Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages: 449

Iowa Award Winner 2018-19

Emily and Sloane have been best friends ever since Sloane moved to town. They do everything together and Emily feels braver and more adventurous when she’s with Sloane, which is why it’s so hard when Sloane disappears one day. She stops answering her phone and her house suddenly seems abandoned.  Meanwhile, Emily’s parents have become suddenly absorbed in a new play they are writing and she feels she has no one to talk to.  Then one day Emily receives a list in the mail from Sloane of crazy things to do this summer and she thinks that if she does them she’ll somehow find Sloane.  Along her journey through the list she gets a job where she meets a new friend, and gets to know a boy from school she previously thought was too good for her.  She also does many crazy things she never thought she’d have the courage to do.  As she moves and changes, though, she still misses her best friend and hopes to find out where she’s gone.

This coming of age story about friendship is relatable to any high school student who has needed help finding their true personality as they grow up.  It’s easy to get caught up with what friends like or don’t like, but eventually we all have to find our true self and be brave enough to share it with others.  Emily’s story shows how intimidating that can be while also revealing how amazing the results can be when you put yourself out there. Fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han will love this story and will not be disappointed by the ending.  The list is fun, but it’s the characters who really shine.

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Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Genre:  Fantasy

# of Pages:  453

Iowa Award Winner 2018-19

From the author of the Lunar Chronicles series comes a story about the Queen of Hearts before she became the Queen of Hearts.  Catherine wants to open a bakery with her best friend and marry the new court jester, but her parents are insistent that she pursue the King who has shown great interest in her.  She does not want to disappoint them in any way, but she feels strongly about her desire to create pastries for a living and despite never having worked for a living she feels she could be successful at it.  Her best friend and maid is good with numbers and they hope to someday use Cath’s dowry to open their dream bakery.  Cath realizes she has had a privileged life, but also has never stopped dreaming and hopes she never has to.  When the new court jester comes to court she is instantly dazzled by his tricks and ability to show her amazing things she could never have imagined.  She hopes she has the courage to give up everything she has ever known in order to pursue her dreams, but she has no idea the many obstacles that lay before her.

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles series will enjoy this fun title.  Cath’s character is well developed and easy to identify with.  Jest is mysterious, magical, and brave in a way that makes it easy to see how Cath would become enamored with him.  The king, by contrast, is silly, weak, and refuses to deal with the new beast who has begun terrorizing the kingdom.  The world captures a lot of the magic from Alice and Wonderland but adds new modern twists as well.

The Girl I Used To Be by April Henry

Genre:  Suspense/Mystery

229 pages

Iowa Teen Award Winner 2018-19

Olivia was born with the name Ariel, but it was changed after her mother was murdered in the forest while their family was looking for a Christmas tree.  Olivia was only three at the time and everyone believed her father killed her mother and then dropped her off at a Walmart and disappeared.  She’s never been able to remember anything about the attack, but life has not been easy as she was passed around to foster homes and even suffered a failed adoption before deciding to emancipate herself.  Everyone is shocked when it is discovered that her father actually died the same day as her mother.  So who killed them and why did they release Ariel?  Could they still be out there waiting to finish her off if she starts asking questions?

April Henry does it again with a fast, suspenseful mystery story where Olivia tries to find out what happened to her parents all those years ago.  Coming back to her home town is overwhelming at first and she decides she doesn’t want anyone to know her true identity, but eventually she finds that it’s really nice to reconnect with her roots.  There are many characters to keep track of that are not particularly developed, but could all be potential suspects.  Olivia is very strong, motivated, and independent which makes her a good protagonist.  Reluctant readers and mystery readers will enjoy this title.

Zero Day by Jan Gangsei

Genre: Mystery/realistic fiction

# of Pages:  359

2018-19 Iowa High School Award Winner

Addie Webster was kidnapped from her home when she was 8 and there has been no trace of her ever since.  Then, after her father becomes president of the U.S. she mysteriously shows up again and claims to have escaped from her terrible captors.  The head of the NSA finds her story troublesome and enlists her former best friend, Darrow, to keep an eye on her and see if she does anything unusual.  Darrow is offended at first, but unfortunately has some deeds in his past he would prefer did not become public and agrees to keep an eye on Addie.  He is surprised to find that she does exhibit some unusual behavior, such as being able to hack and take down a video posted by a bully in a threatening manner.  He’s happy she did it of course, but where did she get such computer skills if she was raised in a compound with no connections to the modern world? What is she up to and how far will she go to get what she wants?  Most importantly, is any part of her still the Addie he remembers playing board games with as children?

This book is fun, surprising, and fast paced.  Readers will enjoy the unusual set up, but will most likely see through some of the lies that take Addie awhile to figure out.  It is set up to continue and I’m sure that readers will want more after the exciting ending and subsequent cliffhanger.  Many of the characters are not fully developed, but as the series continues I’m sure they will develop further.  This would be a popular title to share with reluctant readers, not because of its length, but because of its ability to grab the reader from the very beginning and keep him or her guessing until the very end.

 

Flashfall by Jenny Moyer

Genre:  Futuristic Fiction

# of Pages:  342

Iowa High School Award Winner 2018-19

Orion works digging in the treacherous mines of Outpost Five.  They are mining for cirium, which is the only thing that protects humans from the radiation poisoning due to the flash curtain that has sent most humans under the protection of the cirium protected city.  If Orion and her partner, Dram, can mine 400 grams of cirium they will earn their freedom into the protected city, but so far no one has ever lived long enough to do that.  Orion is special in that she can hear the cirium calling to her and she ends up finding a huge deposit that she knows will ensure her freedom, but there are forces trying to keep her from succeeding.  Then, newcomers come to Outpost Five and many of the things they tell Orion make her question everything she has ever known.  Who can she really trust and who, in fact, is out to make sure she fails in everything she tries?

Fans of Red Rising will like this title because it has an unusual setting and plenty of action.  The author does not shy away from killing off characters so it’s hard to predict who will live and who will die.  The struggles of Outpost Five are terrible and neverending, but without Orion none of the Outpost community would stand a chance at survival.  There are many surprise twists in the plot as they try to find out what the government is really up to and how they can go about changing the terrible fate they have been dealt.  Readers who want action/survival should definitely check this series out.

The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

Genre:  Fantasy

Holly Chase was a wealthy, beautiful, egotistical daughter of a movie director who lived to judge others.  Therefore, it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise when she was visited on Christmas Eve by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.  Yet, Holly chose not to take this experience seriously and laughed it off as a joke despite the ghosts’ warnings that she would die soon if she didn’t change her ways.  Shortly after her disastrous Scrooge experience she is hit by a car and dies.  She wakes up in the office of the company who choose the “Scrooge” each year and she is now required to work here to prepare for each Christmas Eve, but then must also act the role of Christmas past.  She thinks she’ll be stuck in this existence forever until one year her Scrooge is a teenager just like her, and unfortunately, she can see the similarities between herself and her new Scrooge and for the first time she begins to feel bad about the kind of person she really was when she was alive.  Can she save him from the same fate even if she has to break a few rules?

Anyone looking for a fun Christmas read should check this one out.  Holly is brash, bratty, insensitive, and sympathetic all at once.  She’s trying to do better, but doesn’t really know how.  The supporting characters are all fun and colorful, but the focus is definitely on Holly and most of the other characters are not as developed.  The story itself is fun and the reader wants to root for Holly despite her difficult personality.  Recommended.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Genre:  Fantasy

# of Pages:  398

There is an island that is almost totally cut off from the rest of the world where a set of triplets are born every generation.  The queen immediately knows what power each of the girls will have and when they are a few years old they are separated so that they can hone their craft.  When they come of age they must compete in a bizarre set of rituals in which only the last one alive can become the next queen.  Katherine is a poisoner, but she while she has become adept at administering poisons she has not yet become immune to them herself.  Arsinoe, the naturalist, has not yet found her familiar, which is like her animal soul mate, but she has been very happy growing up alongside her best friend, Jules, who is a very talented naturalist.  Finally, Mirabella, the elementalist, is very gifted and can easily manipulate water and fire.  It is expected she will easily take the crown over her weaker sisters, but once the games begin everyone has a few surprises in store for the waiting spectators.  Who will end up with the crown?  Whom can the sisters really trust in this process?  Who will get hurt along the way?

This series has received a lot of attention from my students, but it did take me awhile to get into the story and the characters.  Once I did become immersed in the characters I not only wanted to finish the first one right away but wanted to read the second one as well.  It’s definitely a unique story that does not rely on plot details seen in other fantasy series.  There is still a lot that needs to be revealed about these characters, their motivations, and the ultimate outcome which will keep readers engaged for a long time to come.


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