YA – I’m the Girl

Summers, Courtney. I’m the Girl. Wednesday Books, 2022. 978-1-250-80836-3. 352 p. $18.99. Grades 10 & up.

When 16 year old Georgia Avis discovers the body of 13 year old Ashley James on the road to infamous celebrity hideout Aspera, it becomes Georgia’s mission to determine what happened to Ashley. She teams up with Nora, Ashley’s older sister, and is thrown into a world of money, corruption, and greed. As a child raised in the shadow of Aspera, Georgia always dreamed of becoming an “Aspera Girl,” girls known for their beauty and exclusive access to celebrities. Georgia’s own naive misunderstanding of Aspera and its employees gets in the way of her realizing the gravity of the situation she has gotten into by becoming employed at Aspera. As time progresses and the truth about Ashley’s death becomes clear, Georgia’s beliefs are challenged and hard decisions have to be made.

THOUGHTS: Summers’ follow up to previous hit thrillers does not leave you wanting.  This title deals with topics such as abuse, rape, and murder much more openly and violently than previous titles by Summers. A content warning is provided at the beginning of the book and gives insight into Georgia’s frame of mind as a naive girl learning about the toughest aspects of the world.

Mytstery          Natasha Lewis, Whitehall-Coplay SD

YA – The New Girl

Sutanto, Jesse. The New Girl. Sourcebooks, 2022. 350 p. $10.99 (paper) 978-1-728-21519-8. Grades 9-12. 

Thanks to her running speed on the track, Lia Setiawan has been given a full scholarship to prestigious Draycott Academy, and she is determined to prove she deserves it. But the school is full of extremely wealthy young people–think private jets, designer drugs, and racist, elitist attitudes. Because she begins mid-year after the dismissal of the outspoken drug-addicted Sophie, she finds few people to welcome her.  Draycott’s dirt app closely follows every student, and students anonymously post about everyone and everything (which isn’t about to end well). It turns out that Sophie had complaints about unfair grading practices of English instructor Mr. Werner, and Mr. Werner very pointedly informs Lia she does not belong in his class. Lia insists on staying in the class only to find herself failing dismally despite extreme diligence to the classwork.  She begins to suspect that some students have paid Mr. Werner for their grades, and she knows she’ll never be able to do that, and her track scholarship depends on her grades. Lia instantly connects with the drool-worthy Danny, who is another reason to fight for her place. But the dirt, the revenge, and the drugs begin to take their toll, and when Lia is the one to find Sophie dead in Mr. Werner’s office, she realizes that she needs to play the game even harder if she’s going to win–or live.

THOUGHTS: Like Sutanto’s The Obsession (2021), this novel features characters who can and will go to extremes to hide, succeed, and get revenge. By the novel’s end, nearly every character has a twisted secret revealed. And after the death Lia causes, tension rises to see if she will be revealed, too.  A good choice for suspense addicts.  

Mystery          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Realistic Fiction

YA – Love, Decoded

Yen, Jennifer. Love, Decoded. Razorbill, 2022. 978-0-593-11755-2. $18.99. 303 pp. Grades 7-10.

Love, Decoded by Jennifer Yen paints a world of Superbia, a Manhattan prep school, family life in a five-story brownstone with an elevator, and the fashionable and edible haunts of wealthy young New Yorkers that mixes Kevin Kwan’s Crazy, Rich Asians PG with Jane Austen’s Emma. Gigi Wong is a matchmaker-in-training with her Great-Aunt Rose in the backroom of her Chinatown shop, Rose and Jade. A computer coding whiz, sixteen-year-old Gigi convinces Auntie Rose to let her digitize some of the biodata on her clients. In first-person narration, Gigi describes her close friendship with next-door neighbor, Chinese and white, Kyle Miller; he is her confidante and go-to person, but nothing more (cue predictability). As a volunteer at the Suzuki Youth Center, the beautiful and magnanimous Gigi takes under her wing mentee, Etta, a Filipino-American scholarship student. Gigi learns to appreciate Etta’s exuberance and guilelessness and introduces her to a make over, exclusive restaurant openings, and demonstrations of privilege. In turn, Etta, an anime and video game aficionado, teaches Gigi how to use the subway, to buy clothes on a budget, and to appreciate the sacrifices Gigi’s chauffeur Fernando makes to be at the Wongs’ beck and call. Etta’s difficulty fitting in at Superbia also provides Gigi with the idea for her entry in a Junior Coding Contest. Using her novice matchmaking skills, Gigi enhances her program Quizlr into one that matches compatible friends. When former friend, Joey Kwan, returns from Singapore looking new and improved, Gigi thinks she has found a match for Etta. As the deadline for the contest approaches, Gigi has her pals try out her app only to find out that it has gone viral producing glitches in the program and serious problems for Gigi and her teacher, Ms. Harris. All gets neatly resolved with Gigi gaining new insight into what she truly wants for her future. Most readers will be treated to this world where teens wear original designers, dine at the trendiest restaurants, have their own credit cards, achieve high grades and awards, converse honestly and comfortably with their parents, and find their true love. Who wouldn’t want to escape there?

THOUGHTS: There are so many reasons this story is irritating, yet readers feel compelled to read it to the end. It fits all the stereotypes: wealthy prep school students can buy anything; the main characters are always going to the latest, best restaurants or ordering in their favorite foods; the narrator takes care to describe in detail their designer outfits and make up. Gigi knows the right things to say to maintain her sweet girl demeanor. She is supposed to be beautiful, smart, and popular, but no other girlfriends enter the story but her mentee, Etta, and through her, Gigi’s ex-friend, Anna. Perhaps Love, Decoded is an example of why we read fiction: to escape into a different world unlike our own. For that reason, Love, Decoded may become a seller among older middle school and younger high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – The Hawthorne Legacy

Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Hawthorne Legacy (The Inheritance Games Book 2). Hachette, 2021. 978-0-759-55763-5. $17.99. 368 p. Grades 7 and up.

“A Very Risky Gamble,” that’s what Avery Kylie Grambs is to Tobias Hawthorne, the famous billionaire that left his entire fortune and estate to her upon his death, instead of to his children and grandsons. Avery and the Hawthornes are still trying to figure out the game Tobias is playing with them and the events that connect each of them, and a history of tragedy, together. With Avery’s realization that Toby Hawthorne, Tobias’s long-lost son, is still alive and possibly the secret her mother never got to share with her before her death, she, Jameson, Grayson, and Alexander set out to find Toby and figure out the mystery that connects them all together. But, what happens when Toby doesn’t want to be found, and the others want answers? As the four dig deeper into Hawthorne history and legend, they must accept the faults of one another, a family history of secrets and lies, and overcome threats to their lives. In the end, though, are answers worth all that must be revealed in the search?

THOUGHTS: Once again, Jennifer Lynn Barnes does not disappoint. Her writing style and storytelling keeps readers on the edge of their seats for all 368 pages (and more as they look forward to the next installment). Her character development connects the reader with Avery and each member of the Hawthorne family, so as to pull the reader into the story to solve the mystery right alongside Avery, Grayson, Jameson, and Alexander. This is a must-have for all middle school and high school collections.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Picking right up where The Inheritance Games leaves off, Barnes takes readers on another puzzle-filled, mystery/adventure. Avery, Jameson, Grayson, and Alexander aren’t satisfied without having all of the answers – or as much information as they can extract from Tobias Hawthorne’s clues. Though threats still are very real, Avery and the Hawthorne brothers persist, uncovering long buried secrets that send them in new directions. Finding possible connections to her past, Avery thinks she’s finally cracking the case, only to be left with someone who doesn’t want to be found. Digging deeper into the past with some who want to leave it in the past, Avery, find some uncomfortable truths about their family histories. Sometimes past mistakes are best left in the past, but is finding out the truth worth all of the pain that comes with it?

THOUGHTS: Fans of Barnes’ other novels will devour this addition and anticipate the next installment (The Final Gambit, 2022). While reading book one first makes for a more clear understanding of the events in the second book, it could be read by itself (I’d recommend enjoying both). Highly recommended for secondary collections.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Avery Grahams still is in the middle of a puzzle. Why did Tobias Hawthorne leave his fortune to her, a stranger with no connection to the famous and wealthy family? After uncovering clues left behind by Tobias in his will, Avery, along with the Hawthorne brothers, are left with more questions than answers. Do the answers lie with Toby Hawthorne who died in a fire years before or with her mother who may have been keeping some real secrets from her daughter? As the mysteries begin to unravel, the danger continues to grow. Who can Avery trust with her life, and who can she ultimately trust with her heart?

THOUGHTS: The Hawthorne Legacy had me hooked from page one, and just like the previous novel, I couldn’t stop reading! This is a great series to recommend to readers who have a hard time committing to a new book or series, or to anyone who enjoys a mystery novel. I’m impatiently waiting for the final book in the trilogy since there are still so many secrets that have not been revealed and puzzles that need to be solved. 

Realistic Fiction          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Super Fake Love Song

Yoon, David. Super Fake Love Song. G.P. Putnam & Sons, 2020. 978-1-984-81223-0. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Asian-American Sunny Dae is a nerd, into Dungeons and Dragons with his best buddies, Jamal and Milo and anticipating multiple followers when they broadcast an interview with the much admired Lady Lashblade. Then he meets Cirrus Soh, the daughter of a Japanese couple who do business with his own workaholic parents. To impress Cirrus, he takes on the persona of his rocker-brother, Gray. His older brother has returned from his Hollywood pursuit for fame with his tail between his legs. Depressed and disillusioned, Gray succumbs himself to his basement room only to be drawn out to mentor the fledgling band Sunny and his pals have formed as they rehearse for the annual high school talent show. As Sunny’s feelings for Cirrus deepen, he becomes more conflicted about his duplicity: he is pretending to be a rocker and gaining Cirrus’s admiration and the longer he pretends, the more he likes the confidence and attention he is getting from others, including Gunner, his former bully.  When the day for the show comes, the Immortals pull it off, until a drunk Gray interferes. Author David Yoon has a knack for clever dialogue. His narrator, Sunny, weaves DnD references with contemporary situations that are fun for teens. Sunny is wealthy and lives in a posh area of Rancho Ruby in California. Though he is intelligent and good-looking, he still deals with insecurities and feelings of being a loser. However, the charmed life he leads refutes that claim. For those looking for a light romance enhanced by good writing, Super Fake Love Song may be just the thing.

THOUGHTS: Dungeons and Dragons fans will appreciate Sunny’s obsession. Romance fans will like the different male perspective. Though the genre is realistic fiction, the circumstances and events that occur in this book are fantasy to many of the teens who may pick up this book. In one section Sunny gives his take on the extravagant party Cirrus throws when her parents leave her home alone: “Such phenomena occurred solely on insipid television shows written by middle-aged hacks eager to cash in on the young adult demographic” (224). This comment may be a prediction for Super Fake Love Song.

Realistic Fiction/Romance          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Millionaires for the Month

McAnulty, Stacy. Millionaires for the Month. Random House, 2020. $16.99. 323 p. Grades 3-6. 

When Felix and Benji are partnered for a seventh grade field trip in New York City, neither expect to have a great trip–Felix and Benji aren’t exactly pals, and they couldn’t be more different. Little do they know that a quick forbidden trip to a pretzel cart in Central Park will change their lives forever. Felix finds a lost wallet, Benji borrows $20 for a better lunch, and they decide to turn in the wallet to a nearby police officer, but not before Benji slips in a note about who found the wallet. Why? The wallet belongs to social network billionaire Laura Friendly. She ultimately offers the boys a generous reward, but after a private chat with the boys about the “borrowed” $20, she changes her offer in an attempt to make the boys see that every penny counts. If they can spend $5,368,709.12 (a penny doubled everyday for 30 days) in one month without telling their parents, and abiding by some spending rules, she’ll give them each $10 million. If they can’t, they’re left with nothing. Felix and Benji get right to work buying T Rex skulls, tons of new sneakers, pizza lunches for their whole school, and a trip to Disney World. It sounds like a dream come true until the boys quickly realize that the things they want most, like making the seventh grade basketball team and making their parents proud, can’t be bought with Laura Friendly’s money. There are lots of twists and turns, typical middle school drama, family troubles, and the best “freebie” around.

THOUGHTS: Another winner from Stacy McAnulty–this fun, fresh concept will keep kids reading!

Realistic Fiction          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Felix Rannells and Benji Porter were paired together on a school field trip. Rule follower Felix is thrilled to be paired with rule bender Benji, but when they find a wallet of tech billionaire Laura Friendly they decide to do the right thing and return it, but not before Benji “borrows” $20 for hotdogs and soda. Because what’s $20 to a billionaire? It’s like a penny, right? When Friendly finds the boys at their school a few days later, she notices her missing money and challenges the boys to spend a penny doubled everyday for 30 days, which totals $5, 368,709.12! Easy and fun? Not so fast. The boys soon learn that money can’t buy everything, and spending the money isn’t nearly as fun as they thought.

THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection. McAnulty’s middle grade books are a perfect fit for every middle grade library!

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

MG – A Thousand Questions

Faruqi, Saadia. A Thousand Questions. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-062-94320-0. 225 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8. 

In this East meets West friendship story, A Thousand Questions shows the disparity in lifestyles between the United States and Pakistan told alternately by the two main characters. Eleven-year-old Mimi Scotts and her mother travel from Houston, Texas, for summer vacation to visit her wealthy grandparents, Begum Sahib and Sahiba Ji, in Karachi for the first time. She is awed by the wealth and luxury of her grandparents’ home compared with her tiny apartment and stretched budget back in the United States. While Mimi’s mother reconnects with her school chums, Mimi forms a friendship with the servant girl, Sakina Ejaz. Too poor to go to school, Sakina assists her diabetic father cooking in the Ji’s kitchen. The two girls become fast friends. With the backdrop of the campaign season for new elections, Sakina shows Mimi the sites of Karachi, and Mimi agrees to tutor to Sakina for her English examination so that she can win a school scholarship. Mimi’s narration includes secret letters she writes to Tom Scotts, the father she has never met. When Mimi discovers her freelance journalist father is living in Karachi, she is determined to meet him and Sakina is a willing accomplice. Author Saadia Faruqi captures the richness of the Asian city from the delicious dishes and its atmosphere to the inequity of the caste system as well as the authenticity of the fully-drawn main characters: Sakina, mature beyond her years, cognizant of her integral role in providing for the welfare of her family; Mimi, an ordinary American girl of modest means, getting to know her grandparents and also her own mother in her childhood home and longing to connect with father.

THOUGHTS: This book reminds the reader of When Heaven Fell  by Carolyn Marsden, a story that compares the life of  a struggling Vietnamese family with the life of an adult Vietnamese-American adoptee who visits her Vietnamese birth mother. There’s a part where Sakini asks Mimi if there are poor people in America and Mimi answers, “No,” at first until she remembers a homeless man and the kids at school who qualify for free lunch. Discussion of social justice issues, equity in education, and divorce can ensue.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

When Mimi and her mother arrive in Karachi, Pakistan for the summer, Mimi immediately misses air conditioning, soccer, and chicken nuggets, all staples of her American upbringing. Mimi is surprised to find that her grandparents live in luxury, employing servants and wearing fancy clothes, while Mimi and her mother can barely afford rent in their tiny Houston apartment. Mimi realizes there is so much she doesn’t know about her mother, her grandparents, and her father who left years ago without explanation. After learning that her father’s job brought him to Karachi, Mimi befriends a servant girl who agrees to help Mimi find him in exchange for English lessons. Sakina, a servant of Mimi’s grandparents, dreams of going to school like Mimi, but her servant status prohibits her from making her dreams a reality. After all, when would she find the time to go to school when she must keep her job to take care of her own family and ailing father? Going to school seems even more impossible when she takes a secret exam and fails the English portion, but when Sakina and Mimi strike up their deal, Sakina starts to hope for her future and a better life for her family. As their friendship blossoms, the inequities of the Pakistani class system are revealed, and the friends determine to make good in both of their worlds despite the challenges.

THOUGHTS: Instead of multiple perspectives from different time periods, this story highlights two contemporary perspectives in a country many readers will be unfamiliar with. Shining light on the class system that still exists today in Pakistan, readers may feel compelled to learn more about the living inequalities and hardships people face who live outside of the United States. This is a good #ownvoices addition to any library seeking to diversity their collection.

Realistic     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Collins, Suzanne. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Scholastic Press, 2020.  978-1-338-63517-1. $24.99. 528 p. Grades 9-12.

The much-anticipated prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy begins 64 years before Katniss Everdeen enters the arena to fight for her life. The Hunger Games are only ten years old and are not yet the spectacle they go on to become. Coriolanus Snow, future president of Panem, along with his cousin and grandmother, have sold almost all of their possessions after the war drains their finances. The Snow name is synonymous with wealth, and they struggle to maintain a wealthy facade. The Snow family motto demands it: snow lands on top. Head gamemaker Dr. Gaul pairs each tribute with a Capitol Academy mentor. Coriolanus is paired with District 12’s Lucy Gray Baird, who immediately becomes a fan favorite due to her songbird voice. Coriolanus falls for her and, upon seeing the horrific conditions where the tributes are kept before the games, arranges for her to have food and medical care, a precursor to tribute treatment in the later books. But he still has strong loyalty to the Capitol. This is much different from his peer, Sejanus. He views The Hunger Games as unjust, and at times, Coriolanus sees his point. As his love for Lucy Gray deepens, he is conflicted. He believes in her but also in the Capitol. Most of all, he believes he needs to make something of himself in order to keep proving that snow always indeed lands on top.

Thoughts: Readers will want to simultaneously empathize and loathe Coriolanus. He wants to make the right decisions, but there are already glimpses of what he will become in later books. Fans of The Hunger Games will love discovering the origins of the trilogy’s most important symbols, such as the mockingjay and Victors’ Village. For those who have never read The Hunger Games, it serves as a good start. Similar to its predecessors’, the book does have a fair amount of blood and violence and is better suited for high school readers who are sure to enjoy this action-packed origin story.

Dystopian Fiction     Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Admission

 Buxbaum, Julie. Admission. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-1-984-89362-8. 304 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Chloe Berringer is the daughter of beloved sitcom star, Joy Fields, whose classic show is now in production for a new season. Chloe’s parents send her and her younger sister to Wood Valley School, a prestigious and expensive private school in Los Angeles, the setting of Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things. Among the academic elite at Wood Valley are Chloe’s crush, Levi, and her best friend, Shola, a Nigerian American. Levi and Shola both have high aspirations for Ivy League colleges, but Chloe is just an average student. When her mom and her venture capitalist dad hire an admissions counselor to help her get into the selective Southern California College, Chloe is happy for the assist. But before long, the college admission cheating scandal blows up and Chloe and her mom are at the forefront. Seemingly taken directly from the Lori Laughlin case, the story feels a bit derivative. As the story begins neither Chloe or her mother are very sympathetic characters, they are both supremely entitled, clueless and a bit unlikeable. Though white privilege, wealth and educational inequality, drug addiction and undocumented immigrants are all mentioned, the novel seems to gloss over them lightly with the peripheral characters serving as a way to highlight those issues. Chloe and her family do eventually experience the consequences of their actions which allows them to make significant adjustments to their thinking and behavior as the story unfolds.

THOUGHTS: Admission is a quick and easy read that seems more suited for a summer beach read than a hard look at some of the substantive issues that are presented. But I do believe that this will be a popular title with high school students on their own path to college admissions. I will certainly be adding this title to my school’s collection.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Daughter of a beloved sitcom star, Chloe Wynn Berringer has lead a privileged life. At best an average student at prestigious private school Wood Valley, Chloe (and her parents) has her heart set on attending a selective southern California college. Her counselor advises Chloe to consider other options that aren’t such a reach, but to keep up appearances Chloe’s mom hires a private admissions counselor that guarantees his work. Chloe isn’t totally sure she needs that much help, but she’s nervous, so she gladly obliges with his sometimes seemingly outlandish requests. Told in reverse Chloe’s story begins with a knock on her door. The FBI is there to arrest her mother for her involvement in a college admissions scandal, and Chloe may face charges too. Shocked, Chloe thinks back to the beginning (these days she has plenty of time to think), filling readers in on how she got to this point. The public outrage and her best friend’s reaction leave Chloe feeling completely alone. Her little sister, who is not the same average student, gives Chloe some advice which helps her accept all that has happened and her life for what it now is.

THOUGHTS: This quick read will have appeal to many high school students who may be on their own college admissions paths. Though tied to the admissions scandal, the isolation that Chloe experiences mirrors the way many teens may feel after suffering consequences of poor decision making. It is difficult to ignore the parallels to the 2019 national college admissions scandal, but high school readers, especially fans of Buxbaum will enjoy this newest novel. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD