Stealing Home by Becky Wallace

9781624147647_aad1dOriginally published in School Library Journal, June 2019.

Gr. 6 & Up: Seventeen year old Texas teen Ryan Russell knows baseball. Her parents, though divorced, share ownership of the Buckley Beavers minor league team, keeping her busy with a goal to become general manager. Ryan’s assisted with new players before, but Sawyer Campbell is refreshingly different. A 1st round draft pick from Georgia and son of a watermelon farmer, Campbell is hardworking and smart. He’s easy on the eyes, too, but Ryan knows the strict rules on dating players. Both teens futures are uncertain: financial trouble for the watermelon farm and a possible sale of the Buckley Beavers. As they spend time together, Ryan receives praise and respect like never before, making it difficult to stick to the rules and stay out of the rumor spotlight. Teaming up with Sawyer seemed like a great idea until the walls Ryan has put up start to crumble. Will they be able to salvage the team and their relationship before the final inning. Themes of baseball, family, and first love are woven together with rich, realistic detail due to the author’s own background with minor league baseball. VERDICT: Wallace’s contemporary, lighthearted romance is squeaky clean and will appeal to both tweens and teens.

Us, Again by Elle Maxwell

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Us, Again is a standalone, contemporary second-chance romance and the debut novel from author Elle Maxwell. I couldn’t stop reading it – both main characters, Graham and Mackenzie, will stay with readers long after the final page.

5 years ago, Mackenzie Thatcher and Graham Wyatt were young teenagers in love. The high school seniors were dreaming up their future together, when two weeks after graduation Graham’s parents were killed in a car crash. Unable to cope with the loss and grief, Graham turns to drugs and alcohol, keeping secrets from Mackenzie. While purchasing pills from his dealer one evening, Graham finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and a man is shot right in front of him, landing him in prison for 5 years as an accessory to the crime. At this point, Mackenzie’s heart and future plans with Graham are shattered. She wonders if he ever really loved her at all, if he was able to keep such  major secrets from her. Determined to ward off relationships, Mackenzie moves on, growing a thicker skin and attitude along the way. Now she lives with a roommate, her hilarious Latina best friend Marisa, and has a job in social work, which is tough but rewarding. Her love life is rather nonexistent, because though she tries not to, she is always comparing them to Graham, the one who will always have her heart. Super sexy, alpha male Graham is released from prison and he has one goal in mind – find Mackenzie, apologize, tell the truth, and do whatever it takes to win back her trust. However, Mackenzie’s a lot stronger than she was 5 years ago, but every bit as beautiful to Graham. Getting her back into his arms and heart is going to be a lot more work than he thought. Good thing he doesn’t give up on a challenge. I won’t give up any more of the plot, but trust me, you’ll love it! Elle Maxwell has nailed the second-chance romance story with steamy romance and a bit of suspense/danger thrown in for good measure. I can’t wait for her next book!!

Thank you to the author for the chance to read an Advanced Review Copy and provide my honest review.

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The Voice in My Head by Dana L. Davis

imagesOriginally published in School Library Journal, May 2019.

Gr. 9 & Up: Davis’s second YA novel set in Seattle, follows 18 year old black twins Indigo and Violet and their chaotic family on an unlikely road trip. While attempting suicide, Indigo hears a voice say that her terminally ill twin Violet will live if she hikes the Wave, a 2 ½ mile scenic rock formation in the Arizona desert. Unsure whether the voice is God or a symptom of a concussion, Indigo bravely pleads to her family before Violet’s medically assisted death plans unfold. Thanks to a resourceful Pastor, Jeb, everything falls in place allowing the family to set off in a rainbow-colored paratransport bus covered in eyeballs. Pastor, the twins, their retired parents, a 16 year old brother Alfred, and 33 year old nurse practitioner sister Michelle and her husband and biracial children are a motley group of passengers, seeking healing for Violet’s pulmonary fibrosis. From kidney stones to an attempted robbery with a paintball gun, there is never a dull moment for the Phillips family. Indigo’s perspective of herself and her family changes along the way, allowing her acceptance and hope. The writing is refreshing and characters relatable. Though the novel tackles heavy subject matter of terminal illness, mental health, and death; light-hearted, comical scenes make for a heartfelt, yet entertaining read. VERDICT: Readers of diverse realistic fiction will enjoy the sibling banter, unique characters and authentic dialogue.

 

Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein

imagesOriginally published in School Library Journal, May 2019.

Gr. 9 & Up – Recently diagnosed with arthritis, 14 year old, Ricky Bloom, now lives in “the Batch Pad” with her dentist father, and attends a new middle school in Philadelphia. Ricky begins “the Charade,” ditching school to avoid the pain of getting there and the bullying. Instead she spends her time sleeping, taking hot baths, and daydreaming about Julio, a cute drummer. Embarrassed by her pain and limitations, she prefers to keep to herself; the only person she chooses to see being her older sister Dani, a college basketball player who lives with her girlfriend of three years.  When Ricky’s truancy is discovered, she risks having to take 9th grade over again, which would bring more unwanted attention to her already miserable, angry days. Back to school (IRL this time), she finds unlikely support from an English teacher and an adorkable guy named Oliver, a cancer survivor. These relationships and a new doctor who actually listens to her provide Ricky a new sense of hope, allowing her to become a better version of herself. Silverstein’s debut young adult novel provides an accurate portrayal of both the challenging relationship between parents and teens, as well as the frustration of living with a chronic illness. Not recommended for younger teens to the mature language. VERDICT: Readers will enjoy this contemporary coming of age story featuring a resilient protagonist and charming plot.