All of This Is True by Lygia Day Peñaflor (9780062673671)
When Miri, Soleil and Penny make a plan to get close to their favorite author, Fatima Ro, at one of her signings, they couldn’t predict what would eventually happen. The girls meet Fatima, make a connection with her and suddenly are walking out with her and are invited to an exclusive gathering at a local coffee shop. Soon they are friends with Fatima, invited over to her house and spending time with her. They bring along Jonah, a boy who has just started at their private school and who seems to have a secret. As their friendship with Fatima deepens, their lives begin to revolve around her book, her ideas of human connection, and each of them having their own sort of connection to the famous author. But is everything what it seems?
This is one delicious read, even if readers figure out the twist ahead of time watching it play out and the reverberations it has for the characters is great fun. Penaflor writes the book in a series of texts, conversations, interviews and notes. Added in are excerpts from the new book that Fatima Ro has written, inspired by the teens themselves. Throughout, there is a wonderful creepiness as the novel written by Fatima mirrors the lives of the teens so closely. Readers will not trust any of the characters because they are all immensely flawed and biased in their recounting of what happened.
The novel explores privilege and power. It looks deeply at whether someone who has done something atrocious can be redeemed, can recover themselves and can regain their life. I’m someone who loves ambiguous endings to books and this one is particularly well done, working well with the layered quality of the novel as a whole.
A perfect summer novel that is a thrilling, compulsive read. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie (9781534414464)
When Gwyn and her family move in with her Nana in rural Iowa, it’s a big change from living in New York City. It’s all to help her mother, Vienna, develop new memories. Vienna remembers nothing since she was thirteen, including Gwyn and her little sister Bitty. Gwyn and Bitty quickly befriend two boys from the neighborhood, Micah and Jimmy. They live with Micah’s mother, Gaysie Cutter, a woman who tries to bury Gwyn alive the first time they meet. So when a man goes missing, Gwyn knows that Gaysie had to have something to do with it. Now she just has to prove it and not damage her friendship with Jimmy and Micah along the way. But there are many secrets in their small town, ones that threaten to topple Gwyn’s theory of Gaysie’s guilt.
This is Makechnie’s first novel, and it is very impressive. Gwyn is a stellar character, who doesn’t shy away from being entirely herself and different from everyone else. She is a girl who will learn how to lift fingerprints, share her theories directly with the police, stand up to a group of bullies, and dare to speak up around Gaysie Cutter. All of the characters are well drawn and interesting, including Gwyn’s mother who is struggling with the limits of her memory, her father who could be a suspect too, and the two boys who are as different as possible but also brothers through and through.
This story has many layers, making it a very rich read for middle graders. One piece that really works well is the layering of the previous generation growing up in the same small Iowa town. As Gwyn learns of the connection between her mother, father and Gaysie during their childhood, she also finds out about a terrible accident that changed them all forever. That element is then echoed through to the present day with the new generation of children getting into trouble themselves.
A great read, a grand mystery, and a strong protagonist. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.)
Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno (9780062493644)
Georgina has grown up on the island of By-the-Sea where generations of the women in her family have lived. They are women of specific talents: her mother can brew useful potions, her sister can float slightly off the floor particularly when she’s not paying enough attention. But Georgina doesn’t have any powers at all. The sisters are getting ready for college and leaving the island for the first time in their lives. It’s an island with one special resident, a bird that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, a bird with a distinct family connection. But this year, the bird doesn’t arrive, much to the dismay of the entire island and the birding community who arrive each summer. As the search for the missing bird intensifies, tragedy strikes and soon the summer is filled with salt, magic and mystery.
This is one of those books that you fall for hard. It sweeps in with poetic language that invites readers to explore the island of By-the-Sea, breathe in the magic, taste beautifully-named ice cream flavors and linger in the autumnal graveyard for awhile. Leno lingers over the details, creating a world that is so specific, small and focused. It seeps into your pores, this story, invades you like tainted tea and asks you to believe. And you will.
The characters are all written with such care, each one unique and special. Georgina may feel like a side kick, but she is the full-on protagonist here. She is brave, smart and quite the leader when given the chance. She faces real evil on her island home, must find the perpetrator and meanwhile is in the throes of leaving her home for college while not getting any magical powers herself at all. She is complicated, exploring new romance with the hot girl who visited the island, solving a mystery, and coming into her own.
An amazing read, just right for summer. This is one that fans of magical realism are going to adore. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.
Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, illustrated by Nicholas Gannon (9781250166623)
Livy is returning to stay with her grandmother in Australia for the first time in five years. Her mother will be visiting friends and showing off Livy’s new baby sister while Livy stays with her grandmother for a few days. When Livy opens the cupboard in the bedroom, she discovers a strange chicken-like creature who seems to remember her from her first visit when she was five. The creature, Bob, is a small green being wearing a chicken suit that Livy made for him five years ago. Now Livy must help Bob figure out what he is and where his family is, but it won’t be easy because Livy doesn’t remember anything from her original visit. As the two new old friends search for clues together, Livy must start to believe in magic to solve the mystery.
This short novel for children is a joy. It is tightly written with no spare scenes or elements to be found. The characters are big and bold, beautifully drawn in a way that makes them immediately understood and friendly. The setting of the Australian farmhouse and the land around it is lovingly crafted, each element playing out as Bob shows Livy through her forgotten memories, like the well and the big stone.
It is the relationship between Bob and Livy that really is the heart of this book. Bob, though wearing a chicken suit, is charismatic and clever. His joy over small things like potato chips and warm baths is something that children will embrace wholeheartedly. Livy is initially confounded by her lack of memory, but her personality soon shows itself. She is brave and imaginative, looking to help this forgotten friend.
A deftly written magical tale of rain, friendship and families. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy provided by Feiwel & Friends.
Warcross by Marie Lu (9780399547966)
Warcross is an international obsession, augmented reality and a video game world combined into something that everyone uses every day. Emika though has troubles in the real world making ends meet, paying her rent. She works as a bounty hunter, finding the criminals that the police don’t have time to trace. Then in Warcross, she uses a hacked account to make quick money there. But when her hack accidentally makes her visible in the middle of the Warcross Championships, her life changes. She gains the attention of the enigmatic Hideo, the man who created Warcross. There is someone else hacking into Warcross and threatening the games, Hideo hires Emika to trace the intruder. To gain access to the games, Emika is given a wild card slot and moved to Tokyo. In the middle of comfort and ease for the first time, Emika finds herself on a team for the first time, falling in love and playing an illegal game alongside the legal one. Now she has to race time to find her prey and stop their plot.
Writing novels about video games is difficult. It’s hard to figure out how to make hacking and video game code concrete enough for readers to be able to follow. Cleverly, Lu uses her augmented reality subject to allow readers to visualize hacking, code and the dark web. The video game subject is strengthened by the mystery and bounty hunting in both the virtual and real worlds. It also plays beautifully against the romance that Emika discovers, heightening the pressure she is under and giving her someone to truly care about.
Emika is a great protagonist. Smart and savvy, she is not one to make mistakes that anyone else would make. Still, she is wonderfully flawed in her lack of trust of others and her isolation. As she makes her mark on both the real and online worlds, her fame grows but never really touches Emika. This is not a book about video game fame or even playing video games. Rather it is about the power of virtual worlds, the temptation of technology and how it changes us as humans.
Powerful and timely, this novel will be enjoyed by gamers of all types. Appropriate for ages 12-16.
ARC provided by Putnam.
Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart (9780385744775)
Written by a master YA novelist, this book is deliciously dark, wonderfully deceptive and completely intoxicating. Imogen is an heiress, adopted as a child from poverty into New York money. She lives a life that is glamorous, easy and often nasty. Jule is Imogen’s friend, who trails along with Imogen as she heads around the world. But the police are onto Jule, who knows she can stay one step ahead of them as she runs from her past. Jule longs to stay in the bubble of wealth that Imogen lives in, but it’s not easy particularly when Imogen disappears. As the story unwinds and unravels, there is blood and murder revealed.
Lockhart writes an almost-classic tale here that will enthrall teen readers. Carefully crafted with a series of reveals that steadily expose the truth, the book is completely captivating. Readers will attempt to unravel what has happened, but Lockhart writes with a control that is exceptional, holding the story and her readers right where she wants them.
While Imogen lives a charmed life, it is the character of Jule who is impressively drawn on the page. She is complicated and calculating and still somehow, even though readers will have mixed feelings about her throughout the book, she is a heroine. She is a girl who flees her past, creates her own present and plans for a new future. She is not waiting to be handed things, but taking them. Fearless, hardened and fantastic.
Get this into the hands of those who loved We Were Liars as Lockhart takes readers on another amazing ride of a read. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from Delacorte Press.
Binny Bewitched by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Tony Ross (9781481491020, Amazon)
Binny’s family has been concerned with money since her father died. They live in a house that is far too small for all of them, her sister has sold all of her possessions to pay for flute lessons, and her mother works extra shifts all of the time. So when Binny sees a large amount of money left behind in an ATM, she grabs it and takes it. Does that make her a thief or just lucky? Binny soon discovers though that she can’t spend the money without others asking lots of questions. So she hides it, then hides it again and again until she can’t remember where she hid it! Meanwhile, Binny’s neighbor seems to be putting curses on all of them, like Clem’s flute breaking and James losing his best friend over buried treasure. As Binny realizes she has to be honest about the money, she has to find it first and figure out just who may have taken it.
This is the third Binny book and it’s just as charming and fantastic as the first two. McKay has a gorgeous way of writing, showing her characters and families complete with messy homes, money problems, and everyday woes. She always gives her characters lots of heart and big imaginations so that even normal days turn into adventures and bad decisions turn into mysteries.
As always, McKay’s families are ones that you want to spend even more time with. Readers will want to climb behind the couch with James, explore Clem’s bare but lovely room, share the birthday cake, and explore the beaches. The love in this family overflows the pages, even when they are distracted with their own problems. In fact, a hallmark of McKay’s books are that the children do the figuring out and realizations, not the adults. It’s a refreshing look at the power of children when they are given plenty of freedom.
Another winner from McKay! If you haven’t met Binny yet, make sure to start with the first since they are all such a treat. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.
7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross Macdonald (9781484717790, Amazon)
I was dozing in his office when 6 came in looking for help. 7 was after him! There was a rumor going around that 7 ate 9 and now he was coming for 6. So I went out to figure out what was going on. Following a series of clues after talking with letters and numbers, I deduced that 9 had disappeared but that 7 could not have eaten him since 7 was on vacation. Suddenly, I figured it all out and realized exactly what was going on in this topsy-turvy mystery.
Filled with puns and jokes, this picture book is a lot of fun. Using the framework of a vintage detective agency, this picture book borrows the lingo from that period as well, adding to the humor. Children may figure out the mystery along with I, but they may be surprised as well. No matter, the fun is in the language, the humor and the ride.
Macdonald’s illustrations allow the letters and numbers to pop on the page. They pay homage to vintage images using similar lines and colors. The letters and numbers have plenty of personality so they are distinct from one another as characters. Pay close attention to the small details as well. You wouldn’t want to miss the pi joke in the restaurant scene.
A mystery filled with humor, you can count on this to be a great read. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Disney-Hyperion.
The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby (9780062306937, Amazon)
This first book in a series introduces readers to an alternative New York City, filled with amazing machines built by the Morningstarr twins in the 1800’s. There are servant robots, skyscrapers, elevators that don’t just go up and down, beetle-machines that clean the roads, and many more. The Morningstarrs left behind a cipher to be solved that would lead to treasure, and even though people have worked for cipher for over fifty years, no solution has been found. Tess, Theo and Jaime live in one of the Morningstarr buildings that is unfortunately slated to be torn down. While their families scramble to find somewhere new to live, the three of them discover a potential new cipher that may lead them to the treasure and save the building they love. Now they just have to solve it.
Ruby has beautifully weaved an alternative New York City in this novel. She imagines it filled with amazing technology that has a magical element to it. It’s rather like magic-powered steampunk. She combines this with riddles and ciphers, puzzles to work out and then provides distinct villains to fight as well. The result is a book that is entirely delightful to read and impossible to put down as one new discovery immediately leads to another.
The three main characters are strongly written and offer a diverse cast. Tess keeps up and surpasses the boys at times, offering a strong feminist take on events as she does so. All of them are exceedingly bright in their own way, from being logical and sometimes robotic to looking at the world through art. There is a celebration of different intelligence types here that is great to see.
This mix of magic, technology, mysteries and ciphers is exceptional and just right for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Walden Pond Press.