Unbreak My Heart – Melissa Walker

Unbreak My HeartTitle: Unbreak My Heart
Author: Melissa Walker

ISBN: 9781599905280
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 231
Price: $16.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (paperback)

Genre: Contemporary
Interest Age: 12 and up
Lexile Level: 690

Annotation: Clementine is heartbroken over events at school, but this summer vacation might heal her heart.

Plot Summary: All Clementine wants this summer is personal space to nurse her broken heart. During the school year, she fell hard for her best friend’s boyfriend and now she is a social pariah at school. So drifting away this summer on her parents sailboat with her family sounds pretty fantastic. When she meets James and his father at one of the stops and they become friendly, will he help heal her broken heart?

Critical Evaluation: Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker was definitely a great book to usher in summer. Set during the season, the story has travel elements as well as a potential summer romance – two things that I like to read about, especially during summer. Make no mistake though, this is not a light hearted novel on the fun times of summer – the heart of Walker’s book focuses on relationships, betrayals and most of all, forgiveness.

While the natural feeling is to hate Clem for going after her best friend’s boyfriend, Walker has written Clem as a pretty sympathetic character. She’s definitely flawed with her bratty and selfish moments. There were times when I wanted to shake her for the way she treats her family. However, her actions and emotions are realistic and natural given she’s a teenager with her heart broken and reeling from intense emotions. Walker’s use of flashbacks to showcase the events leading up to Clem and Amanda’s break in friendship lend to Clem’s sympathetic characterization. I definitely felt for Clem after what happened. Especially when it comes to light that she’s the one saddled with the majority of the blame, while The Boy gets off scot-free. Speaking of the characters, I love love love the secondary characters. Walker has definitely created a fun, likable crew of characters. For example, Clem’s parents. Too often when I read YA, the parents are either terrible, dead or never much on the page. This isn’t the case here. The positive relationship they have with their children is one that I would like to see more often in YA. I also adore the sibling relationship between Clem and Olive as well as the run ins with the older couple, Ruth and George.

To tell you the truth, I know nothing about boats and sailing so I cannot say if Walker’s portrayal of this world is realistic, but I can tell you that I enjoyed her illustrations of sailing life. The nautical aspects of the story add to the story and never slow the pacing. Additionally, Walker makes it fun with the puns Clem and company encounter throughout the trip. Overall, I enjoyed my time with this book. Walker has created a emotionally driven story with great characterization and a common theme that can be relatable to most teens.

Author Bio: Melissa Walker has worked as “ELLEgirl “Features Editor and “Seventeen “Prom Editor. She is the author of “Small Town Sinners,” the Violet on the Runway series, and “Lovestruck Summer.” Melissa manages the daily e-newsletter, iheartdaily.com and handles blogging for readergirlz.com. (via Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Summer, sailing, best friend breakup, family

Challenge Issues: This sweet love story is pretty vanilla, but if this were challenged I would mention that sometimes light hopeful love stories can be a balm to the harsher darker stories in YA literature. Additionally, Kirkus give it a positive review saying “Walker’s compassion and emotional insight, lauded in her well-received Small Town Sinners (2011), are strengths, as is the setting. From vessels named with groan-inducing puns like Sea Ya to the challenges of shipboard sanitation, she brings the insulated boating world to life with knowledgeable affection. A quietly absorbing journey.”

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

The OutsidersTitle: The Outsiders
Author: S. E. Hinton

ISBN: 9780140385724
Publisher: Puffin Books
Publication Date: 1967
Pages: 192
Price: $17.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (paperback) $25.00 (audio)

Genre: Contemporary
Interest Age: 12 and up
Lexile Level: 750

Annotation: Struggling in a difficult world, all Ponyboy Curtis wants is a place to belong.

Plot Summary: To Ponyboy Curtis, there are two types of people in the world – Socs and Greasers. Socs have money and can get away with almost anything. Greasers live on the outside and always have to watch their back. Ponyboy, a member of the Greasers gang, was walking home after watching a movie when a rival gang, the Socs, jump him. His brother, Sodapop, and other members of the gang rescue him. The next night at the movies, he and Johnny meet two girls at a drive-in movie theatre and realize there are nothing like the Socs they met before. Walking them home, they are stopped by Socs and a fight almost happens. Coming home late, his brother and guardian, Darry, yells at him and Sodapop devolving into a strike to his face. Angry, Ponyboy runs away from home and meets up with Johnny to run away. As they are walking in a park, they run into the same drunken Socs from earlier and they attempt to drown Ponyboy. Frightened, Johnny defends his friend accidentally stabbing Bob causing his death. To escape the death punishment, they run off and hide in an abandoned church. Hiding for a couple days, they decide to turn themselves in and head home. Before they can do so, a fire starts at the church and kids are trapped inside. Ponyboy and Johnny run back in to save them, but they do not escape unscathed.

Critical Evaluation: The Outsiders is about a group of teenagers who the world has forgotten. About teenagers from the wrong side of the tracks and fighting against the world perception of them. Small town prejudice and judgements based on appearances. Mostly, it’s about trying to find your place in the world and realizing we are not too difference from each other when it comes to the fundamentals – pain, loss, honor. All themes and messages that still matter today. Spot on characters with heartbreaking stories that you cannot help rooting for and authentic dialogue full of slang that drags you into their world. A fantastic and hopeful portrayal of the human spirit.

Author Bio: S. E. Hinton was the first author to receive the Young Adult Services Division/School Library Journal Award for Life Achievement, and has received numerous other awards and honors. Her gritty and powerful novels have also inspired four major motion pictures. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (via Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Gangs, Families, Class Conflict, Honor

Challenge Issues: The Outsiders have been challenged before on various reasons from gang violence to broken families to underage drinking. I would cite this fantastic NYT article talking about the book 40+ years later or this NPR article. I would also mention the rich themes in the novel and that it is consider a classic in YA literature.

Weetzie Bat – Francesca Lia Block

Weetzie BatTitle: Weetzie Bat
Author: Francesca Lia Block

ISBN: 9780060736255
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: 1989
Pages: 128
Price: $7.99 (paperback)

Genre: Magical Realism
Interest Age: 14 and up
Reading Level: 6.29

Annotation: Follow the lives of Weetzie Bat and her friends as they explore Los Angeles and find love.

Plot Summary: When Weetzie Bat and Dirk meet in high school and they hit it right off. They explore and gallivant around LA together with a friendship that never falters when Dirk comes out as gay. Having trouble on their search for true love and their perfect men, they are presented a magic lamp which grants 3 wishes – a “duck” for Dirk, a My Secret Agent Lover man, and a house for them all to live in. With love found, Weetzie Bat, Dirk and their partners are content for awhile until Weetzie Bat decides she wants a baby. My Secret Agent Love man does not want one and he leaves for a while. During that time, Weetzie Bat ends up pregnant by Dirk or Duck. When My Secret Agent Lover Man returns, he reveals his reasons and all four live together as a unique, magical family.

Critical Evaluation: For a slim book, Francesca Lia Block crafts a beautiful magical love letter to Los Angeles. The writing is descriptive and evocative, crafting detailed characterizations and magical stories. In a short chapter, Weetzie Bat is described as a girl who loves the memories of Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin, wears Harlequin glasses and ’50s taffeta dresses, and sews fringes in the side of her minis. Block uses the evocative writing and magical realism to tackle issues of blended families, premarital sex, homosexuality, and AIDS. This creates a dreamy landscape where true love is possible for everyone and attainable. Additionally, the casual acceptance of Dirk’s homosexuality and the happy ending for Dirk’s character was a new concept when the book came out. Most gay characters did not have joyful endings or positive futures. In this book, they do.

Author Bio: Francesca Lia Block is renowned for her groundbreaking literary works, including the best-selling Weetzie Bat. Her writing transports readers through the harsh landscapes of contemporary life to realms of the senses where love is a saving grace. She lives in Los Angeles. She has received numerous honors, including the Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award and the Phoenix Award, as well as citations from the American Library Association, The New York Times Book Review, and School Library Journal. (via Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: LGBTQ Literature

Booktalking Ideas: Magical realism, Los Angeles, manic pixie dream girl

Challenge Issues: Weetzie Bat is a book also on the challenged lists because of a few factors including Dirk’s sexuality. Besides this off-beat, quirky story, the story is importance because Weetzie Bat is one of the first YA books that have positive endings for its queer characters. It is a vital resource for queer and HIV positive teens. The book was also recognized and awarded the 2009 Phoenix Award.

The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier

The Chocolate WarTitle: The Chocolate War
Author: Robert Cormier

ISBN: 9780375829871
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 1974
Pages: 253
Price: $8.99 (paperback)

Genre: Contemporary
Interest Age: 12 and up
Lexile Level: 820

Annotation: Devastating consequences await freshman Jerry Renault when he refuses to participate in the school’s annual chocolate fundraising drive.

Plot Summary: As Jerry Renault starts his first year at Trinity, an all boys Catholic School, he is coping with depressing feelings and existential questions left after his mother’s death. He quickly ends up on the football team making friends with a fellow teammate Goober. At the same time, Brother Leon, the vice-principal of Trinity, extends his ambitions by committing the school to selling twice the amount it did the previous year. To meet this goal, Brother Leon meets with Archie Costello, the leader of the Vigils – a cruel secret society of student pranksters, to garner his support. While Archie promises Brother Leon the Vigils support, he has his own plan of alternately supporting and betraying the sale using freshman assignments to do so. The first part is using Jerry to decline selling chocolates for ten days. After the ten days, Jerry continues to pass on selling chocolate causing a break with both the Vigils and Brother Leon. At first, the school rallies behind Jerry calling his actions heroic for standing up to the school and the Vigils which threatens their power. Archie and the Vigils put their full force behind the sale creating a narrative that sets up Jerry to be harassed and bullied culminating in a showdown boxing match where students decide the blows from a randomized lottery system. Midway through the fight, a teacher shuts down the lights and Jerry is brutalized. While Archie is fingered as the mastermind, Brother Leon intervenes on his behalf and they get away with their cruelty.

Critical Evaluation: Stripped down, The Chocolate War is a well-paced story about conformity and corruption. When Jerry Renault makes decisions that go against the grain, both the vice principal and the secret society manipulate students into a cruel and harsh mob. Cormier captures the adolescent period well – a time where the acceptance of peers is crucial. A period where most teens can easily relate to. Additionally, the reality of high school in all its’ ridiculousness and hell is captured throughout the novel. For example, the cruelty and beatings of Jerry over a simple no. The easy passing of judgment and the bullying of those who go against the norm. What struck me is Cromier’s uncompromising portrayal of human nature. Jerry, Archie Costello, Brother Leon characterization were superbly done and Cromier was not afraid to push the envelope. Archie and Brother’s ambition and human cruelty, Goober’s actions and choices, Jerry’s stubborn tenacity all feel real and true to life. Besides the human cruelty of the characters, Cromier’s ending of The Chocolate War follows a similar pattern to his characterization – very tell it like it is. The only failing of this novel is the lack of nuanced female characterization. Most mentions of women at all in tied to the sexual ponderings of various characters and the way they are presented is fairly disgusting.

Author Bio: Robert Cormier (1925-2000) changed the face of young adult literature over the course of his illustrious career. His many books include “The Chocolate War,” “I Am the Cheese,” “Fade,” “Tenderness,” “After the First Death,” “Heroes,” “Frenchtown Summer,” and “The Rag and Bone Shop.” In 1991 he received the Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring his lifetime contribution to writing for teens. (from Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Secret Societies, Bullying, Peer Pressure, YA Classic

Challenge Issues: The Chocolate War is a book frequently on the frequently challenged/banned books list for the number of times it has been challenged in schools and libraries for the portrayal of mob mentality in schools and the sexual pondering of characters. To defend this title, I would mention the various awards it won during the book’s year of publication including ALA Best Books of the Year, NYT Notable Books of the Year, SLJ Book of the Award and the various review sources praise it got. Additionally, it’s status as a YA classic and the important theme present make this a must for collections.

Losing Faith – Denise Jaden

losing faithTitle: Losing Faith
Author: Denise Jaden

ISBN: 9781416996095
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 381
Price: $9.99 (paperback)

Genre: Contemporary
Interest Age: 14 and up
Lexile Level: 700

Annotation: Full of questions and struggling with the loss of her sister, Brie decides to look into her final night alive.

Plot Summary: Brie’s family is broken when her older sister, Faith, dies by falling off a cliff. Faith was always the good sister with her songbird voice and devout Christian faith. Her parents drift apart, each absorbed in their own grief. Left alone by the parents, Brie does not want to weep, she’s angry at the world and she wants answers to the last moments of Faith’s life. Together with new friends Tess and Alis, Brie starts digging into her sister’s life.

Critical Evaluation: Overall, Losing Faith is a story about death, the people left behind and how they grieve. The thread that connects most of the character is their loss of a love one and how each person has a unique way of dealing with the pain. Jaden adds a twist to the story with Brie’s investigation on the mysterious death of her sister, Faith. What shines in this story is how Jaden approaches the themes of death, grief and faith. Through the different families, Jaden reveals how the death of a love one can tear apart a family. In Tessa family, her mother left because her father could not move on. Brie’s father buries himself in work, while her mom loses faith in religion and closes herself off. Both become overprotective of Brie, yet ignoring Brie’s longing for comfort. Alis’ father spend long periods of time on the road and his sister finds salvation in religion. Also using the different character, Jaden displays different ideas of faith. How faith can be a balm of the living and how faith can sometimes go too far.

What needs polishing is the mystery element of the story and some of the relationships between characters. Why would Alis tell Brie (who he just met) all about his crazy sister, especially if it might implicate her in Faith’s death? Especially since she’s all he has since his father never there. It was a little too unrealistic for me. And the mystery plot needed some work. The climax where everything was revealed seemed rushed and forced. I didn’t think there was enough of a established foundation to have to cult thing thrown in so late and I don’t know if I missed it, but how did someone with Faith’s strong testament in her religion get involved in something like that? I just think that the mystery needed some tighter plotting. Losing Faith was a good distracting read and has its good parts, but there was nothing extraordinary about it. It could have been great with stronger characters, a tighter mystery and a more tied up plot. To sum up, I liked it, but with reservations.

Author Bio: Denise Jaden lives just outside Vancouver, Canada. When she s not writing, she can often be found homeschooling her son or dancing with her Polynesian dance troupe. “Losing Faith “was her first novel. Find out more at denisejaden.com or follow her on Twitter at @denisejaden.

Tie to Curriculum Units: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Christian faith, death, cults, sisters

Challenge Issues: A finalist in INSPYs Blogger Award for Faith-Driven Literature, Losing Faith can be a powerful book to teens coping with loss and grief. Additionally, the book’s portrayal of diverse perspectives on faith adds variety to the collection.

The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson

Name of the StarTitle: The Name of the Star
Author: Maureen Johnson

ISBN: 9780399256608
Publisher: G.P. Putnam & Sons
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 368
Price: $16.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (paperback) $9.99 (audio)

Genre: Paranormal, Mystery
Interest Age: 12 and up
Lexile Level: 710

Annotation: On Rory Deveaux first day in London, a murderer struck mimicking Jack the Ripper.

Plot Summary: Aurora “Rory” Deveaux has spent her life growing up in a small town in Louisiana where gators are common and she’s surrounded by her quirky family members from her aunt who runs an angel business to her uncle who owns eight freezers and doesn’t believe in banks. When her parents get a job teaching in England, she gets a choice to stay or go. Rory decides to go and she arrives in London at the worst possible time. The day she lands in London is the same day a murderer has struck London. Not just any killer, but one that is copying the work of Jack the Ripper. All anyone can talk about is the Ripper copycat and despite the presence of cameras everywhere, there are few leads and even fewer witnesses. Until Rory sees a man one night the same night a body was found. Soon she gets caught in the middle of “Rippermania” and a very top secret police force.

Critical Evaluation: In short, The Name of the Star, takes a gruesome topic (Jack the Ripper) and ghosts spinning it in Johnson’s trademark clever and humorous manner. To elaborate, the Jack the Ripper plot line could easily veer into the macabre with elaborate details about the killer’s methodology, victims, etc. yet it never gets that way. There is touches of grim, but Maureen Johnson also infuses the story with humor that it balances out. I also enjoy the way Johnson approaches the ghost mythology. It’s unique and believable – well, as much as ghosts are. I also enjoy Johnson’s characters. Rory’s voice is comical, strong, and unique. Her tangents about life in Louisana and her quirky family levy the chilling atmosphere set by the strange murders. However, Johnson doesn’t put her eggs in one basket. I really enjoy my time with her cast of secondary characters from Claudia, the field hockey loving house-mom, to Charlotte, the prim head girl. Additionally the way romance is handled is a bonus. It is not girl-meets-boy and “I’ll love you forever” kind of romance, which seem to dominate YA literature. Rather it’s “you’re cute so let’s just make out since it probably is one of the more normal things going on in my life right now”. The romance does not dominate the story line.

Author Bio: Maureen Johnson is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven young adult novels, as well as several coauthored works. She lives in New York City and spends far too much time online. (via Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Jack the Ripper, Ghosts, London, New Kid, Boarding School,

Challenge Issues: The Name of the Star has been nominated for various state awards and garner positive reviews including this from VOYA “Although the author mines some familiar tropes here, like snooty boarding schools, ghost busting, and seeing dead people, she does so with enough flair that nothing seems tired or recycled. Best of all, although some threads are left open for the rest of the series, the main story is concluded thoroughly enough to let this novel stand on its own, something that is rare in the series-laden literary landscape of today.”

The Mockingbirds – Daisy Whitney

The MockingbirdsTitle: The Mockingbirds
Author: Daisy Whitney

ISBN: 9780316090537
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: 339
Price: $16.99 (hardcover) $8.99 (paperback)

Genre: Contemporary
Interest Age: 14 to 17
Lexile Level: 720

Annotation: Date raped at a party and seeking justice, Alex goes to The Mockingbirds – a secret society dedicated to justice.

Plot Summary: A standout classical musician, Alex Patrick thought she was just enjoying a night off with friends at her boarding school, Themis Academy. When she wakes up the next day in a strange bed naked, she has no memory of the previous night. As fragment memories return, she realizes she was rape. The thought of facing the boy who took advantage of her everyday or telling the authorities makes her anxious and sick. Instead, she turns to a secret group of students bent on serving justice, The Mockingbirds, to investigate and deliver justice.

Critical Evaluation: The Mockingbirds opens with Alex waking up in an unknown person’s bed with no memory of the night before. She had sex, but she never remembers consenting. As fragments of the night comes back, Alex realizes that she been raped. What follows is an exceptional debut book about a young girl’s stand for justice. Complex and authentic, Whitney weaves a story that’s part courtroom drama and part emotional journey as Alex struggles to find her self and her voice in the aftermath of her rape.

I really love this book. It was one of my favorite debut novels of 2010. The characters and plot were so skillfully crafted that this is an impressive story that I would advocate every teen and their parent read this book. Alex’s characterization felt very spot-on and realistic as she struggles with her feelings of doubt, guilt, shame, etc. as she attempts to feel ‘normal’ again. Her vulnerability and strength as she confronts her demons and her rapist definitely got me rooting for her. I also enjoyed the strong secondary female characters Whitney writes. Maia, Amy, T.S., etc. were all incredible characters as they help support Alex through her healing process. My internal feminist was definitely jumping up and down as these characters appeared on the page. Additionally, Whitney does not fall into the trap of characterizing all the boys as one-dimensional stereotypes. There were the jerks (Carter), but she also has Jones and Martin, boys who have a strong moral code and different ideas on how to approach justice.

One major aspect that I notice in many reviews is the commentary that Carter did not get a fitting enough punishment for his crime. Date rape is something that needs to be address by the public legal system and that he should be given time in prison, etc.. I don’t disagree with that statement. Rape is a serious issue and I completely agree that Carter should be given a harsher sentence, but given the confines of the premise, the punishment the Mockingbirds give for the guilt sentence is as far as their power can go. Because the Mockingbirds is a student-run society, anything harsher is out of their reach. The other comments I notice is about the version of justice that the Mockingbirds use on Carter. I can understand their point, but my counterpoint is that since the Mockingbirds is not a formal court of justice, they have to use other avenues to ensure that the accuse show up for the case and accept their punishment if found guilty. If they did not use ways to compel the accused to show up, how will they tried the case or punish someone, the Mockingbirds will be an ineffective group. And it is very checks and balance as attest by Alex when she signed the contract. If Alex was found lying, she’ll have to accept punishment.

“Sexual assault is against the standards to which Themis students hold themselves. Sexual assault is sexual contact (not just intercourse) where one of the parties has not given or cannot give active verbal consent, i.e., uttered a clear “yes” to the action. If a person does not say “no” that does not mean he or she said “yes.” Silence does not equal consent. Silence could mean fear, confusion, inebriation. The only thing that means yes is yes. A lack of yes is a no.”

This quote above is one of the most candid messages I read about rape in a YA book and one of the best messages in this book. Especially today, where society still stigmatizes women for not being a virgin or acting morally (getting drunk or high, dressing provactively, etc.). And if they do act unmoral, they are therefore “asking for it.” The Mockingbirds empowers women with its strong message that rape isn’t simply the act of sexual intercourse and that being drunk or expressing sexuality through clothes or words is not an agreement to sex. That silence does not equal consent. And a lack of yes is a no. These messages alone makes The Mockingbirds a must-read for anybody and everybody, but combined with the awesome characters and plot, its not only empowering, but page-turning as well.

Author Bio: Daisy Whitney reports on television, media and advertising for a range of news outlets. She graduated from Brown University and lives in San Francisco, California, with her fabulous husband, fantastic kids, and adorable dogs. Daisy believes in karma and that nearly every outfit is improved with a splash of color. She is the author of “The Mockingbirds” novels, “When You Were Here,” and “Starry” “Nights.” Daisy invites you to follow her online at DaisyWhitney.com.

Tie to Curriculum Units: Sex Ed – Consent

Booktalking Ideas: Student justice, Harper Lee, date rape, boarding school, secret societies

Challenge Issues: Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and School Library review states “Written with a deep awareness of post-trauma experience and a keen ear for high school dialogue, this novel makes an impassioned case for youth taking responsibility for the actions of their peers.”

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight – Jennifer E. Smith

Statistical ProbabilityTitle: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Author: Jennifer E. Smith

ISBN: 9780316122382
Publisher: Poppy Books
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 256
Price: $17.99 (hardcover) $10.00 (paperback)

Genre: Contemporary – Love Stories
Interest Age: 13 to 17
Lexile Level: 1060

Annotation: A missed flight and a chance meeting is how Hadley’s love story starts.

Plot Summary: 17 year old Hadley is heading to London to watch her father marry the woman he left their family for, but she misses her flight by four minutes. Despite her reluctance to attend this wedding, Hadley settles for a long wait at the airport for the next flight. By chance, her seat mate is a charming British student, Oliver, who helped her in the terminal earlier. He lends a hand again assisting her calming her fear of claustrophobia. They end up bonding during the air travel and even share a kiss, despite Oliver’s evasion of his reason for traveling. Separated at arrival, Hadley navigates her feelings about her father’s new life and finding Oliver before her return home.

Critical Evaluation: Hadley only misses her flight by four minutes and in that time, it changes her life. The Statistical Probability of Love at Sight is a story about random connections, a theme that is charming in a world so driven by technology and social networking. Given the premise, I completely thought this book would be a light romantic comedy about two teenagers falling madly in love. I completely misjudged it. While the romance does feature in the novel, both Hadley and Oliver have their own separate demons they must face. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is much a story about romantic love as it is about familial love. Hadley’s still reeling from the destruction her dad left when he took off for a semester teaching at Oxford and fell in love with the city as well as another woman. She did not want to be at the airport in the first place; flying off to attend her dad’s wedding to “that other woman”. I really felt for Hadley and her antics are sympathetic given the situation and relationship with her father. Given the short nature of the connection between Hadley and Oliver, it can be hard to realistically create a believable romance. But Jennifer E. Smith does it and it such a short book too! Her writing style made me feel like I was with Hadley every step of the way from the airport to the plane and dashing around London.  And I was right there as she started falling… A sweet, charming read for fans of Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins.

Author Bio: Jennifer E. Smith is the author of”Hello, “Goodbye and Everything in Between, “The Geography of You and Me”, “This Is What Happy Looks Like”, “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight”, “The Storm Makers”, “You Are Here”, and “The Comeback Season”. She earned her master s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews, and her work has been translated into thirty languages. (via Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: meet-cute, one-day time frame, London, love at first sight

Challenge Issues: For a romance story, The Statistical Probability of Love Sight is very sweet and never ventures beyond kissing. However, if this book was challenged, I would mention the strong reviews including this from VOYA: “The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight is a sweet, character-driven, romantic comedy with plenty of twists to keep readers engaged and is sure to delight teens from beginning to end. Young adult readers will enjoy reading about Hadley and Oliver, two characters who are familiar, witty, and have terrific chemistry together. This book is highly recommended and would be a great addition to any library serving teens who enjoy romance and realistic fiction. Be prepared to have this book fly of the shelves.”

The Naturals – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The NaturalsTitle: The Naturals
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

ISBN: 9781423168232
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: 2013
Pages: 308
Price: $17.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (paperback)

Genre: Mystery & Crime
Interest Age: 12 to 17
Lexile Age: 690

Annotation: 17-year old profiler, Cassie, joins a secret program in the FBI to help solve cold cases.

Plot Summary: Seventeen year old Cassie used to travel the country with her psychic mom. Taught at a young age to read people, Cassie has a natural affinity for profiling and she uses it to help her mom out at her shows. This was her life until her mom disappeared from her dressing room one day. Now living with her grandparents, Cassie maintains a quiet life profiling customers in the diner she waitressing at. Until an FBI agent shows up and offers her a place in their off-the-books program. A program for teens like her to help solve cold cases. Desperate for answers about her mother, she joins hoping to solve the question of her mother’s disappearance one day. Soon she realizes that this program might be more than she bargained for and her fellow teens might take getting use to like Michael, who reads emotions like she reads people, Lia, a human lie detector, and Dean, a fellow profiler. When a case stumps the FBI and a serial killer makes contact, Cassie and her friends must piece together the pieces before the killer catches up to them.

Critical Evaluation: A page-turning thriller, The Naturals is the start of so-far a three book series. Barnes takes readers behind the scenes of crime-solving and criminal profiling through Cassie’s outsiders narrative as she enters the secret FBI program and meets other teens like her. The storytelling never feels clunky, even when describing the various processes behind solving crimes and the various characters have intriguing stories of their own. Besides Cassie’s narrative, Barnes interjects short chapters with a mysterious serial killer narrative keeping the story’s tone tense and creepy. The lack of supernatural will appeal to those teens who want a real no-nonsense action story. However, the secondary romantic love triangle is most unnecessary to the story, but it does help win some readers as it tempts them towards the following books. After all, this book does not answer who Cassie will end up with. While this book does venture toward potential challenging topics like serial killers and sexual crimes, Barnes does a fantastic job of not overly describing gory scenes or gratuitous violence. Great appeal for the younger teen set and for fans of I’ll Tell You I Love You, But Then I’ve to Kill You series or the Criminal Minds/Law and Order tv shows.

Author Bio: Jennifer Lynn Barnes has written several acclaimed young adult novels. She has advanced degrees in psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive science. She received her PhD from Yale University this year and is now a professor in psychology. You can find her online at http://www.jenniferlynnbarnes.com or follow her on Twitter @jenlynnbarnes. (from image)

Tie to Curriculum Units: Criminal Psychology

Booktalking Ideas: Criminal Minds(tv show) for teens, mysterious pasts, page turning thriller, serial killers, love triangle

Challenge Issues: The Naturals is a nominee for various state awards and has strong reviews from various review sources including this VOYA bit “Although the novel contains the same YA trope of so many—a girl finds herself attracted to two boys, one quiet and brooding, and the other charming, mysterious, and devastatingly handsome—the potential romance is only a small element of a tightly paced suspense novel that will keep readers up until the wee hours to finish.”

Draw the Dark – Ilsa J. Bick

Draw the DarkTitle: Draw the Dark
Author: Ilsa J. Bick

ISBN: 9780761356868
Publisher: Carolrhonda Books
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: 338
Price: $16.95 (hardcover) $9.95 (paperback) $19.99 (audio)

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Interest Age: 14 to 17
Lexile Level: 790

Annotation: Christian Cage’s vivid visions led him to dark secrets the town has been hiding for years.

Plot Summary: In Winter, Wisconsin, there are some things best forgotten. A murder in 1945. The near-suicide of an elementary school teacher. The disappearance of Christian Cage’s parents. Christian doesn’t want to forgot. He has obsessively drawn and painted their images since their disappearance. However, that is not the only images he draws. For some reason, he can hear and illustrate the thoughts of those around him. Voices from the sideways place tell him their deepest fears and when he draws it, they die. When strange swastikas show up painted on buildings and people start dying, fingers are pointing to him. Soon waking nightmares consume him as he dreams of WWII events from the eyes of a young Jewish boy. Driven to understand, Christian starts researching long-forgotten events in Winter, Wisconsin during WWII.. events that many believe are best left buried.

Critical Evaluation: In this story, debut author Bicks weaves 1940s American into the life of contemporary teen, Christian. As Christian sleepwalks and draws, he is pulled into the town’s past. Into a history that many would like to keep buried. I was amazed at the skill Bicks had in combining the historical with the fantastical to build a suspenseful mystery. She didn’t veer off into too much history, though I probably wouldn’t have minded, nor did she overdo the fantasy. It was just the right mix of both to move the story along.

While I initially picked it up for the historical elements, it was hard not to care about Christian Cage. His parents disappeared as a child and he was raised by the town sheriff. Due to the rumors about the disappearance of his parents and an unfortunate suicide of his first grade teacher (which some of the townspeople blame him for), he grew up pretty much a loner. The only thing he cares about is his art and finding a way into the ‘sideways place’. Christian is a gifted artist, but his gifts extend beyond his drawing skills. He draws the things people fear the most. Their deepest, darkest secrets that they lock away. So he isolates himself from people. To keep them from getting hurt. To stop himself from unintentionally hurting other people.

Draw the Dark is a great book. Once I started, I lost myself in Winter, Winconsin as Christian attempts to figure out the messages his blackouts and dreams are telling him. Ilsa J. Bick definitely created a intricate mystery that will engage readers, both male and female.

Author Bio: Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, film scholar, former Air Force major, and now a full-time author. Her critically acclaimed, award-winning YA novels include Draw the Dark, Drowning Instinct, and Ashes (a 2011 VOYA Perfect Ten). Ilsa currently lives in rural Wisconsin, near a Hebrew cemetery. One thing she loves about the neighbors: they re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon. (from Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: Nazis, 20th Century US History

Booktalking Ideas: Nazis in America, Supernatural, Small town mystery, creepy dreams, secrets

Challenge Issues: Draw the Dark has received favorable reviews from a variety of review sources including a star review from School Library Journal. Additionally, Bick’s provides a new historical perspective of US involvement in WWII that rarely is covered in history.