Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

Genre:  Realistic Fiction/Romance

# of Pages: 282

2019 Iowa High School Book Award

Morgan has become increasingly frightened to leave her apartment ever since the mass shooting at her high school.  It’s gotten to the point where she can’t even step outside her apartment door without everything starting to go fuzzy.  When Evan moves in next door she begins to want to explore the outside world again.  She misses her friends and her swim team and she hates the burden she’s put on her single mother and brother.  Her father is largely absent and isn’t much of a role model when he is in the picture. With the help of her therapist, Morgan must make the choice to fight her fears or else she may never leave her apartment again.

This book truly helps readers see what it would be like to be agoraphobic.  Morgan’s fears and her subsequent fight to get better are not portrayed as easy or trivial in any way.  As the story goes on, Morgan is also forced to see that others were also negatively challenged by the shooting, but have struggled in other ways.  It’s also nice to see how Morgan’s family copes and remains relatively happy and supportive of each other despite all that they have been through and the fact that they are not rich.  Evan is a fun character for Morgan to interact with, but ultimately this is Morgan’s story to tell.

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Genre: Realistic Fiction

# of Pages: 286

2019 Iowa Book Award Winner

Aza is a high school girl with many phobias in life, specifically that she will come in contact with a germ that will ultimately kill her.  She is constantly thinking about different diseases and risks she could encounter on a daily basis and this constant focus on her mortality has made her a bit of an outcast in her high school.  She does have one best friend, Daisy, who loves to write Star Wars fan fiction and seems to have Aza’s back at all times. When a local millionaire is charged with several crimes and disappears before he can be arrested, Daisy and Aza dream about what they would do with the $100,000 reward money for anyone who can provide information on his whereabouts.  When Aza was young, she was friends with the millionaire’s son, Davis.  They decide to contact him again in the hopes of learning where his dad is so they can collect the reward money.  He quickly sees through their plan, but reuniting with Aza turns out to be pretty great as she and Davis become close.  Whenever she gets too close, however, her mind spins out of control and she has to leave to collect her thoughts.  Can Aza overcome her own thoughts in order to get close to the boy she cares about?  Can Aza and Daisy find out what happened to Davis’s father?  Is Daisy as good of a friend as she thinks she is to Aza?

This book has gotten a lot of attention because it portrays Aza’s condition in a realistic light so that others can understand what it would be like to live like that. All of the characters are well developed and it’s easy to understand their motivations and desires.  The mystery of what happened to Davis’s dad is what gets the story going, but ultimately this story is about the characters and how they are all trying their best to deal with their individual issues and get through high school.  Fans of John Green will devour this title.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Genre: Realistic Fiction

372 p

2019 Iowa High School Book Award

Dill Early, Jr. is struggling in his town where he is now famous for being the son of the preacher who was convicted of having child pornography on his computer.  He and his mom are struggling under all the legal bills and he doesn’t see how he can ever really get out of this small town.  Lydia, his sarcastic friend, is also a bit of an outcast because she refuses to conform to traditional norms.  She has a fashion blog where she showcases unique stores all around their area and encourages everyone to be themselves at all costs. Their other friend, Travis, is a large red haired senior who loves a fantasy book series and often carries a staff with him.  The three of them are often ridiculed in their community and if they didn’t have each other to lean on their lives would be truly miserable.  Lydia, at least, has very supportive parents at home who are not living hand to mouth and can afford to spoil her a bit.  Dill and Travis, on the other hand, have parents who do not seem to like who they are very much and keep trying to change them.  All three of them have aspirations for after high school but do they have the courage to go for them? Do they have the strength to break away from the expectations that have been set for them?

This powerful story gets more and more powerful as it goes on.  The character development is so well done that the reader really feels like he or she knows these people and is living alongside them.  There are many issues these teenagers are dealing with that seem especially unfair for people so young, but these situations exist all over America and it’s time we all start addressing it.  Travis and Dill feel like they are trapped and have no way out of the life set for them by their parents, while Lydia is counting down the days until she can leave this town far behind. In the end, they all must find the courage to do what they need to in order to not only survive, but thrive in their own lives.

 

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages: 306

2019 Iowa High School Book Award

Will lives in a tough neighborhood where there are many rules that everyone just knows.  One of these rules is to never talk to police and to avenge killings yourself.  When Shawn, Will’s brother, is gunned down in their neighborhood he knows that according to the rules it is up to him to avenge Shawn by killing the person who shot him.  Will gets in the elevator with his brother’s gun and on each of the seven floors down a ghost of someone who knew Shawn gets in to tell him some information he needs to know before altering the course of his life with a huge action.

Written in poetry format, this story immediately pulls in the reader because it’s so easy to understand Will’s plight.  He doesn’t want to kill anyone but feels like he has to because of the code of the neighborhood and in order to prove that he cared about Shawn, who had done a lot for him since their dad died by gunfire.  As he begins meeting these ghosts of people who used to live in the neighborhood Will realizes that everything is not always as it seems and he might need to rethink any drastic actions.  A powerful story that is highly recommended for everyone, but especially reluctant readers.

The End of Our Story by Meg Haston

Genre: Romance

280 p.

2019 Iowa High School Award Winner

Bridge and Wil were very close until Bridge did something that Wil did not think he could bring himself to forgive.  It has been months and Bridge is still struggling without Wil and his family’s influence.  When she runs into Wil, his new girlfriend, and his dad at the grocery store his dad urges her to make things right with Wil.  She argues that it’s Wil who doesn’t want to have a relationship with her but he argues back that she needs to mend the friendship if nothing else.  Shortly after the town is shocked by the news that Wil’s dad has been murdered by an intruder and Bridge knows that it is her job to comfort Wil and his mother at this time.  Eventually, they begin to grow closer as Wil struggles with the aftermath of this attack, but is he being completely honest with Bridge?  Do they really have a future together or are they just looking for familiarity during a tragedy?

The relationship between the two main characters is very complicated, as many relationships are, despite both Wil and Bridge’s desire that it be easy and simple.  Bridge is trying to make up for a mistake she made and is desperate to get back in Wil’s good graces, but Wil has demons to overcome himself.  They are both facing many difficult decisions as they enter their senior year and it understandably causes some tension and anxiety with those around them.  They lean on each other to help them through these confusing times, but often find that without total honesty and trust nothing really matters.  Recommended for fans of conflict romances.

 

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

# of Pages: 556

Genre: Fantasy

2019 Iowa High School Award Winner

Nova lives in a world where some people have a super power that they were either both with or acquired at some point.  When she was young the Anarchists were superheroes trying to protect the rights of other superheroes by overthrowing the government that was oppressing them.  This led to chaos and another group of superheroes called the Renegades then rose up to fight the Anarchists.  Nova and her dad both had super powers and her dad believed that if they ever needed help the Renegades would come to their aide. However, when an assassin comes to their door Nova is forced to watch as he kills her mother, father, and baby sister.  The only reason she survives is because she’s able to put people to sleep when she touches them.  She ends up joining the Anarchists since the Renegades were nowhere to be found when she needed them.  She believes they have grown too powerful and need to be taken down, which is why she joins them when she’s old enough in order to learn what their weaknesses are.  As she begins working with her team, however, she realizes that you cannot blame an entire group for the sins of a few.  Should she remain loyal to the Anarchists who took her in when she had no one or truly become a Renegade who vows to protect the city at all costs?

The first in a series, this story is unique and engaging and puts a fresh spin on the idea of super heroes. Nova and her team captain, Adrian, both have secrets and desires to help the city improve, but they go about it in different ways that if found out could get them in big trouble.  The secondary characters are all developed and memorable so that the reader can truly differentiate between all of the superheroes and their many different, unique powers.  Highly recommended for anyone who likes a good adventure story.

Saving Red by Sonya Sones

# of Pages: 440

Genre:  Poetry

Molly has suffered a traumatic event that has left her with a support dog to comfort her anxiety, but it takes awhile before she shares what that event is.  In the meantime, she has lost all of her friends and is struggling in school, which is why she’s out doing her community service hours on the last day of the deadline.  The only option she has is to participate in the homeless count, which is when the city sends volunteers into the city to count the homeless population so they know how much relief to budget for the coming year.  She is struck by how many homeless people there are in her community, but it hits her especially hard when she meets Red who appears to only be a couple years older than her.  She decides to try and help Red reunite with her family before the holidays, but it is much more difficult and complicated than she thought it would be.  Can she help Red reunite with her family before it’s too late?  Can she help her own family heal and move on after what happened to them last year?

Even as a fan of Sonya Sones’ books this is one of her best.  It delves into the issues of mental illness, homelessness, and teen anxiety which are all issues that young adults need to hear more about as these issues effect everyone at some point.  Red and Molly are great characters that readers naturally want to learn more about and spend time with.  The ending is satisfying, even if it doesn’t answer every question, because life isn’t always easy as both Red and Molly are very aware of.  Highly recommended


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