a good time.  Tyler begins to break their agreement and develops feelings for Lexi.   As Tyler is falling for Lexi, she starts dating Ben, the high school golden boy, perfect in every way. Lexi eventually learns that true friends are your greatest asset, and even though relationships with your parents can be complicated, it’s okay to take risks and reveal the true you.   THOUGHTS: This story was enjoyable.  I love the premise that being fake is too hard to manage, and it’s better to accept who you are and stop trying to fit in.  Lexi discovers that the people you need aren’t always the people you think you want.  I also like that this book deals with other high school struggles and teen issues: popularity, teen pregnancy, drinking, sex, and complicated relationships with parents.

Realistic Fiction       Rachel Gutzler, Wilson High School



Hall, Deirdre Riordan. Sugar. New York: Skyscape, 2015. 978-1477829387. 266 p. $9.99. Gr. 9+.

Sugar is one of those wonderful books that you pick up and never want to put down. I was mesmerized from the beginning. Mercy, aka Sugar, faces difficulties in all sectors of her life. Her mother is obese (and, incidentally, gave her daughter the nickname Sugar), and remains in bed day in and day out, expecting Sugar to be her nurse, cook, and housemaid. Sugar has two older brothers: one who lives at home and makes her life miserable, and one who has escaped and lives with his girlfriend. Sugar has always loved sweets, but her relationship with food and her body has been tarnished by repeated bullying at home and at school. Her mother, brother, schoolmates, etc., all make fun of her size, which only causes her to eat more to attempt to drown out her feelings. Her life is miserable. That is, until she meets the new boy, Even. Even is sweet (no pun intended), and begins to draw Sugar out of her shell, and show her what life can be like when people show compassion. With Even’s guidance, she slowly begins to show kindness to herself and, subsequently, to her body. The two bond over motorcycle rides and commiserate about their difficult home lives. Hall’s writing is fluid and authentic, and she clearly shows how Sugar evolves as a person and how empathy and understanding are truly important in human relationships. I hope that this updated coming-of-age tale gains more notoriety and is widely read by teens and adults alike. I look forward to reading more books by this great new author.

Realistic Fiction      Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

Some of the best books that I have read have been student recommendations. It is important not only because it assures students that I actually do read and enjoy what they like, but also because it is necessary and helpful for me to stay up to date with some of the best books in YA fiction. Sugar was recommended to me by a discerning student who is very particular about what she reads, so I knew that if she loved it enough to recommend it, it must be a great novel. I have to admit that she was right: it is truly one of the best books for young adults that I have read in recent months. I have already shared this title during bullying book talks, and hope that many students and faculty read it. It can truly open up discussions on bullying, coping, and surviving difficult environments. It would also be a great selection for a book club, and I hope to recommend it for one, soon.



Yoon, Nicola.  Everything, Everything.  New York: Delacorte Press.  2015.  978-0-553-49664-2. 310p.  $18.99. Gr. 9+. 

Madeline Whittier has spent her entire life inside her house thanks to Sever Combined Immunodeficiency or SCID, a rare disease that compromises the immune system.  She has spent every day of her eighteen years with her mom and her nurse, Carla.  Her only visitors must undergo a one hour decontamination process before visiting with her.  This life has been enough for Madeline, that is  until a moving truck pulls up next door.  The moment Madeline lays eyes on Olly Bright, everything changes.  She begins to see the world in a whole new way.  Olly’s life isn’t perfect, but it’s enough to show Madeline that there is a whole world out there for her to live in.  Maddy has to choose the life she’s always lived or the one with endless possibilities. THOUGHTS: This is a cute story.  I had a feeling how it would turn out, and I was right.

Realistic Fiction       Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School