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.