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Baby and Solo by Lisabeth Posthuma

Genre: Realistic Fiction/Romance

Number of Pages: 406

Joel has had some difficult struggles in his life and he is hoping for a fresh start when he gets a part time job at a video rental place (this book is set in the 90s). Everyone at the store adopts movie names and he becomes Solo. His first day on the job he meets Baby and he is immediately intrigued by her. She asks him to help her with a huge favor, and he realizes that everyone has stuff they are dealing with. As their friendship develops, Baby starts to get frustrated that he knows so much about her and she doesn’t know anything about him, but he is afraid she’ll never look at him the same way again if she knew about his past. He knows, eventually, everyone will find out about “the bad thing that happened” but until that time comes he wants to just be Solo and enjoy having friends and a normal life for once, especially as things at home deteriorate even further than they already had. Can he ever move on from the terrible events in his past? Will his friends stand by him if they knew everything he has been through?

This book has a fun 90s nostalgia being set in a video store. Even readers too young to remember traditional video stores will be able to clearly see why they were so popular and why a group of teenagers would have so much fun working here. Baby and Solo both have some serious issues they are dealing with and often they lash out either verbally or physically as a means to cope with what is happening. The side characters are all well developed too and it’s easy to see why they would both be more comfortable at times with the employees at the video store than with their parents at home. Readers will find themselves drawn in by the characters and trying to find out Solo’s secrets before Baby does. Fans of The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park will enjoy this story about two people meeting under the wrong circumstances who still manage to be there for each other during tough times.

Night Swim by Megan Goldin

Genre: Mystery

Rachel Krall has a murder podcast that has gained her some notoriety, but she is used to being fairly anonymous which is why she’s so stunned when she starts receiving letters on her car, in her hotel room, and other places that no one should know about. The letters are from the sister of a girl, Jenny Stills, who died 25 years ago under mysterious circumstances. Officially, the death was ruled a drowning, but as Rachel starts investigating it does seem like the facts don’t add up. In the meantime, the reason Rachel is in this small town is to report on a rape trial going on that has divided the town. Everyone has an opinion about the two people involved in this case and feels like they should have a say in what happens. The boy is a promising swimmer and many believe that he shouldn’t have his reputation sullied by a girl they believe simply changed her mind. The girl’s parents, however, say she hasn’t been the same since that fateful day and they know it was indeed rape. Can Rachel report on this case in a way that portrays both sides equally and fairly while holding off the growing hostility of the people in the town? Can she get to the bottom of what happened to Jenny Still all those years ago and bring peace to Jenny’s sister?

This story is engaging from the beginning as both the ongoing trial and the mystery from the past have many twists and turns in them. The fact she runs a podcast is also interesting because more and more people have been enjoying crime podcasts lately. Rachel’s character seems fleshed out and you can definitely see how motivated she is to make her podcast relevant, but also factual. The eventual resolution is satisfying and doesn’t feel too rushed as the pieces start to come together. Fans of The Escape Room, The Woman in Cabin 10, and the Woman in the Window will enjoy this title.

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Enchanted Jones dreams of one day becoming a professional singer, which is why she sneaks off to an audition she knows her parents would say no to. Even though she is not cast for the role she auditioned for, she is noticed by one of the judges, R&B singer Korey Fields. She is immediately swept up in his attention and believes he really wants to help her make a record and improve her singing talent. Korey even convinces her parents to let her travel with him on tour, but things quickly turn sour when Enchanted realizes Korey is not the man he claims to be. At this point, she isn’t sure how to break away from him, though. She’s given up so much for this life and he has convinced her she deserves to be treated the way he treats her. Is there anyone out there who can help her get away from this terrible situation? Anyone who would believe the truth about Korey Fields?

This powerful, timely story is relatable to so many young girls who have had their dreams cast aside by powerful men who believe they can take what they want in life. This book does not shy away from difficult topics such as abuse and rape, but it is done in a way that seems respectful to the main character being forced to go through this. This is a story that will be hard for some readers, but it’s important to have this kind of book available so students are aware of different ways grown ups can take advantage of kids. Fans of The Hate U Give, or similar titles that delve into tough topical issues, will enjoy this title.

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 387 p.

Ash is a typical football player in his high school when one day he takes a big hit and wakes up to a changed world. The changes aren’t big at first, stop signs are now blue and no one but him remembers them ever being red, etc. As he tries to make sense of these changes, though, he knows that with each big hit he could potentially see bigger changes, which is exactly what happens. He quickly learns that there are infinite possibilities for what his world could become and in a lot of ways he just wants to go back to where he started, but isn’t sure how to do that. Meanwhile, his best friend suffers some devastating losses in the new realities and he desperately wants to help him. Can he find a way to fix the world that has become so fragmented? Can he find out why this is happening?

Each reality brings major changes to Ash’s world and several big issues are discussed such as wealth, race, gender, and abuse. Ash’s character is remarkably open and mature to the changes he sees every time he takes a big hit and he seems determined to try and make his world a better place. His shock every time someone tries to intimidate him into doing something against his moral compass is not surprising. The ending will satisfy readers and leave them thinking a lot about different realities in their own world.

The Other Side of Perfect by Mariko Turk

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Number of pages: 326

Alina has been studying ballet for 10 years and has plans to make a career out of it when a devastating injury brings her dream crashing down. With therapy, she is able to walk and resume normal functionality, but her dreams of ballet dancing are over. She must learn to engage fully in her high school and begin to heal and make new friends. She quickly learns that many of the high school peers had previously seen her as standoffish as she never spoke to anyone and only focused on ballet. Now, that she is going to school full-time and not splitting her time with ballet she has to find a way to be happy and start to deal with the grief she feels over the loss of ballet. One way her parents convince her to move on is to try out for the school musical and she ends up getting a dancing part. She comes to find that there are several great people who try out for the play, but every time she starts to forget about her past her best friend texts her to see how she’s doing. She knows her best friend is just trying to stay close and has the best intentions, but she finds herself feeling dread every time she gets a text. She does not want to know what is happening at her own studio now that she is not there, but she knows it isn’t her friend’s fault that she got hurt. Can she overcome the sadness of losing ballet in order to appreciate the good things she has in life? Can she make true friends at her school who will support her even when she acts irrationally? Can she stay friends with someone who still does ballet when she can’t?

Alina’s story will resonate with many teenagers simply because many are trying to reach a difficult goal and often face obstacles such as injury that stand in the way. Alina is fortunate to have so many people who want to help and support her, but it’s hard to accept help when you’re not ready for it. The book does touch on some racial biases in the world of ballet as well, which is something readers may not be aware of. Family is another topic that is mentioned as Alina must reconnect with the sister she left behind on her quest to dance. This story emphasizes the importance of family and friends in life to help you get through the tough times, but to be by your side for the good times. Recommended for fans of Jenny Han or Suzanne Colasanti.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Genre: Fantasy

Number of Pages: 418

Deka has been dreading her purity ceremony for her entire life since she has always felt like an outsider. A purity ceremony is when a village tests the blood of all girls who have turned 16 to see what color it is. If a girl’s blood turns red, she is welcomed into the community, but if it doesn’t she is considered unnatural and put to death. On the fateful day, some monsters attack the villagers at the ceremony and Deka steps up to help, but in doing so shows that she has the ability to communicate with them. One of her friends, horrified by what he saw, stabs her to see what color her blood is and it runs gold. She is then tortured for weeks while they figure out what to do with her, but then a mysterious woman comes and offers her the chance to come with her and fight with girls just like her against a powerful foe of the kingdom. This may be her only chance to escape a life of torture and regret. Does she have the strength to fight for a people that would hate her based on the color of her blood? Can she find a way to get to the truth of who she really is?

Deka’s story is engaging from the beginning as it is so easy to identify with a girl who just wants to fit in and make her father proud. Unfortunately, things are not that easy and instead she faces pain, both physical and emotional, as she watches everyone she ever loved turn against her. The history of these magical people, or Alaki, takes awhile to be revealed, but in the process Deka learns a lot about the many girls who came before her and the sacrifices they made. The ending is especially satisfying as it is revealed who she can really trust and who has betrayed her. Fans of Children of Blood and Bone and Grace and Fury will enjoy this title.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Genre: Sci/Fi

Number of Pages: 303

Klara is an artificial friend who loves looking out the window at her store hoping that one day she’ll find a family to go home with. Klara is very observant and notices a lot about the people and places around her. This is why she catches the eye of Josie, a young girl who has a stilted walk who comes to the city once in awhile and talks to Josie through the window. She knows she is meant to take Klara home, but it takes her awhile to convince her mother. When Josie finally gets to take Klara home she is blessed to become part of the family, even if Josie does get sick from time to time which causes great stress to the household. Klara feels it is her responsibility to look after everyone and truly wants the best for everyone around her. As Josie’s health deteriorates, Klara feels it is up to her to try and find a way to make her well, but what does she know about such things? Her never-ending hope begins to rub off on those around her and they begin to think that Josie may have a happy ending after all. Can Klara help heal Josie? If Josie grows up what will become of Klara?

This unique story follows an observant, but neutral narrator who truly tells it like she sees it as she doesn’t have any feelings clouding her judgment. It takes awhile to a clear picture to come out about the world this is set in and what tough decisions humans have to face regarding new technology. The characters are all interesting, but the reader only knows as much as Klara can observe so they are not always well developed. Fans of futuristic stories will enjoy this title and find it truly different than other novels.

Sing Me Forgotten by Jessica S. Olson

Genre: Fantasy

Number of Pages: 325

Isda was rescued from a well at birth after being cast aside by her mother for being a gravoir. A gravoir is someone who can maniupulate other people’s memories when they sing and it is illegal to raise a gravoir, which is why her mother tried to kill her. Cyril, the owner of the opera house, kept her in the shadows her entire life so she could manipulate the memories of the opera guests in a way they would remember the shows more fondly and want to buy more tickets. She always felt like Cyril did his best toward her and even cared for her, until she met a new janitor by the name of Emeric. Not only was Emeric’s voice mesmerizing, but when he sang his memories were vibrant and colorful and Isda was immediately drawn to him. She knew he had potential to be an amazing opera star with a little training and she convinces him to let her train him so that she can have a hand at putting someone on the stage, even if it can’t be her. As they grow closer, Isda knows that if Cyril or anyone else finds out her entire existence could be put into jeopardy. Plus, she begins to think there are skills she may have that Cyril has not told her about. Is she capable of more? Who can she really trust: Cyril or Emeric? How much trouble would she really be in if she were discovered?

Fans of musicals and the stage will be captivated by this tale of an outcast simply wanting to fulfill her dreams, including finding a friend. As the story develops, the action really takes off and you can’t help but root for the main characters to find truth and happiness. The rules for this world are fully developed and explained as the story goes on, which is why some aspects of the ending are so powerful. There are many plot twists in this creative setting and fans will want to see more from this world. Highly recommended for fantasy readers.

Mindfulness for Young Adults: Tools to Thrive in School and Life by Linda Yaron Weston

This book is written by an English teacher who developed and taught a class on Mindfulness for her young adult students. The book explains how to achieve and practice mindfulness as well as benefits for everyone, but especially young adults. High school students face numerous pressures from classes, activities, college admissions, parents, etc. Those pressures can lead to mental health issues as students become over stressed, exhausted, anxious, or even depressed. The tools in this book give a step by step plan for teachers and students that makes mindfulness seem achievable and important for helping young adults through this stressful time of life. Plus, if they learn how to be more present at a younger age, it will help them as they enter college and begin looking to enter the workforce. I think anyone could benefit from learning about mindfulness, but the author is smart to target young adults because there is a lot to be gained for them and they are probably more open minded to the process than older adults would be. Recommended.

Life At Hamilton: sometimes you throw away your shot, only to find your story by Mike Anthony

Genre: Nonfiction

This fascinating story follows bar tender Mike Anthony as he tries to find his place on Broadway. He always wanted to be an actor and even went to school to earn a degree in acting, but he’s never gotten that big break. However, he has had a successful career as a bartender in one of Broadway’s most illustrious theaters. He recounts the tale of meeting Lin-Manuel Miranda the first time when he was working on an entirely different production before Hamilton. He was immediately mesmerized by him and knew he was special. As they began to get rumblings that Hamilton was going to come to their theater the staff braced for what was sure to be an amazing experience. Mike often used social media to let the public know who had been to see Hamilton, any interactions with them, and special moments with the general public. Despite struggling with the fact that he was part of such an amazing production without actually contributing as a performer, he came to realize that it was a gift to be able to be part of this amazing show’s tenure on Broadway and to be a part, even in a small way, of such a major occasion in so many people’s lives. Recommended for fans of live theater and anyone looking for an uplifting book during such a hard year.

Teen Killers Club by Lily Sparks

Genre: Mystery

Signal Deere was convicted of murdering her best friend, Rose, but even though Signal woke up covered in Rose’s blood she knows she’s innocent. It does not help that she has been classified as a Class A, which is the most dangerous kind of criminal. Therefore, when she is approached about joining a new secret program where they take teenage Class A criminals and train them to be assassins she knows this is her only way out of jail for the rest of her life. The obvious problem here is that Signal is not a killer and has difficulty from the start with the trainings they make her do. The counselor in charge of them seems to be trying to make life particularly difficult for Signal. She quickly realizes that the other teens in the program do not have any issue with killing. Erik, in particular, notices right away that Signal really doesn’t belong there, but in order to survive she must try her best to succeed in the tasks before her. Things get more complicated when a man wearing a mask infiltrates their camp and the counselors won’t tell anyone who he is or what he wants. Can Signal survive a place where they are trying to make her a killer surrounded by other killers? Can she trust anyone around her? Will she ever be able to clear her name and find out who really killed Rose?

This book really takes off once Signal gets to the camp and meets the other teenage criminals. It becomes obvious that you can’t really classify people into nice, easy categories and Signal helps each of them to see that there is more to them than their past actions. She becomes increasingly aware of the dangers surrounding her in this place where she doesn’t know how to defend herself. Once it becomes clear they are in danger, the teens band together, but in the end they are not the ones in charge and things go sideways pretty quickly as they try to rebel. Signal’s backstory is explored, but readers will want to know more about what happened to Rose and how her death came to be. Readers will also be eager to see more after the exciting ending that leaves the future of these teens in question. Hopefully, there will be a sequel to continue Signal’s story. Recommended for fans of forensic mysteries.

The Ghost of Five Mile Creek by Payne Schanski

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Number of pages: 218

JB admits right away that he has been punished severely for getting caught breaking and entering into a large house in his town. He has not offered much in the way of an excuse, and appears to be taking his punishment without complaint. His mother even made him stop playing basketball for his entire freshmen year, even in his own driveway. Throughout the ordeal he has also lost his group of friends who scattered the second he got into trouble and all went their own way in high school. He has found himself sitting with an odd bunch of students at lunch who really have no one else to sit with so they have banded together. One of the people he sits with, Marty, is someone JB feels a lot of guilt about because when he was younger he used to torment him and purposefully leave him out of things. That’s partly why he agrees to go when Marty pitches the idea of them driving out to an abandoned house that is believed to be haunted. JB knows if he got caught again it would not go well for him, but he feels like he owes this to Marty, especially when it appears that everyone else will back out. Then, surprisingly his former best friend and a popular new girl in school offer to come along and suddenly they have a group of five people going to investigate this haunted house in the middle of the night. Will they encounter any supernatural activity? Will they form lifelong friendships? Will JB get his punishment extended into his sophomore year?

This coming of age story follows a group of high school students who all agree to go to a “haunted house” for different reasons. Once they are there, they all have to face some of the things they had been avoiding such as J.B.’s resentment toward his friends for abandoning him, Marty’s past bullying, and Jennie’s loss of her sister. The ending is realistic and satisfying for a story in which the main characters are not finished finding their way. Fans looking for scary/suspenseful stories might not find enough of that here, but fans who enjoy coming of age stories will want to know more about these characters once the story ends.

They Went Left by Karen Hesse

Genre: Historical Fiction

Number of Pages: 364

Zofia survived the Holocaust camps and now is on a mission to find her younger brother, Abek, whom she promised to find once the war was over. She knows the rest of her family will not be found simply because when they entered the camp they were all directed to go left and she went right because she was considered a useful worker. She knows they never left the camp and is focusing all of her energy on finding her brother. Zofia has been recovering in a hospital for several months once the camps were liberated simply because her body and mind are weak and she often has trouble remembering things. Her first goal is to go back to their family home, but she knows there is a good chance her brother will not be there and her home might not be there. There are many people looking for lost family at this time, but she is determined to keep looking until she finds out what happened to her brother. As she sets off on her journey she finds that there are many people along the way who are all coping with the war in different ways, but are all trying to start over. Along the way, Zofia is forced to face the horrors of her past that her brain has been trying to forget, but she knows that in order to truly move forward she must accept her past, as bad as it is. Recommended for readers who like the Holocaust and historical fiction.

Stamped by Jason Reynolds

Genre: Non-fiction

Number of Pages: 294

This non-fiction title is written as a non-history history book and starts back before the United States was even formed. Jason Reynolds took us through the major developments in this country regarding race, including strategies that were used both politically and socially to try and control the roles people played and the thought process they had regarding race. He really shows how the country’s thoughts and actions on race have been carefully sculpted by those people who had the power and control to do so. It shouldn’t be any surprise that money and power often controlled the events that transpired with race in our country. Reynolds does a nice job of explaining how the country came to be at the Black Lives Matters place we found ourselves in the summer of 2020. For anyone who has never studied the issue of race in the United States this book is very eye opening and encourages you to look at historical events with a different perspective. This book will stay with the reader long after reading it. Recommended.

I Know You Remember by Jennifer Donaldson

Genre: Mystery

Number of Pages: 326

Ruthie grew up in Anchorage, but moved away with her mom three years ago. After her mom’s sudden death she is set to return to live with her dad, whom she hasn’t seen since he got sober, and his new wife and stepsister. Ruthie is very excited to see her best friend, Zahra, whom she hasn’t seen since she moved away, but when she texts her to let her know she’s moving back she is surprised not to get a response. When she arrives she goes immediately to Zahra’s house in order to see her, but learns she hasn’t returned home from a big party on Friday night. By Monday morning the entire high school is buzzing with the news that Zahra is missing and Ruthie thinks it’s her job to find her, even if that means skipping school, ditching her step sister, and going against her father’s wishes. As she tries to unravel the mystery of what happened to Zahra, Ruthie begins to learn that the girl she remembers has changed a lot and she isn’t sure why. Has Zahra really changed that much or does Ruthie remember her differently than she actually was? Will she be able to find Zahra before it is too late and what secrets will she stumble across along the way?

This psychological thriller will keep you guessing until the shocking conclusion. The pieces of the puzzle are all there, but it takes awhile to put them together as Ruthie goes on her quest to find Zahra at all costs, no matter who she has to step on in the process. Along the way, Ruthie encounters a variety of interesting characters who all know a little about who Zahra really is and what might have happened to her. Fans of mysteries will be satisfied with the exciting ending.


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