YA – They Wish They Were Us

Goodman, Jessica. They Wish They Were Us. Razorbill, 2020. 978-0-593-11429-2. 327 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

As a student in an exclusive private school on Long Island, Jill and her five best friends should be living their best lives as seniors and members of the elite group The Players. They have unlimited money and the world at their feet. But there’s a shadow hanging over their lives: the story of what happened to their friend, Shaila. During their freshman year, Shaila was murdered by one of their own – Graham, her boyfriend and a member of The Players. Three years have passed since her murder and most of The Players seem content to honor Shaila in their memories and move on. But Jill starts getting text messages from Graham’s sister, Rebecca, and she quickly realizes that there may be more to the story than she originally thought. Despite her better judgement, Jill contacts Rebecca and becomes consumed with finding out the truth of what happened to her best friend. Unfortunately, while her investigation might bring justice for Shaila, the truth could end up ruining Jill’s life and turning her perfect world inside out.

THOUGHTS: While at times a little predictable, Goodman’s book delivers a punch that will draw in young readers. The plot is full of drama, scandal, and a glimpse into the privileged lives of the young elite. High school librarians should purchase Goodman’s book as it will be a popular choice for young adult readers, especially those who are fans of One of Us Is Lying and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder.

Mystery/Thriller            Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – These Violent Delights

Gong, Chloe. These Violent Delights. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020. 978-1-534-45769-0. $19.99. 464 p. Grades 9-12.

“These violent delights have violent ends.” It’s 1926, and the city of Shanghai is ruled by two gangs: The White Flowers and The Scarlet Gang. Juliette Cai has just returned to the city after spending four years in America, and she’s ready to forget her past and take on the role of heir to the Scarlets. When she is approached by Roma Montagov, the White Flower heir, he insists they work together to stop a madness plaguing their city and taking the lives of members of both gangs. She reluctantly agrees, although she was betrayed by Roma in the past. Together, as they prepare to hunt down a monster, they can’t ignore the passion that still exists between them, but if their alliance is discovered by either gang, the madness will be the least of their worries, and the blood feud between the two could turn deadly.

THOUGHTS: This novel brings some exciting new aspects to William Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet: 1920s flappers, the setting of Shanghai, monsters, and madness! The Scarlet Gang members are Chinese, The White Flowers are Russian, but the French and English are powerful presences in Shanghai as well, and this brings some diversity to the characters. You’ll be rooting for Roma and Juliette as they discover the secret behind the madness, and against all odds, find their way back to each other. This is perfect for readers who like action and historical fiction, as well as a bit of romance, and the ending will have them impatiently waiting for book two!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Juliette Cai seems to have it all as the eighteen-year-old heir to Shanghai’s revered Scarlet Gang. Juliette’s only problem seems to be her love/hate relationship with Roma Montagov, the heir of the rival gang the White Flowers. The Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers’ criminal networks operate above the law and are continually fighting, often killing each other on the spot when they accidentally cross into the other’s territory. However, a mysterious plague descends upon Shanghai, causing people from both sides to become mad and claw out their own throats. People begin whispering of a monster with glittering eyes, often seen in the water and controlling lice-like insects that burrow into people’s brains. In this retelling of Romeo and Juliet, both Juliette and Roma must put their feelings aside and work together to find the origin of this madness and stop it before Shanghai is destroyed.

THOUGHTS: With her beautiful descriptive language, author Chole Gong puts a riveting twist on a classic story in her debut novel, which promises to delight fans of the fantasy genre. Fans of fantasy sequels and trilogies will also appreciate that this story will continue in a yet-to-be-published sequel.

Fantasy          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Anna K

Lee, Jenny. Anna K. Flatiron Books, 2020. 978-1-250-23643-2. $18.99. 374 p. Grades 9-12.

Anna K. has the perfect life. Although she comes from a wealthy, Manhattan family, she prefers to spend the majority of her time in Greenwich with her NewFoundland show dogs and horses, and has been in a picture perfect relationship with her boyfriend, Alexander, for years. Anna tends to stay away from drama, but her family and friends cannot. Anna’s brother Steven and his girlfriend Lolly are trying to repair their relationship after Steven was unfaithful, Lolly’s sister Kimmie is trying to find her place after an injury prevents her from competitive ice skating, and Steven’s friend’s Dustin wants to find love before heading off to college. On her way to help Steven and Lolly with their relationship troubles, Anna meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky in the Manhattan train station, and a spark ignites between the two. Vronsky, who has quite the reputation when it comes to women, has never been in love, but he can’t stop thinking about Anna. Although Anna knows it’s wrong, she cannot stay away from Vronsky. The two begin a secret relationship, and Anna’s perfect life slowly starts to unravel around her.

THOUGHTS: I loved this modern adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina! Like the classic, this novel explores the lives and social pressures of a large cast of characters, introduced at the beginning of the book, each dealing with their own personal and family issues. Lee changes the setting, and rather than a focus on the Russian nobility of the late 1800s, Anna K. is set in modern day New York City and follows the social lives of the city’s wealthiest young elites. Fans of the classic will notice the similarities between characters and recognize key plot points, especially the ones that take place in train stations or on the train from Manhattan to Greenwich. However, readers unfamiliar with the classic will still enjoy this story of drama, passion, scandal, betrayal, heartache, and love and may find themselves checking out the original after finishing this modern adaptation.

Realistic Fiction          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – The Court of Miracles

Grant, Kester. The Court of Miracles. Random House Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-524-77285-7. $18.99. 399 p. Grades 9-12.

In an alternate 1829 Paris, one in which the French Revolution has failed, Nina Thenardier thrives as the Black Cat of the Thieves Guild, one of the nine criminal guilds of The Miracle Court. Her allegiance lies with her guild lord, Tomasis Vano, whom she refers to as her father, a custom among the children of the Miracle Court. Once, Nina lived with her older sister, but she was sold to the Guild of Flesh, and when Nina could not save her, she vowed to someday have her revenge. Years later, when Lord Kaplan of the Flesh Guild, the Tiger, decides he must have Cosette, a young girl who has become like a younger sister to Nina, she must do everything in her power to stop him, not only to save Cosette, but to avenge her sister and any other girl unlucky enough to be sold into his guild. Nina and Ettie look for protection from the Guild of Assassins, the Guild of Beggars, wind up in the palace of Louis XVII, and are caught up within a group of revolutionaries, still intent on overthrowing the monarchy. Loosely based upon Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Nina must find a way to save Ettie and avenge her sister without starting a war within the guilds and unintentionally throwing the city back into turmoil.

THOUGHTS:  I thought this was such a unique story, especially since the author chose to draw inspiration from two classic novels while creating an alternate, historical world within Paris, France. Readers may want to pick up The Jungle Book or Les Mis after reading The Court of Miracles, and I also found myself doing some research on the French Revolution throughout my reading. The plot is complex and full of many characters, settings, and time jumps, and I’d recommend this to any reader who enjoys action, adventure, and historical fiction.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – The Princess Will Save You

Henning, Sarah. The Princess Will Save You. Tor Teen, 2020. 978-1-250-23742-2. $19.99. 352 p. Grades 9-12.

The Princess Will Save You is loosely based upon The Princess Bride, but puts a twist on the classic tale: What if Buttercup saved Westley? Princess Aramande lives in the kingdom of Ardenia. She’s the only child of King Sendoa, and when he suddenly dies, Aramande is told she cannot rule unless she marries. Although she’s suspicious of his death, and doesn’t believe it to be an accident, princes and suitors of neighboring kingdoms have already arrived hoping to win her hand. The last thing she wants to do at sixteen is marry a stranger and give up control of the kingdom, but it doesn’t seem as if she’ll have much of a choice. When Luca, the stableboy and her true love, is kidnapped to be used as ransom against her, she immediately goes after him. Although she hasn’t spent much time outside of her kingdom, she has been trained as a warrior, and finally has a chance to put her skills to the test. Aramande encounters hardships along the way, and when Prince Renard, the man who intends to marry her, finds out she is missing, he sets after her to reclaim his runaway prize. Meanwhile, Luca, who is being held captive by pirates, has no doubt in his mind that his princess will save him.

THOUGHTS: Like The Princess Bride, The Princess Will Save You is full of action and adventure, and yes, it is a kissing book! The plot has similarities to The Princess Bride, but it’s in no way an exact retelling, just a loose adaptation. This book has a number of strong, female characters, and I loved the surprise plot twists packed into both the ending and epilogue!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Princess Amarande of Ardenia is not like other princesses in the Kingdom of Sand and Sky. She spends more time in the stables training with stableboy Luca than she does in the castle. Though just as well-suited for the battlefield as she is the throne, Amarande is the only child of her father, King Sendoa, which means she can’t inherit her crown unless she marries a prince in this very patriarchal society. When her father dies unexpectedly, 16-year old Amarande is not ready to marry, especially not to a power-hungry prince she doesn’t even know. She doesn’t understand what marrying a prince has to do with her bloodline. And then there’s the fact that, while they’ve never openly admitted it to each other, Amarande and the stableboy Luca are in love. Though she tries to convince the elders of the kingdom that she can rule without a husband, they deny her requests and begin inviting other princes to draw up marriage contracts. When Amarande refuses to cooperate, Prince Renard from neighboring Pyranee and his family of equally power-hungry villains arrange to have Luca kidnapped. The pirates who kidnap Luca leave behind a note stating, “Marry Renard or you will never see your love again.” Amarande cannot marry Renard. She also cannot let anything happen to Luca. Her only choice is to go after him. The pirates who kidnap Luca mock him when he proclaims that Amarande will come after them. “Sure, the Princess will save you,” they joke. But they don’t know this princess.

THOUGHTS: Full of adventure, a lovable rag-tag supporting cast, and a kick-butt female protagonist, this YA fantasy is based on The Princess Bride, and fans of the beloved classic will definitely pick up on several nods to the film including the famous line, “As you wish.” The last 20 pages are full of proverbial dropped bombs, and readers will be salivating for the sequel when it releases this summer.

Fantasy          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – Ever Cursed

Haydu, Corey Ann. Ever Cursed. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-43703-6. $18.99. 296 p. Grades 9-12.

Five princesses have been cursed, the queen is trapped in a glass box, and the spell is almost turning true. Jane, Alice, Nora, Grace, and Eden have all been cursed by a young witch to be without something: food, sleep, love, memory, and hope. Jane, the oldest, has been without food for five years, and the sisters finally have the opportunity to break their spell before it turns true and becomes permanent. Jane and her sisters are forced to work with the young witch, Raegan, who cursed them five years ago. To break the spell, they must collect a clock from the oldest, a tear from the saddest, a lock of hair from the most beautiful, and a crown from the richest. But, the kingdom of Ever is under a spell far more threatening than any cast by a witch, and the sisters soon discover the terrible truths about their own kingdom and the one person they thought they knew best.

THOUGHTS:  Although Ever Cursed appears to be a fairy tale, this is mainly a book about sexual assault and the abuse of power, and their patriarchal world is not so unlike our own. The beginning of the book includes a content warning for readers explaining that this book may also be triggering for anyone who is currently or previously struggling with an eating disorder. Overall, the strong, female characters in this book have to come to terms with some hard truths, but they are able to work together to expose the real evil plaguing their kingdom.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG/YA – Drugs and their Dangers (Series NF)

Erickson, Marty. Drugs and their Dangers. BrightPoint Press, 2020. $30.95 ea. $154.75 set of 5. 80 p. Grades 6-12.

E-cigarettes and their Dangers. 978-1-682-82705-5.
Heroin and Its Dangers. 1-682-82707-0.
Marijuana and Its Dangers. 978-1-682-82709-3.
Methamphetamine and Its Dangers. 978-1-682-82711-6.
Opioids and Their Dangers. 978-1-682-82713-0.

In four chapters each book in this series explores a type of drug, how the drug affects the body and society, and the treatment for drug abuse. A “Fact Sheet” introduces the reader to the topic while an introduction dives into a teenager’s personal account of being addicted to the drug, an explanation of how people can become addicted, or how the drug became popular in the United States. Each book also includes a Glossary, Source Notes, and pages with additional sources for students to research the topic further.

THOUGHTS: This series is a good addition to a middle school or high school collection. The simple sentence structure and generous amount of white space between lines of text makes each book easy for older students who may struggle with reading but are interested in the topic.

362.29 Addiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – Where We Are

McGhee, Alison. Where We Are. Atheneum/A Caitlyn Dlougy Book, 2020. 978-1-534-44612-0. $18.99. Grades 7-10.

Micah and Sesame had a plan. If Micah and his parents mysteriously disappeared from their home in present-day, downtown Minneapolis, Micah would text Sesame and she would find him. When Deacon comes to escort the Stone family to the South Compound, he confiscates their cell phones so Micah leaves a cryptic note on the wipe-off board on the refrigerator. The Stones have joined a cult that scorns all worldly things—even pencils—and cower and obey the harsh and unreasonable mandates of one man they call the Prophet. Not Micah. He resists and accumulates so many infractions for what the cold and domineering Prophet deems insubordination that the young man barely exists in solitary confinement. Though free, Sesame Gray lives a secret life. After her mother dies (she calls her grandmother because the woman was older when she adopted Sesame), she concocts stories so that neither her friends nor her solicitous neighbors suspect she is living alone in an abandoned garage. Throughout the book, Sesame reflects on both her grandmother’s goodness and also her habit of keeping them isolated and self-sufficient. That behavior serves Sesame well in her current situation, but her experience relying on others to help in the search for Micah brings a new realization that every person needs to depend on someone. High school seniors and sweethearts, Micah and Sesame narrate this curious story in alternating chapters: faithful Sesame on the outside, remains single-mindedly determined to find her lost boyfriend; resilient Micah, imprisoned in a basement laundry and wasting away, continues to leave clues, sure Sesame will find him. In the hands of a different writer, this book about cults and loss would be a toss off. Author Alison McGhee’s writing pulls the reader along this strange tale and makes us care about these two sensitive and insightful characters. Still, the subject manner is very particular and though there is the element of romance, their love is played out through devotion rather than a relationship, leaving the book with limited appeal. It is unclear what ethnicity the characters are (the cult and its members seem white); two neighbor couples are gay; it all is seamless.

THOUGHTS:  I have read other books by Ghee (Maybe a Fox), and admired her unique plot selections. A hide-and-seek love story centered around a cult but not really about the cult is unique, but not so interesting. The fact that present-day Minneapolis is the focal point of so much foment, violence, and pain, and Ghee picks that city to be the setting for a cult/kidnap/romance seems to me an odd-and avoidable-choice. The dust jacket states Ms. McGhee splits her residence between Minneapolis and another place, so perhaps the setting doesn’t matter. Though I couldn’t, I thought these factors promoted this book: subtle but solid theme, good writing, clever idea of creative Sesame to leave poems boxes around town, appealing characters. Like McGhee’s other books, this one fits only a narrow audience. 

Realistic Fiction Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – Ready Player Two

Cline, Ernest. Ready Player Two. Ballantine Books, 2020. 978-1-524-76133-2. 370 p. $28.99. Grades 9 and up. 

Wade Watts has won the contest. He’s rich, he’s famous, he’s living the life of his dreams? Inheriting billions of dollars and taking control of GSS has left Wade wrapped up in a lavishly padded but empty life. With robotic staff at home and avatars inside the Oasis, Wade very rarely interacts with actual, physical people. While the rest of the High Five move on, creating great lives and names for themselves, Wade is left behind. That is until the unexpected happens and the High Five are thrown back together again, with a new race to save the Oasis. One with even greater consequences than before.

THOUGHTS: Ready Player Two is as much an action-packed whirlwind as the first. Readers will delight in meeting friends, old and new, that change the face of humanity.

Science Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

Wade Watts has just won James Halliday’s contest and, along with his friends, the high five, has become one of the new co-owners of Gregarious Simulation Systems. As James Halliday’s heir, he now wears the robes of Anorak while in the Oasis, giving his avatar Parzival unlimited power. Days after winning the contest, Wade also discovers a new technology called ONI (Oasis neural interface) which has never been released to the public. Halliday specifically left this technology to his heir, and Wade, along with his co-owners Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto, has to decide if the world is ready for this technology. Only Art3mis objects, and soon the world starts experiencing the Oasis in a new and improved way. Wade quickly becomes addicted to the new ONI experience, and lives a very solitary life, always waiting to get back into the Oasis. However, when a new quest is revealed, similar to Halliday’s egg contest in the previous installment, Wade needs all of the help he can get, from both old friends and new, and Parzival must once again step up to the challenge to save the Oasis while keeping ONI users out of danger.

THOUGHTS: The futuristic setting of both Ready Player One and Ready Player Two doesn’t seem as unrealistic as it did to me when I first started this series. One of the benefits of the Oasis is that people can interact safely without the fear of spreading disease, and they often reference a terrible flu that killed millions before the Oasis became so widely used. Since so many of our interactions in 2020 were virtual, it makes me wonder if something like the Oasis will be in our future as well. I’m glad this book picked up right where book one left off, and the events that transpired after didn’t come as too much of a surprise to me either. Readers must remember how young Wade Watts is, and after inheriting everything from James Halliday in the previous book, it only makes sense that he’s not always going to make the right choices after becoming a billionaire overnight. Mostly, I loved all of the 80s pop culture references, especially the John Hughes planet inside of the Oasis! It was a nice wrap up to events set in motion in Ready Player One, and a perfect book to read during these primarily virtual times.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Kingdom of the Wicked

Maniscalco, Kerri. Kingdom of the Wicked. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-42846-0. $18.99. 448 p. Grades 9-12.

Emilia and Vittoria, twin sisters, are also witches known as streghe. They come from a family of witches who must hide from both humans and The Malvagi, or The Wicked: Princes of Hell who would stop at nothing to capture their souls for themselves. Emilia and Vittoria have grown up hearing stories about the seven Princes of Hell from their grandmother, Nonna, and for protection, each girl wears a cornicello, a horned shaped amulet. According to Nonna, they must never take them off and never put them together because The Malvagi are always watching, and always waiting. When Emilia finds Vittoria murdered, her Nonna’s stories don’t seem so unbelievable anymore, and she finds herself summoning a demon to discover what happened to her sister. When she inadvertently summons Wrath, one of the seven Princes of Hell, she reluctantly accepts his offer to help her find the murderer of her sister and other witches, but from Nonna’s stories, she knows she cannot really trust him or the other princes she meets in her city. However, Wrath is unlike his brothers, and against her better judgement, she starts to rely on their alliance and cannot deny the attraction growing between them. In order to avenge her sister and protect her family, Emilia may just have to make a deal with the devil.

THOUGHTS: Kingdom of the Wicked is a refreshing, new fantasy series that takes place in the 19th century on the Italian island of Sicily. Emilia’s family owns a restaurant called Sea and Vine, and trust me, you’ll be craving some homemade Italian food after finishing this one. Although the time period wasn’t obvious to me when starting the novel, it became more apparent as I continued to read, but to be honest, I had to do a Google search to completely understand the setting of this book. Along with witchcraft, this book introduces the Seven Princes of Hell, referred to as The Wicked, which are basically the embodiments of the seven deadly sins, and they certainly add to the uniqueness and eeriness of this new, historical fantasy.

Fantasy           Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD