Reichardt, Marisa. A Shot at Normal. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. 978-0-374-38095-3. 352 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.
Juniper Jade is the oldest child in a family that grows their own organic foods, homeschools their children, and goes without many of the everyday things others have (plastics, cell phones, and vaccinations). Often passing the local high school, Juniper longs to feel normal, but she respects her family’s values and doesn’t question them (too much) until she contracts the measles and unknowingly passes the virus to others. Then tragedy strikes, and suddenly, Juniper isn’t so sure about her family’s lifestyle. With the help of Nico, a friend who may be more than a friend, Juniper decides she’s going to be vaccinated. Despite her parent’s wishes. She isn’t quite prepared for their reaction, though, and Juniper really has to consider how much she’s willing to risk to get her vaccines.
THOUGHTS: Readers who are looking for a little more independence from the adults in their lives will connect with Juniper. With the vaccine debate at a pinnacle (though this book is not about COVID), A Shot at Normal deserves a place in high school collections.
Realistic Fiction Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Holmes, Jennifer L. Lion of Mars. Random House, 2021. 978-0-593-12181-8. 259 p. $16.99. Grades 4-6.
Bell has only known life on Mars – the fake sunlight, the painted on windows, the algae. But Bell wants to know more about the other colonies on Mars and why they don’t talk anymore. When an unidentified object lands on the Martian surface, Bell and his “siblings” decide to take a rover to explore. Things go terribly wrong, and Bell discovers that the clash between countries on Earth has apparently followed them to Mars. After being rescued, Bell and the others are banned from traveling to other colonies. Feeling more isolated than ever, the American colony discovers they have a mouse living among them after the last supply drop. Bell names the mouse Muffin, and they keep it as a pet. But when adults start to get sick and the eldest of the colony dies, the kids realize the mouse must have brought a virus and they need help. Using the train system that used to connect colonies, Bell and his brother journey to the French colony for help. The French colony sends medicine and support to the adults in the American colony while hosting the American children in their home. Realizing that they are more alike than different, Bell fights to maintain contact between the two colonies after unearthing an old photo of the American commanding officer.
THOUGHTS: A bit slow to start and focused on setting the futuristic idea of colonization on Mars, Holm picks up the pace when the rover crashes and Bell is hurt. A great story of trust and companionship that will be enjoyed by middle grade readers. This novel had cliff hangers and lots of moments where the reader was cheering for Bell. The out of this world setting makes it a fun read and leaves you wondering, “what if….”.
Walters, Eric. Don’t Stand So Close to Me. Orca Book Publishers, 2020. 978-1-459-82787-5. 128 p. $10.95. Grades 6-8.
Eighth Grader Quinn and her friends are surprised when their school principal holds an emergency assembly two days before spring break, announcing that their vacation is extended due to COVID-19. Although she has heard her dad, an emergency room doctor, talk about the virus, she didn’t think it would actually disrupt school. At first Quinn and her friends, Isaac and Reese, look forward to watching Netflix and playing video games all day, but the free time and social distancing gets old quickly, school is closed indefinitely, and the virus gets closer to home. Isaac’s police officer mother is working all day leaving him home alone for hours, Reese’s grandmother is in isolation at the local nursing home, and Quinn’s Dad is living in the basement when not working endless hours treating record amounts of patients. Quinn, Isaac, and Reese realize that although the virus has changed everything about their lives, from the way they go to school to how they hang out with friends, they can still feel connected by supporting themselves and their community.
THOUGHTS: A timely story that many readers will relate to, although it does not depict how the pandemic affected low-income families and those with difficult family conditions. Perhaps a companion novel or sequel can show how the pandemic has affected those in different socioeconomic situations and what life will be like after a vaccine is created.