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.

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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.

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.

Hide with Me by Sorboni Banerjee

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Recently released in November 2018 by Razorbill, Hide With Me, a debut novel by Sorboni Banerjee, is a captivating YA thrill ride which I could hardly put down once I had started. Clearly I’m not a young adult, and I would recommend this for both teens and adults.

This book has a bit of everything it it: romance, suspense, family issues, and thrills for days! The plot is gritty & compelling with vividly drawn characters, urging readers forward with breakneck speed. If it were a movie (which it would make a fabulous one, by the way), I would call it a “nail-biter.” Boy meets girl. Boy hides girl. Girl has just barely escaped with her life. Now boy and girl are being hunted.

17 year old Cade, star football quarterback in the small town of Tanner, Texas, has a lot to deal with. His sole focus is being the best he can be on the field so he can get out of Tanner and away from what’s left of his family. His mother left and his father has been drinking and smacking around Cade ever since. On his way home one evening, he and his dog Hunter stumble upon a young girl broken and bleeding in the cornfield. Cade’s instinct is to call for help, knowing she doesn’t have much time, but the two words she whispers, “hide me,” and terrified look in her eyes urge him to do as she asks. Someone hurt her and will be back to finish the job.

He brings Jane Doe, “Jane,” to an old barn on the far edges of his farm, one that hasn’t been used for years and a place he goes to escape when his father is using Cade as a punching bag. As Jane starts to heal and make a plan to escape North before those looking for her can find her, Cade is able to get only small details about her past. He wants to help her, but she’s like a scared rabbit, afraid to trust anyone. Jane has spent her life in foster homes. She got in with the wrong crowd, and ended up in Mexico with a boyfriend who was working with the drug cartel. Now she knows too much, and the leader of the drug cartel, vicious and ruthless Wolf Cub, wants her dead. She knows that Cade and anyone else who tries to help her is putting themselves in terrible danger. But something about the way Cade cares for her and spends time with her makes a tenderness stir in her that she’s never felt before. Talk about a predicament!

I promise you’ll love this book. The story moves along quickly, snowballing into a whopper of an ending. What an awesome debut novel; I look forward to future books by Sorboni. I can’t wait to share it with my students!

Thank you to Penguin Young Readers Group for providing me with a review copy of this title.

Holly Jolly Summer by Tiffany Stewart

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Originally appeared in School Library Journal, April 2018.

Gr 7 & up – The summer tourist season is bustling in the stifling hot town of Christmas, Kentucky, as 15 year old First Daughter, Darby causes a very public disaster at the annual Snow Globe unveiling. Her single father, Mayor Peacher, encourages her to get a job and be a regular kid, replacing her unofficial position in his office with Marianne, an attractive city-girl type sent by the Governor’s office to help Christmas become an even greater tourist destination. Darby goes to work at Holly Jolly Land, a local amusement park full of promise, but in need of a little TLC. Despite being the lowest on the maintenance crew, having to use the infamous M.O.P, and her reputation that precedes her, Darby gets to know the owner, Nick, a Vietnam vet, and the “Misfits,” feeling a sense of belonging. Her new supervisor turns out to be Calvin, a cute boy from the not so distant past, who causes her crush on Roy, the class heart-breaker, to fizzle. Will Calvin stand by Darby when the future of Holly Jolly Land is in the balance? Lacking any mature scenes or language, this squeaky clean young adult romance is suitable for middle grade readers as well. VERDICT: Recommended for strictly additional purchase, Stewart’s debut beach read is full of holiday flavor and humor, but also predictability.

Always, Forever, Maybe by Anna Mrose Ricci

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Originally published in School Library Journal, March 2018.

Gr. 9 & Up: High school senior, Bee, has been living in the shadow of her best friends, popular twins Jo and Eric, counting the days until she can move away from her demanding parents. When Bee begins dating Aiden, her relationship with Jo becomes strained, which further increases as she starts keeping secrets involving Aiden from Jo. The tone starts off lightheartedly, but quickly turns serious as Aiden’s true character is revealed. Bee is convinced that Aiden is the one, and she remains in the relationship as he becomes jealous, irrational, and violent. Her parents forbid the relationship, causing her to want Aiden even more. Readers will sense Bee’s fear, and the pressure of trying to please everyone but herself. When sudden tragedy strikes, Bee finally realizes she must leave Aiden before it’s too late. Rissi’s first YA novel gives an accurate, but heartbreaking picture of teenage relationships. Recommended for additional purchase, the story has mature language and sexual scenes, as well as real-life situations which teen readers will appreciate. VERDICT: Fans of Colleen Hoover will enjoy this modern day realistic fiction story, full of diverse characters and the important message that abusive relationships are never acceptable.

 

 

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

51yzVoK9UiLI probably wouldn’t have picked up this book to read, but I was assigned to read it for a state high school book award committee on which I serve. I’m SO glad that I read it. It’s an awesome book about finding yourself in spite of pressure from your family, your peers, and the closed-minded views of the world around you. It’s a lighthearted, quick read with plenty of hilarious banter and adorable first love moments.

When Dimple meets Rishi, it’s certainly nothing like either of them would have planned! Told in alternating points of view between Dimple and Rishi, both in their final summer before starting college, the story is engaging and refreshingly unexpected.

Dimple Shah is determined to be successful, choosing a college and career path where she can get the best education, rather than her very traditional mother’s plan for her to find the I.I.H. (Ideal Indian Husband).  Dimple is pleasantly surprised when her parents agree to send her to a summer program for web developers called Insomnia Con at SFSU where she plans to attend college in the Fall. She plans to code an app and win first place in order to have the chance to work with her idol, developer and past Insomnia Con winner, Jenny Lindt. She has no clue that her parents are planning for her to go so she can meet and then marry the son of their friends, Rishi Patel.

Rishi Patel, a romantic at heart, believes in tradition and is thrilled when his parents tell him of their plan to send him to Insomnia Con in order to meet his future wife, Dimple. He is under the impression that Dimple has been included in the plans. Though his very successful, wealthy father plans for him to study engineering and follow in his footsteps, Rishi’s dream is to pursue a career in creative arts with comics, in which he has substantial talent and interest. Sadly, knowing that his father will never approve, he has agreed to follow the path chosen for him.

You can probably imagine what their first meet-up will be like, but its likely much more comical than your imagination suggests. I found myself laughing out loud while reading many times. Again, I loved this book and would recommend it for both teens and adults. The characters are unique and easy to love. They say opposites attract…but whoever “they” are haven’t met Dimple and Rishi! Read it; you won’t be sorry.