YA – Concrete Rose

Thomas, Angie. Concrete Rose. Balzer + Bray, 2021. 978-0-062-84671-6. 368 p. $19.99. Grades 9 and up.

Maverick Carter is trying to get by. As a 17-year old single father, he realizes that he must put his gang and drug dealing days behind him in order to care for his son and future child. But, working for Mr. Wyatt isn’t paying enough to take care of Seven and help his mother out, and he is “Little Don,” son of Adonis, a King Lords legend. After the death of his cousin and best friend, Dre, Maverick tries to keep Dre’s wishes of laying low and getting away from gang life, but Maverick lost his brother; he is ready to seek revenge. He returns to dealing for King and goes after Dre’s assumed killer. When King provides him with the means to remain in the game and get his revenge, Maverick must decide if Seven, Lisa, and their unborn child are more important to him than his need for  revenge and the gang.

THOUGHTS:  This prequel to The Hate You Give is a glimpse into the struggles and early life of Starr’s father, Maverick Carter. He wrestles with wanting to provide for his son and mother in a legitimate way while also feeling a need to follow in his father’s footsteps as a King Lord and make “easy money.” These struggles are very real to readers because they are universal: Do what is right or do what is “easy.” This novel also deals with many social issues: teenage pregnancy, gang life, drug dealing, imprisonment of a parent, being a high school dropout, sexual orientation, and more, but it never seems preachy or frivolous.  Readers will also enjoy connecting Maverick’s story to Starr’s story and seeing how and why he is who he is. Highly recommended to all who loved The Hate You Give.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Real men take care of their family and even though he’s 17 years old, that’s what Maverick plans on doing when he finds out he’s a father. The way Maverick helps his family at the beginning of the novel is by dealing with the King Lords. That career choice doesn’t bother Maverick too much until he becomes a father to a baby boy he names Seven, then Maverick decides it’s time to straighten up. However, walking away from the King Lords is easier said than done, and it will take everything in him to do so.

THOUGHTS: If you read and loved The Hate U Give, this is a must read, and I feel you can read them in any order. It definitely gives the reader a better understanding of Starr’s father, and you empathize with him throughout the novel. Highly recommended for any high school collection!

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – What Lane?

Maldonado, Torrey. What Lane? Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020. 978-0-525-51843-3. $16.99. 125 p. Grades 3-6.

Biracial Stephen pals around with his white friend Dan in their gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood, but lately, Stephen is noticing he is viewed more negatively by the janitor or passers-by than his paler friend. Dan is sympathetic and though he is oblivious to the harsher treatment Stephen gets as they course around their city streets, he doesn’t deny his friend’s feelings and tries to understand. Dan’s cousin Chad who recently moved nearby and drops over frequently is the opposite. Author Torrey Maldonado depicts Chad’s parents as more into their phones and social lives than the well-being of their son and has them voice micro-aggressive remarks about Stephen. Chad challenges Stephen and his white friends to some dangerous pranks; and Stephen fears, rightfully, that if the group gets caught, he’ll get the blame. His African-American dad counsels him with “the talk” warning him how to behave if stopped by the police, though his white mother thinks eleven-year-old Stephen is too young to lose his innocence. Stephen’s Black friend Will shares the same cautions as Stephen and agrees that Chad is up to no good and questions Stephen’s closeness to his white friends. At a basketball game, Stephen purchases a bracelet that says, “What Lane?” to remind him of a basketball star that could play all the moves. A thoughtful person, Stephen struggles with the different groups and decisions around him. When Chad plays a hurtful trick on Stephen, Dan and his other white friends are allies and call out Chad’s bad behavior; Will and his friends come to Stephen’s rescue. In this coming-of- age novel for young middle school students, a likeable, relatable Stephen trusts he can enjoy the friendship of all different kinds of people and is able to fit into all types of worlds as long as he is true to himself.

THOUGHTS: A teacher himself, Maldonado has a great ear for middle school dialogue and a keen eye for capturing middle school dynamics. This book can be a relevant read aloud for all children but particularly relatable to children of color. It brings up some delicate but real situations that would encourage healthy discussion (for example, when Dan and Stephen are play fighting, an older white lady assumes Stephen is attacking Dan). I think it is a must buy.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Taste Test What’s New in YA Fiction


Avasthi, Swati. Chasing Shadows. New York: Random House, 2013. 978-0-375-86342-4.  320 p. $ 17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Avasthi’s gritty novel, Chasing Shadows, is told in prose and enhanced by Craig Phillips graphic novel style illustrations of both the real world and the Shadowlands.  The Shadowlands, a world of superheroes, is seen by a young girl, Holly, while in a coma.  Corey and Holly are seventeen year old twins who along with their friend Savitri practice the dangerous hobby of freerunning across Chicago’s cityscape.  Savitri witnesses a hooded gunman target the twins, killing Corey and leaving Holly in a coma.  Holly awakens from the coma unable to cope with the death of her twin and becomes increasingly unstable.  Told through both verse and illustration, Holly’s emotional state manifests in the Shadowlands weaving together with her real life.  Savitri tries to be a friend to Holly while also grieving Corey, her boyfriend.  The book is fast paced and told through the alternating voices of Holly and Savitri.  This title is a good addition to graphic novel and fiction collections.

Urban, Fantasy (Mythology)              Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

This is a truly unique novel that blends text and hyper stylized graphic novel illustrations to tell a tough story about love and loss.  I found this book to be a good addition to my urban fiction collection but it will also appeal to student interested in mythology.  The Shadowlands world includes elements of both the real world, Chicago, and a mythological world of superheroes and villains taken from Hindu deities.  The content is graphic and best suited for high school and public library collections.



Black, Yelena. Dance of Shadows. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 973-1-59990-940-0. 384 p.  $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

A classic horror story wrapped up in the world of professional dance in New York City.  Vanessa follows her older sister, Margaret, to New York City as a member of the New York Ballet Academy, but like her sister she quickly finds herself drawn into the mystery of  rituals and demons in the basement of Lincoln Center.  Readers learn that Vanessa’s sister was cast in the role of a principal dancer and has since disappeared.  When Vanessa is cast in the same role she begins to piece together what happened to her sister.  This is a coming of age story with a classic horror storyline and a smattering of romance.  The romance is an after thought and does not add much to the main storyline, what happened to Margaret.  The eerie tale does not tie up all of the loose ends and is the first book of a planned trilogy.

Horror, Fantasy (Paranormal)                    Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Readers who enjoy creepy stories with a psychological twist will be drawn to the series.  However, several students had a difficult time reading the book with the many references to the world of dance and terminology.  There is a lengthy midsection that deviates from the mystery of what happened to Vanessa’s sister and sets up a lackluster love triangle.  Recommended for collections lacking in both horror and/or dance stories.



Blythe, Carolita. Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty Girl. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 978-0-375-99081-6. 336 p. $16.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Faye hates her Brooklyn Catholic school, her friends, her home life, and has been a victim of abuse for much of her life.  Along with two classmates Faye commits a robbery and during the groups get away knocks their elderly victim to the ground.  Racked with guilt she returns to the scene of the crime two days later to find the elderly woman still on the floor, but alive.  Faye helps to the woman to recover from her injuries, run errands for her, and cleans her house.  The woman Evelyn, now an aging former movie star befriends the fourteen year old and share with her much about acceptance and forgiveness.  The story unfolds slowly but Blythe examines what it means to be beautiful, realities of physical appearance, and taking responsibility for ones actions.

Realistic, Historical (1980’s New York)                 Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

I really enjoyed this complicated story of friendship and redemption set against the backdrop of 1980’s New York.  Blythe offers no easy answers or happy endings for her characters but instead examines the traits both good in and bad in all of us.  This coming of age story gives a glimpse inside the mind of a teenage girl who has suffered abuse but is not just a victim.  Faye, a teenager, realizes that she has been applying the same superficial judgements she objects to with herself to all of the people in her life.  Although her mistakes are not easily fixed she shows maturity in dealing with the gritty realities of daily life.  The story although set in a different decade will appeal to teen seeking characters they can relate to who are also struggling with their identities.



Cherry, Alison. Red. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 978-0-385.74293-1. 320 p.  $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Felicity St. John is the IT girl of Scarletville.  As a red haired girl in a town where red hair is a sign of status and beauty she is poised to be Miss Scarlet.  However, all of her plans are put to the test when someone in town discovers that her red hair is from a bottle.  Felicity finds herself at the mercy of a blackmailer and must complete any task asked of her.  Embracing ones flaws is a theme throughout the novel although told in a light hearted manner.  The mystery is witty but has many elements that will hit home with teenage girls.  The story will challenge readers to reconsider how they define beauty and find beauty in their own selves.  A lighthearted addition for high school library collections looking for mysteries without the angst.

Mystery, Realistic                                       Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

The premise for this story may seem silly at first, but the themes of acceptance and self worth will resonate with readers.  The story makes many interesting points of examining social standing and teenage issue of acceptance both with oneself and the world around them.  Although not a must have title a good book to pair with other popular realistic fiction and girl power centric titles.



Doller, Trish. Where the Stars Still Shine. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 978-1-616963-144-1. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Callie has never known what it is like to have a stable home or a place to even call home.  She and her mother have been on the run since she was a young child.  The running comes to end when her mother is arrested for her kidnapping ten years later.  Upon being returned to her family and father Callie learns all that her life could have been and how to move on with her new life.  The transition is not easy and Callie who has never been to school has many hurdles to her happily ever after.  A good addition for romantic realistic fiction titles in high school libraries.

Realistic                                                                                                                Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Callie may not have had the life of an average teen but students in my school found her struggles relatable.  Many students have home lives that involve separated parents, step parents, and unique living situations.  Although Callies situation is extreme with a parental kidnapping her introduction to a new life and living situation rang true for my students.  Doller writes in a very moving manner that allows the reader to commiserate with Callie’s pain but also see past the hurt to what live could be like for those willing to change their outlook.  The outlook for Callie require her to accept the good and bad parts of her life in order to move forward with a new life as a complete person.  Complex issues ranging from mental illness, parental neglect, and trauma make the text cathartic for those dealing with similar situations.



Durst, Sarah Beth. Conjured. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 978-0-8027-3458-7. 368 p.  $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Eve does not know who she is, where she has been, or why she is part of a witness protection program.  Her memory problems are compounded by the fact that every time she uses magic she blacks out and loses large chunks of time.  The novel is a blend of magical worlds, psychological thrills, and teen romance.  Durst’s writing is describes the truly grotesque violence and magical transformations of characters is great details.  There is a Twilight Zone tone to the book that anything could happen and even the writer might not know what is real and what is only in one’s imagination.

Fantasy (Paranormal)                                                                                      Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

This story is a tale of what appears on the outside to be a typical young girl who shelves books at the local library but in actuality is a person who can wield the powers of magical.  Due to Eve’s memory loss and the story being told in a first person narration they learn along with Even bits and pieces to the mystery of her life.  The title is a good fit for paranormal fans and would be a good addition for high school collections.



Feinstein, John. Foul Trouble. New York: Random House, 2013. 97800-375-86964-8. 400p.  $16.99. Gr. 9 and up.

The number one high school basketball player, Terrell Jamerson, is close to having it all or losing it all.  The outcome all depends on Terrell’s ability to hold true to himself and learning who he can trust in his life.  Terrell’s teammate and friend, Danny, also must decide if quick money is worth risking eligibility to play in college.  The story is told by a third person narrator and the alternating voices of each young boy throughout their senior year of high school.  Readers will be able to relate to both young boys’ struggle of family obligations and making good choices for the future.  The book concludes with a press conference where each boy announces their plans post high school.  This title is timely and touches upon several real life sports issues; recruitment incentives, NCAA officials, and the exploitation of young athletes.

Urban                                   Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Sports books are hard to find for high school students and Feinstein’s latest novel is a must have addition for high school collections.  I found myself eagerly reading this title to find out what Terrell and Danny do after graduation and the impact each’s decisions have not only on their futures but their families.  Students found the characters realistic and taught me more about college level athletics and the recruitment process through a book talk on the title.  A great addition and a must have for high school libraries looking for titles for male patrons.



Fiore, Kelly. Taste Test. New York: Walker Books, 2013. 978-0-8027-2838-8. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Reality television is a mainstay on television and for Nora Henderson it is her chance to make her culinary dreams come true with a $50,000 scholarship to study cooking in Paris.  As a contestant on Taste Test, Nora finds herself embroiled in behind the scene antics, love triangles, and sabotage.  The food descriptions throughout the book are detailed and will have readers hungry for more books by Fiore that combine food, mystery, and romance as the perfect recipe for reading.

Mystery, Realistic                       Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Fiore’s debut novel is a refreshing story that is accessible to readers and rooted in the reality of teenagers’ social media lives.  The story is fast paced and quickly introduces characters who are part of the reality landscape we have all come to know on television.  Students who love reality shows, especially those such as Top Chef, will enjoy this book.  The narrator, Nora, is the everygirl and will be relatable for teens despite the circumstances of her life.  I highly recommend this title for high school collections.



Klein, Lisa. Love Disguised. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 978-1-59990-968-4.  320 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Williams Shakespeare longs for life in London and finds love triangles, mistaken identities, villains, and inspiration for what will become the classic plays readers will recognize from their English classes.  Fact and fiction are woven together in this book to reimagine Shakespeare’s  youth through vivid writing that is full of historical details.  The endnotes provide a full historical context, story inspiration, and further reading suggestions to complete the tale of what happened to young Shakespeare.

Historical (Elizabethan England)              Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

This book is a great extension of what students may learn in English classes about both Shakespeare’s personal life and the lives of those in Elizabethan England.  The story is focused on Shakespeare’s move from Stratford to London and his early romances that shaped his writing and inspired some of his most well known characters.  The language Klein uses is authentic to the time period and will be difficult for some readers.  However, those who continue reading the entire book will be rewarded with a rewarding story of friendship and romance.  An excellent title to use as an extension for English classes studying Shakespeare.


Starry-eyed: 16 Stories That Steal the Spotlight. New York: Running Press, 2013.978-0-7624-4949-1.  400 p. $9.95. Gr. 9 and up.

A collection of short stories by some of the most popular young adult authors examines how difficult the teen years can be for anyone.  Characters in many of the stories feel out of place in their everyday lives and experiences but are able to find acceptance on stage through creative outlets.  Throughout the book are personal stories from many current day performers.  Readers do not need to be fans of the various authors and performers to relate with their own experiences growing up and growing into who they will become despite common teenage problems such as; insecurity, jealousy, young love, etc.

Realistic (Short Stories)               Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Students will enjoy reading not only the short stories but also the biographical sketches about their favorite performers and what their lives were like prior to fame.  The stories will resonate with readers and touch on many issues about self and acceptance that teenagers face daily in their lives.  The introduction written by Clay Aiken is touching and explores the theme about what it means to be true to oneself.  The short stories are focused on art and performing as more than an extracurricular but instead focus on each as a vocation or calling.  Highly recommended for high school collections.



Tabu, Melinda. Still Star-Crossed. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 978-0-385-74350-1. 352 p. $16.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Students who have already read Romeo and Juliet will recognize the main characters in Still Start-Crossed as supporting player now left to pick up the pieces after the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.  The novel is billed as a sequel to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet following the arranged marriage of Rosaline and Benvolio’s tale as historical fiction, detective story, and an action packed adventure tale.  The fast paced story brings a happy ending to what has been known as a tragic tale by focusing on the supporting characters from the original text.

Historical (16th Century Verona), Mystery                                                Robin Burns, Salisbury High School           

Tabu’s book works as either a stand alone novel or as an extension of the original work, Romeo and Juliet.  A great mix of old and new this story is unique and allows readers to access a piece of literature in a more tangible way with supporting characters.  I like many who have read Shakespeare often wondered what happened to those left behind.  This title is a good extension text or stand alone for its rich story and attention to detail of the original work.



Wallace, Sandra Neil. Muckers. New York: Random House, 2013. 978-0-375-86745-5.  288 p.  $16.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Based on a true story, Wallace’s novel examines small town life coping with the economic and political realities of life after World War II in America.  The story is complemented by excerpts from local newspapers that provide the feel for what life was like during this time of change and reexamination of what life was like in America.  The true events of a racially mixed high school football team’s last season in Arizona and their final chance to win the state championship.  The town’s mines are no longer profitable and with the loss of jobs the 1950 year’s team will be the last in history for Hartley, Arizona.  Readers without much knowledge of football will enjoy the historical context and individual stories of players on the scrappy team of “Muckers”.

Historical (1950’s Arizona), Realistic            Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

This story will appeal to readers who gravitate towards sports stories but also those who enjoy historical fiction.  There is a vintage feel to the story and knowing that the events described are based upon what really took place in one small Arizona town decades ago.  The fast pacing of the story with shorter chapters makes the text suitable for students in middle school through high school.  Several of my students who are not regular patrons have checked out this title and found it an accessible read due to the language used and details about something they are interested in, football.  I highly recommend adding this title to both middle and high school collection in need of sports stories.  Many of the social issues discussed in history classes such as integration of sports team, the Chicano rights movement, and Mccarthyism are tacked in this highly engaging book.



Zarr, Sara and Tara Altebrando. Roomies. New York: Little Brown & Co, 2013. 978-0-316-21749-1.  288 p. $18.00.  Gr. 9 and up.

A coming of age story and right of passage in many young people’s lives, going away to college, is explored through two very distinct voices of popular young adult author, Zarr and Altebrando.  Two college roommates begin to influence each other lives prior to move in day through emails the summer of their freshman year.  Elizabeth Owens lives in New Jersey and ready to leave behind her life for Berkeley to study landscape architecture.  Lauren is staying closer to home a San Francisco native who is used to sharing with five siblings was hoping for a single dorm but through email exchanges both girls share personal information and their life stories.  By the end of the summer both girls believe their rooming assignment may just work out their freshman year.  The main characters back stories are engaging and the supporting cast of family members and friends add depth to each girl’s story.  This book is recommended for high school collections due to the realistic and difficult topics covered including divorce, child abandonment, prejudice, etc.

Realistic                                  Robin Burns, Salisbury High School

Zarr and Altebrando alternately narrate the entire book as each character, Elizabeth and Lauren, while maintaining two unique stories coming together through a random roommate assignment.  Readers will enjoy both girls unique story and find many similarities with each’s lives as well as difference.  This title works well in a high school library and has been read continuously since being added to my high school collection.  Student who enjoyed the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series as younger readers will find several similarities to the style and tone of the book.  However, Zarr and Altebrando take what could have been a very formulaic plot and make each character’s struggles come to life for the reader.


Yaqui Delgado Wants to…


Medina, Meg. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2013. 978-0763658595. 272 p. $16.99. Gr. 9-12.

The title and opening line of this gritty realistic fiction will easily encourage students to pick up the novel, but the engrossing story will not make it easy to put it down. Author Meg Medina has written a gripping account of one girl’s struggle with bullying in an urban high school. Piddy Sanchez is in her tenth grade year at a new school after her mother finally realized her dream to move to a nicer (less-rundown) apartment.  Raised by a single mother, Piddy knows very little about her father, a fact which comes up frequently in conversations with her mother, but the focus of the story is Piddy’s experience at her new school. She is quickly blindsided by a classmate yelling at her, “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass!” She does not, however, know who Yaqui is or why she has become the target of Yaqui’s ire. Darlene, one nosy student who seems to know everything, tells Piddy that Yaqui and some of the other Latino girls think that Piddy, who is Latino but does not “look” the part, sways her hips while she walks to attract all of the boys in school, Yaqui’s boyfriend included. Piddy quickly becomes the target of numerous attacks by Yaqui, which range from lunchroom encounters to physical attacks. Piddy chooses not to confide in her mother. Instead, she begins missing school, trying to get her mother’s best friend Lila to lie about her whereabouts and spending days with a boy from her former neighborhood. The themes of bullying, identity, acceptance, and growing up are all illustrated clearly and realistically through Piddy and her experiences. This novel will have you wondering how many students have experiences like Piddy’s, and wondering how we can make school a safer place for all students.

Realistic          Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School

I was completely engrossed while reading Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick your Ass. I do not usually gravitate towards urban fiction, but in this case I was glad that I did.  I recently spent time in various classrooms book talking about books with a bullying theme, and this title was high on my list to share with students. Even though I am in a suburban school district, many students will still identify with Piddy and her struggles throughout the novel. Medina has a simple writing style that evokes the voice of a young teen unable to tell her mother exactly what is going on at school.

With that being said, our Book Club selection for February will be the recent debut title Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight, which I chose over Yaqui Delgado simply because I believe that my students will relate more to the characters and the style of bullying being highlighted in Reconstructing Amelia. Even though the main characters in each novel are fairly similar (both live in New York City, both are being raised by single mothers who work long hours), the setting and cultural backgrounds could not be more different. Piddy lives in a low-income area and goes to a rough public school, while Amelia lives in a lovely brownstone and attends an expensive prep school. I enjoyed each title and the themes reflected in both, but as my goal is to elicit discussions on bullying in our own school, Reconstructing Amelia will be a better springboard for a dialogue on issues occurring in our student body. I hope to have a few of our more dedicated readers also read Yaqui Delgado in order to have a discussion comparing and contrasting the two stories and the types of bullying highlighted in each one. For now, I hope that my book talks have encouraged enough students to check out either title and learn more about how we can address bullying in all schools.