A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

Genre: Fantasy

# of Pages: 286

Tavia has known she is a siren for awhile, but in a world where it is not safe to admit being a siren she must keep her voice quiet at all times.  She’s even gone so far as to explain her silence with a rare medical condition and learn sign language so she can communicate even when she knows it isn’t safe to speak.  In this world, all sirens are black girls which makes Tavia’s plight even more difficult because she is already facing sexism and racism on a daily basis.  Effie has lived with Tavia for awhile and they have come to think of themselves as sisters.  Effie’s mother died and her grandparents thought it would be better if she lived with Tavia’s family, but did not disclose the reason(s) why.  Effie is not a siren, but she knows there is something strange going on because recently she has faced many unusual physical changes, including extremely dry  and flaky skin, exhaustion, and sometimes even blackouts. It scares her that she doesn’t know what is happening, but she’s hopeful that maybe it will get better with time.  They know they always have each other to lean on, but they are both shaken when a murder trial becomes national news only because the murder victim is accused of being a siren.  Does simply being a siren mean someone can kill you and get away with it? What would happen if anyone were to find out Tavia is a siren?  Can they protect each other from the terrible things destined to come for both of them?

There are not a lot of fantasy novels that feature two black teenagers as the main characters and the author does a nice job of showing why life would be even more difficult as a supernatural being if you were already dealing with people not granting you basic rights due to physical features beyond your control.  Both of these girls know the adults in their life are trying to protect them, but in the end it just feels like they are withholding important information.  The fantasy details of the story is unique, inspiring, and revealed in a satisfying way.  Fans looking for a very thought provoking, modern fantasy story will enjoy.

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan

Genre: Realistic Fiction

# of Pages: 360 p.

Jasmine and Chelsea are best friends who attend a very liberal arts minded school where every student must join an after school club.  Jasmine is in the theater club, but quickly realizes that she will only be considered for certain parts due to her race and body type.  Chelsea, meanwhile, is in the poetry club but quits after it becomes clear that the teacher moderator is only interested in the classics, which in her opinion are old white men.  They end up deciding to create their own club called Write Like a Girl, which begins with a blog where they can write poems, post artwork, and feature women artists of all backgrounds.  There are some who object to the content early on and believe they are being too sensitive, but they push on to get their point across that they are at a daily disadvantage due to gender, race, body type, age, etc.  As they continue to find projects to express themselves they realize that there are plenty of women out there who also want their voices to be heard.  Unfortunately, the school administration does not want there to be any “incidents” that “instigate” trouble at school and threaten to ban their club.  How will Jasmine and Chelsea react to yet another group trying to silence their voices?  How do their families feel about their activist (or artivist) movements?  How do they balance all of these feelings and actions with the very real struggles that face them in their day to day lives?

This story is inspiring from the very beginning.  The way it is written the reader can easily see why the best friends would be so frustrated in their situation while at the same time the people who have all the power in their lives believe they are overreacting.  This book is very timely as there are many events that have happened this year that have really shown us all how certain people do not have the same voice in society due to race, gender, socioeconomic status, age, and so on.  Many people have been operating under the assumption that everyone in society has equal rights and that those rights have come a long way from where we were 50 years ago, but it’s apparent now that we still have a long way to go.  I also really liked how the characters stressed the importance of art in a variety of formats for truly making change and for helping them cope with their feelings and life events.  So often, writing, poetry, theater, and art are overlooked in schools and these forms of expression can be invaluable to students who need ways to share their voices and experiences.  There’s a lot to absorb in this story and many readers will find that it is wroth a second or third read. Highly recommended.

American Royals by Katharine McGee

Genre: Realistic Fiction/Romance

# of Pages: 440

In an alternate history, George Washington became the first King of the United States, not the first President. Today the United States is operating under King George Washington’s descendents which include Princess Beatrice, who will be the first woman to rule the U.S. when her father dies due to a change in the law.  As such, Beatrice has been trained and groomed her whole life for the day she becomes Queen while her twin siblings, Samantha and Jefferson, have not had such pressures and have been able to behave more like regular teenagers (within reason).  Sam, especially, sees herself as the spare and believes no one really expects much out of her.  As Beatrice gets older it’s become a media fascination to wonder who she will eventually marry and have beside her on her throne and her parents are starting to think it’s time to think of that as well.  Beatrice is not ready to settle down yet as she realizes that the one she might actually care for is off limits to a future queen.  Meanwhile, Jeff has broken up with his longtime girlfriend, Daphne, who is adored by the public and she is determined to get him back at all costs. the person Jeff decides to start dating next, however, will surprise everyone.  Samantha has also met someone, but it quickly becomes apparent hers isn’t the best choice for her position either.  Can any of them find happiness as the royal family of the United States or will it always be “duty first?”  Will the media ruin every good relationship any of them ever have?  Will they find people to surround themselves with that they can actually trust who don’t just want to get close to them because of who they are?

Fans of the Selection series will enjoy this series as well.  It captures the sense of duty and excellent character development that made the Selection such a hit.  The author does a nice job of making sure that nothing appears to have an easy solution which makes it difficult to predict how it will end.  The end does have a dramatic conclusion, but there is a second one available, Majesty, to continue the story with these characters.

The Princess Trials by Cordelia K. Castel

Genre: Futuristic

# of Pages: 493 p.

Zea-Mays Calico was born into the Harvester Echelon, the lowest echelon in the Phangloria Kingdom.  She has felt unrest in her station since she was nine and witnessed a guard attacking a harvester woman working in a field. When the harvester supervisor tried to intervene he was killed.  Zea never saw the guard’s face and has felt guilt ever since for the family who lost their father.  As she’s grown older life as a harvester hasn’t gotten any easier and Zea and her family constantly deal with thirst, hunger, and exhaustion as more and more is asked of them.  When it’s announced that Prince Kevon will begin looking for his bride through the Princess Trials, Zea’s mom thinks it would be great if she would try to become one of the elusive 30 ladies who vie for Kevon’s attention.  Zea would rather join the underground rebel group, the Red Runners, in order to help bring down the monarchy and begin to allocate resources equally for all echelons.  When the leader of the Red Rebels asks her to join the princess trials to become an inside spy she has no idea what she is getting into.  The trials are incredibly difficult and oftentimes violent as these women will do anything to get ahead in the competition.  Zea’s impression of the prince changes as she gets to know him as well, but she quickly learns that in this world she truly does not know who she can trust.  She just desperately hopes she doesn’t do the one thing rebels asked her not to: fall in love with the prince.  Can Zea infiltrate the palace and find a way to share what she learns with the rebels?  Can she protect her family from those who want to hurt her?  Can she find the truth in a place where everyone has more secrets than they can count?

This thrilling series is a mix between the Selection series and the Hunger Games series.  Although the story requires a bit of setup at the beginning, readers will enjoy entering Zea’s world to find out what happens during the princess trials.  Everyone has an agenda and isn’t afraid to break rules in order to get what they want.  Despite the fact that Zea enters the trials under false pretenses, she is constantly amazed by how quickly those around her will sacrifice others in order to get what they want.  This story gets better as it goes along, and that continues into the second installment, The Princess Games.

The Similars by Rebecca Hanover

Genre: Science Fiction

# of Pages: 399

Emma is still shaken from her best friend, Oliver’s, sudden suicide when she has to return for a new term at her elite boarding school.  Her school has been all over the news recently because it has been revealed that a mad scientist created six clones from stolen cord blood sixteen years ago and has raised them secretly on a private island.  The clones have said they prefer to be called similars rather than clones.  The identities of the similars have not been released yet, but everyone knows they are cloned from students at Emma’s school.  In a surprising move, the headmaster has offered for the similars to come go to school with the very students they were cloned after.  It isn’t until the welcome assembly when Emma comes face to face with Oliver’s clone, Levi, that she even entertains the thought that he could have a clone.  She struggles to look at Oliver’s face on another person, but at the same time feels clones should be offered basic human rights and fights for them as debates arise.  The highest honor at Emma’s school is to be a member of the “ten” which includes the top five seniors and top five juniors in the class who form a committee for advising the student body.  Emma is shocked when she captures an elusive spot in the ten, but so do three of the similars which enrages students who have gone to that school for two years already. To make matters worse, Emma’s roommate is viciously attacked and left comatose shortly after school begins and no one has any ideas who it could be, which of course leads some to believe it was a similar.  Can Emma begin to accept Levi even as she still grieves for Oliver?  Is there something sinister behind the headmaster inviting the similars to join the student body?   Who could have attacked Emma’s roommate and why?

The first installment in this series offers a lot of drama as the issue of clones is discussed from a variety of angles.  The main character does a nice job of trying to separate out her own feelings about Oliver having a clone and her feelings about how clones should be treated in general. She knows that it’s irrational to feel one way about a group of people but so differently when considered for a single person in that group, but acknowledges that sometimes you have to just work through your feelings whatever they may be.  There are many roadblocks that keep Emma and the similars from having an event free year, but they keep trying to make the best of their senior year. The end is exciting and satisfying, but leaves many questions unanswered that will keep readers wanting to read the sequel, The Pretenders.

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

Genre: Science Fiction/Historical

# of Pages: 486

Etta Spencer has been working her whole life to become an amazing concert violinist, but just as she’s about to make her big debut she is grabbed  by a mysterious young woman and zapped into another year.  She soon meets Nicholas, a sailor who has faced racism his entire life due completely to the color of his skin and the time period in which he lives.   Etta learns that she has been summoned from the past for a mysterious and dangerous task that will save her mother’s life.  She is still getting her head around the idea that time travel is possible and truly has no idea who she can trust in her impossible quest, but she knows she must try if she wants to see her mother alive again.  Can she bounce through time in order to retrieve a long lost relic in the short amount of days she has been given?  Who will betray her along the way?

Fans of the Ruby Red series will enjoy the first in this series.  The setup and character buildup take a little while, which might discourage some reluctant readers, but the payoff is there with the rich storyline that develops.  This first installment does leave a lot of questions unanswered but not in a way that is too frustrating for readers.  Recommend to students who enjoy historical fiction or sci fi titles.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Genre: Realistic Fiction

# of Pages: 340

Edward, a 12 year old boy, was the sole survivor of a plan crash that killed 191 people.  He is taken in by his aunt and uncle, who are still reeling from the fact that they will never have a baby of their own. Several people reach out to Edward to help him cope with this terrible tragedy, but the only one who seems to bring him any peace is his new next door neighbor, Shay.  He even sleeps on her floor every night because he can’t settle in his new house.  The story alternates between Edward’s life after the crash and the interactions of people on board before the crash.  There was a young woman heading to meet her soon to be fiance with some big news, a wall street tycoon traveling with his nurse, and an outgoing flight attendant determined to make everyone on board feel safe and happy.  As time goes on, Edward learns something that opens up a world of possibilities for how he can move forward and truly cope with everything he’s been through while also trying to do some good in the world.

This story about life after death focuses on a young boy and how difficult it is to go on after losing his entire family in an instant.  He even feels some guilt as to why he should survive and no one else.  His new best friend, Shay, seems to understand how difficult this is for him and tries her best to help him through this process.  His aunt and uncle are trying to be supportive too, but many times they aren’t sure what is best for Edward.  In the end, Edward finds a powerful way to help himself move on, but also those of others left behind.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages: 466

Leigh is devastated when her mother commits suicide, but she believes she reincarnated as a beautiful red bird who visits her sometimes.  On one such occasion, she believes her mother brought her a box of keepsakes from her grandparents, whom she’s never met due to a falling out that occurred before she was born.  Leigh convinces her dad to take her to Taiwan because she believes her mother wants her to finally meet them.  When she arrives there is a little issue with the language barrier, but Leigh is determined to try and communicate with her grandparents for her mother’s sake.  She even sees that her mother has left her with a way to see old family memories in order to better understand how they had all become so distant.  As Leigh struggles with a newly uncertain future, she must also begin to grieve and let her mother go.

An Iowa High School Award winner for next year, this story battles culture, identity, family, betrayal, trust, and even a little magic.  This is a powerful story about a young girl struggling with her mother’s death, but also trying to plan a future she knows her father won’t approve of.  She’s also navigating a complicated relationship with her long time best friend and recent crush, Axel.  This story will linger with readers long after they have finished.  Highly Recommended.

Jane Anonymous by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

306 p.

This story alternates between “then” and “now” and tells the story of how “Jane Anonymous” was abducted, held captive for seven months, and then returned to her family.  Jane was taken from her place of work very suddenly one day and although she was able to call her mother from the abductor’s car, they were unable to find her before she was taken away.  Jane finds herself in a tiny room that is filled with her favorite snacks, clothing, and toiletries.  She is told to perform certain tasks in order to earn gold stars that will get her rewards that she would like, such as books.  At first, she refuses to do anything, including shower, and is punished for her behavior.  It’s only when she begins speaking to someone through the wall that she learns her captor has others in this place and the best way to survive is to follow the rules.  She begins looking forward to hearing the voice of the teenage boy being held captive down the hall from her whenever he can sneak away through the vents to visit.  When she manages to find a way to escape she is unable to find anyone else to release before she has to flee.  She feels immense guilt as she returns to her very grateful family knowing that she left others behind.  As details of her captor are revealed, however, it becomes obvious that there was a lot she didn’t know about her situation.  Can she trust the police’s version even if it’s difference from the one in her own mind?

This powerful story tells how a teenage girl could be stalked and abducted without anyone being able to do anything about it.  In the end, she rescues herself and then must deal with the aftermath of returning to her home.  She has many strong people around her who want to help her adjust back to her life, but she isn’t sure she can after what happened to her.  Recommended for fans who like intense stories such as Pretend She’s Here or Ruthless.

Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash

Genre:  Romance

356 p.

College freshmen Mariam is still reeling from her breakup from Caleb, her high school boyfriend and she believes the love of her life.  She has a great relationship with her roommate, but otherwise she hasn’t gotten out much since she’s started college.  One day she decides she’s done feeling sorry for herself and she goes to the local virtual dating experience in order to see if she has any more “matches” out there.  To her surprise, the matchmaking program uses artificial intelligence in order to assess all of her qualities and match her up with three top choices.  They tell her that her top choice is one of the highest percentages they’ve ever had, but she can’t help but notice that her third choice is none other than Caleb.  Can she really ignore this incredible coincidence?  No, she can’t, so she invites Caleb’s avatar on a virtual date without him knowing it’s really her.  It goes really well and pretty soon they are going on other virtual dates, but the longer this goes on the more she knows that she must tell him the truth and she’s not sure she’s read to lose Caleb all over again.  Meanwhile, is it possible she’s already had contact with her #1 match?

This romance story puts a very modern twist on dating with the virtual experience, but it’s still fun and filled with engaging characters.  The story feels genuine and believable despite the use of very advanced matchmaking technology and the reader really wants Mariam to find happiness.  Mariam’s difficulty adjusting to college life is very relatable to many students and they will want to see how she copes with her parents, siblings, and making new friends during this transitional time.  Recommended for romance fans.

 

Diamond City by Francesca Flores

Genre: Fantasy

# of Pages: 392

Aina lived on the streets after witnessing her parents terrible murder in Diamond City, where she lives.  Then, one day she was taken in by Kohl, a notorious crime leader, and was trained to be a vicious assassin.  As a young adult she is given an assignment that seems impossible, but if she succeeds all of her dreams will come true.  The only problem is that if she does not succeed, everything she has worked so hard for will come crashing down.  As she begins to investigate this crime she learns there’s a lot that doesn’t make any sense and she wonders if she’s uncovering a secret plot by someone to completely take over Diamond City.  Does she follow orders like she always does or does she think for herself and potentially take a different, albeit riskier path?

Fans of Six of Crows will like this title.  Aina is a well developed character that you immediately root for even though she works as an assassin.  She has a motley crew of characters around her, but it’s easy to see this world she lives in and the many complications she faces daily just to survive.  There are many twists and turns to the plot and spy-esque plans that fans of spy novels will appreciate even if the setting is more of a fantasy one.  The story stands on its own, but is reminiscent of popular series right now.

Hooper by Geoff Herbach

Genre: Realistic Fiction/Sports

323 pages

Adam lived in a Polish orphanage after his mother died and his father couldn’t take care of him until he was adopted by an American professor and brought to the U.S.  He has since learned that he has strong basketball skills, but his social skills have lagged behind a bit.  He only has one friend, who is otherwise a total outcast, and he doesn’t even interact with the other players on his team because he never knows what to say and is self conscious about his accent.  When he is offered the chance to try out for an elite basketball team he is both excited and nervous because it’s obvious the other teammates don’t think he belongs there.  It is only after he proves himself both on and off the court that he begins to realize that he is capable of making friends and being happy.  When an incident with the police threatens to tear his new team apart he realizes that others are dealing with just as many issues as he is and he must decide if he will stand up for them or focus on his own hardships.  Can Adam find a way to fit in with a new team, family, and country after getting saved from an orphanage overseas or will his insecurities keep him from enjoying life?

Fans of sports stories will like this one because it has a lot of basketball action, but the story is also well developed and interesting.  Adam has many insecurities he is dealing with, but he’s afraid that talking about them will show weakness or open him up for more bullying than he already gets.  It’s only after he begins to open up a bit that he truly feels like he can make friends and be happy.  Recommended for readers looking for stories about sports.

The Losers Bracket by Chris Crutcher

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages: 250

Annie has a difficult family to say the least.  She was bounced in and out of foster care until she turned 8 and her mother got in yet another altercation and her foster family said they would take her back as long as they could make it permanent.  Her foster father in particular does not like Annie seeing her biological family because he thinks they are a bad influence.  So, Annie, a skilled basketball player, has learned that if her family happens to show up during her games there is not much anyone can do about it.  In tournaments she gets her team to lose the first game on purpose so that they can then work their way up through the losers bracket and have more games and chances for her family to come.  As time goes on, however, her family manages to find even more obstacles for her to deal with and she’s not sure how she can keep her foster family and biological family separate.  Is it unrealistic that she should be able to have both families in her life?

This story tackles the tough issue of foster care and the difficult positions that puts everyone in.  Annie’s family has some strong feelings about foster care, but Annie cannot deny it’s given her opportunities she would not have had otherwise.  That does not mean she wants to turn her back on her family completely, however, so it becomes very complicated.  Throughout there is a lot of sports action too, for readers who like to read about sports.  The issue of foster care is not treated as an easy fix and all sides are presented to show how complicated this can be.  There is always hope, though, for helping kids who are in terrible situations.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Genre: Fantasy

# of Pages: 538

Zelie can still recall how her mother used to do magic when she was a child.  Since she too was born with the signature white hair of someone who will one day possess magic, she can’t wait until she can begin to feel the magic move within her.  However, the king has decided that those who do magic are dangerous and he has found a way to restrain all of them, which is how Zelie watches her mother die in a terrible execution.  As she grows up she is ridiculed for her white hair and her family is forced to pay steep taxes simply for having her in the family.  One day in the market, she literally runs into a girl running from the royal soldiers who begs her for help.  Against all odds, the two manage to escape the soldiers and only then does Zelie learn that Amara, a princess, has stolen a precious artifact from the palace that everyone believes could help bring back magic.  They end up setting off on a quest, with Zelie’s brother, to find the other two relics they need in order to reconnect magic to the world.  There are many people chasing them such as Amara’s brother, who is hiding a secret of his own.  Can they fulfill their quest in time? How many will be lost along the way?

This is a powerful and sometimes violent story because Zelie and Amara are fighting a war against those people who do not believe magic should exist and are willing to do anything to stop it from coming back.  Zelie has seen how her people have been treated without it, however, and she believes it is their right to claim what is naturally theirs.  The book, although a bit lenghtly, is so engaging that even reluctant readers will get hooked as long as they give it a try.  There is a sequel to this story.  Recommended for fantasy lovers.

Match Made In Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai

Genre: Realistic Fiction/Romance

# of Pages:  300

Simi is an Indian American girl who very much wants to grow up to be an artist, not a matchmaker like her mother and grandmother.  They believe she has the matchmaking gift that they have been doing in their family for generations based on personality traits, values, and much more.  Simi’s friend, Noah, wants them to step out of their comfort zones and get noticed during their sophomore year of high school, which is why he suggests they team up with Simi’s brother (a coder) to create a matchmaking app to bring Simi’s mother’s business into the modern age.  Simi reluctantly agrees and they create and launch a matchmaking app for just their high school.  It is naturally a big success as people begin seeing past their previously set cliques to see people they might be compatible with in the school.  Even the artwork Simi designed for the app is a hit.  The only problem is that one popular girl did not get paired with the guy she believes she’s meant to be with and therefore she’s causing trouble for Simi and Noah.  Is a matchmaking app based on ancient matchmaking ideals a good idea?  Will it bring people together like it’s supposed to or tear them apart and make Simi’s sophomore year a disaster?

This is a fun story that honors the matchmaking culture in a way that shows why it was originally established and how for many people it truly is about finding happiness for lonely people and not about making connections or dowries.  There are many different factors that Simi must consider as she launches this app at her school, but overall her intent is to make people happy and not to make money or benefit in any other way.  Along the way Simi finds several potential love interests and one challenges her personal beliefs (she reacts true to herself, which readers will find refreshing).  Recommended for fans of light romances such as Jenny Han, Sarah Dessen, and Susanne Colasanti.


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