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.
Genre: Historical fiction
# of Pages: 405
This title has been on my list to read for awhile and it was worth the wait. Hannah and her mother have never been close, but when her mother dies of Cancer she finds herself lashing out at those around her as if she’s struggling more than she expected. After going through her mother’s things she realizes that not only was her mother German, not Austrian like she’d always been told, but she still had a living grandfather in Germany. She decides to go see him and try to learn why her mother was the way she was. Meanwhile, the story keeps flashing back to Hannah’s mother, Lieselotte as a girl growing up with the ever growing Nazi presence. Lieselotte’s father and brother become completely engaged in the Nazi party, but she finds herself horrified by the injustices she’s seeing around her. She works with a family who was very kind to her mother as she lay dying of Cancer, to aid those being chased from their homes. Hannah slowly uncovers what happened to her mother and why she never told her about her past or her grandfather.
This is a fresh take on WWII fiction in that it really depicts what it was like growing up in Germany during this time no matter where your loyalties laid. At the same time it depicts the lingering affects of WWII and the Nazi mentality. Since Hannah was born and raised in the U.S. she has a hard time understanding why there are still so many hard feelings until it is explained to her just how bad things got for Jews during this time. The story unfolds nicely and it’s easy to see why Lieselotte ended up feeling bitter and betrayed. Highly recommended.
# of Pages: 473
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Mystery
Iowa High School Award Winner 2016
Rory is thrilled when she gets accepted into the prestigious Theden Academy, an all expense paid prep school with an excellent reputation. Shortly before she leaves, she learns that her mother, who died in childbirth, also attended Theden and left her a symbolic necklace. This story is set in the future where everyone is dependent on their smart phones and uses an app called Lux that makes literally every decision for them from what to major in to what to eat for breakfast. As Rory settles in she meets a young barista at a nearby coffee shop and he helps her see what a disadvantage it is to always have an app make decisions for you. She begins using Lux less and less and in the process notices more around her, including the shady practices of her new school. Is someone out to get her? What really happened to her mother and did she actually die during childbirth?
This is a fun, fast paced story that fans of futuristic fiction will enjoy. The story is detailed and has many revelations that unfold in a timely way. The characters are all well developed and it’s easy for the reader to see each of their motivations. Despite there being quite a market for futuristic dystopian-esque books this one is unique enough to stand out and will keep readers engaged.
# of pages: 277
Jillian does not believe in paranormal activity, but yet she works running her father’s paranormal investigation firm ever since he left her to fend for herself and her dying mother. She tells clients what they want to hear in order to earn money to pay the electric bill, but that does not stop her from judging those who do believe in the paranormal. When a high school classmate offers to pay big money for her to find her missing boyfriend, Jillian jumps at the chance until the mysterious new student, Sky, inserts himself into the investigation claiming that there is supernatural activity at work here. As Jillian and Sky work the case she faces the possibility that supernatural occurrences might actually exist.
Fans of mysteries and fantasy will enjoy this light, fun story about a teenage girl trying to do it all. There is a lot about Jillian’s backstory that has not been uncovered yet, including a mysterious obituary she finds of herself dated six months in the future listing a sister among her family whom she’s never heard of. There’s plenty more stories Jillian can and probably will tell in future volumes.