Genre: Romance/Realistic Fiction
# of pages: 438
Cather does not like to go out drinking like most college freshmen she knows. Instead, she likes to stay in and write fan fiction for a fantasy series she is obsessed with. Meanwhile, her identical twin has tried very hard to distance herself from Cath so that they can start anew in college. Cath slowly assimilates to college including getting used to her unusual roommate and her friendly male friend who seems to be in Cath’s room a lot. There is a fair share of drama in Cath’s life (including a father who is struggling with his new empty nest), but the one thing that always balances things out is her love of writing, which is why she’s so excited for her fiction writing class. Unfortunately, even that does not go exactly as planned…
Fans of John Green or any of Rainbow Rowell’s other books will become obsessed with these characters. The story is interesting enough, but it’s the characters that make it hard to put this one down. Cath is very relatable to anyone who’s ever been new to a place and trying to find your way. She has trouble knowing who to confide in, who to trust, and who to run from. Eventually she starts gaining more confidence in her new life and starts making proactive choices instead of reactive ones. It’s a very compelling coming of age story that will leave readers wanting more.
Genre: Futuristic Fiction
# of Pages: 432
Jess lives with her military father, pregnant mother, and three sisters. Due to the fact their mother is a commoner, her father was never allowed to legally marry her, but he has always taken care of them like they were legally his family. Secretly, Jess likes to run the court of fives, which is an intricate and physically grueling competition that involves different challenges in a variety of patterns to figure out. Jess knows that if her dad ever found out she was doing this he would be furious, which is why she’s kept it a secret. The day before Jess is scheduled to compete in her first match, her father unexpectedly returns from war and insists on taking them to the competition. She is forced to sneak out and compete or else she’ll lose her entrance fee that took her a year to save. She is forced to throw the match at the end because winners must take off their masks and she cannot risk her father learning her secret. However, she does not realize the attention her actions will bring to her family and the ferocity in which someone with power will work to destroy everything she holds dear. Ultimately, it is the court of fives she must do in order to bring respect to herself and her family, but will it be enough?
Fans of futuristic novels like The Testing will love this book. It is full of plot twists, excitement, and adventure. A main part of the story even features an Indiana Jones’ type adventure that is hard to put down. Jess loves training for the court of fives partly because it encourages her to think strategically, but in the end she is forced to use that kind of thinking in order to protect her family from a vicious adversary. It is a fast paced, exciting story.
Genre: Futuristic Fiction
# of Pages: 358
Violet was pulled away from her family three years prior to the beginning of the story because she tested positive for a specific gene that made her desirable in their community. After completing three years of training she is to be sent to auction to be sold to a rich and powerful royal family to be a surrogate for a royal child. Violet would rather return home to her family, who resides in the marsh, in order to live in poverty than to be a plaything for the royals whilst living in true luxury. Once Violet is purchased she does not know what to make of her new owner, her owner’s ungrateful son, or her owner’s absent husband. Plus, she begins to discover there are lots of secrets in the Jewel, where the royal live. She finds herself struggling not to rebel against those around her, but they really do have all the power over her. Can she keep her beliefs intact while everyone around her views her as an object to be owned and manipulated?
Fans of The Selection and Divergent will enjoy the first in this series. Violet is tough and smart, but there is so much she does not know that the reader gets to find out the true nature of her situation along with her. There are some very intriguing supporting characters including the man who helped her prepare for her auction, her best friend who went to auction at the same time as her, and the royal women who scheme and gossip behind each other’s backs. All in all, an intriguing premise that will hold your interest until the surprising last page.
2016-17 Iowa High School Award Winner
Sam Hopkins is the son of a preacher so he is often not treated the same as other kids, but he is not immune to bullies either and on one particular day while running he inadvertently draws the attention of three of the biggest bullies in school. He refuses to back down to them and ends up joining their gang for a short while and they teach him how to steal cars. Eventually he comes to his senses and realizes that he could get himself into real danger, but just as he’s telling them he won’t steal actual cars with them he sees them pick on Jennifer, who is an unusual girl in school who often speaks of demons and other strange things. The bullies are about to go after her when Sam steps in and allows her to escape while he himself takes a terrible beating. Afterward, everyone praises him for saving “poor, crazy” Jennifer and Sam begins to realize that all of her “premonitions” might in fact be real. Can he convince anyone that she might really be telling the truth about her visions? Will he continue to get into more trouble if he keeps staying involved with her?
This story is difficult to describe without giving the heart of the story away. Sam is confused by Jennifer and her condition, which makes the reader confused as well. Meanwhile, everything that happens to Sam does eventually come together to make an interesting and complete story, but for a long time several of the pieces do not seem to go together at all. Sam is a well crafted, complex character who is easy to identify with even if the reader has nothing in common with him. For those who stick with the story past the beginning they will be pleasantly surprised by the action and fast paced resolution.
# of Pages: 337
Iowa High School Award Winner 2016-17
Fans of sweet teen romances will love this title that follows Lucy and Owen who meet unexpectedly during a city wide blackout in New York City. They are trapped in an elevator when the blackout strikes and by the time they are freed decide to spend the evening together enjoying the city without the usual overpowering city lights. After the blackout reality sets in as Owen’s dad loses his job and they must leave the city to find where they belong and Lucy’s dad gets a new job that transports her to Europe. Throughout their travels, they send postcards to each other as well as exchange a few emails, but since they only had one night together neither one knows how hard they should try to stay in contact. Meanwhile, Owen and his dad are dealing with the loss of his mother and Lucy is handling the new found family life she has found in Europe. Can they find their way back to each other or are they simply too far apart?
Owen and Lucy lead interesting lives in this story as they completely move around the world for very different reasons, but there is still something that keeps drawing them together. This book does not have a lot of supporting character development and the focus is always on Lucy and Owen. Despite the fact that there are not a lot of major plot developments readers stay engaged with these two because their story is so relatable. Fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han will enjoy this title.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
# of Pages: 322
2016 Iowa High School Award Winner
“A” wakes up in a different body every day and has gotten used to this type of life. When A wakes up in Justin’s body one day everything changes since Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon, and A enjoy a very special day that neither of them can forget. Eventually, A breaks down and tells Rhiannon about his unusual lifestyle and she’s cautiously supportive. However, A notices that she does seem to have more trouble accepting A on days when A occupies a female body. As time goes on, A uses any excuse to go see Rhiannon and in the process alerts one of the hosts, Nathan, to A’s existence. Nathan decides to go public and announce to everyone that he was inhabited by the devil and A’s life begins to get complicated. Meanwhile, Rhiannon isn’t sure how much longevity their relationship could really have. Is there a way for them to stay together when there is absolutely no way to predict whose body A will inhabit from day to day?
This award winning book is unique and asks the reader to think about many issues such as how important appearances are and how important gender is. A doesn’t care about gender, sexual preference, or appearance because to A it is fluid and doesn’t reflect the person inside. To others, however, A quickly discovers just how important these things can be. The book also shows how difficult it would be to not have lasting relationships and cohesive memories. All in all, a very engaging read recommended for those who like unique romances such as The Fault in Our Stars or Eleanor and Park.
Genre: Historical Fiction
# of Pages: 391
In this companion to Between Shades of Gray, a group of individual refugees are trying to escape the final dangers of war as the Russians close in. Joana, Emilia, Florian, and a few others end up coming together to try and escape the final horrors of this war. They endure many difficulties on their journey (and they all have their secrets), but eventually make it to the ship called the Wilhelm Gustloff and are granted passage to freedom. The ship is meant to carry 1500 passengers and instead thousands of women, children, and wounded soldiers fill every corridor of this luxury liner. Unfortunately, tragedy and heartache are not behind them quite yet.
The characters in this book are all different and yet interesting in their own way. They’re all escaping something and wish to forget their pasts yet for various reasons they cannot. The story of the Wilhelm Gustloff is in itself very interesting because it was a bigger tragedy than the Titanic, but yet very few people even know about it. Sepetys always finds a way to tell the stories of those people and events that were not properly told in history books. Students at my school have greatly enjoyed learning about Stalin’s regime in Between Shades of Gray and I think they will also enjoy this title and its unique perspective on this terrible war.