Monthly Archives: September 2017

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert. August 8, 2017. Little, Brown, 336 p. ISBN: 9780316349000.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 820.

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Strong sexual themes, Discussion of abortion, Discrimination based on sexuality, Marijuana, Discussion of a racist joke

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 18))
Grades 9-12. Suzette’s back in California for the summer after spending the year at boarding school in New England, and she’s looking forward to being back home, though she’s nervous about reuniting with her stepbrother, Lion. Before she left for school, she broke a promise to Lion and told their parents his bipolar disorder was getting out of control. Now that she’s back, she’s worried she irrevocably altered their relationship, and while she’s trying to rebuild it, Lion starts to spiral again. Meanwhile, Suzette is facing some new truths about herself, too. At boarding school, she was surprised to fall hard for her roommate, Iris, and back home, she’s even more surprised to discover feelings for her old friend Emil, her mother’s best friend’s son. As the plot bounces back and forth in time, Colbert juggles all the moving parts expertly, handily untangling Suzette’s complicated feelings about herself and her relationships and gradually illuminating pithy moments of discovery. One of many notable strengths here is Colbert’s subtle, neatly interwoven exploration of intersectionality: Lion is desperate to be defined by something other than his bipolar disorder, and Suzette learns to navigate key elements of her identity—black, Jewish, bisexual—in a world that seems to want her to be only one thing. This superbly written novel teems with meaningful depth, which is perfectly balanced by romance and the languid freedom of summer.

Kirkus Reviews starred (May 15, 2017)
Sixteen-year-old Suzette was sent to boarding school when her bookish older brother, Lionel, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but now she’s back in Los Angeles for the summer.Despite the strange looks their family attracts—Suzette and her mom are black, while Lionel and his dad are white—Lionel and Suzette were always close before Lionel’s diagnosis. With Suzette back home, Lionel confides in her that he’s going off his medication. Fearing that to divulge his secret will ruin any chance of rebuilding their bond, Suzette keeps quiet even though she feels responsible for her brother’s well-being. Simultaneously, Suzette balances her blooming feelings for Emil Choi, a sunny, biracial (black/Korean) boy with Ménière’s disease, and for Rafaela, a pansexual Latina—whom, disastrously, Lionel is also falling for. To make matters worse, Suzette is still grappling with a homophobic act that exposed her relationship with her white boarding school roommate, Iris. Suzette’s engrossing present-tense narration intertwines with sporadic—but pertinent—flashback chapters. Colbert (Pointe, 2014) sensitively confronts misconceptions about mental illness, bisexuality, and intersectional identity (“people have too many questions when you’re black and Jewish,” thinks Suzette). A vibrantly depicted Los Angeles and a rich, though at-times unwieldy cast of characters create a convincing world. Readers will empathize with Suzette as she explores both her sexuality and the tricky line between honesty and betrayal. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Brandy Colbert was born and raised in Springfield, Missouri. Her debut novel, Pointe, won the 2014 Cyblis Award for young adult fiction and was named a best book of 2014 by Publishers Weekly, BuzzFeed, Book Riot, and more. She was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start for spring 2014. Brandy works as a copyeditor and lives in Los Angeles, California.

Her website is brandycolbert.com

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It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English. July 11, 2017. Clarion Books, 368 p. ISBN: 9780544839571.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.4; Lexile: 680.

It’s 1965, Los Angeles. All twelve-year-old Sophie wants to do is write her book, star in the community play, and hang out with her friend Jennifer. But she’s the new black kid in a nearly all-white neighborhood; her beloved sister, Lily, is going away to college soon; and her parents’ marriage is rocky. There’s also her family’s new, disapproving housekeeper to deal with. When riots erupt in nearby Watts and a friend is unfairly arrested, Sophie learns that life—and her own place in it—is even more complicated than she’d once thought.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Racism and racist language, Sexist language

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 16))
Grades 5-8. Bookish, quiet Sophie lives in a mostly white, middle-class neighborhood in L.A. with her class-conscious parents and older sister, Lily, who can pass for white. Life seems fairly easy, though she’s certainly no stranger to the cruelty of racism. But in the summer of 1965, as the Watts riots fill the news, several changes shake up Sophie’s world: she finds evidence of her father’s infidelity; her sister starts dating a darker-skinned man, whose experience of being black is much different from theirs; and she personally sees the unfairness of widespread racism when she auditions for a play at the community center. Amid classic middle-grade topics, English deftly weaves a vivid, nuanced story about the complexity of black identity and the broad implications of prejudice. The Watts riots appear mostly in the background, but English stirringly highlights how black anger isn’t localized solely among victims of police brutality. Rather, rage simmers everywhere. Even Sophie, whose most aggressive move is defiantly shouldering past a white girl in the library, thinks to herself, “Gosh, that was a wonderful feeling—being colored and liking to fight.” Through Sophie’s first-person narrative, readers will gain an insight into her struggle to puzzle out her identity, particularly when what she knows about herself is at odds with the expectations and assumptions of the various communities she inhabits. Thoughtful and well wrought, this novel is compassionate, pointed, and empowering.

Horn Book Magazine (July/August, 2017)
The daughter of an art gallery-owning mother and a lawyer father, twelve-year-old Sophie has advantages most children her age do not. However, the summer of 1965 in Los Angeles brings challenges no amount of money can fix. Sophie must navigate her older sister preparing to leave for college, her parents’ continual arguments, and the family’s overly critical housekeeper. Not to mention that Sophie’s is the only African American family in an otherwise all-white neighborhood. In response to her friends’ query about what it feels like to be “Negro,” Sophie answers, “You remembered what you were all the time. All the time.” From learning about Emmett Till to witnessing an innocent man’s arrest, Sophie is forced to face a reality different from that of those around her. As much as budding author Sophie tries to focus on writing her novel and auditioning for the starring role in the community play, these issues are a constant presence, coming to a crescendo with the Watts rebellion. How Sophie reacts to these challenges, and what she learns in the process, results in a true coming-of-age story. The perspective of an upper-middle-class African American family is an unusual and welcome one; and Sophie’s interactions with her white best friend make for a particularly honest dialogue. Fans of Rita Williams-Garcia will enjoy this moving, frank novel. eboni njoku

About the Author

Karen English is a Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winner and the author of the Nikki and Deja and The Carver Chronicles series. Her novels have been praised for their accessible writing, authentic characters, and satisfying storylines. She is a former elementary school teacher and lives in Los Angeles, California.

 

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Thornhill by Pam Smy

Thornhill by Pam Smy. August 29, 2017. Roaring Brook Press, 544 p. ISBN: 9781626726543.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 3.3.

Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a Ella unravels the mystery of the girl next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2016: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.

Told in alternating, interwoven plotlines Mary s through intimate diary entries and Ella s in bold, striking art Pam Smy s Thornhill is a haunting exploration of human connection, and a suspense-filled story

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Murder, Bullying, Arson

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2017 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Dual stories set decades apart unfold together in this hybrid novel told in diary entries and eerie grayscale illustrations. More than 30 years ago, Mary Baines kept a diary about her life at Thornhill, an orphanage, and the cruel torment she experienced at the hands of another girl there. Meanwhile, in the present, Smy’s cinematic artwork shows lonesome Ella curious about the dilapidated former orphanage outside her window and the newspaper clippings she finds about a girl who went missing there, named Mary Baines. As Mary becomes more and more tormented for her love of books and the strange puppets she makes in her room, Ella sneaks onto Thornhill’s grounds and finds remnants of Mary’s dolls, which she takes home and lovingly repairs before returning them. The interplay between Mary’s diary entries and the images of Ella’s investigation builds depth in both girls’ narratives, though Ella’s can be a bit harder to decipher. Still, the enigmatic narrative, believable horrors, and haunting conclusion will be riveting for fans of ghost stories.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2017)
Decades after the tragedy at and closure of gothic Thornhill Institute, a new girl in town is drawn into its story.The past storyline is told through white, orphaned Mary’s diary entries (dated in the early 1980s); white preteen Ella’s modern, voiceless story unfolds, Wonderstruck-like, in intercut, illustrated, wordless sequences (frames of which occasionally have text, such as newspaper clippings). Selectively mute Mary is a puppet-making, literature-loving outcast at Thornhill, her situation complicated by the return of her chief tormenter and the ringleader of the other girls, back from a failed foster placement. These are Thornhill’s last days, the girls being sent to new placements so the property can be developed. Stoic Mary thinks she just wants to be left alone, until a taste of irresistible friendship turns to cruelty. In the present, lonely Ella is intrigued by Thornhill, especially the girl she sometimes sees beyond the locked walls. She sneaks onto the grounds, finds puppets, and repairs them before returning them, striking up an odd, at-a-distance friendship with the mysterious girl—who, she realizes, is likely the dead girl from the orphanage’s past. The puppets and doll figures take a familiar creepy motif and make it a source of joy and comfort. The striking monochromatic art is atmospheric and emotional in an understated way that gives it more power rather than less. It’s capped by an ambiguous climax and chilling denouement. Beautiful, moody, sad, and spooky—all at once. (Horror/graphic hybrid. 10-adult)

About the Author

Pam Smy studied Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, part of Anglia Ruskin University, where she now lectures part-time. Pam has illustrated books by Conan Doyle (The Hound of the Baskervilles), Julia Donaldson (Follow the Swallow) and Kathy Henderson (Hush, Baby, Hush!), among others. She lives in Cambridge.

Her website is pamsmy.blogspot.com

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Thornhill on Amazon

Thornhill on Goodreads

Thornhill on JLG

Thornhill Publisher Page

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

The Leavers by Lisa Ko. May 2, 2017. Algonquin Books, 352 p. ISBN: 9781616206888.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 870.

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.

Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging. It’s the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away–and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of her past.

This powerful debut is the winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Strong sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 14))
When Deming is 11, his Chinese American mother vanishes, leaving him with a surrogate family that, no longer able to provide for him, places him with foster parents, two academics who move Deming from New York City to upstate New York and subsequently adopt him. Flash-forward 10 years. Now 21, aimless Deming has flunked out of college, more interested in his music than his studies but always wondering about his mother. How could she have left him? Where is she? Then, after all these years, he learns she has returned to China, and, securing her phone number, he calls her. The action then shifts from his point of view to the first-person voice of his absent mother, telling her side of the story. Will son and mother be reunited? Though obviously skillfully written—it’s a winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction—the book can sometimes be difficult to read, thanks to its bleak subject matter, which, nevertheless, is reflective of today’s reality. Those who are interested in closely observed, character-driven fiction will want to leave room for The Leavers on their shelves.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2017)
A Chinese woman who works in a New York nail salon doesn’t come home one day; her young son is raised by well-meaning strangers who cannot heal his broken heart.We meet Bronx fifth-grader Deming Guo on the day his mother disappears without a trace. From there, the story moves both forward and backward, intercutting between the narrative of his bumpy path to adulthood and his mother’s testimony. Gradually the picture comes together—Deming was conceived in China and born in America because his unmarried mother, Peilan, decided she would rather borrow the $50,000 to be smuggled to America than live out her life in her rural village. After her baby is born she tries to hide him underneath her sewing machine at work, but clearly she cannot care for him and work enough to repay the loan shark. She sends him back to China to be raised by her aging father. When Deming is 6, Yi Ba dies, and the boy rejoins his mother, who now has a boyfriend and lives with him; his sister, Vivian; and her son, Michael. After Peilan disappears, Deming is shuffled into foster care—his new parents are a pair of white academics upstate. Ten years later, it is Michael who tracks down a college dropout with a gambling problem named Daniel Wilkinson and sends a message that, if he is Deming Guo, he has information about his mother. The twists and turns continue, with the answers about Peilan’s disappearance withheld until the final pages. Daniel’s involvement in the alternative music scene is painted in unnecessary detail, but otherwise the specificity of the intertwined stories is the novel’s strength. Ko’s debut is the winner of the 2016 Pen/Bellwether Prize for Fiction for a novel that addresses issues of social justice, chosen by Barbara Kingsolver. This timely novel depicts the heart- and spirit-breaking difficulties faced by illegal immigrants with meticulous specificity.

About the Author

Lisa Ko’s fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, Apogee Journal, Narrative, Copper Nickel, the Asian Pacific American Journal, and elsewhere. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Writers OMI at Ledig House, the Jerome Foundation, and Blue Mountain Center, among others. She was born in New York City, where she now lives.

Her website is lisa-ko.com

Teacher Resources

The Leavers Discussion Questons

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The Leavers on Amazon

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Hell & High Water by Tanya Landman

Hell & High Water by Tanya Landman. June 13, 2017. Candlewick Press, 320 p. ISBN: 9780763688752.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 830.

“Any money for Mr. Punch?”

For fifteen years, Caleb and his father have roamed southern England with little to their names but the signet ring his father inherited and the theater and puppets with which they stage popular, raunchy Punch and Judy shows.

“She will help you. Tell her she must.”

One summer day in 1752, Pa is convicted of a theft he didn’t commit and sentenced to transportation to the colonies in America. From gaol, Caleb’s father sends him to the family he never knew he had: an aunt on the coast.

“Filthy thing! How can you bear to have him in the house?”

His welcome at her house is strange, and her neighbors and stepdaughter seem to see only Caleb’s dark skin.

“I found him. On the beach. He’s dead.”

When Caleb finds a body washed up on shore, he stumbles into something much bigger than a man’s death in the high water.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts, Discrimination

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 17))
Grades 6-9. Landman’s Dickensian novel takes readers to eighteenth-century England, where a mixed-race teen and his father, Joseph, who is white, travel the countryside putting on Punch and Judy shows. Their itinerant life crashes around them when a thief drops a purloined silk purse at Joseph’s feet, framing the puppeteer for the crime. To Caleb’s horror, his father is dragged to prison and sentenced to be transported to America. Following Joseph’s whispered instructions, Caleb makes his way to his heretofore unknown aunt’s house, where he is welcomed by his aunt, though her stepdaughter, Lettie, is standoffish, and the town is downright hostile to a “darkie” like Caleb. Not long after his arrival, he discovers a disfigured body on the beach wearing Joseph’s beloved ring, but while Caleb runs for help, the identifying ring is stolen. Though no one believes Caleb’s claim that this man is his father, he knows something is deeply wrong. As he seeks the truth, he and Lettie grow closer, and they uncover rampant corruption and family secrets. This story is both a taut mystery and an excellent piece of historical fiction that brings issues of class, race, and justice into sharp focus. The compelling, complex characters come to life through Landman’s sophisticated writing, and the plot’s many twists strike like expertly timed smacks from Punch’s slapstick.

Kirkus Reviews starred (April 1, 2017)
Murder and mystery abound in this engrossing and atmospheric tale set in 18th-century England.Fifteen-year-old Caleb Chappell is a mixed-race boy whose life is shrouded in mystery. He knows nothing about his black mother, and his white father—a talented puppeteer—is the son of a disgraced earl but never discusses his past. When his father is falsely convicted of theft, Caleb is forced to seek protection from a hitherto-unknown paternal aunt who married a sailor and resides with her stepdaughter in a small port town. After settling into his new life, Caleb receives a shock when a body bearing his father’s signet ring washes up on the shore. Though he knows the corpse is his father, everyone in the town, from the parson to the local lord of the manor, is determined to convince Caleb otherwise. In her latest novel, Carnegie Medalist Landman (Buffalo Soldier, 2014) crafts a scintillating story of corruption headed by a winsome and tenacious protagonist. The author’s concise descriptions of the sea’s frightening vastness, the confining and insulated spirit of the small English town, and the provincial xenophobic attitudes of its denizens are almost cinematic in scope. Often mistaken for a slave, Caleb must endure whispers and pointed racism that are as historically accurate as they are disheartening. So riveting that the pages seem to turn of their own accord. (Fiction. 13-adult)

About the Author

Tanya Landman is the Carnegie Medal–winning author of a number of historical novels for young adults, including The Goldsmith’s Daughter and I Am Apache, in which she explores the lives of history’s dispossessed and disenfranchised. Tanya Landman lives in Devon, England.

Her website is www.tanyalandman.com

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Hell & High Water on Amazon

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Hell & High Water Publisher Page

Chasing Space: Young Reader’s Edition by Leland Melvin

Chasing Space: Young Reader’s Edition by Leland Melvin. May 23, 2017. Amistad, 240 p. ISBN: 9780062665928.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.6; Lexile: 1020.

Meet Leland Melvin—football star, NASA astronaut, and professional dream chaser.

In this inspiring memoir, adapted from the simultaneous version for adults, young readers will get to learn about Leland Melvin’s remarkable life story, from being drafted by the Detroit Lions to bravely orbiting our planet in the International Space Station to writing songs with will.i.am, working with Serena Williams, and starring in top-rated television shows like The Dog WhispererTop Chef, and Child Genius.

When the former Detroit Lion’s football career was cut short by an injury, Leland didn’t waste time mourning his broken dream. Instead, he found a new one—something that was completely out of this world.

He joined NASA, braved an injury that nearly left him permanently deaf, and still managed to muster the courage and resolve to travel to space on the shuttle Atlantis to help build the International Space Station. Leland’s problem-solving methods and can-do attitude turned his impossible-seeming dream into reality.

Leland’s story introduces readers to the fascinating creative and scientific challenges he had to deal with in space and will encourage the next generation of can-do scientists to dare to follow their dreams. With do-it-yourself experiments in the back of the book and sixteen pages of striking full-color photographs, this is the perfect book for young readers looking to be inspired.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racism, Hazing, Murder

 

Book Trailer

Author Talk

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2017)
Memoir of an astronaut whose road to space took an unusual twist—through the National Football League.Rewritten for younger audiences, this version of Melvin’s simultaneously publishing memoir for adults not only retraces his development from “a skinny black kid” who wanted to be the next Arthur Ashe to an engineer who flew on two space-shuttle missions, but is even capped with a trio of science projects. Though he pushes the conventional platitude that “hard work and dedication are all you need to succeed,” his experiences point more to the value of being ready to take full advantage of second chances when they come along—which they did in his (brief) NFL career, in college after he was suspended for (inadvertent, in his view) cheating, and later at NASA in the wake of a training injury that left him partially deaf. He has also enjoyed a second career as a speaker, educator, TV host, occasional poet, and songwriter with Pharrell and other musicians. Religious faith and racism sound occasional notes in his account, the latter underscored by a picture of his otherwise all-white astronaut class in one of the two photo sections, but he devotes warmer attention to tributes to his mentors, colleagues, role models—and, oddly, his dogs, whose lives and deaths make up much of what he has to say about his adult private life. A detailed picture of astronaut training and work, threaded on a decidedly unusual storyline. (Memoir. 11-14)

About the Author

A former wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, Leland Melvin is an engineer and NASA astronaut. He served on the space shuttle Atlantis as a mission specialist and was named the NASA Associate Administrator for Education in October 2010. He also served as the cochair on the White House’s Federal Coordination in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Task Force, developing the nation’s five-year STEM education plan. He is the host of the Lifetime show Child Genius and a judge for ABC’s BattleBots. He holds four honorary doctorates and has received the NFL Player Association Award of Excellence. He lives in Lynchburg, Virginia.

His website is www.lelandmelvin.com

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Chasing Space on Amazon

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Chasing Space Publisher Page

And Then There Were Four by Nancy Werlin

And Then There Were Four by Nancy Werlin. June 6, 2017. Dial Books, 416 p. ISBN: 9780803740723.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 730.

Let’s not die today. Not even to make things easier for our parents.

When a building collapses around five teenagers—and they just barely escape—they know something strange is going on. Little by little, the group pieces together a theory: Their parents are working together to kill them all. Is it true? And if so, how did their parents come together—and why? And, most importantly, how can the five of them work together to save themselves? With an unlikely group of heroes, sky-high stakes, and two budding romances, this gripping murder mystery will keep readers guessing until the last page.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (May 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 17))
Grades 8-12. Five teens at a private school are invited to a Leader’s Club orientation at a dilapidated campus building, and then the roof falls in—literally. Someone, maybe plural, is trying to kill them, but what does this unlikely group have in common? Except for Antoine and Evangeline, they barely know each other—although Saralinda does have a crush on Caleb. Those two are the alternating narrators, and from them we learn that diabetic, physically challenged Saralinda lives with a smothering mother who would like her daughter to be dependent on her. Caleb’s father is a celebrity psychiatrist who has convinced his son that the boy is a bad seed, a danger to everyone around him. Although the psychology of the kids—and their parents—is a huge part of the story, it’s the nonstop action that sweeps readers along. People are on the run, bodies are piling up, and murder is in the air. Up until the last moment, it’s not clear who is going to make it out alive. Over the top, definitely, but also a compulsive read.

Horn Book Magazine (July/August, 2017)
After a three-book detour through the fantasy genre (Impossible, rev. 9/08, and sequels), Werlin (The Rules of Survival, rev. 9/06) returns to her mystery/thriller roots for another psychological page-turner. Five students at a private boarding school are called together under mysterious circumstances to a remote, dilapidated building on campus. The building collapses, and they all survive, but one of them dies shortly afterward in an automobile accident. The remaining students band together, pool their information, and come to a horrific conclusion: each of their parents is involved in a conspiracy to murder them. Werlin simultaneously deepens characterization and unfolds the plot in alternating narrative voices from two of the teens, Saralinda and Caleb; they are attracted to each other but slow to act on it. Saralinda has diabetes–and a cane–but she is a hopeless romantic and a keen observer of her classmates. She loves her overbearing single mother but wishes for a greater measure of freedom. Caleb is aloof and harbors a dark side, but is fiercely loyal to his friends; his second-person narration is unsettling and underscores the notion that he might have sociopathic tendencies. His famous psychiatrist father has cowed both Caleb and his mother, and harbors a mean streak of his own. The other three teens, Antoine, Evangeline, and Kenyon–along with their parents–are similarly complex. Indeed, the entire cast is also notable for its diversity (in terms of ethnicity, sexuality, ability) in ways both organic and incidental to the plot. And if that plot occasionally strains credulity, it taps into a deep-seated teen paranoia that adults are out to get them. jonathan hunt

About the Author

Nancy Werlin has written 10 young adult novels, including New York Times–bestselling fantasy (Impossible), Edgar-award winning suspense (The Killer’s Cousin), and National Book Award-honored realistic fiction (The Rules of Survival). Her newest book is And Then There Were Four, a suspense thriller that marks her return to suspense after writing the fantasy trilogy Impossible, Extraordinary, and Unthinkable. Nancy grew up in Peabody, Massachusetts, received her bachelor’s degree in English from Yale, and now lives with her husband near Boston.

Her website is nancywerlin.com

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And Then There Were Four on Amazon

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And Then There Were Four  Publisher Page

In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne Sibley O’Brien

In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne Sibley O’Brien. June 27, 2017. Arthur A. Levine Books, 336 p. ISBN: 9780545905749.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 4.0; Lexile: 700.

North Korea is known as the most repressive country on Earth, with a dictatorial leader, a starving population, and harsh punishment for rebellion.

Not the best place for a family vacation.

Yet that’s exactly where Mia Andrews finds herself, on a tour with her aid-worker father and fractious older brother, Simon. Mia was adopted from South Korea as a baby, and the trip raises tough questions about where she really belongs. Then her dad is arrested for spying, just as forbidden photographs of North Korean slave-labor camps fall into Mia’s hands. The only way to save Dad: get the pictures out of the country. Thus Mia and Simon set off on a harrowing journey to the border, without food, money, or shelter, in a land where anyone who sees them might turn them in, and getting caught could mean prison — or worse.

An exciting adventure that offers a rare glimpse into a compelling, complicated nation, In the Shadow of the Sun is an unforgettable novel of courage and survival.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Violence, Harsh realities of life under the North Korean regime

 

Reviews

Booklist (May 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 18))
Grades 5-8. Mia and her brother, Simon, are on the run in North Korea. That’s dangerous enough on its own, but they’re also in possession of a cell phone containing pictures of atrocities in a North Korean labor camp. They’re not sure where it came from, or why their father was taken by North Korean police, but they know they must get out of the country, fast. Relying on their own quick thinking, Mia’s knowledge of Korean language and culture, and a handful of kind strangers, they embark on a harrowing journey from Pyongyang through the mountainous forests to the China border. O’Brien weaves plenty of information about the country through the story, and interspersed sections describing the experiences of some of the North Koreans they meet on their trip add depth. Mia, who was adopted from South Korea by a white American family, offers some thought-provoking insight into the experience of interracial adoption. This fast-paced and tense survivalist thriller, made all the more compelling for its fascinating setting, should find broad appeal.

Kirkus Reviews (April 15, 2017)
A family holiday goes badly awry, leaving two siblings racing for freedom in a totalitarian nation armed with little more than an outdated guidebook and a few packets of airline peanuts. Adopted from South Korea as an infant by a white Connecticut family, 12-year-old Mia has grown up feeling conspicuously different from her family and peers. To help heal the rift from a serious fight with her older brother, Simon, and to encourage Mia to connect with her cultural roots, the teens travel with their father to North Korea, a country he knows well as a foreign aid worker. Mundane sightseeing gives way to danger following Mia’s discovery of a cellphone containing shocking photos from a prison camp and her father’s abduction by authorities. Simon and Mia embark on a daring cross-country journey in an effort to reach safety and alert authorities to their father’s plight. The action is punctuated by short profiles of individual (fictional) North Koreans, tantalizingly pulling back the veil of secrecy, but readers are soon plunged back into a thrilling and immersive experience reminiscent of the best spy and wilderness adventure stories. Character development is not sacrificed to action, as the siblings mature in their relationship, gaining insight into family and racial dynamics, culture, and identity. Opening information from the fictional tour agency gives readers enough background about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to fully understand the peril the family is in. An author’s note illuminates O’Brien’s strong personal ties to Korea and gives suggestions for further reading. A riveting work that will appeal to a wide range of readers. (Thriller. 9-13)

About the Author

Anne Sibley O’Brien grew up in South Korea as the bilingual and bicultural daughter of medical missionaries. She has written or illustrated thirty-five picture books, and frequently speaks in classrooms across the country and in international schools around the world. In the Shadow of the Sun is her first novel. Anne lives on Peaks Island in Maine.

Her website is www.annesibleyobrien.com

Teacher Resources

 

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In the Shadow of the Sun on Amazon

In the Shadow of the Sun on Goodreads

In the Shadow of the Sun on JLG

In the Shadow of the Sun Publisher Page

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby. May 16, 2017. Walden Pond Press, 496 p. ISBN: 9780062306937.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.5; Lexile: 780.

It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment house—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long-held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.

From National Book Award Finalist Laura Ruby comes a visionary epic set in a New York City at once familiar and wholly unexpected.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (March 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 14))
Grades 4-7. Twins Tess and Theo live in one of the only remaining buildings designed by the Morningstarrs, visionary twins who built glittering structures in nineteenth-century New York, as well as the Cipher, a notorious, citywide puzzle leading to fantastic treasure. Now, in the twenty-first century, Tess and Theo’s building has been purchased by a mercenary developer, but Tess grasps at a shred of hope: if they solve the Cipher, they might be able to keep their home. With robust, architectural world building, Ruby reveals an alternate New York teeming with mechanical marvels and compelling secrets. This New York still has some familiar features, however: a rich culture of diversity alongside insidious greed and wealth inequality. Tess and Theo, and their friend and neighbor Jaime, have distinct voices and idiosyncrasies that, though some might consider them odd, become marvelous strengths. As the trio traverse the city, they’re often baffled by how easily clues fall into their hands, but Ruby slyly sidesteps those coincidences by giving the Cipher itself a mysterious, subtle sort of agency. In this smart, immersive series starter, Ruby expertly juggles stunning plot choreography, realistic stakes in a captivating fantasy setting, well-wrought characters, and flashes of sharp cultural commentary. It’s a brainy romp with a worrying heart, and while many plot threads are resolved, Theo, Tess, and Jaime will surely, thankfully, be back for more.

Horn Book Magazine (May/June, 2017)
When their (alternate reality) New York City apartment building is bought by a scheming real-estate developer, seventh-grade twins Tess and Theo Biedermann and their neighbor Jaime Cruz devise a plan to solve the Old York Cipher and thus save their home. The Cipher had been created in the nineteenth century by the brilliant Morningstarr twins (after whom Tess and Theo were named), inventors of the city’s “mechanical wizardry”–streets paved with solar panels, metal caterpillars that clean the Underway trains, and elevators that go in every direction–who then disappeared without a trace. As Tess, Theo, and Jaime take a fresh look at the Cipher, a new path of enticing and dangerous clues leads them deeper into the Morningstarrs’ mystery and closer to treacherous villains. Ruby’s nuanced trio of protagonists strikes a balance of emotional vulnerability (the twins coping with their grandfather’s onset of dementia, Jaime with his father’s increasing absence, and all three with the impending loss of their home) and resilience. The equally thoughtful vision of an alternative New York, both historical and present-day, pulsates right off the page, with geography, history, and steampunk-esque machines thoroughly integrated into the thrum of a strange but recognizable city. Weaving one web of secrets even as it works to unravel another, Ruby’s story will have both mystery and sci-fi fans reading and rereading in anticipation of the next installment. anastasia m. collins

About the Author

Laura Ruby is the author of books for adults, teens and children. Her titles include the Edgar-nominated tween mystery Lily’s Ghosts, the children’s fantasy The Wall and the Wing (3/06) and a sequel, The Chaos King (5/07) all published by HarperCollins. She writes for older teens as well, and her debut young adult novel, Good Girls (9/06), also from HarperCollins, was a Book Sense Pick for fall 2006 and an ALA Quick Pick for 2007. She followed this with the teen novels Play Me (2008) and Bad Apple (2009).

Her short fiction for adults has appeared in various literary magazines, including Other Voices and The Florida Review. A collection of these stories, I’m Not Julia Roberts, was published by Warner Books in January 2007. Called “hilarious and heart-wrenching” by People and “a knowing look at the costs and rewards of remaking a family,” by the Miami Herald, the book was also featured in Redbook, Working Mother, and USA Today, among others.

Raised in the wilds of suburban New Jersey, Laura Ruby now lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two cats that serve as creative advisors.

Her website is www.lauraruby.com.

Around the Web

York: The Shadow Cipher on Amazon

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York: The Shadow Cipher Publisher Page

A Million Junes by Emily Henry

A Million Junes by Emily Henry. May 16, 2017. Razorbill, 350 p. ISBN: 9780448493961.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 760.

Romeo and Juliet meets One Hundred Years of Solitude in Emily Henry’s brilliant follow-up to The Love That Split the World, about the daughter and son of two long-feuding families who fall in love while trying to uncover the truth about the strange magic and harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations. 

In their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, the O’Donnells and the Angerts have mythic legacies. But for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them, except to say it began with a cherry tree.

Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell doesn’t need a better reason than that. She’s an O’Donnell to her core, just like her late father was, and O’Donnells stay away from Angerts. Period.

But when Saul Angert, the son of June’s father’s mortal enemy, returns to town after three mysterious years away, June can’t seem to avoid him. Soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn’t exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic boy she was born to loathe.

Saul’s arrival sparks a chain reaction, and as the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers conspire to reveal the truth about the dark moment that started the feud, June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored. And she must decide whether it’s finally time for her—and all of the O’Donnells before her—to let go.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes, Underage drinking

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (June 1, 2017 (Online))
Grades 9-12. Jack (aka June) O’Donnell IV lives in a place where the divide between the real world and that of ghosts and spirits is thin. These ethereal forces sustain a generations-old feud between the O’Donnells and the Angerts, but when June meets Saul Angert, she only knows he’s beautiful and a kindred soul. The two embark on an odyssey to recover memories of those they loved, learn the truth of their shared history, and maybe put the long feud to rest. With a firm nod to Romeo and Juliet, this supernatural mystery is a gift to readers’ imagination. There are coywolves (a mix of coyote and wolf) who steal shoes so that people can reach the spirit world; “Whites,” puffballs that embody memories that act as clues; and relatable characters tethered and anchored by love. The first-person narrative supports a textured story that is an exploration of duty, family, and faith and yet doesn’t forget the humor of everyday life. Try it with fans of John Green or Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers (2015).

Kirkus Reviews (March 15, 2017)
In a town where magic is alive and cherries taste like the sun, the children of two rival families must break a curse that’s haunted them for generations and learn what it means to live with loss.Jack O’Donnell IV—called Jack, Jackie, Junior, or June—knows two things for sure. First, she will always be her father’s daughter, even though he passed when she was 8. Second, she must never, ever interact with the Angerts, or terrible things will happen to both families. But when Saul Angert returns to town and the two literally bump into each other, their chemistry is undeniable—as is the fact that they’re suddenly able to enter their deceased loved ones’ memories. As the recollections lead them closer to the truth about the O’Donnell-Angert vitriol, they also reveal that the father June grew up worshipping was more complicated than he seemed. Early on, readers will fall for the teens’ witty repartee and June’s father’s tall tales, but Henry’s (The Love That Split the World, 2016) beautifully crafted if largely white world, which is rich with a strong best friendship, a complicated writing teacher, and a dreamlike touch—becomes unwieldy as fantasy takes over. A potential treat for readers who enjoy magical realism, but there are stronger examples of the genre, such as Laura Ruby’s Printz-winning Bone Gap. (Magical realism. 12-16)

About the Author

Emily Henry is the author of The Love That Split the World. She is a full-time writer, proofreader, and donut connoisseur. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the New York Center for Art & Media Studies, and now spends most of her time in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the part of Kentucky just beneath it.

Around the Web

A Million Junes on Amazon

A Million Junes on Goodreads

A Million Junes on JLG

A  Million Junes Publisher Page