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.

 

 

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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.

Love Songs & Other Lies by Jessica Pennington

9780765392275_3ab13Originally published in School Library Journal, March 2018.

Gr 9 & up – On summer break, Virginia (Vee), a talented songwriter and musician, leaves Michigan for a 3 month reality band competition tour with best friend, Logan. Much to her surprise and initial dismay, the newest member of Your Future X is Cameron, Vee’s not-quite forgiven or forgotten ex. Guilt-ridden and alone, Cam moved to Riverton from California after a horrible accident which killed his parents. Vee becomes the center of attention on a tour bus full of single musicians where every moment, private or not, is viewed by the fans. Told in alternating points of view, the pacing is quick, switching between two years prior to the present. Much like notes plucked on their guitars, Vee can’t deny the hum of sexual tension between herself and Cam. Will Vee forgive Cam and open herself up to love again? This modern-day realistic fictional romance has both steamy love scenes and tender moments between best friends, appealing to even reluctant readers. It’s like Battle of the Bands meets the Bachelorette in book form. VERDICT: Filled with lyrics, love, and late nights, Pennington’s timely debut novel will appeal to romance fans of Sarah Dessen and Susane Colasanti.

Where I Live by Brenda Rufener

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Originally published in School Library Journal, November 2017.

Grade 9 & Up – Secretly living in Hinderwood High, teenager Linden is homeless and working two jobs to afford living essentials. After her mother was killed, she ended up in Oregon at her grandmother’s nursing home, before she died too. Linden, white and homeless, and her best friends, Korean American Seung, and gay, fun-loving Ham make up the Triangle. Linden’s goal is to graduate and go to college with the Triangle, her only family and support. While reporting for the school blog and trying to keep her homelessness a secret, Linden uncovers perfect, mean-girl Bea’s secret – an abusive boyfriend. Not wanting to draw attention to herself, Linden worries for Bea, but does not expose her secret. When Seung becomes more than a best friend, Linden inadvertently lets her guard down, starting a new chapter in her life. When the truth is revealed, reactions of her friends and community prove that family is where your heart is, regardless of blood relation. Rufener’s cast of diverse characters and genuine dialogue helps balance the unlikely premise that a teenager could be living in a high school undetected. Readers will empathize with Linden, because her matter-of-fact attitude and bravery, never wallowing in self-pity. VERDICT: Recommended for strictly additional purchase for older teens due to mature language. Fans of Jennifer Niven and Nicola Yoon will enjoy this debut realistic fiction novel which brings to light heavy topics of homelessness and abuse.

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

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This is such a cool book. It’s like a modern-day Breakfast Club with a twist – a murder investigation! Five students from Bayview High go into to detention and only four students make it out. There’s Bronwyn, the brainiac who only has time to be successful, Addy, the beauty queen who prefers to be treated as a princess, Nate, the criminal who sells pills and tries to fly under the radar, and Cooper, the star baseball player who is being scouted by the pros, but isn’t quite telling the truth about his stellar performance on the field. After a strange fender-bender outside the school draws their teacher out of the room for a moment, Simon ends up dead. Simon, the social outcast who runs a gossip blog, and as such, he is known but not necessarily liked by many. The other four students, who are as different as can be, are targets in Simon’s blog post set to be released the day after his death, exposing their deepest, darkest secrets and making them all murder suspects. What looked like an accidental death due to a severe peanut allergy at first turns out to be a murder with serious planning and consequences.

As the investigation unfolds, the story pacing gets quicker and quicker, each chapter switching point-of-view between Bronwyn, Addy, Nate, and Cooper. Readers will try to figure out which of the four students is lying and who really knows what happened to Simon. This is an addictive, can’t-put-down-until-it’s-over kind of thriller which will appeal to both adults and teens. I highly recommend it. Can you figure out which one is lying?

Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia

Holy Romance Novel, B9781250079206_b9a41atman! This one is going to the top of my YA romance favorites list! This is the first of Kami Garcia’s novels that I have read, but I am now kicking myself for not reading her other ones already! You probably hear this a lot, but I literally couldn’t put this book down. I started it at 7:30 PM after the kids went to bed and finished the last page at 11:45 PM. It was THAT GOOD! It reminded me a little bit of the Abbi Glines Field Party series because of the small town where football is life. (That is also a really good series, by the way.) Garcia’s characters are beautifully crafted, but also very real – readers will be able to identify them to people in their own lives.

Here’s the rundown: Things are going well for high school senior Peyton Rios, a star soccer player who just received admittance and a starting soccer position at her college of choice, UNC. About a year prior to the story, Peyon’s father was killed in Iraq. She has had a tough road, but she is not alone. She has a best friend named Tess and a boyfriend of 7 months, Tess’s older brother, Reed. Reed is an MMA fighter who has been there for Peyton, but lately he seems a little distant and moody.

During a typical weekend house party, Peyton discovers a secret about Reed the she doesn’t want to believe, but knows she has to distance herself from his lies. When she confronts him, he gets violent and pushes her down the stairs, shattering her knee and her heart at the same time. After extensive surgery, Peyton worries she will lose her spot on the team at UNC, and wonders if she will ever be able to play soccer again? An even bigger problem is that Reed claims she fell and no one (other than her own mother) believes her, not even her best friend Tess. Soon she begins getting threats and Reed will no stop calling her, trying to see her as if nothing bad has happened.

Needing a change of scenery so that she can focus on rehab for the next few months, Peyton moves to a small town in Tennessee to live with her Uncle Hawk and the Twins, Christian and Cameron. Hawk was the only survivor of the military attack which killed her father, but having to dredge up painful memories even seems better than her current situation of constant fear and threats. She learns quickly that football is life in her Uncle’s family, her new school, and the whole town. Still reeling from the heartbreak of her last relationship, Peyton makes it clear to everyone that she is not interested in dating. Her muscle-head, tender-hearted, football star cousins, the Twins, watch her every move, determined to keep her safe, even from their own teammates. At first endearing and sweet, Peyton appreciates them, but really she just wants to be left alone and treated like everyone else. Until she (literally) runs into Owen Law, a mysterious, sexy guy who she instantly feels attracted to for some reason. Even so, she refuses to be swayed by his charm.

When she shows up for her first therapy session, however, she is forced into even closer contact with Owen. He is interning with the therapist and Peyton is his new patient. Side note: If I were her, I would be milking that knee injury for a very long time. The longer it hurts, the more therapy you need, right? But, I digress…

To complicate matters, it turns out that Owen is an MMA fighter, and he is GOOD. Though she knows of the risks of getting involved with another fighter, Peyton can’t help thinking that Owen is different. He’s nothing like Reed, and she is finding it hard to think about anything but Owen. But then she finds out Owen is hiding something. Something too big to ignore. And even though Peyton claims they are just friends, the something could shatter her heart all over again. Both Peyton and Owen must ask themselves how far they are willing to go for themselves and for each other. Is love worth really fighting for?

The story moves along rather quickly with just the right amount of romance, mystery, and humor. And fighting, lots of fighting. And not always in the ring. Hallways, parking lots, abandoned buildings, you name it. These small town Tennessee boys are quick to throw punches and protect their own. I loved this book and the characters. I can’t wait for her next book!

 

There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

15797848Stephanie Perkins’ YA horror/thriller novel, There’s Someone Inside Your House, will have adults and teens alike reeling until the very last page. Think Scream, but much more original and clever! Try to go right to sleep after finishing this book and let me know how that works out for you. It certainly didn’t work for me!

Makani left Hawaii and is now in her senior year at a small school in rural Nebraska, in the farming town of Osborne. She lives with her aging, and somewhat senile grandmother, sent to help her by her soon-to-be-divorced and non-present parents, who stayed behind in Hawaii. Her two best friends are Alex and Darby, and though she sometimes feels like the third-wheel of the group, she is going through the motions of surviving high school, all the while trying to keep a low profile so that no one finds out the true reason she left Hawaii and changed her last name to Young. Makani starts to take a renewed interest in Ollie Larssen, one of her classmates who is sexy and mysterious, but doesn’t care what others think about him, or his recent hot pink hair color. Ollie lives with his slightly older brother, Chris, a town police officer, because their parents were killed by a drunk driver a few years ago.

As Makani and Ollie get to know each other better (nothing like a good steamy romance!), random high school students are being brutally murdered one-by-one.  Makani fearfully begins to wonder who will be next. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to how the students are being chosen at random, but Makani can’t help but wonder if her past and the incident in Hawaii is finally catching up with her in Nebraska. The murders start to increase at an alarming rate, but the killer manages to escape capture, leaving a gruesome setup at each murder scene.

The book is packed with both fear and romance, a killer combination that will keep readers fascinated. I couldn’t put the book down! It was a very fast read, but the scenes and grisly details stayed with me well after I had read the last page. The murder scenes were bizarre and original, causing Perkins’ first horror novel to be a stand-out from other books of this genre.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the book is that the killer is revealed about three-quarters of the way through the book, and readers don’t have to wait until the final page to know who it is. However, even after the killer is revealed (in a most unsettling & painful way for Makani and Ollie, by the way), he/she keeps on killing, right under everyone’s noses. It’s crazy! The plot is original, wildly entertaining, and filled with creepy moments. When you start a young adult novel and one of the characters is murdered savagely in the first chapter, you know it’s going to be a game-changer for young adult horror. Fans of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer will absolutely love this book!

To quote of my high school student readers, “It was a real slasher!” (She gave it a 10 of 10.)