Buyea, Rob. The Daredevils. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-37614-0 231 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.
Author of the popular series, Because of Mr. Terupt, has written a tale of one summer for twins- Waylon and Loretta. The two are strongly bonded, and Loretta is her brother’s keeper. Waylon was born smaller and has had his fair share of bullies. This is the summer before they enter middle school, and their parents are determined to send them on separate paths in order to prepare them for the coming year. Waylon is sent to robotics day camp while Loretta attends a sports day camp. However, the two are determined to spend their nights together after they discover an old cigar box with a quest inside. Along the way, they meet up with a mysterious boy named Louie, and the three of them will embark on a summer to remember.
THOUGHTS: Rob Buyea has a way to tell a beautiful and poignant story through the eyes of the rocky middle school years. This is another perfect example.
Realistic Fiction Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse
Pimienta, Jose. Twin Cities. RH Graphic, 2022. 978-0-593-18062-4. 248 p. $12.99. Grades 4-7.
Sibling dynamics are at the heart of Jose Pimienta’s cleverly titled middle grade graphic novel, Twin Cities. Fraternal “Lu-Lu” twins Louisa Teresa and Luis Fernando Sosa opt to attend different middle schools, on different sides of the U.S. / Mexico border that divides Mexicali and Calexico. Teresa, who is very focused on her education and future opportunities, gets up extra early and spends long hours on homework in order to succeed at her Catholic school in Calexico, California. Fernando prefers the familiarity of his local school in Mexicali. The siblings grow apart as Teresa establishes her own identity with a new set of school friends. Fernando, meanwhile, is befriended by another boy who may lead him down a dangerous path of dealing illegal drugs. Bickering between siblings gets serious when Teresa discovers her brother’s secret, and he accuses her of being a “pocha” (abandoning her culture to assimilate on the U.S. side). Author/illustrator Pimienta employs side-by-side page spreads to portray the daily experiences of each twin. It’s also a great tool for depicting the varying characteristics of a city divided by an international border. Pimienta’s “Notes on a Particular Word” provide background on their decision to use the pejorative term “pocha” in the book.
THOUGHTS: Twin Cities is full of vibrant colors, authentic details, and relatable sibling tension. It’s one of many recent, outstanding graphic novels for middle grade readers that is not to be missed!
Graphic Novel Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD
Murphy, Dan and Plaza Aubrey. The Legend of Christmas Witch. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-593-35080-5. 56 p. $18.99. Grades 2-5.
It’s been a while since a new holiday folklore book hit the shelves! Santa’s twin sister, Kristtōrn, was raised by a witch in the woods. Although it may sound familiar that her magic powers grew just as proficiently as her temper, the storyline leans into fear and persecution of the “other” that existed during the Salem witch trials and occurs in other fashions in the modern day.
THOUGHTS: This story is unusual and far from traditional, but makes space for another tale to be told about the Christmas season. The book is beautifully illustrated and appeals to natural aspects. The ending leaves a lot for the reader to interpret and would be a good project book for older readers.
Picture Book Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD
Nanua, Sasha, and Sarena Nanua. Sisters of the Snake. HarperTeen. 2021. 978-0-062-98559-0. $17.99. Grades 8-12.
Ria is a street urchin. A nothing that is just trying to survive and get out of this terrible town, away from where she is soon to be forced into the army. Princess Rian feels the same way, just slightly different. She is looking at the chance to be free to prove herself and her worth for her kingdom. When these two girls unexpectedly meet, they find out something shocking; they look identical! They decide they must be sisters… and each hopes to achieve something when they trade places.
THOUGHTS: A fun cultural fantasy novel. The first in a series, as this book ended on a cliff-hanger. The excitement for what happens next with these two magical sisters will pull at readers and have them wishing for the next novel!
Fantasy Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD
Kelly, Erin Entrada. We Dream of Space. Greenwillow Books, 2020. 978-0-062-74730-3. 391 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.
This story, told in multiple points of view, follows the Nelson Thomas kids (Cash, Fitch, and Bird) as they navigate life through 7th grade in the mid 1980s. Cash, the oldest sibling, is repeating 7th grade and is in danger of having to repeat it again if he doesn’t get his act together! Fitch spends all day trying to keep his temper in check and every afternoon in the arcade, and Bird, Fitch’s twin, just wants to be an astronaut. With their parents constantly arguing and emotionally distant from their children, Bird just wants someone to notice her. Spending her days dreaming of becoming the first shuttle commander, while following every step of the coming Challenger launch, has left Bird wanting. Wanting to be noticed, wanting to belong, and wanting to be in space. This book contains a section about the Challenger Disaster and a page of resources to learn more.
THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection. Kelly does it again with her captivating writing. Will be in my Top 5 for 2020.
Realistic Fiction Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy
Lotas, Alexandra. Under Shifting Stars. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-06775-7. 262. $15.69. Grades 9-12.
After their brother’s tragic death, twins Audrey and Clare struggle to cope with their grief and changed circumstances. Audrey attends Peak, a school for neurodivergent students like herself, after being ostracized by her twin and other bullies at her public school. Clare begins a transformation herself, standing up to her friends who have treated her sister badly and becoming comfortable with her gender identity. The twins and their parents learn to communicate and comfort each other as they live their new life as a family of four.
THOUGHTS: Told by the perspectives of each twin, this story is a great addition to any YA collection as it explores difficult topics many teenagers are facing today.
Realistic Fiction Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD
Bennett, Brit. The Vanishing Half. Riverhead Books. 2020. 978-0-525-53629-1. 343 pp. $27.00. Gr. 10+.
In 1954, the morning after Founders Day, the 16-year old Vignes twins disappeared from their tiny town of Mallard, Louisiana. Desiree and Stella made their way to New Orleans, where their lives took two very different directions and identities. Stella began “passing” as white, and Desiree continued living as a black woman. Now, fourteen years later, Desiree has returned to Mallard with a young daughter in tow. Jude’s dark complexion makes waves in Mallard, a town founded on the principle of prizing each generation’s lighter and lighter skin tones. No one has seen or heard from Stella in almost as many years. The narrative shifts between 1968, when Desiree and Jude arrive in Mallard, and 1978, when Jude herself leaves to attend UCLA. There she falls in love with a trans man named Reese. Brit Bennett expertly depicts each time period and setting, weaving in real-world events such the integration of wealthy suburban neighborhoods, the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the early days of the AIDS crisis. She realistically embeds each woman’s story within the timeline, gradually turning up the tension in one plot strand before focusing on another, equally well-crafted, character arc. No jaw-dropping plot twists are required in a historical novel this good, with storylines that converge, draw apart, and come together again with heartbreaking realism.
THOUGHTS: Crisp, unpretentious writing, vivid settings, and characters who genuinely feel real make for one of the best reads of 2020.
Historical Fiction Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD