Home Girl by Alex Wheatle

9781617757532_a1d94Originally published in School Library Journal, July 1, 2019.

Gr 7 & Up: Fourteen-year-old Naomi Brisset, who is white, has been passed around the UK foster care system with no real sense of home. Since her mother died four years ago, Naomi, took care of her alcoholic father, assuming many parenting roles. As such, she thinks of herself as an adult, refusing to ask for help when she needs it. That changes when she meets a black family, the Goldings, for a temporary placement by her overworked but patient social worker, Louise. Unlike with past foster parents, the Goldings are genuine, lessening Naomi’s instinct to run away, and she develops a soft spot for the Golding children, Sharyna and Pablo. The problem is that UK policy frowns upon placing Caucasians in black homes, and that Naomi’s friends from her previous group home, Kim and Nats, continue to be a poor influence on her decisions. Then a tragic accident forces Louise to find a new arrangement for Naomi’s future. Naomi’s tough exterior and brash attitude portray an authentic character in an unfortunate, yet accurate picture of modern-day foster care in the UK. The plot is a bit slow and the dialogue, though fitting to Naomi’s life situation, can be hard to understand at times. The ending is neither predictable nor sugar-coated, leaving readers rooting for the unique, spunky heroine. VERDICT Recommended for additional purchase to complement a young adult realistic fiction section.

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.

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.

Waiting for Fitz by Spencer Hyde

9781629725277_d7a2e

Originally published in School Library Journal, March 2019.

Gr 9 & Up – Midway through her senior year, 17-year-old Addie Foster is sent for inpatient psychiatric therapy at Seattle Regional Hospital for OCD. Quick-witted and literary-minded, she dreams of being a playwright. Making some unlikely, but unique friends from the first day of group therapy, Addie accepts that she needs help, while handsome, mysterious Fitz is desperate to leave after two years of treatment. Grieving and guilt-ridden, Fitz, a schizophrenic, mentions San Juan Island and the name Quentin, but not offering any details to Addie. Unlike Addie, whose supportive mother visits, Fitz’s mother blames him and has never visited. Innocent romance sparks for Fitz and Addie, their shared passion for literature kindling their companionship. When the truth of Fitz’s past is revealed to Addie, she is forced to take a painful look at their relationship and her own future. The ending is hopeful, albeit a touch predictable. Author Spencer Hyde, having spent much of his high school years in inpatient therapy for severe OCD, provides an accurate, honest rendering of teenage mental illness. VERDICT: Fans of John Green and Jennifer Niven will enjoy this realistic, yet PG portrayal of some heavy subject matter.

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss by Kasie West

9780062675798_6d1a0Originally appeared in School Library Journal, February 2019.

Grade 9 & up – The second in a three book companion series, this realistic fiction, set in Los Angeles, is written as a standalone novel with crossover characters. High school senior, Lacey spends her days covered in elaborate zombie makeup on set, playing the love interest of famous heartthrob, Grant James. Grant is hot and he knows it, but he and Lacey lack chemistry on set of the campy horror film, Dancing Graves. Lacey begrudgingly and occasionally completes her schoolwork in between filming. When her overprotective father hires a tutor, she heeds his advice to buckle down and finish school in case acting isn’t always an option in her future. Donovan Lake, her easy-on-the-eyes tutor, at first seems uptight and lame, but as she spends more time with him, her math grade isn’t the only thing progressing. Working on set brings Lacey into some unfamiliar social territory, but she manages to make new friends. When odd coincidences that could jeopardize Lacey’s acting career keep occurring, she must decide who to trust and be willing to look out for her own happiness. Snippets of movie script are included between chapters, allowing readers to feel like they are on set with the characters. Recommended for purchase to enhance a clean young adult romance collection. VERDICT: Fans of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen will enjoy this light-hearted, wholesome romantic comedy which would make a great Netflix film.

The Competition by Cecily Wolfe

thecompetition

Originally appeared in School Library Journal, November 2018.

Grade 7 & Up: A diverse cast of characters take part in the Penultimate, an Ohio state writing competition, where 100 teens battle for a full college scholarship. Mary Sofia (a Latina) lives in a shelter. Her mother blames her for the unforgettable, tragic night her abusive stepfather was killed by her older brother Matias, as he protected Mary Sofia. She longs to visit Matias in prison, missing him dearly. Michael, Caucasian, is an introvert who excels at swimming and writing, who is instantly attracted to Mary Sofia. Camera who is shy and biracial carries a secret of being sexually assaulted during a party. Raiden is a Chinese American teen who dreams of becoming a nurse, though his father would rather he be a doctor. The four young people conveniently pair up into couples, forming a foreseeable cozy group for the remainder of the story. One of the contest themes is writing about “a defining moment,” which forces both Camera and Mary Sofia to finally come to terms with their painful pasts. The story line is realistic with hints of tame romance. After an unlikely turn of events for the new friends, the predictable yet hopeful ending offers each an unexpected chance at a brighter future. Compared to other realistic teen fiction, Wolfe’s second novel falls short in pacing and writing quality. Themes of friendship and typical teenage behaviors are represented well. VERDICT A strictly additional purchase.