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.

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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?

Blood and Ink by Stephen Davies

9781580897907_34ab1First appeared in School Library Journal, July 2017.

Though both raised in the Fulani tribe, teens Ali and Kadi are like oil and water when their paths cross in the midst of political turmoil in their home of Timbuktu, Mali. Religiously strict Ali belongs to the Defenders of Faith, a branch of Al Queda. His current assignment is to take control of Timbuktu, destroying any opposition in the way. Equally strict, brave, and feisty is Kadi, a lover of music and literature and the daughter of a librarian. As a Guardian, Kadi must keep ancient manuscripts safe at all costs. While trying to flee Timbuktu with the manuscripts, Kadi ends up in mortal danger. Ali must choose where his true loyalty lies. The ending is abrupt, but hopeful, and it begs for a sequel. Modern-day Timbuktu is brought to life in this timely, fast-paced story of teens falling in love despite being at war with each other. Historically rich background and Islamic culture combine, providing two perspectives on the war in Mali. The drama unfolds in alternating points of view between well-developed characters with multicultural subject matter that is unique, but relevant to current events.  Davies’ writing is authentic, because he spent over a decade with the Fulani tribe. Both a glossary and a fact & fiction section are included to enhance reader’s understanding and provide factual background of Islamic practices. VERDICT: Readers will enjoy the well-drawn characters and fast-paced action of this diverse YA thriller with a hint of romance.

Welcome to the Slipstream by Natalka Burian

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Originally published in School Library Journal, May 2017.

Grade 9 & up: Van, 17, was forced to grow up quickly in the slipstream of her mentally ill, brilliant mother. Her father died of a drug overdose when she was an infant. Van, her mother Sophie, and Ida, a surrogate grandmother, have lived as vagrants, following Sophie’s work. Leaving their home in Uzbekistan, the women land in Vegas, the city that never sleeps, for Sophie’s job at the Silver Saddle Casino. Van is tutored and left to spend her free time inside the lavish place with, Alex, a handsome college student, as her guide. Alex becomes her first true friend and love interest. Playing the guitar has always been Van’s true joy and form of escape, and she is now given the opportunity to join a band. Then, tragedy strikes and her family unit is falling apart before her very eyes. With Ida ill and Sophie caught in a scam, taken to the Sedona desert for “healing” by a cult, Van follows, determined to save her mother. The pacing is quick, parallel to the constant movement of Van and her mother Sophie. Van has an out of body experience and ends up fighting to survive in the desert. The end is filled with heavy-hearted goodbyes, but also hope and promise for Van’s future. It’s more of a beginning as Van makes a tough decision to set out on her own. The mood throughout is laced with worry and uncertainty, and readers will empathize with Van. Burian’s debut realistic fiction novel is based upon real-life events she witnessed. VERDICT: Recommended for general purchase, teen readers will enjoy the story line and well developed characters, while rooting for the strong female lead to survive what life has dealt her.

Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu

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Originally reviewed in School Library Journal, March 2017.

Gr. 9 & Up – Yu’s debut, realistic fiction young adult novel is set in upstate New York at Camp Ugunduzi, a wilderness therapy camp for troubled teens. The quickly-paced story is told in alternating points-of-view between five unique campers, just introduced and grouped together during the four week long camp. Clarissa, suffering from OCD, wants to get better and experience some “normal” teen activities. Andrew, whose eating disorder caused the band to break-up, is guilt-ridden and longs to get better. Ben, unable to separate fantasy from reality, prefers to go through life pretending to be in a movie, complete with voice-overs. Cold, unfeeling Stella has been to camp before, and doesn’t want to be back. Mason, narcissistic and full of himself, feels he has no problem, but is merely surrounded by idiots. Thrown together with no social media or daily luxuries, the teens find themselves getting comfortable with each other, despite initial trepidation. Perhaps one thing they all share is annoyance at the counselors: middle-age, hippie Josh and overbearing, prude Jessie. When tragedy strikes midway through camp, the teens’ progress and outlook are tested. The emotionally-charged, yet hopeful ending will encourage understanding and empathy to even the most reluctant readers. Background material is added piecemeal, as characters think back to the situations which brought them to camp. The characters are diverse, balanced well between male and female, and appealing to readers of both genders. The story includes mature language and content (i.e. underage drinking and smoking). At times raw and heartbreaking, the language is realistic, which teens will appreciate. VERDICT – Recommended as a first purchase for teens. Humorous scenes throughout will delight readers, despite the heavy subject matter.