Redwood & Ponytail: Book Review

This book in verse focuses on Kate, aka Ponytail, and Tam, aka Redwood. Their nicknames are fairly obvious based on their physical makeup, but it is sweet that they have secret names for each other. Both characters begin 7th grade and feel an immediate reaction to each other. While it is not surprising to Tam who is more in touch with her feelings and not afraid of being attracted to another girl, Kate has a lot to reckon with. Kate’s family life is complicated in that her mother wants to make every decision she thinks best for her children. This causes her older daughter, Jill, to leave the house to join the Navy and sever any sister-like bonds she has with Kate (this changes later in the book). Kate becomes a cheerleader, despite actually wanting to be the school mascot, works to be popular, and internalizes some homophobia as a result of her mother. Their relationship makes it tough for Kate to figure out who she really is and what she actually enjoys doing in life. Tam on the other hand has an incredibly supportive mother and lesbian neighbors who act as role models for her. Tam forces Kate to start questioning things, and the pair have many ups and downs as they try to figure out what their relationship means and how it may change both their lives.

I love K.A. Holt, and I love novels in verse. This book did not let me down! It was a quick, cute read I would recommend to any student who likes romance or a middle schooler trying to figure themselves out. Because it is in verse, it would also be great for a reluctant reader.

We Set the Dark on Fire: Book Review

In this society, all girls attend the Medio School for Girls and are sorted into 2 groups: Primera and Segunda. The former is known for brains and the latter for beauty. The book opens at graduation where Daniela Vargas is selected to be the Primera for the wealthiest bachelor, Mateo Garcia, with her arch nemesis, Carmen as the Segunda. We learn quickly that Dani is lying about her past and requires the unsolicited help of Sota, a leader of a rebellious group called La Voz. He then asks for favors in return in the form of spying on her new husband and his family. While Dani certainly doesn’t feel like she belongs in the rich and powerful world of the Garcia family, she isn’t sure if she should place her trust outside the family either. There are plenty of secrets and tense moments as well as some unexpected forbidden love.

we set the dark on fireThis book was a surprise for me. While we do have it labelled as fantasy in our library, it reminded me more of a sci-fi like Hunger Games or The Selection. The world is similar to ours (even eerily similar to the America/Mexico border….) so it doesn’t require worlld building or magical creatures. There is also plenty of romance mixed in, so it would be perfect for a specific type of reader. (I’m particularly thinking a female LGBTQ+ aligned junior who would love it.) One romantic scene is a little adult, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending it to ninth grade or below.

Mooncakes: Book Review

I realize I picked most of the graphic novels on the Hub Challenge reading list, and I haven’t regretted that choice! Mooncakes is a cute story about Nova finding her way as a witch in a hidden magical world. She lives with her two magical grandmothers who run a shop in town as well as protect magical creatures in the forest behind their house. Nova stumbles upon a fight between two creatures and realizes one is actually her old friend Tam in wolf form, struggling against a demon. Tam, who uses the pronouns they, and Nova have a romantic past (and present!) and bring out the best in each other mentally and magically. Tam helps Nova to see her hearing aids as an asset, and assures her that there is no rush to leave home to apply for magical apprenticeships elsewhere. The demon previously mentioned comes back to disrupt their lives and forces and all out magical war between good and evil. With equal parts love and warfare, this would be a sweet story for 6th grade and up.

Two Can Keep a Secret: Book Review

I would recommend Two Can Keep a Secret to quite a number of girls at our school. There have been many requests for something like Pretty Little Liars or Riverdale, and I think this book would fit that mold nicely. It’s dark, twists and turns, and would be great for a mature 8th grader or any high school student who loves murder mystery books.

Two Can Keep a SecretEllery and her twin brother Ezra just moved back to their mother’s hometown of Echo Ridge to live with their grandmother. While they know their mom is better off in rehab, they have never met their father, and are a little creeped out to move to the town where their Aunt Sarah went missing years ago. Mysteries multiply quickly when they come across a dead body lying in the middle of the road on their move into town. Ellery, a novice true crime detective, starts digging deeper into the story when one of her classmate’s, Brooke, goes missing. Her story sounds eerily similar to Sarah’s story, as well as the story of another teenage girl Lacey who was found murdered in the last 5 years. Though there are many characters to keep track of in this book, Karen McManus switches perspectives every chapter, helping give a fuller, more detailed picture of the town’s story. The mysteries are all solved in the end, with a last line that leaves you feeling a little cold and afraid.

Brave Face: Book Review

This is a heavy one. Shaun David Hutchinson overcame so much to get to this point where he could write a memoir of his life. The book begins in 8th grade at a private Catholic school in the 1990s in Florida. Shaun struggles to first figure out who he is, then that he is gay, and finally what being gay means to him. He cannot seem to find the right group or activity where he feels seen and included, so he experiments with different versions of himself. As time progresses, we read about Shaun’s evolving feelings towards queerness and its codependency with his depression. He writes about failed relationships with females, attempted relationships with males, self-cutting, smoking, writing, and an eventual suicide attempt. There are warnings before graphic sections, allowing the reader to choose what they feel comfortable learning. That being said, Shaun never writes for the sake of shock or awe. He writes to help readers feel seen and acknowledged and hopeful for a better future. This would be a good choice for older high school students floundering in their journey to understand themselves.

Bloom: Book Review

My favorite book so far in the Hub Challenge! Bloom, a graphic novel by Kevin Panetta. Especially during this time, it was so nice to read a book start to finish that involved growing up, discovering love, and …. sourdough! Ari’s parents own a bakery, so he is all too familiar with waking up early and starting the grind of baking. His dreams lie elsewhere though. He’d rather move to Baltimore with his band and try to make it as a musician. In order to train a new employee to take over for Ari, his parents hire Hector, a boy about Ari’s age who lives and breathes baking. The two get into a groove together, and Hector reveals some inner truths about Ari – he may like boys and may like baking. With a happy ending and recipes included, what’s not to love about Bloom?

Though the characters are in their late teens, there’s nothing inappropriate for middle school aged readers. If a student loves baking and graphic novels, this could be perfect for them!

Simon and Louise: Book Review

Another Hub Challenge book- this time a graphic novel! I had high hopes because of the reviews I read of this book, as well as a certain expectation because of the format. It looks similar to other realistic fiction graphic novels, like Babysitters ClubSisters, or Awkward, so my gut told me this would be a cute book perfect for our youngest middle school students. The story is told in two parts, the same story for different perspectives. Simon and Louise were dating at the end of the school year, but Louise changes her status of social media to reflect that she is now single for the start of a summer away from home. Simon decides to hitchhike his way to Louise to change her mind, so his story is more about heartbreak and adventure. Louise’s summer revolves around what her cousin wants to do which happens to be chasing boys. The theme  of the novel is supposed to be “miscommunication,” but I personally don’t feel it is portrayed well.

Simon and Louise

I was uncomfortable during several scenes where it felt like Simon may be hitchhiking with a sexual predator, Louise might be moving too quickly with a boy against her will, and strangely Simon is asked to skin a sheep to eat. The same curse word is also used frequently which may be attributed to the fact that it is a book translated from French. Regardless, while the illustrations are appealing, simple, and visually appear middle grade, I would not recommend it for students below 8th grade.

With the Fire on High: Book Review

While this has been on my list to read since it was published, I got around to reading With the Fire on High as part of the Hub Challenge for 2020. I also had the pleasure of seeing Elizabeth Acevedo speak at the last Books for the Beast hosted by the Enoch Pratt Library and can attest that she is proud and incredibly real in a way that comes through in her writing. The main character of this book, Emoni, is a single mother to Emma, aged two, living with her own abeula who is helping raise both girls. Emoni’s main passion is cooking, and she loves infusing her meals with inspiration from her Puerto Rican and southern-black roots. During her junior year, she is offered the chance to participate in a cooking elective which culminates in a class trip to Spain to apprentice with real-life chefs. While this may be her dream come true, she also has a daughter to think about and a grandmother who can’t continue putting her own life on hold for her family. Emoni grows into herself throughout the book and leaves you with an inspired, feel-good ending.

Recommended for grades 9+, or a very mature 8th grader who loves cooking.

We Are Displaced: Book Review

As part of the #HubChallenge2020, I read We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai. In it, she shares her own story of being an Internally Displaced Person, and then shares the personal stories of other girls she met visiting refugee camps and cities around the world.  It is a powerful book and avoids the trap of telling one story.  These girls are from different backgrounds, with different reasons for displacement and different outcomes. The numbers of refugees around the world is staggering, but like all large numbers, it is difficult to truly grasp.  This book helps make that number personal and builds empathy for the individuals experiencing displacement.

Recommended for students in grades 6+

We Are Displaced


2020-Reading-ChallengeTwo of our Severn librarians are participating in this year’s Hub Challenge from YALSA. To complete the challenge, we each need to read 25 books from this years Young Adult award winner and honor books and YALSA selected lists titles. The books must be read between March 1 and June 30 of this year.

For me, this challenge expands my usual reading choices and is a great way to find new authors and books to recommend to students.  So far, I’ve read six of my twenty-five books, and all six have been great.  (Review posts to come.)

Want to join?  Use the link in the beginning of this post to sign up for the challenge!