YA – Two Truths and a Lie

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

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

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

Mystery          Nancy Nadig  Penn Manor SD

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

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

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – Not Starring Zadie Louise

McCullough, Joy. Not Starring Zadie Louise. Atheneum Books For Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-543-39623-1. $17.99. 247 p. Grades 5-8.

Ten year old Zadie Louise Gonzales dreams of becoming an astronaut. When her family is unable to afford to  send her to science camp for the summer, she is forced to spend the summer putting on a show in her town’s community theater. With a Mom who is a stage director and a sister who loves to perform, Zadie often feels like she has nothing in common with her family. Terrified to audition to be in the cast of the show, Zadie is stuck without much to do all day long. Her many attempts to be helpful fall short and create extra work for her Mom and the production staff. Zadie offers to help style wigs and accidentally uses spray adhesive instead of hairspray, ruining the wigs. An attempt to help paint set pieces results in wet paint getting all over the stage. Barrelling her way from one disaster to another has left Zadie at odds with her Mom and feeling useless. The Gonzales family is under financial strain. Musician Dad is forced to drive an Uber, and beloved Grandma Sooz is looking to find a new place to live so that the family can rent out her room. Worse yet, if Zadie’s Mom doesn’t impress the board of directors with a fantastic show, she may be out of work as well. Funny and quirky, this story also accurately depicts the pressure and strain of the family’s financial situation. 

THOUGHTS: Teen and tween theater lovers will thoroughly enjoy this thoughtful and funny novel. The theater scenes, situations, and back-stage technology are very accurately portrayed. The story does not skimp on character development however. Zadie’s confusion over her changing relationship with friends and family is heartfelt and very moving. Middle grade readers will relate to Zadie’s desire to do the right thing despite continually bungling every attempt to be better.

Realistic Fiction          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

MG – Violet and the Pie of Life

Green, Debra. Violet and the Pie of Life. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-44755-8. $18.99. 279 p. Grades 5-8.

Violet is a quiet kid who loves math, pie, and her best friend McKenzie. Violet and McKenzie try to navigate seventh grade together, as they always have, but they begin to grow apart as Violet’s parents separate, and Violet begins to spend more time with Ally, a friend from the school play that McKenzie does not like. As Violet struggles with her parents’ problems and with her perception that some people have a “perfect life,” she begins to realize that all families are more complicated than they seem on the surface, and all aspects of life cannot be easily distilled into the mathematical equations, flow charts, and logical lists that she uses to try to make sense of the changes she is experiencing.

THOUGHTS: This novel brings the struggles and friendships of middle school students to life in an authentic way, and the story uses humor, math, and the arts to show that people are flawed, but still deserving of love and opportunity.  The understanding that grows between Violet and her mother is a heartwarming and hopeful presentation of adolescent-parent relationships, and Violet’s relationship with her father experiences a closure that is poignant if not satisfying. 

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – The Chance to Fly

Stroker, Ali, and Davidowitz, Stacy. The Chance to Fly. Amulet Books, 2021. 978-1-419-74393-1. 279 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

After moving across the country and leaving her best friend Chloe behind, Natalie Beacon feels a little lost. She finds some solace in belting Broadway showtunes and hanging with her dog, Warbucks. Her father believes that getting her back on a wheelchair racing team will make her feel better, and it might have…until Nat sees a flyer advertising open auditions for a teenage production of Wicked! Without her parents’ permission or knowledge, Nat auditions with the hope of playing Nessarose, the only Broadway character that is in a wheelchair. Yet even if she makes it into the show, Nat knows she will constantly worry about how her wheelchair might get in the way: what if backstage isn’t wheelchair accessible? What if the dance moves are too complicated for her? What if her parents don’t think she is capable of doing something on her own without their help? Determined and eager, Nat sets out to prove to everyone that she is not defined by her wheelchair.

THOUGHTS: Ali Stroker, co-author of this book, knows firsthand about Nat’s predicament. She is the first actress in a wheelchair to appear on a Broadway stage AND win a Tony Award, Broadway’s highest honor. This middle grade novel is packed with show tune lyrics and Broadway references. Readers will be charmed by (and also relate to) Nat and her friends. Her story is proof that no one should give up on their dreams.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Take Me Home Tonight

Matson, Morgan. Take Me Home Tonight. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-481-49898-2. $18.99. 405 p. Grades 9 and up.

Dubbed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets The Babysitter’s Club by the author herself, Take Me Home Tonight is a 12-hour romp through New York City filled with mishaps around every corner. Best friends and theater kids Kat and Stevie just want theater director Mr. Campbell to post the cast list for the first production of their senior year when he unexpectedly decides he needs another weekend to finalize the cast. Then, Stevie’s dad predictably backs out of her birthday dinner plans. Kat tries to cheer up her disappointed best friend and fix this frustrating Friday (in more ways than one, unbeknownst to Stevie) by deciding that she and Stevie sneak into New York City and take the dinner reservation instead of Stevie taking her mom like her dad suggested. (They’ll also go see Mr. Campbell’s play while they’re there, though Kat doesn’t tell Stevie about that part at first). The girls devise an elaborate plan, using their friend Teri as a cover, and leave their suburban Connecticut town for an adventure in the Big Apple. Secrets, step siblings, a destroyed cell phone, and a really charismatic dog get in the way though. Will their friendship survive the night?

THOUGHTS: There is something – which I can’t put into words –  about a Morgan Matson book that just feels a notch above the rest. Readers can always count on certain elements in her books, and this one is no different – there is a trip, a dog, some romance, and of course, the “Easter Egg” characters that pop in from her previous books (mini-spoiler alert: there are SEVERAL previous characters in this one, and they play slightly bigger roles than usual!). And there’s some surprisingly fun action in this one, too, a bit of a departure from the author’s norm. This comedy of errors is a must-have for your YA contemporary collection, especially if you have any other Matson books.

Realistic Fiction         Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Elem. – Tune it Out

Sumner, Jamie. Tune It Out. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-45700-3.  275 p. $15.67. Grades 3-6.

Lou doesn’t like crowds. She doesn’t like loud noises. She doesn’t even like high fives and definitely hates anyone touching her. Unfortunately for Lou, avoiding all of these is difficult when her mother wants Lou to use her singing talent to take them away from their life of coffee shop singing gigs and dead-end waitress jobs to the bright lights and jet-setting life of Los Angeles that would come with a singing contract. And they almost made it. The trip to LA was planned for Friday, but the accident happened on Wednesday, and now Lou was separated from her mother and sent to live with her aunt and uncle, people she barely knows. But she has her own bedroom there. Clean clothes, food whenever she’s hungry, and a private school to attend.  Lou’s worked hard her whole life to hide what was inside her. Will this new life give her the opportunity to face the truth about the life she and her mother were living and about the diagnosis that could change the way she feels about herself?

THOUGHTS: Sumner gives the reader a lot to unpack in a tight 275 pages–homelessness, poverty, foster care, and a sensory processing disorder, but it never feels unrealistic or overdone.  Readers will root for Lou as she makes her way in the world.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

YA – Six Angry Girls

Kisner, Adrienne. Six Angry Girls. Feiwel and Friends. 2020. 978-1-250-25342-2. $17.99. 262 p. Grades 9-12.

Raina Petree got dumped by big crush boyfriend, Brandon. Emilia Goodwin got dumped by the pompous all-male Mock Trial Team. They join forces to salvage their senior year by forming an all-female Mock Trial Team in their Pittsburgh suburban high school of Steelton drawing on Raina’s drama skills and Millie’s knowledge of the law and research. Adapting the title of the 1950’s movie, Twelve Angry Men, these six angry girls (all but one Caucasian)–overcome heartbreak and self-esteem issues to create a strong challenge to their male counterparts and a serious threat to other Mock Trial Teams as they compete for Nationals. Told in alternating chapters narrated by either Raina or Millie, the book develops a girl power story with the message that people need to stand up for what is right and, especially, stand up for oneself. Author Adrienne Kisner also manages to weave in a subplot involving knitting. Raina searches for an outlet for her grief and joins the knitting group at The Dropped Stitch, a local yarn store. Not only does she learn to cast on and purl, she finds herself involved with activists trying to stop the election of a local magistrate because of his history letting off misogynists and blocking legislation for reproductive rights. Their rebellion manifests itself in yarn-bombing the courthouse with knitted female genitalia. In a twist, the targeted judge turns up volunteering in Mock Trial. At the knitting shop, Raina meets new student Grace who is happy to join an extracurricular activity. Millie falls for Grace and begins to value herself and her time, separating her needs from her helpless father who expects Millie to be chief cook and bottlewasher after her mother moves to Ohio. Though told in a light-hearted manner, the book addresses serious topics, contains a full-range of LBGTQ+ characters, and models the strengths and weaknesses of adults in young people’s lives. What begins as a revenge against the boys story builds with each club meeting, practice, and competition to a triumph of self-identity and self-worth.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: The cover illustration depicts a diverse group of girls, but the two main characters are white. Author Adrienne Kisner is emphasizing gender identity: Millie and Grace form a romantic relationship; Izzy, a minor character, is transgender; the Mock Trial court case for the win centers on gender discrimination. Some parts to be aware of: The Dropped Stitch crew are not shy about using anatomically correct terms, and a smattering of curses appear throughout the dialogue, making it more a high school choice than middle grade. This book has the same feminist fight tone of Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu; and if this suburban, western Pennsylvanian high school resembles yours, Six Angry Girls is an attractive purchase.