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

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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

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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.

The Book of Joshua by Jennifer Anne Moses

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Originally published in School Library Journal, October 2018.

Gr. 9 & up: Josh, a typical Western High senior living in New Jersey, wakes up in a psych ward to a very atypical future, in which he is missing an eye as well as his girlfriend Sophie. Previously a cross-country star and popular kid, he must now retake his senior year as an overweight schizophrenic. Unable to get any truthful information from his hovering mother or therapist about the incident which resulted in his eye loss, he feels lost and trapped. To make matters worse, his younger brother Nate has become a star runner and everything that Josh used to be prior to the incident. He is forced to attend group meetings with other mental health patients when he would rather be looking for Sophie. Only when Josh starts to spend time with new girl and fellow outcast, Elizabeth Rinaldi, will he finally begin to make progress toward the truth. Readers will empathize with Josh and at the end, finally uncover the surprising truth regarding the missing eye and Sophie. VERDICT: While it provides an honest, unique view of mental health, this realistic fiction novel is light on depth and brief in plot compared to others in the genre, and therefore recommended for strictly additional purchase.

Purple Hearts by Michael Grant

y648.jpgPurple Hearts is the final book in the Front Lines trilogy by Michael Grant. This young adult historical fiction story takes place in 1944. Though the Battle of D-Day at Omaha Beach, the Battle of the Bulge, and the depiction of German death camps is written with historical accuracy, the one twist in the story is that it takes a place in a world where women are drafted into military service right along with the men. For this reason, the series focuses on three main female characters from the first book when they start out as recruits, through the second book where they receive Silver Stars for bravery and to the final book where they have earned Sergeant status and Purple Hearts. Rio, Rainy, and Frangie (Doc) courageously fight through excruciating conditions and never-ending days of battle, in which the harsh realities of war are not sugar coated. 

Rio, a Sergeant and the first woman to receive a Silver Star recipient, has a boyfriend (an army pilot named Strand who cares more about himself than anyone else), but she begins to develop feelings for Jack, one of the soldiers under her command. This makes for a bit of romantic angst in the midst of so much war, which I rather enjoyed.

Fellow Sergeant and friend, Rainy, is undercover in Nazi-occupied France in order to get closer to the enemy and destroy some of their ammunition stockpiles. She joins forces with the maquis, forming an unlikely partnership in which the end goals are the same. Rainy is a Jewish American who is both bold and brave, not afraid of her mission at all.

Frangie Marr, known as “Doc,” is a black Army medic from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her religious Southern upbringing bodes well for her “bedside manner” with wounded soldiers, making her a friend and favorite to many. Though she is dealing with “separate but equal” segregation back home, as a soldier she is equal, allowing her to really make a difference, saving and comforting wounded soldiers with a fierce, brave tenacity that is unparalleled.

The writing is well-researched as Grant seamlessly weaves together the narratives from Rio, Rainy, and Doc, along with some other lesser known characters that are important to the storyline. Being the final book in the trilogy, the way the author provides closure for each of the characters taking readers through to the end of the lives is well-written and most appreciated, allowing readers to see that the war wasn’t the end for these brave young women. They had so much life left to live and enjoy after serving selflessly for their country. Also included between the narratives are letters written to many of the soldiers from family members they left back home, which really brings the characters to life even more.

Even though it’s intended for a young adult adult audience, it would certainly appeal to adults who enjoy military fiction. The battles and violence are graphic and bloody and the dialogue includes quite a bit of rough language, so I would not recommend this book for younger teens or middle grades. Fans of Ruta Sepetys and Chris Lynch will enjoy this series.

A sincere thank you to the publisher for the review copy of this book.