Tag Archives: Fiction

Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West

Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West. December 26, 2017. HarperTeen, 384 p. ISBN: 9780062675774.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

What do you do when you’ve fallen for your best friend? Funny and romantic, this effervescent story about family, friendship, and finding yourself is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han.

Seventeen-year-old Abby Turner’s summer isn’t going the way she’d planned. She has a not-so-secret but definitely unrequited crush on her best friend, Cooper. She hasn’t been able to manage her mother’s growing issues with anxiety. And now she’s been rejected from an art show because her work “has no heart.” So when she gets another opportunity to show her paintings, Abby isn’t going to take any chances.

Which is where the list comes in.

Abby gives herself one month to do ten things, ranging from face a fear (#3) to learn a stranger’s story (#5) to fall in love (#8). She knows that if she can complete the list, she’ll become the kind of artist she’s always dreamed of being.

But as the deadline approaches, Abby realizes that getting through the list isn’t as straightforward as it seems… and that maybe—just maybe—she can’t change her art if she isn’t first willing to change herself.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 7-10. Artistically gifted Abby has two goals the summer before senior year: getting accepted into the prestigious art show at the museum where she works, and getting best friend (actually secret crush) Cooper to realize he likes her as more than a friend. Expect a rocky road and stinging rejection on both fronts before Abby digs in and tries harder. Told her paintings have insufficient depth and “heart,” she, with the help of her mom and grandpa, composes an intriguing list of life experiences to enrich her artistic sensibilities: face a fear, learn a stranger’s story, and try five things she’s never done before, for starters. The list is a clever plot device to drive the story forward, and it offers surprises along the way. Readers will be touched by West’s handling of the mother-daughter relationship, especially given Abby’s mom’s anxiety and agoraphobia, while the list, of course, tells all of us a thing or two about busting up routines and grabbing unexpected returns.

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2018)
A year ago, Abby confessed her love to her best friend, Cooper—and it didn’t go well. Abby tried to laugh it off. Each pretends it never happened, but Abby’s feelings are unchanged. She’s doubly blindsided when her other passion, art, hits a roadblock. Her paintings are rejected for inclusion in an art museum show, deemed technically proficient but lacking in heart. Determined to turn that around, and with family brainstorming support, she creates a to-do list of activities to deepen her emotional expression, enlisting Cooper’s intermittent participation. They watch a mountain sunrise, read books outside their comfort zones, audition for a musical, and more. Abby makes friends, including classmate and sculptor Elliot Garcia, and her work shows progress. Abby worries about her mother’s agoraphobia; it’s worsened during her father’s long deployments overseas, especially since the family moved off-base, away from supportive military families. A refreshing departure from teen-literature tropes, Abby’s no brainy polymath acing AP English (the book she chooses is A Tale of Two Cities) and destined for Stanford. However, plotting is shaky: subplots go nowhere; outcomes negate what came before. Cooper’s friendly, romantic disinterest in Abby feels very real—its explanation and resolution, less so. Most characters are white or appear so by default. Elliot Garcia has dark, curly hair and a Spanish last name but lacks ethnic assignment. Abby’s friends Rachel, who’s black, and Justin, who’s Latinx, are minor characters. Abby’s likable, but her romantic passivity and hijacked artistic endeavors send a disempowering message. (Fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Kasie West is the author of several YA novels, including The Distance Between UsOn the FenceThe Fill-in BoyfriendP.S. I Like YouLucky in Love, and By Your Side. Her books have been named as ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers and as YALSA Best Books for Young Adults. Kasie lives in Fresno, California with her family.

Her website is www.kasiewest.com

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Love, Life, and the List on Amazon

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The Altered History of Willow Sparks by Tara O’Connor

The Altered History of Willow Sparks by Tara O’Connor. March 6, 2018. Oni Press, 152 p. ISBN: 9781620104507.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 300.

What happens when you can finally get everything you ever wanted?

Willow Sparks and her best friend Georgia Pratt are at the bottom of the social ladder at Twin Pines High School, just trying to get through each day relatively unscathed. But when Willow finds a mysterious book that allows her to literally change her life, it feels like her luck is finally turning. As she becomes more and more popular with each entry into the book, her old life, including her friendship with Georgia, seems miles away. Yet as Willow will discover, every action has a reaction, and the future has unusual—even dangerous—ways of protecting itself

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Underage drinking, Bullying



Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
Relentlessly bullied by the popular clique, the titular protagonist discovers an unexpected way to change her future.Plagued with tragically uncool hair and unfortunate acne, Willow Sparks certainly is not a member of the popular crowd. However, her two best friends, Georgia and Gary, are loyal, and together the trio navigates the social atrocities of their high school. While at her job at the local library, Willow finds herself cornered by her mean-girl nemeses and, after a violent episode, unearths a secret library within the library that’s filled with unusual books. She finds a mysterious tome bearing her name that allows her to write her own future—but with devastating effects. While the semi-Faustian trope certainly is not new, O’Connor’s graphic-novel spin on it is fun and captivating. Her art is expressive and deftly captures all the angst and action through a cinematic lens. However, as Willow’s self-conceived plans unravel, the plotting goes with it, leaving the strong beginning floundering through a hasty resolution. While Willow is fully fleshed out, the secondary characters—including best friend Georgia and Willow’s librarian boss—are frustratingly not as well-developed. Despite these quibbles, O’Connor’s offering is an enjoyable and quick dip into the dark side of wish fulfillment. Main character Willow is white, as is Gary, and Georgia is Asian. An intriguing and incisive plot that starts promisingly but ultimately falls flat. (Graphic fantasy. 12-16)

Publishers Weekly (November 20, 2017)
Willow Sparks just wants to get through high school without students in popular cliques harassing her and teachers embarrassing her. After bullies show up at the library where she works and push her down a flight of stairs, she discovers a secret underground wing-and a book with her name on it. By writing in the book, she can reshape her future, and soon she’s ditching her best friends Georgia and Gary to hang out with the cool kids. The pale lavender-gray coloring of O’Connor’s two-tone cartooning fits the eerie, brooding atmosphere of this magic-inflected cautionary tale. But although O’Connor’s talents as an artist aren’t in question-the torments that Willow and her friends face in gym class, school bathrooms, and elsewhere feel painfully real-the overall story is rushed and too-tidily resolved. Even considering the influence of the magical book, the speed with which Willow drops her friends is jarring, and their own subplots get short shrift (Georgia is moving out of town, and Gary is nervously starting to come out to family and friends). It’s an intriguing story that doesn’t have enough space to reach its full potential. Ages 13-up. (Feb.)

About the Author

Tara is a cartoonist currently residing in the New Jersey wilderness. When she’s not drawing comics, she’s teaching them. She drinks way too much tea and coffee, and on any given day there’s a 90% chance that every meal she had was cereal.


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The Altered History of Willow Sparks on Amazon

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Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla. February 6, 2018. HarperCollins, 288 p. ISBN: 9780062445797.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.6.

This novel features comic trivia, a safety superhero, and a super-cool scavenger hunt all over downtown San Diego, as our young hero Stanley Fortinbras grapples with his anxiety—and learns what, exactly, it means to be brave.

Nobody knows comics trivia like Stanley knows comics trivia.

It’s what he takes comfort in when the world around him gets to be too much. And after he faints during a safety assembly, Stanley takes his love of comics up a level by inventing his own imaginary superhero, named John Lockdown, to help him through.

Help is what he needs, because Stanley’s entered Trivia Quest—a giant comics-trivia treasure hunt—to prove he can tackle his worries, score VIP passes to Comic Fest, and win back his ex-best friend. Partnered with his fearless new neighbor Liberty, Stanley faces his most epic, overwhelming, challenging day ever.

What would John Lockdown do?

Stanley’s about to find out.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, One instance of the word “hell”



Booklist (November 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 6))
Grades 4-8. Stanley is an expert at comics trivia. Comics give him comfort in the world when he feels overwhelmed from sensory overload and his anxiety rears its head. With Stanley’s best friend acting weird and distant, his dad overseas for a job, and his middle school’s alarming safety assemblies, Stanley has a lot to worry about. After fainting during an assembly, Stanley creates an imaginary superhero named John Lockdown to help him overcome his fears. And Stanley needs help because he’s just entered the biggest comics event, Trivia Quest. Partnering with his new neighbor Liberty, he endeavors to tackle his fears, win passes to Comic Fest, and get his best friend back. Stanley’s anxiety and sensory processing disorder are portrayed in a sensitive and relatable way, although, at times, Stanley overcomes his worry too easily, thanks to Liberty’s pushing and some quick breathing. The novel loses steam after the contest ends, but it’s nevertheless refreshing to see a middle-grader tackling SPD and anxiety in an understandable way.

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2017)
Superheroes can be found in unlikely places.Middle schooler Stanley Fortinbras has a sensory-processing disorder and experiences anxiety, both of which make the principal’s many emergency preparedness drills difficult for him to handle. When he passes out at a safety assembly, he’s sent to school counselor Mrs. Ngozo, an African-American woman, who creates a Ready Room for him: a quiet place where he can go when school becomes too chaotic. It’s here that John Lockdown, hero of the underdog, is born. Stanley, son of a “dark,” Morocco-born French father and white mother, is no superhero, but he does have a superpower: comic-book trivia. When his best friend, Joon (who is Korean), suggests they enter Trivia Quest, a comics treasure hunt that takes place all over San Diego, Stanley’s mind reels with both possible and unlikely worse-case scenarios. After Stanley and Joon have a disagreement, Stanley asks his new neighbor, confident white girl Liberty, to go with him instead. To get through the stress of the day, Stanley creates his own way to manage his out-of-control thoughts and the resultant paralyzing fear: What would Lockdown do? The story never dumbs down or oversimplifies Stanley; he’s a multidimensional character of great depth who gradually learns how to calm his worried mind, and the book avoids patronizing readers with a false sense of everything’s-right-with-the-world. Add to the growing list of intelligent books about kids whose brains operate outside the norm. (Fiction. 8-12)

About the Author

Sally J. Pla is the author of The Someday Birds (her debut novel) and Stanley Will Probably Be Fine. She has traveled on family road trips to most everywhere in this story. She has English degrees from Colgate and Penn State and has worked as a business journalist and in public education. She has three sons, a husband, and an enormous, fluffy dog and lives near lots of lemon trees in Southern California.

Her website is www.sallyjpla.com.

Around the Web

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine on Amazon

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine on Goodreads

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine Publisher Page

Arlo Finch and the Valley of Fire by John August

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August. February 6, 2018. Roaring Brook Press, 336 p. ISBN: 9781626728141.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.6.

As Arlo looked around, the walls of his room began to vanish, revealing a moonlit forest. Only his bed remained, and the frame of his window, through which he saw the girl. The world on her side of the glass was sparkling with silver and gold, like a palace made of autumn leaves.

She looked off to her right. Someone was coming. Her words came in an urgent whisper: “If I can see you, they can see you. You’re in danger. Be careful, Arlo Finch.”

Arlo Finch is a newcomer to Pine Mountain, Colorado, a tiny town of mystery and magic, but he’s already attracted the attention of dark and ancient forces. At first he thinks these increasingly strange and frightening occurrences are just part of being in Rangers, the mountain scouting troop where he learns how to harness the wild magic seeping in from the mysterious Long Woods. But soon Arlo finds himself at the center of a dangerous adventure, where he faces obstacles that test the foundations of the Ranger’s Vow: Loyalty, Bravery, Kindness, and Truth.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language


Video Review


Booklist (December 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 8))
Grades 5-8. Twelve-year-old Arlo Finch is new to small-town Pine Mountain, Colorado. Observant and inquisitive, he soon realizes that there is more to the town than meets the eye. Dark and magical forces surround the town, and it doesn’t take Arlo long to encounter these magical forces as they inexplicably try to harm him. With the help of new friends from an outdoor scouting group, the Rangers, Arlo learns how to use his new Rangers skills to fight off these magical forces. With nods to the Harry Potter series, accomplished screenwriter August artfully thrusts readers into a whole new world, right alongside Arlo. The many magical forces and creatures in this book are intriguing, especially because August firmly establishes them within the magical parameters of Arlo’s world. Arlo, meanwhile, is a lovable, inquisitive character, and as he wittingly subdues the magical creatures, the plot only becomes more dynamic. This is just the first volume in a new series, so readers won’t have to wait long to plunge back into the mysterious Long Woods.

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2017)
A 12-year-old white boy finds out he’s special in a new middle-grade fantasy series.Arlo Finch has just arrived in the tiny town of Pine Mountain, atop the high peaks of Colorado. Times are tight, and Arlo, his sister, and their mother have moved into the crumbling family home with his taxidermist uncle. Arlo, who has one green eye and one brown, isn’t in Pine Mountain long before he makes friends with (the requisite girl and boy sidekicks) supersmart Indian-American doctors’ daughter Indra Srinivasaraghavan-Jones and Chinese-American STEM genius Henry Wu. When Arlo joins the Rangers, a mixed-gender scouting troop, he’s made privy to thunderclaps (literal hand-clapping that sounds like thunder) and snaplights (a snap of the fingers that creates illumination) along with traditional scouting tasks such as tying knots and pitching tents. As Arlo works toward earning his first rank—Squirrel—questions mount. What is the Wonder? What and where are the Long Woods, the Realm, and the Valley of Fire? How is Arlo connected to a long-lost girl only he can see? Who wants to kill him, and why? Arlo is a smart, likable boy, but his story adds little new to the genre. The mountain setting and eerie house filled with stuffed and mounted animals provide an evocative sense of place for Arlo’s adventure, but characters and plot feel too familiar, particularly a Goblet of Fire–like Ranger challenge. Atmospheric at best, formulaic at worst. (Fantasy. 8-12)

About the Author

John August is a screenwriter whose credits include Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, and Frankenweenie. He is also the creator of the Writer Emergency Pack, an educational storytelling school distributed to more than two thousand classrooms worldwide.

Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, John now lives in Los Angeles with his family. Her website is johnaugust.com.

Around the Web

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire on Amazon

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire on Goodreads

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire Publisher Page

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. January 2, 2018. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 384 p. ISBN: 9780316310277.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Part of Series: The Folk in the Air (Book 1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Discrimination, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Alcohol, Underage drinking, Smoking, Body humor


Book Trailer


Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. When Jude and her twin sister, Taryn, were seven, their parents were murdered by their half-sister Vivian’s fae father, and all three girls were stolen away to the High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, raised by the very man who killed her parents, Jude has adjusted to the life as much as she can and struggles to earn her place in a world whose inhabitants scorn, and even despise, humans. While Taryn hopes to marry into a place at court, Jude wants to seize hers by becoming a warrior, and she chafes against the attentions of Cardan, the youngest and cruelest faerie prince, who hates Jude and viciously bullies her daily. Disgusted at her own human weakness, Jude finds herself accepting a dangerous role offered by his brother and is soon tangled in a complex political plot. Though the faerie world is a familiar setting, in this case, it is by no means stale; Black employs the same detailed world building, chilling suspense, and whiplash-inducing plot twists that allowed The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (2013) to make even vampires fresh again. Jude, who struggles with a world she both loves and hates and would rather be powerful and safe than good, is a compelling narrator. Whatever a reader is looking for—heart-in-throat action, deadly romance, double-crossing, moral complexity—this is one heck of a ride.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
Jude is living with her parents, her twin sister Taryn, and their older half-sister Vivi when her mother’s former husband tracks them down, callously murders her parents, and takes not just Vivi, his biological child, to the realm of Faerie but also Jude and Taryn, raising them as his own. Jude’s parents’ murderer happened to be Madoc, general of the High King of the Faerie Court, so she and Taryn now ironically benefit from privileges rarely afforded to mortals. Jude lives in a constant state of fear and loathing, however, wanting to become an official member of the Court by proving her fighting prowess and obtaining knighthood, while avoiding the unwanted negative attention of the youngest prince, Cardan. (Taryn, in contrast, hopes to gain access to the Court through marriage.) But Jude is drawn deeper into the web of lies, deceit, and political intrigue that swirls around the Court as the High King Eldred prepares to abdicate the throne in favor of his third son, Prince Dain. With complicated characters, a suspenseful plot, and a successful return to the Faerie setting of many of her popular books (most recently The Darkest Part of the Forest, rev. 1/15), Black’s latest is sure to enchant fans. jonathan hunt

About the Author

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare), The Darkest Part of the Forest, and her new series which begins with The Cruel Prince in January 2018.

She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

Her website is www.blackholly.com.

Around the Web

The Cruel Prince on Amazon

The Cruel Prince on Goodreads

The Cruel Prince Publisher Page

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge. October 17, 2017. Amulet Books, 416 p. ISBN: 9781419725722.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 800.

This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .

Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide.
Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.

Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.

And now there’s a spirit inside her.

The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father’s rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.

But as she plans her escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.”

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, War, Animal cruelty, Murder, Death of a parent, Misogyny


Video Review


Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 7-12. In her first novel since The Lie Tree (2016), Hardinge again summons history and fantasy, intermingling them in a most unusual way. Set against a backdrop of the English Civil War, the story opens in a small Puritan village, where a girl named Makepeace wrestles with vivid nightmares. When her mother is accidentally killed, the girl is sent to her father’s family, of whom she knows nothing. The Fellmottes, it turns out, are an old aristocratic clan with an insidious secret—they are able to “house” the spirits of the dead, a gift they have twisted, and the inherited cause of Makepeace’s clawing nightmares. The narrative opens slowly as Hardinge lays deliberate groundwork and conjures a palpably eerie atmosphere, which mounts in horror as the story progresses. It picks up after Makepeace, now 15, has spent two years as a kitchen girl at the Fellmotte estate, gathering information about the family. The plot becomes populated by spymistresses—whose ranks Makepeace fleetingly joins—and vengeful spirits, and is punctuated by her escape attempts and wartime battles. Yet much of the action unfolds in Makepeace’s head, as she acquires her own coterie of ghosts, most memorably that of an ill-treated bear. Hardinge’s writing is stunning, and readers will be taken hostage by its intensity, fascinating developments, and the fierce, compassionate girl leading the charge.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
Hardinge’s (The Lie Tree, rev. 5/16) latest tour de force is set during the reign of King Charles I against the backdrop of the 1600s English Civil War and is, as unlikely as it sounds, something of a mash-up of The Wizard of Oz and Get Out. When the orphan Makepeace is sent to live as a servant in the stronghold of the aristocratic Fellmotte family (she’s an illegitimate relation), she realizes that she shares the family’s ability to house the spirits of the dead–which the Fellmottes use to extend the lives and power of their Elders. Makepeace has already unwittingly absorbed the ghost of a young bear, whose “wild brute” behavior causes her difficulties at first. When her half-brother and only friend James runs away to join the regiment, taking the royal charter that grants permission for the nefarious Fellmotte “traditions” with him, and is then made an unwilling vessel for the Elders, Makepeace sets off to rescue him–and find the charter. On her fraught-with-perils journey, she collects more “passenger” ghost companions, from a doctor to a soldier to a mysterious and seemingly sinister noblewoman. Makepeace is a resourceful, brave, and intelligent protagonist, and readers will root for her and James’s triumph over the Fellmotte ghosts. The visceral immediacy of Hardinge’s prose (at times almost painful in its plethora of sensory details and its bleakness) can sometimes be unsettling, but the prose itself is always original and invigorating: “Lord Fellmotte was not a man. He was an ancient committee. A parliament of deathly rooks in a dying tree.” martha v. parravano

About the Author

Frances Hardinge spent her childhood in a huge, isolated old house in a small, strange village, and the two things inspired her to write strange, magical stories from an early age. She studied English at Oxford University and now lives in Oxford, England.

Her website is www.franceshardinge.com


Around the Web

A Skinful of Shadows on Amazon

A Skinful of Shadows on Goodreads

A Skinful of Shadows Publisher Page

Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai

Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai. January 2, 2018. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9781481472173.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 4.9.

Nadia’s family is forced to flee their home in Aleppo, Syria, when the Arab Spring sparks a civil war in this timely coming-of-age novel from award-winning author N.H. Senzai.

Silver and gold balloons. A birthday cake covered in pink roses. A new dress. 

Nadia stands at the center of attention in her parents’ elegant dining room. This is the best day of my life, she thinks. Everyone is about to sing “Happy Birthday,” when her uncle calls from the living room, “Baba, brothers, you need to see this.” Reluctantly, she follows her family into the other room. On TV, a reporter stands near an overturned vegetable cart on a dusty street. Beside it is a mound of smoldering ashes. The reporter explains that a vegetable vendor in the city of Tunis burned himself alive, protesting corrupt government officials who have been harassing his business. Nadia frowns.

It is December 17, 2010: Nadia’s twelfth birthday and the beginning of the Arab Spring. Soon anti-government protests erupt across the Middle East and, one by one, countries are thrown into turmoil. As civil war flares in Syria and bombs fall across Nadia’s home city of Aleppo, her family decides to flee to safety. Inspired by current events, this novel sheds light on the complicated situation in Syria that has led to an international refugee crisis, and tells the story of one girl’s journey to safety.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, War, Violence, Animal cruelty, Harsh realities of wars



Booklist starred (November 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 6))
Grades 4-7. Nadia is enjoying the best day of her life as her friends and loved ones are gathered around her, ready to sing “Happy Birthday,” when news arrives of Mohamed Bouazizi, a young man who set himself on fire to protest harassment and corruption of government officials in Tunisia. Nadia is not aware, but the elders in her family look on as the protests of the Tunisian Revolution begin to grow and spread into the Arab Spring, which soon finds its way to Nadia’s doorstep. As her family attempts to flee to Turkey and reunite with her father, their home is bombed and Nadia is left behind. With her cat, Mishmish, and the help of an old, mysterious man—Ammo Mazen—Nadia begins the journey. Flashbacks of Nadia’s life before the war are interspersed with those detailing her struggles to find her father. Nadia gains courage and trust throughout her journey, thanks to her companions, all while struggling to understand why there is such sadness and unfairness in this world. Filled with kindness and hope, but also with the harsh realities of the horrors of war, this heartbreaking book is a necessary reminder of what many people live through every day.

Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2017)
Senzai (Ticket to India, 2015, etc.) tells the story of 14-year-old Nadia’s narrow escape from the ancient city of Aleppo in war-torn Syria as she desperately seeks her family, who accidentally left her behind.Two years into Syria’s civil war, the many armed rebel groups and the government forces are descending on Aleppo. Traumatized since her bomb injury, Nadia is pulled from under her bed as her family prepares to leave their home for a safer place. Although a relative has been assigned to monitor her, another bomb falls as they are exiting, and in the confusion, Nadia is left behind. Now she must recover from the shock and rely on her instincts, a seemingly kind old man she meets, and, ultimately, her own intelligence to make it out of Aleppo alive and find her family at the Turkish border. All of this she manages to do in fairly short order, with a series of rather abrupt changes in her psychological state. Through Nadia’s conversations with other characters and through extensive exposition, readers learn about the impressively vast and complex history of Aleppo and of Syria. The Arab Spring is also treated in detail. Nadia’s flashbacks give insight to life under dictatorship and the drastic changes introduced by war. Arabic words are italicized once, then printed in Roman type. Despite narrative hitches, a valuable introduction to the issues plaguing modern Syria and the costs of war in historically rich locales. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

About the Author

N.H. Senzai is the author of Shooting Kabul, which was critically acclaimed and on numerous award lists. Publishers Weekly called it “hard hitting, emotionally wrenching.” Her second book, Saving Kabul Corner, was nominated for an Edgar Award. She is also the author of Ticket to India and Escape from Aleppo.

Ms. Senzai lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. Her website is www.nhsenzai.com.

Teacher Resources

Escape from Aleppo Reading Group Guide

Around the Web

Escape from Aleppo on Amazon

Escape from Aleppo on Goodreads

Escape from Aleppo Publisher Page

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway. October 3, 2017. HarperTeen, 384 p. ISBN: 9780062330628.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 780.

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Teen pregnancy, References to child abuse


Author Interview


Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 8-11. Benway’s latest is the engrossing multi-POV story of Grace, Maya, and Joaquin. Instead of dancing the night away at Homecoming, Grace is instead in the hospital, in labor with the daughter she’s giving up for adoption. This life-changing moment leads her to find her biological siblings, Maya and Joaquin, and discover what contributed to their mother’s decision to give them up for adoption. Maya, the youngest, was adopted into a wealthy family, but her mother’s alcoholism creates tension. The eldest, Joaquin, has been in one foster home after another. At 18, he’s finally found a family, but his misapprehensions about relationships jeopardize his acceptance of their love and desire to finalize an adoption. Benway plumbs emotionally weighty material with grace and some beautiful moments of self-realization, particularly when it comes to Joaquin. While some readers might wish for a deeper exploration of the three siblings’ Mexican heritage and its disconnect from their adoptive families, the accessible writing and otherwise strong characterizations add to the story’s appeal. Hand to fans of Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2017)
Placing her daughter for adoption left a hole in Grace’s heart; her adoptive parents can’t fill it, and her birth mother’s unreachable—then Grace learns she has siblings. Maya, 15, a year younger than Grace, was adopted by wealthy parents 13 months before their biological daughter, Lauren, arrived. Joaquin, nearly 18, a survivor of 17 failed foster-care placements and one failed adoption, is troubled when his current foster parents express a wish to adopt him. Grace reaches out, and the siblings soon bond. All—Maya especially, standing out in a family of redheads—are grateful to meet others with dark hair (only Joaquin identifies not as white but Latino) and weird food preferences (French fries with mayo). Still, each keeps secrets. Maya discusses her girlfriend but not her mother’s secret drinking; Joaquin edits out his failed adoption; Grace, her pregnancy and daughter’s birth. It hurts that her siblings have zero interest in tracking down the mom who gave them away, yet Grace persists. Chapters alternate through their third-person perspectives, straightforward structure and syntax delivering accessibility without sacrificing nuance or complexity. Family issues are neither airbrushed nor oversimplified (as the ambiguous title suggests). These are multifaceted characters, shaped by upbringing as well as their genes, in complicated families. Absent birthparents matter, as do bio siblings: when their parents separate, Lauren fears Maya will abandon her for her “real” siblings. From the first page to the last, this compassionate, funny, moving, compulsively readable novel about what makes a family gets it right. (Fiction. 13-18)

About the Author

Robin Benway is a National Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of six novels for young adults, including Audrey, Wait!, the AKA series, and Emmy & Oliver. Her books have received numerous awards and recognition, including a 2008 Blue Ribbon Award from the Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, 2009’s ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and 2014’s ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults. In addition, her novels have received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and have been published in more than twenty countries.  Her latest book, Far From the Tree, won the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was published on October 3, 2017 by Harper Teen.

Robin grew up in Orange County, California, attended NYU, where she was the 1997 recipient of the Seth Barkas Prize for Creative Writing, and is a graduate of UCLA. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she spends her time hanging out with her dog, Hudson, making coffee, and procrastinating on writing. Her website is www.robinbenway.com

Around the Web

Far from the Tree on Amazon

Far from the Tree on Goodreads

Far from the Tree Publisher Page

Sea of Strangers by Erica Cameron

Sea of Strangers by Erica Cameron. December 5, 2017. Entangled: Teen, 340 p. ISBN: 9781633758285.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle.

On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all else.

But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother his life, Khya’s home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she’s never seen.

To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the run―a betrayal and a death sentence.

Sequel to: Island of Exiles

Part of Series: The Ryogan Chronicles (Book 2)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence; Strong sexual themes



About the Author

After a lifelong obsession with books, Erica Cameron spent her college years studying psychology and creative writing, basically getting credit for reading and learning how to make stories of her own. Now, she’s the author of several series for young adults. She’s also a reader, asexuality advocate, dance fan, choreographer, singer, lover of musical theater, movie obsessed, sucker for romance, Florida resident, and quasi-recluse who loves the beach but hates the heat, has equal passion for the art of Salvador Dali and Venetian Carnival masks, has a penchant for unique jewelry and sun/moon décor pieces, and a desire to travel the entire world on a cruise ship. Or a private yacht. You know, whatever works.

Her website is www.byericacameron.com.

Around the Web

Sea of Strangers on Amazon

Sea of Strangers on Goodreads

Sea of Strangers Publisher Page

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis. January 1, 2018. Groundwood Books, 80 p. ISBN: 9781773061634.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.3.

This beautiful graphic-novel adaptation of The Breadwinner animated film tells the story of eleven-year-old Parvana who must disguise herself as a boy to support her family during the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan.

Parvana lives with her family in one room of a bombed-out apartment building in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city. Parvana’s father — a history teacher until his school was bombed and his health destroyed — works from a blanket on the ground in the marketplace, reading letters for people who cannot read or write. One day, he is arrested for having forbidden books, and the family is left without someone who can earn money or even shop for food.

As conditions for the family grow desperate, only one solution emerges. Forbidden to earn money as a girl, Parvana must transform herself into a boy, and become the breadwinner.

Readers will want to linger over this powerful graphic novel with its striking art and inspiring story.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War, Violence, Misogyny


Movie/Book Trailer


Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2018)
A graphic-novel adaptation of Ellis’ heartwarming story of Parvana, a young girl in Afghanistan who cuts her hair and dresses as a boy to earn money for her family when her father is imprisoned by the Taliban.Adding a layer of remove from the original, this graphic novel is an adaptation of the upcoming film version, and it varies significantly from the original book. Notable deviations include the absence of helpful Mrs. Weera, who provides so much support to Parvana and her family in the original book, and two new details: a grudging former student who tattles on Parvana’s father and Parvana’s solo visit to rescue her imprisoned father. Much story is lost as a result of the numerous deviations, which also sadly promote Western views of Afghanistan, such as rampant corruption and violent men. Even as a stand-alone title for readers not familiar with the book, the storyline is bumpy, moving in fits and starts. At one point, Parvana’s mother decides to abandon Parvana and leave for the neighboring village but then changes her mind midway. Another disappointment is the book cover, which shows Parvana selling chai, something she does not do in either story (although her friend does). The only redeeming factor is the beautiful artwork, stills from the film, with its vivid use of colors to display context, such as use of red for war and black for the Taliban rule. A rather unsatisfying graphic novel, sure to disappoint fans of Ellis’ book. (Graphic historical fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Deborah Ellis has achieved international acclaim with her courageous and dramatic books that give Western readers a glimpse into the plight of children in developing countries.

She has won the Governor General’s Award, Sweden’s Peter Pan Prize, the Ruth Schwartz Award, the University of California’s Middle East Book Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award and the Vicky Metcalf Award.

A long-time feminist and anti-war activist, she is best known for The Breadwinner Trilogy, which has been published around the world in seventeen languages, with more than a million dollars in royalties donated to Street Kids International and to Women for Women, an organization that supports health and education projects in Afghanistan. In 2006, Deb was named to the Order of Ontario.

Her website is www.deborahellis.com

Around the Web

The Breadwinner on Amazon

The Breadwinner on Goodreads

The Breadwinner Publisher Page