MS/HS Realistic Fiction – Saving Hamlet; Free Verse; Two Summers


Booth, Molly.  Saving Hamlet.  New York: Hyperion, 2016.  978-1-48475-274-6.  $17.99.  352p.  Grade 7 and up.

Former high school soccer star Emma Allen needs to reinvent herself after a team party disaster and a major summer theater equipment malfunction.  Emma gets her waist-length hair cut into a super-short, super-chic, pixie style, and suddenly, things begin to change.  Emma’s behind-the-scenes stage crew role has grown; after a classmate moves, she is named the stage manager of the school’s annual fall Shakespeare play.  Emma’s best friend, Lulu, is dealing with her own difficulties; she is put on lockdown by her conservative parents after being caught kissing another girl.  Lulu also blames Emma, in part, for her being cast as Ophelia in the school’s Production of Hamlet (Lulu desperately wanted the title role).  Josh, a handsome school athlete who gets the role of Hamlet, is terrible.  Emma and the other directors begin trying desperately to save what appears to be a cursed production.  

One evening, after a long day of rehearsals, Emma is distracted and falls through the stage’s trap door.  The fall takes Emma back in time to the Globe Theatre in 1601.  At the Globe, Emma is mistaken as a boy, which gives her the ability to observe the original Shakespeare production.  She is able to travel between the two worlds via the trapdoor and brings what she has learned from that production to the present day.  In the end, she also brings her knowledge of present day Hamlet to save the Globe’s production of the show.  THOUGHTS:  This enjoyable book seems to have it all; a school play, romance, time travel, and teen drama.  Emma is highly likeable, the characters are diverse without being stereotypical, and anyone who has ever been involved in school theater can agree that the story rings true.  I would recommend this book for all junior or senior high school libraries.  It may actually help to make Shakespeare “cool” again.

I enjoyed the fact that Emma is not an actor; this book gave well-deserved recognition to the people behind the scenes in a theatre production.  The book also touched on some of the deeper themes in Hamlet, and students who are reading the play for school might enjoy the insight Saving Hamlet can give.  Two of the characters in this book are gay, and the treatment of these characters is excellent; the characters are shown to be typical high school age students who have the same hopes and trials that any teen would have.  Emma is a witty and intelligent young lady.  I hope we see more of her in the future.

Realistic Fiction; Fantasy              Susan Fox, Washington Park School



Dooley, Sarah. Free Verse. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016. 978-0399-165030. 335 pp. $16.99. Gr. 6-9.

Sasha lives in the grimy coal-town of Caboose, West Virginia, a place she and her older brother Michael can’t wait to leave.  But Sasha’s mother ran off when she was five, her father died in a mine accident when she was eight, and Michael just died fighting a fire.  It’s too much for one thirteen-year-old to manage, and Sasha struggles with anger and the foster system and this…place.  Fortunately for her, foster mom Phyllis stays steady and encouraging through Sasha’s rages and disappearances, and distant relatives she never knew live just next door.  She struggles and grows, thanks to careful, caring adults, and thanks to her discovery of poetry.  But when another tragedy occurs, will it all be too much?  THOUGHTS: A strong, finely told novel, the poetry and the prose delight and reveal Sasha’s character incredibly well. This is beautiful poetry and a strong award contender.  Recommended for middle school readers and up.

Realistic Fiction    Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



Friedman, Aimee. Two Summers. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-1-338-03571-1. 355p. $7.99. Gr. 7-10.

Summer Everett can barely contain her excitement; she is going to spend her summer visiting her artist father in France! Since her parents divorced several years earlier, her relationship with her father hasn’t been close; he’s not much of a communicator. But, Summer’s looking forward to reconnecting with him, despite her mother’s qualms about the trip. Right before boarding her plane to France, Summer receives a phone call from an unknown caller. Should she answer the call? It is at this point that the storyline of Two Summers diverges. In one storyline Summer doesn’t answer the call and continues on her journey to France. In the other storyline, Summer answers the phone only to discover that her father is cancelling her visit, and she will have to stay at home in Hudsonville, New York over the summer. Though the settings for both storylines could not be more different, in both, Summer will find romance, discover a passion for photography and learn family secrets long hidden. THOUGHTS: This quick and enjoyable read is perfect for readers who enjoy contemporary YA lit with a dash of romance. The alternating parallel storylines will keep readers engaged as they discover how Summer’s snap decision not to answer a phone call might change some elements of her summer vacation, but other parts of her vacation seem destined to occur, not matter what her location.

Realistic Fiction         Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS


Great YA – Skyscraping; Goose; Burn Girl


Jensen, Cordelia. Skyscraping. New York: Philomel Books, 2015. 978-0-399-16771-3. 347p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Set in New York City in 1993, this is a heart-wrenching story of a young girl whose seemingly stable life is turned entirely upside down during her senior year in high school. Miranda is smart, responsible, motivated, and destined to attend Columbia University where her father teaches. But, her world crashes when she discovers her father and his male teaching assistant in bed together. Her once complete trust in her father is undermined when she learns that her parents have had an open marriage since before she was born, and that one of the reasons her mother spent a year in Italy, without first telling her daughters and thereby seemingly abandoning her family, was because she believed Mira’s father was the better parent. Mira’s faith in her family is further corrupted when she learns that her father has been HIV positive for years, and she learns this from him when his disease progresses to full-blown AIDS. THOUGHTS: Told in free verse with much use of imagery, symbolism and metaphor (often glaringly obvious, but sometimes more subtle), Skyscraping is a coming-of-age novel with a strong female character and the genuineness of a personal diary.

Realistic Fiction (free verse)           Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy



O’Porter, Dawn. Goose. New York: Amulet Books, 2015. 978-1-4197-1645-4. 256p. $16.95. Gr. 9 and up.

It’s senior year for Renée and Flo, first introduced in Paper Airplanes, and the best friends anticipate changes. Flo, committed to leaving the island of Guernsey, is intent on going to university, but Renée, who previously agreed with the plan, is having second thoughts. Each has family issues to navigate as well as the overlay of Renée’s sexual experimentation and Flo’s religious exploration. THOUGHTS: Although the plot moves quickly as the narration alternates between the two girls, and although the characters are realistic and well-drawn and their strong bond of friendship is relatable for today’s teens, this novel is, overall, a disappointment. Includes graphic and often unnecessary sexual scenes and references.

Realistic Fiction         Annette Sirio, Pittsburgh Obama Academy of International Studies



Mikulencak, Mandy. Burn Girl. Chicago: Albert Whitman, 2015. 978-0-8075-2217-2. 280p. $16.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Arlie is a teenage girl with adult responsibilities.  Most importantly, taking care of her drug addict mother.  They live in a motel, and Arlie’s life is very unstable. She was burned as a child and her disfigured appearance is just one struggle in her life. When her mother overdoses, it’s Arlie that has to call the police.  She’s sent to foster care and to school after many years of not attending.  Arlie does have one friend, Mo, who isn’t about to give up on her, and along the way she meets Cody, who has a disability of his own but can be a good influence on her.  Arlie must leave foster care and live with an uncle she didn’t know existed, and her relationship with Frank is written realistically.  THOUGHTS: A contemporary, quick read. This story will appeal to those who like troubled teen girl characters, and a story with a gritty edge. Arlie is a likeable main character, and even though she is slow to change at times, and often runs from her problems. I appreciated the “realness” of her and what she went through.  

Realistic Fiction      Rachel Gutzler,Wilson High School




Full Cicada Moon


Hilton, Marilyn.  Full Cicada Moon.  New York: Dial, 2015.  978-0-525-42875-6.  $17.99. 400 p.  Grades 5-8.

It’s 1969, and Mimi Yoshiko Oliver and her mother are finally moving to Vermont to be with Mimi’s father.  Mimi’s father is a college professor, but their new neighbors are not used to living with people who are “different”, especially with someone like Mimi, who is half black and half Japanese.  Mimi’s father tells her to, “Be kind, be respectful, and persist.”  Mimi takes his advice to heart.  In spite of continued bigotry, she begins to make good friends.  She grows close to a girl named Stacey (another professor’s daughter) and Timothy (the boy next door who lives with his bigoted uncle). She does well at school and dreams of being an astronaut when she gets older.

Mimi is angry when she discovers that she will not be allowed to take shop. Only boys are able to take shop; girls need to learn how to sew and cook.  She decides to calmly and politely protest the school’s policy and ends up getting suspended.  During the time that she is away from school, her classmates show their support by staging a sit-in.  This is all happening during a time of tremendous social change; protests over the Vietnam War are raging on, and the Apollo Space Program is putting a man on the moon.  Change is also beginning to take place in Mimi Yoshiko Oliver’s corner of Vermont, and her life will never be the same.

Historical Fiction (1960s); Novel in Verse         Susan Fox, Washington JSHS

This is a wonderful book.  Mimi is a likeable heroine, and you can’t help rooting for her.  The verse format manages to convey Mimi’s frustrations, sadness, and ultimate joy in only a few words.  The author is also able to capture the ethos of a turbulent period in American history within the limits of this format, and it is beautiful.  This book is highly recommended for middle and junior high school students.

Rhyme Schemer…Realism in Verse

rhyme schemer

Holt, K.A.  Rhyme Schemer.  San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2014.  978-1-4521-2700-2.  176p.  $15.99.  Gr. 5-8.

Kevin is the youngest of five children (behind Petey, Philip, Paul, and Patrick) and his parents are successful doctors.  Kevin lives a life of benign neglect, for the most part ignored by his busy parents and older siblings.   His next youngest brother, Petey, constantly bullies him.  Kevin, in turn, considers himself to be “The King of the Seventh Grade”.  He attacks anyone he believes to be weaker or inferior to him.  His new victim of choice is the “class runt” Robin.  Kevin does everything he can to make Robin’s life miserable.

Kevin has a hidden side and a dangerous secret, though; he writes his deepest thoughts (in verse) in a notebook.  He has also begun to tear pages out of library books to make found poems that poke fun at the school’s teachers and administrators. Kevin posts these poems around school and begins referring to himself as the Poetry Bandit.  One day, during an argument, Petey throws Kevin’s notebook out the window of his car on the way to school.  In a twist of fate, Robin is the one to find the notebook.  He becomes Kevin’s bully, threatening to show everyone how “wimpy” Kevin really is, and Kevin eventually beats him up. Kevin is suspended and must shelve books in the school library for two weeks after school as part of his punishment.  He finds an ally in the school librarian, who discovers that Kevin has been tearing pages out of library books to make his “poems”.  She recognizes his talent and works to find him an acceptable outlet for expressing himself.

The book ends with Kevin and Robin being forced to resolve their differences, with Petey beginning to appreciate Kevin as a person, and with Kevin starting to find a sense of worth through his writing. The verse in this book is powerful; it conveys Kevin’s complexity and his need for acceptance.  The found poems throughout the book are clever and capture the range of teenage emotion.  There are some issues with the book that stop it from being truly innovative; it is almost a foregone conclusion that Kevin will be a bully because his parents ignore him and Petey torments him.  The book, like a television sitcom, ties the action up into a neat package in its allotted number of pages.  Any teenager can tell you life isn’t that simple!  However, those who need a big- hearted book with an anti-bullying message (and the message that teachers can be powerful advocates) may find what they need in Rhyme Schemer.

Realistic Fiction; Verse          Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School


Kevin plans on being “King of the seventh grade”.  Always at the bottom, he is the “accident” his parents made after his four much older brothers.  Often a target of his brothers’ frustrations, Kevin begins to target kids at school, detailing much of what he plans to do in his notebook.  It is filled with poems and free form poetry about his classmates.  Realizing he has a gift with this poetry, Kevin begins to anonymously rip pages from library books, circling words and letters to make cryptic poems, and then posts them around school.  His brother, Pete, takes him to school daily but hardly ever speaks to him.  After an argument, Pete grabs Kevin’s notebook and throws it out the window.  Kevin never recovers the notebook, but one of the kids he relentlessly bullied, Robin, does.  Because of his bullying behaviors, Kevin is suspended.  After he returns to school, Kevin has to volunteer his time in detention to helping the librarian, Mrs. Little.  The book takes the characters and fits them into the cyclical pattern of bullying.  Holt also uses examples of how a bully can evolve from a bully to a victim and how teachers can ignore the behaviors when inconvenient. The plot takes Kevin out of his comfort zone, creating unlikely relationships and building bridges with those who had once been the butt of his jokes. Parental issues compiled with social and sibling issues make Kevin’s life miserable, creating his outlet of expression.  Readers will begin to actually like Kevin and cheer him on.  

Novel in Verse                 Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School

The Sound of Letting Go


Kehoe, Stasia Ward. The Sound of Letting Go. New York: Viking, 2014. 338 p. $16.99. Gr. 8+.

Daisy is a dutiful daughter, a trumpet prodigy, and responsible sister. All around good girl, Daisy does what she is asked, even when she would rather be elsewhere.  When she finds out her parents arguments are centered around whether or not to send her younger autistic brother, Steven, into a group home with caregivers who can manage his violent outbursts, Daisy gives up being a good girl and begins to descend into bad girl behavior missing jazz band practices, skipping school, drinking, and making out with boys. Her parents, who are preoccupied, rarely seem to notice Daisy’s misbehavior. To make Daisy’s life worse, she  secretly lusts after her childhood friend, Dave.  When Cal O’Callum, an Irish exchange student, shows up at jazz band practice, Daisy finds herself intrigued.  Told in verse, The Sound of Letting Go is an example of the voice of those children who are truly dealing with a sibling with disabilities and the abandonment that their siblings often feel.

Realistic Fiction, Verse    Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School

Daisy is a character who resonates with students today.  She has spent her life learning the rules surrounding her brother’s specific idiosyncrasies becoming another parent to her brother. This novel brings Daisy’s guilt over wanting to be acknowledged as a part of her own family to the surface. Students who have always strived to meet their parents’ expectations will hear their own voice in this novel. Because of its verse, this novel is easy read and infused with romance. Educators and anyone working with children will have a new perspective on siblings of kids with autism after reading this novel. Excellent example of a narrative told in verse.