Sunday, June 30, 2024

Skip by Sarah Burgess - OPTIONAL

Skip
by Sarah Burgess
, 256 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL Andrew McMeel Publishing, 2023. $15 

Language: G; Mature Content: PG (questioning gender); Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - OPTIONAL 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

Jay is shy, feels invisible, and questions whether they are a boy or a girl. Jay feels like a nobody and struggles with friendships. Beah, on the otherhand, knows what she wants and is a force to be reckoned with. Beah is all about Double Dutch street skipping. Jay's friendship with Beah is a game changer for Jay, but Jay and Beah still need to understand themselves. 

 Jay is trying to understand themselves and how they fit into the world. Jay's insecurities can resonate with middle school readers. Sometimes the text is difficult to read because it gets super small in places. I'm not sure if Jay and Beah are just friends or are becoming something more. Beah is black and Jay is nonbinary white. 

 Michelle in the Middle 

Shiny Misfits by Maysoon Zayid, illustrated by Shadia Amin - ESSENTIAL

Shiny Misfits
by Maysoon Zayid, illustrated by Shadia Amin
, 256 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL Graphix (Scholastic), 2024. 415 

Language: G (0 swears) Mature Content: G Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ESSENTIAL 

APPEALS TO: MANY 

Bay Ann is in middle school and she wants to shine. She wins the school talent show with her tap routine, but when her classmate, Alyee Maq, steps up to accept his second place trophy, she wobbles and almost falls and Alyee catching her goes viral. Bay Ann has cerebral palsy and doesn't want to be seen only as her disability but as the best. She does everything in her power to beat Alyee at his attention seeking game. 

The characters are great. Bay Ann is flawed, but her angst about getting clicks and going viral is relatable. Bay Ann talks to her cat who answers in rhyme. My favorite character is the teacher, who makes me smile. It is interesting to see how Bay Ann deals with her disability and even works it to her advantage. I love the diversity of the characters and their situations, the humor, the art, and the divorced parents. It all works together to make a fun and compelling read. The two main characters and their families are Arab American. 

Michelle in the Middle School 

Saturday, June 29, 2024

The House of the Lost on the Cape by Sachiko Kashiwaba and Yukiko Saito - OPTIONAL

The House of the Lost on the Cape
by Sachiko Kashiwaba, illustrated by Yukiko Saito (translated from Japanese by Avery Fischer Udagawa)
, 224 pages. Yonder, 2023. $18. 

Language: G (0 swears 0 'f'); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG (attempted kidnapping, monster violence, some pets and people injured - not gory) 

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - OPTIONAL 

APPEALS TO: SOME 

Yui and Hiyori are strangers on a train, but when an earthquake followed by a tsunami destroys the town they have stopped in, they find themselves together in a shelter. When an old woman, Obächan, mistakes them for her daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Yui goes along with it and they begin a new life as a family. Renting a house near the sea, Hiyori, is enrolled in the 5th grade at the local school, and although she has been silent since the death of her parents, she quickly makes a friend. But the twin disasters have opened a portal that may have released a dangerous monster. Good thing Obächan has connections to the magical world and knows a thing or two about protecting her community. 

I struggled to keep track of all the characters, as The House of the Lost on the Cape was obviously written for a Japanese audience who would be familiar with the mythology. There's not much world-building, and my digital copy didn't have a glossary. I'm certain a Japanese reader, or someone with more cultural knowledge than I would find it engaging and exciting. The suspense was well delivered, and the battle with the Sea Snake was satisfying, but I was painfully aware I was missing a huge part of the story. The characters are Japanese 

Lisa Librarian 

Unstoppable Us: Why the World Isn't Fair by Yuval Noah Harari and Ricard Zaplana Ruiz, - ADVISABLE

Unstoppable Us: Why the World Isn't Fair by Yuval Noah Harari and Ricard Zaplana Ruiz, 181 pages. NON-FICTION. Bright Matter Books, 2024. $25. 9780593711521

CONTENT: PG (The book discusses wars, discrimination, and more)

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE

APPEALS TO: MANY

"Unstoppable Us" follows humanity for thousands of years. We learn about the beginnings of civilization, farming, inventions, discovery, and more. With this, we also learn about oppression, unfair systems, world events, disasters, etc. In this book, we can learn about the good and bad about humanity and remember it. This book is a funny, interesting choice for older kids that want to learn more about the world around them and appreciate a darker sense of humor.

This book was a funny perspective of human civilization and how we've evolved and learned. By covering almost every topic, we learn through illustrations and fun facts about how humans have come to be. This book covers inequality and discrimination in a way that's respectful but funny. The book addresses homosexuality, different cultures, and more.

Bryant Baird, Librarian



15 Secrets to Survival by Natalie D. Richards - OPTIONAL

15 Secrets to Survival
by Natalie D. Richards
, 376 pages. Delacorte (Random House), 2023. $18.

Language: G (0 swears 0 'f'); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG (Peril, injuries) 

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - OPTIONAL 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

12yo Baxter, Turner, Abigail and Emerson have known each other since pre-school. Their parents are friends, but they are not - more like frenemies. So when the group starts arguing with each other and saying mean things on a group chat during a school competition, they are disqualified and given an alternate assignment. As a team building activity, the children are delivered to Baxter's great Uncle Hornsby - a survivalist - in the mountains of northern Montana (and it's December). But what they think is survival training turns into life and death as Uncle Hornby disappears and the kids find themselves alone in the wilderness. 

Wow, so much peril - winter, snow storms, collapsing shed, frozen rivers, an avalanche, dangerous wildlife, oh, and they have an 18 month old little sister with them. It felt like a bit much for the 2 days? they were together. Uncle Hornsby is portrayed as super elderly - so many wrinkles - and I puzzle at the wisdom of the parents just dropping the kids off and heading to Aruba. All in all, exciting, as the action never stops - they go from one dangerous situation right into the next, I'm not sure some of them might have permanent injuries. A bit long for middle grade, nearly 400 pages. The author gives us hair colors, but races are not defined, so the characters default white. 

Lisa Librarian 

Friday, June 28, 2024

Kaya and the Lizard Riders by Wes Craig - ADVISABLE

Kaya and the Lizard Riders, Book 1 by Wes Craig
, 160 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL Image Comics, Inc. 2023. $10 

Language: G (2 swears) Mature Content: G Violence: PG (fighting, death, destruction) 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

Kaya is a young girl who must take her 8yo brother to a safe haven after their village is destroyed. He is a prince and may be the answer to a prophecy. The siblings have not grown up together, and while the prince still thinks he can give orders, it is Kaya and her magic arm that keep them alive while fleeing the empire and battling monsters. 

If you like comic books, this one is for you. Kaya has just enough attitude and moxie to make her an unlikely, yet interesting hero. The plot is fast-paced and the subplots, about a possible relationship and having honor are intriguing. This is book one of five, and readers will want to find out what happens to Kaya and her brother. Kaya may or may not be black, and her love interest is a lizard man. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Next Stop by Debbie Fong - ADVISABLE

Next Stop by Debbie Fong
, 268 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL Random House, 2024. $22 

Language: G (0 swears) Mature Content: PG (death, mental breakdown) Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

Pia is on a desert bus tour with a bus full of interesting characters but no family. Pia is drawn to the tour because of a chance to see a mystical underground lake that is supposed to grant impossible wishes. Pia has a deep secret she's been hiding from her new friends on the bus and is searching for healing. 

 The bus ride is an adventure in quirkiness. Think of all the weird things one could possibly see on a road trip, and they're probably included. Pia's secret is revealed in flashbacks and by the end your heart will break for her. The text type is small but readable. The issues of grieving and loss are identifiable and touching. Pia is most likely Taiwanese. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Arthur the Always King by Kevin Crossley-Holland and Chris Riddell - OPTIONAL

Arthur the Always King by Kevin Crossley-Holland, illustrated by Chris Riddell, 237 pages. Candlewick, 2023. $30. 9781536212655

CONTENT: PG-13 (The book has blood, death, war, and violence)

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - OPTIONAL

APPEALS TO: SOME

"Arthur the Always King" follows the story of King Arthur. Through war, love, light, and darkness, we learn about the impact King Arthur had during his life. The tales of these journeys have been passed down for generations, which are still adapted and retold today. While some are violent and gruesome, some are romantic and kind. 

Arthur’s story is perfect for kids who have a darker sense of humor, love fairy tales, and love knights in shining armor. Riddell has filled the  stories with great illustrations to match about countless stories throughout the years. The art and stories themselves are very violent, with blood and more. This book might be difficult for many readers, especially younger ones. 

Bryant Baird, Librarian



Choosing Sides (Sweet Valley Twins #3) by Francine Pascal & Nicole Andelfinger and Claudia Aguirre - ADVISABLE

Choosing Sides (Sweet Valley Twins #3)
by Francine Pascal, illustrated by Nicole Andelfinger and Claudia Aguirre
, 220 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL Random House, 2024. $22 

Language: PG (3 swears 0 'f'); Mature Content: G; Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

Elizabeth's best friend, Amy, is trying out for the new cheer squad. Unfortunately, the Unicorn's cheer squad only wants the most popular girls and are actively working against Amy. Elizabeth gets caught in the middle between her twin and the Unicorns, and friends who want to have a chance no matter the odds. 

 Pretty much a standard plot line with good twin vs. demented twin caught up in the popular universe. Elizabeth finds a way to make things right and stave off the mean girls. If you like Sweet Vally Twins, then you will like this book. The art captures the spirit of the books well and helps advance the story. The twins are white but there are different skin tones in the book. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Undercover Latina by Aya De Leon - OPTIONAL

Undercover Latina by Aya De Leon
, 336 pages. Candlewick, 2023. $9 (paperback) 

Language: PG (8 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG (brief fight against a terrorist) 

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - OPTIONAL 

APPEALS TO: SOME 

14yo Latina Andrea and her family are part of an undercover international group called the Factory, which helps governments around the world extend protection to people of color. Andrea and her mother are activated to infiltrate a suburban Arizona school to befriend the estranged son of a white supremacist - but Andrea and her mom have to pass as white to do so. Add complications from Andrea getting her first crush and perhaps her first kiss. 

As fun as the book was to listen to (major Gallagher Girl vibes here), SPOILER - I hated that Andrea’s cover was so thoroughly blown at the end that she might get little chance in the future for the spy work - I was really hoping for a whole series. Also - book #2 is now out, but both books need major cover redo’s - the first is too cartoony and the second too dark (at first glance it looks like Amani has a beard). At over 300 pages, most of my students will pass it up for something tighter. 

Cindy, Middle School Librarian, MLS 

Not if You Break Up With Me First by G.F. Miller - ESSENTIAL

Not if You Break Up With Me First by G.F. Miller
, 278 pages. Simon and Schuster, 2024. $19. Content: 

PG (no overt content issues, but lots of simmering anger about pranks as the two main characters resolve their issues)

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ESSENTIAL

APPEALS TO: MANY

13yo Eve has been waiting all summer for her best-friend-for-life Andrew to get home from his family’s all summer trip to Florida. He’s already missed the first week of school! As soon as he steps off the airplane, though, things are weird - their mothers are whispering about what a cute couple they are, and at school all of Eve’s track team friends are sure that they are destined to be a couple - they’ve even started trying out couple names for them. Now everyone assumes they are actually a couple. But neither of them wants to be the one to back out. Eve and Andrew decide independently to be outrageously bad “dates” so that the other will do the breaking up. What can go wrong? How about everything!

Miller has written an awesome what-not-to-do-in-a-relationship book! High on misunderstandings, bad advice, and sheer drama. I would dub this a must-read for everyone entering middle school and hormones. This is everything that a middle school dating book should be. Good to the last drop! All of the characters cue white.

Cindy, Library Teacher, MLS 

A Kingdom to Claim by Sian Ann Bessey - ADVISABLE

A Kingdom to Claim by Sian Ann Bessey, 352 pages. Shadow Mountain Publishing, 2024. $19.

Language: PG (1 swear, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: PG13

BUYING ADVISORY: ADVISABLE - HS

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL

Daughter of an ealdorman, Aisley (12yo) watched her sick father leave for battle against the Vikings, his loyalty to King Alfred of Wessex overpowering the pleadings of his family to stay home. And the Saxons lost terribly. The Vikings were happy to be paid off then, but, seven years later, they return—and Aisley braces herself, fearing what more they could take from her if they win again.

While the story is mostly focused on the romance blooming amidst war, the main characters are not the only ones with character arcs. Bessey does her research and shares which parts of the story are true at the end, pointing out fun facts like how King Alfred is the only English monarch to be referred to as “the Great.” The political and religious dealings of the time period are as fun to learn as the story itself is to read.

Most of the characters are Saxons (southern English), and some of the Vikings are implied Danes. The mature content rating is for alcohol use, kissing, and mentions of rape. The violence rating is for assault, battles, war, and murder.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Eowulf by Mike Cavallaro - ADVISABLE

Eowulf
by Mike Cavallaro
, 222 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL First Second (Macmillan), 2024 16 

Language: G (1 swear) Mature Content: G Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: MANY 

Eowulf, daughter of Deowulf, son of Ceowulf, descendant of Beowulf, has problems. She is a Dungeons & Dragons whiz with her friends, but when she tries to stick up for a kid who always gets bullied, her friends suddenly seem distant. Besides, Eowulf has a secret she hasn't shared with her friends: she is a monster hunter with her dad. But boring New Jersey may have a monster and secrets of its own. 

 I liked that there is a plot within a plot. There is a story about the D&D campaign that dovetails nicely with Eowulf's narrative. While the premise is pretty bizarre, it's relatable because of common threads surrounding friendship, bullying, misunderstandings, and finding common ground. I ended up liking the story and the bright, colorful graphics. The story wraps up nicely, but there will be a second book. Race or cultures are difficult to assess, but there is a variety of skin tones. 

Michelle in the Middle 

The Secret Language of Birds by Lynn Kelly - OPTIONAL

The Secret Language of Birds
by Lynn Kelly
, 232 pages. Delacorte (Random House), 2024. $18. 

Language: G (0 swears 0 'f'); Mature Content: PG (girls discussing bras and possum nipples) Violence: PG (mention of poaching) 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - OPTIONAL 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

13yo Nina has a way with birds. She loves them, and knows a lot about them - she even imagines they are speaking to her. So, when given the opportunity to spend the summer at her Aunt's birding camp, Nina is all in. Although she'll be staying in her Aunt's cabin, she quickly falls in with a group of three who call themselves The Oddballs. On a secret campers' hike to the marsh to investigate a ghost story, the girls are startled by a huge white bird. Nina stays behind. She thinks it might be a rare whooping crane, but they don't live in Texas! Nina wasn't supposed to be at the infirmary, and she's afraid if she tells her aunt about the crane, she'll be sent home. So the Oddballs come up with a plan. 

I expected some magical realism, based on an encounter with a bird in the first chapter, but that sort of thing didn't happen again. I don't feel the characters were all that well developed. I wanted to know more about Nina - she was loner at school, but seemed to fit right in with the girls at the camp - it felt like a disconnect. I learned a lot about bird conservation, especially Whooping Cranes. Cool cover art. While not a sequel or even a companion novel, I liked the occasional nod to Song for a Whale, even including Iris in the storyline. The characters default white - the wildlife official is described as Black. 

Lisa Librarian 

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Fun Fact: I Love You by Gina Lynn Larsen - OPTIONAL

Fun Fact: I Love You by Gina Lynn Larsen, 256 pages. Shadow Mountain Publishing, 2024. $20.

Language: G (0 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL

Nellie (17yo) has a plan, a five-year plan. She is going to be valedictorian in a couple of weeks, go to UNLV, and then go on to grad school to become an astrophysicist. Getting her first kiss is not in the plan, nor is her second, and it definitely doesn’t include her father’s sudden death.

Larsen explores both sides of having a plan and not having a plan, and how life has a way of pushing and pulling us in various directions regardless. While grief is often not in our plans, it can reshape them, and that is not a bad thing. Nellie’s story highlights how our support systems help us through the difficult times to continue moving forward to our dreams—even when those dreams change. Also, the “keeping a secret” trope for the romance side of the story stressed me out, but it was handled well, and I am satisfied with the conclusion of the book.

The majority of characters are implied white. The mature content rating is for underage drinking, mentions of drugs, innuendo, kissing, and partial nudity. The violence rating is for mild assault, death, and mentions of child abuse.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Didn’t See that Coming by Jesse Q. Sutanto - OPTIONAL

Didn’t See that Coming by Jesse Q. Sutanto, 320 pages. Delacorte Press (Random House), 2023. $13.

Language: R (290 swears, 20 “f”); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: PG

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

When Kiki’s parents make her switch Chinese schools, she’s confident that she’ll be able to make new friends and get along with her teachers like she did at her last school, but her first day goes terribly—she becomes known as “Crazy Kiki.” The only bright side is that Kiki’s online gaming friend, Sourdawg, tells her that he also goes to that school. If Kiki can find her friend, then maybe she’ll survive the strict school and her standoffish classmates.

When Kiki switches schools, the shockingly different environment is hard for her to handle, and she loses herself. As pieces of Kiki’s personality fall away in order to fit into the new group, Kiki’s happiness decreases and she isolates herself. This downward spiral is easy to get caught up in—it’s as easy in real life as it is in Kiki’s story. As Kiki gains the courage to reclaim her confidence and sense of self, readers can learn from her strength. The dramatization of this process is entertaining, but it still offers hope.

Most of the characters are implied Chinese Indonesian, Liam is half Singaporean, and Cassie is part of the LGBT community. The mature content is for underage drinking, sexual harassment, innuendo, and mentions of drugs, sexting, sex, and rape. The violence content is for video game fantasy violence and mentions of murder.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Mapmakers and the Flickering Fortress by Cameron Chittock and Amanda Castillo - ADVISABLE

Mapmakers and the Flickering Fortress (Mapmakers #3) 
by Cameron Chittock, illustrated by Amanda Castillo
, 234 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL RH Graphic Penguin, 2024 $14 

Language: G (0 swears) Mature Content: G Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

In the third book of the the trilogy, Alidade and Blue reach the land of the Night Coats and discover a sinister power lurking beneath the surface. The magic of the Memris may be extinguished for good if the Mapmakers can't come together to fix the ever encroaching darkness the Night Coats have unleashed. Alidade and her fellow Mapmakers are intrepid and care for the world around them. They are not afraid to use their gifts to help others. Even though there are over arching themes of environmentalism, the mystery of the Night Coats will keep you reading. There is a lot of jumping back and forth between characters and worlds, so that could be confusing, but the page colors help. Nice resolution to the trilogy and it wrapped up before getting too drawn out. Though no culture or race is specified, Alidade and her Mapmaker friends seem largely South American. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Sweet Valley Twins: The Haunted House by Francine Pascal, & Nicole Andelfinger and Knack Whittle - ADVISABLE

Sweet Valley Twins: The Haunted House
by Francine Pascal, illustrated by Nicole Andelfinger and Knack Whittle
, 220 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL Random House, 2024. $22 

Language: PG (6 swears) Mature Content: G Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: MANY 

Nora Mercandy has moved into town and lives in the local haunted house, spawning rumors that she is a witch. The school spurns her, led on by the Unicorn Club and their rumors. Elizabeth determines Nora is a nice girl and tries to befriend her. The bullying escalates and Elizabeth is caught between her new friend and her twin. 

The art is great and helps carry the book. The bullying is really mean and I have a hard time liking Jessica's character even if she is a good literary foil for her twin. The ending wraps up a little too easily and not everyone who gets bullied will have a way out as easy as Nora. It's a relatable read though and it's a vehicle to build empathy for those who may not fit in. No culture or race is specified, though the twins are white. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Monday, June 24, 2024

Tryouts by Sarah Sax - ADVISABLE

Tryouts by Sarah Sax (The Brinkley Yearbooks #2)
, 286 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL Knopf (Random House), 2024. $22 

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: MANY 

13yo Alexandra Olsen lives for baseball. She's played on little league teams forever, but has aged out. She wants to be on the middle school team but it's an all boy team. She tries out anyway. With a tenth consecutive championship on the line, her team isn't working together well at all. What's a girl to do? 

Ali is a great character. She's a go-getter and she really just wants to play. Her friends are doing different things at the middle school and this book is really a celebration of what makes students thrive, whether it is sports or something different. Great themes of friendship and that life is not all about winning or losing, but about people. I totally loved the unexpected ending. There is hope for middle schoolers with this book! Race or culture isn't mentioned. Ali has red hair and freckles and there are a variety of skin tones throughout the book. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Summer Vamp by Violet Chan Karim - ADVISABLE

Summer Vamp Violet
by Chan Karim
, 238 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL Random House, 2024 22 

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: MANY 

Maya is excited to go to culinary camp, even if it is her dad's girlfriend's idea. Unfortunately, she takes the wrong bus and ends up at a camp for vampires. Maya has never fit in anywhere and she certainly doesn't feel like being the only human at camp will help. 

Even though this is a vampire camp, the issues of friendship and belonging are addressed really well. Maya also struggles with speaking up for herself and telling people what she's really thinking, which is fairly universal. The graphic art is well done and totally adds to the story. The characters are relatable and diverse. I loved it. Break out the blood box drinks! The campers were all a mixed bag of personalities and skin tones. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Once They See You by Josh Allen and Sarah J. Coleman - ADVISABLE

Once They See You
by Josh Allen, illustrated by Sarah J. Coleman
, 192 pages. Middle Grade, Holiday House, 2024. $19 

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

Thirteen short stories ranging from a killer bike to a possible class of zombies. Nothing is at it seems in these stories. 

 There's lots of different types of scare to choose from and the art adds to the stories. Fun way to get your creeps fix because it's a super fast read. The stories are engaging and just the right amount of scare for middle school readers. There is a variety of characters in each story and no culture or race is specified. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Guardian Test by Christina Soontornvat - ADVISABLE

The Guardian Test (Legends of Lotus Island #1) 
by Christina Soontornvat
, 148 pages. Middle Grade Scholastic, 2023. $17 

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

Plum is surprised that she has been accepted to the Guardian's Academy on Lotus Island. Though reluctant to leave her grandparents, Plum really wants to learn to transform into a magical creature who helps take care of the natural world. Plum struggles with school, however, and while her classmates begin to transform, she hasn't, which means she may have to leave the school and her new friends. 

While it sounded hokey at first, Plum is a great character and there's enough depth to pull the story off. This is a good fantasy novel to dive into the genre, since fantasy novels tend to be large. There is some intrigue going on that should lead nicely into a sequel. Besides, I want Plum's gift for talking to worms to find out where plants will grow the best. Since this is fantasy, who knows what races or cultures there are. The cover art has different hair and skin tones though. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Friday, June 21, 2024

Gamer: Virtual Kombat: Book 1 by Chris Bradford - OPTIONAL

Gamer: Virtual Kombat: Book 1 by Chris Bradford
, 126 pages. Middle Grade Union Square, 2024.  in U.S. 2012 in Great Britain $10 

Language: G (0 swears 0 'f'); Mature Content: G PG (video game violence and real-world violence) 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - OPTIONAL 

APPEALS TO: MANY 

Scott, age unknown, lives on the streets with other orphans after the killer virus of 2030 wiped out a vast amount of adults. He is running from a gang when he gets the chance to prove his gamer skills and is accepted to be a Virtual Kombat gamer. Life should improve wildly for Scott, but with the catchphrase, "So real it hurts," Scott might be in for something more sinister than he bargained for. 

This is the first in a series of three books. At just over 100 pages, all three books could be compiled into one, but the size will appeal to reluctant readers. Fast-moving action combined with video gaming will draw in readers. While the characters don't get a chance to be very fleshed out, the premise will keep you going. A great way to "kill" an afternoon. Literally. No races or cultures are specified in this futuristic setting. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Heiress Takes All by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka - HIGH

Heiress Takes All by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka, 368 pages. Little, Brown Books, 2024. $19.

Language: R (79 swears, 6 “f”); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: PG

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Two years ago, Olivia’s parents divorced—and the prenup they had signed meant that Olivia and her mom were kicked out of the house with nothing. Olivia (17yo) doesn’t care about being an heiress, but her mom deserves to not be drowning in bills. When the perfect opportunity presents itself, Olivia puts together a crew to steal the money they need from the man who took it from them.

I love a good heist, and this team of teenagers scheme, manipulate, and improvise with the best of them. There are so many hidden agendas and unforeseen obstacles that I never knew for certain whether The Plan would work. Overall, it was an entertaining ride that occasionally stressed me out as much as it did Olivia.

Olivia is implied White, Cassidy is described as “cream pale,” Deonte is Black, and there are some Swiss family members mentioned. The mature content rating is for alcohol use, illegal activity, kissing, innuendo, and mentions of drugs and sex. The violence rating is for mentions of bombs.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Flawless Girls by Anna-Marie McLemore - ADVISABLE

Flawless Girls
by Anna-Marie McLemore
, 288 pages. Feiwel (Macmillan), 2024. $21

Language: PG (6 swears, 0 'f'); Mature Content: PG-13 (mention of possible underage drinking); Violence: PG-13 (bloody stabbing)

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS - ADVISABLE

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL


17yo Isla and her 19yo older sister Renata are sent to the well known Alarie House finishing school by their grandmother, who insists that the school’s reputation will set them up for life. Isla leaves after a day but Renata stays and when she returns home, Isla notices how different she is acting and it frightens her. Renata runs away, so Isla decides she’s going back to Alarie House to find her. When Isla arrives at the finishing school, everyone raves about Renata to her but she’s nowhere to be found. What Isla does find is haunting.

I enjoyed the analogy between jewels and people where flaws make us better and more beautiful. The author handled gender situations with tact and compassion and from personal experience. I liked Isla’s determination and intelligence.

The ethnicity is mixed with Latina main characters.

LynnDell Watson, DHS Librarian, Delta, Utah



Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Arya Khannas Bollywood Moment by Arusha Avachat - OPTIONAL

Arya Khannas Bollywood Moment
by Arusha Avachat
, 320 pages. Wednesday Books (St. Martins Griffin), 2024. $24.

Language: R (14 swears 4 ‘f’); Mature Content: PG (romantic kisses); Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

High School senior Arya Khannas has been frenemies with Dean for years. They always seem to be fighting. When they ran against each other for class president at the end of their Junior year, Dean won by just 6 votes. Now Arya is his vice-president and he takes every opportunity to rub that in. Her sister, who has been away for the last 3 years has returned home. She’s getting married, which is quite a celebration in their Indian culture. But her sister and her mother have a strained relationship, and Arya feels caught in the middle. 

A fun and fresh Young Adult read. Arya’s life is full of drama - her best friends were dating and their break up put Arya at odds with the friend group, and her former friend is listening to the gossip. Her mother seems to suffer from depression which adds to the trouble at home and with the wedding plans. The romance was so sweet and well-paced. Full of Indian culture, neatly explained because Dean is white. Arya and her family are Indian, Arya’s friends are mostly white, one is Jewish. 

Lisa Librarian 

I Wish You Would by Eva Des Lauriers - OPTIONAL

I Wish You Would
by Eva Des Lauriers
, 288 pages. Henry Holt and Co. (Macmillan), 2024. $18

Language: R (169 swears, 51 'f'); Mature Content: PG-13 (implied sex, off page); Violence: PG (fight)

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

APPEALS TO: SOME


Natalia and Ethan are getting ready for the senior sunrise event that welcomes the class back to their last year of high school. They’re both dealing with family issues and their confusing almost-hookup after Junior Prom. The two have always been best friends; it possibly turned into something more, but neither Ethan or Natalia are willing to talk to each other about it at all. When each senior writes a letter that’s meant for their eyes only and the letters accidentally get loose, secrets start coming out about classmates. The chaos will make or break Natalia’s and Ethan’s chances to build a relationship. 

I like the romance in the story. I had fun getting to know Natalia and Ethan. A fun, sweet story. Ethnicity is mostly white with Latina main character. 

LynnDell Watson, DHS Librarian, Delta, Utah



Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The New Girl by Cassandra Calin - ADVISABLE

The New Girl
by Cassandra Calin
, 272 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL Graphix (Scholastic), 2024. $13 

Language: G (0 swears) Mature Content: PG (menstruation issues) Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: MANY 

Lia is12yo and flying from Romania to Canada, her new home, when she has her first period in the airport. Lia gets terrible cramps with her periods. So not only does Lia have to adjust to a new country and language, she also has to adjust to changes in her body. 

 The illustrations are well done and add to the story. Based on the author's own experiences, the story is very authentic. The speech bubbles are sometimes just scribbles with only the words in print that Lia understands, which highlights how difficult it would be to learn a new language. Anyone who is new to a school should be able to empathize with Lia, especially those coming from other cultures. Lia's difficult periods are addressed, which isn't a topic often brought up in books. Lia is Romanian and her friends come from all different cultures. 

Michelle in the Middle 

The Smoke That Thunders by Erhu Kome - ADVISABLE

The Smoke That Thunders by Erhu Kome, 300 pages. W. W. Norton & Company, 2024. $19

Language: PG (3 swears, 0  'f'); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG (some fighting, some people get poisoned, it describes the pain and injuries in moderate detail)


BUYING ADVISORY:MS, HS  - ADVISABLE


APPEALS TO: SEVERAL


16yo Naborhi becomes bonded to a fox-like  animal and begins having visions of a kidnapped boy. She meets Atai, the son of an Oracle from a rival queendom, and learns that she is being guided by the gods. She and Atai, along with Naborhi's cousin, Tamunor, set off across the continent to rescue the mysterious boy. But when they find him—and find out his true identity—Naborhi realizes there is more than just her freedom at stake. She must stop a war that has already been set in motion.


I liked how it was a little different from the other things I've read, because this book is about African folklore, and myths, and I like that. I also like that it had lots of action and how the main character was persistent with her dreams. It also was super engaging.

They are all from Africa.


Student Reviewer: E. Anderson, 9th grader

Monday, June 17, 2024

Summer at Squee by Andrea Wang - OPTIONAL

Summer at Squee by Andrea Wang. 320 pages. Middle Grade Kokila (Penguin), 2024. $19.

Language: G (0 swears 0 'f'); Mature Content: G (crushes); Violence: G. 

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - OPTIONAL 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

13yo Phoenny Fang is so excited for summer camp this year. She and her best friend Lyrica have been going for years, and have a special in because their mothers are the directors. It's a Chinese cultural heritage camp the kids call Squee. This is Phoenny's last year because she's going into 8th grade, and it promises to be the best. But when she arrives, she finds her regular group has been broken up because there are some new campers - a group of girls who were adopted from China. Their arrival is met with mixed emotions from both the new girls and the seasoned campers, and everyone seems to get off on the wrong foot. There's a possibility of a summer romance as well, as one of the new counselors in training - a boy recently moved from Hong Kong, seems to have his eye on Phoenny, but dating is strictly off-limits. 

I haven't seen many books about adopted Chinese orphans - although I know several families who have children from China. I liked the discussions the campers had with their advisors, especially about their feelings for their culture and whether or not they felt Asian enough. I loved the classes they took - this camp really looks like a lot of fun! There's a lot going on, with so many characters, a couple of side stories could have been removed to help the reader keep track. There's a long distance runner, a camper questioning her identity, an allergy scare, and a social media troll who shakes up the camp's sense of security, lots of different teachers and leaders and extra drama - I didn't feel it was all necessary. The characters are culturally or ethnically Chinese. 

Lisa Librarian 

Thirsty by Jas Hammonds 0 OPTIONAL

Thirsty by Jas Hammonds, 336 pages. Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan), 2024. $17

Language: R (165  swears, 79  'f'); Mature Content: R (on page sex); Violence: PG (vandalism)


BUYING ADVISORY: HS  - OPTIONAL


APPEALS TO: SOME


18yo Blake is poor compared to her rich friends and she works at a country club full of entitled people. Blake wants to fit in more than anything and she realizes that she relaxes when she drinks. Alcohol becomes Blake’s crutch in all social situations because she believes that she’s worthless which stems from years of bullying. Blake’s girlfriend Ella ensures her that her drinking isn’t a problem but when their best friend Annetta and Blake’s brother keep trying to help her stop her drinking because of the consequences she’s dealing with, Blake gets angry. Blake spirals into alcoholism and she’s faced with some very tough choices.


Strong character development.  Realistic fiction that packs a punch.  I appreciated how the author portrayed Blake, her problems, and her family in such a true manner.

The ethnicity is mostly white with a mix of Blacks, biracial, and Filipino characters.


LynnDell Watson, DHS Librarian, Delta, Utah



Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Liars Society Alyson Gerber - ADVISABLE

The Liars Society
by Alyson Gerber
, 304 pages. Middle Grade Scholastic, 2024. $15 

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: MANY 

Weatherby is super excited to get a scholarship to the prestigious Boston School. There she meets other 12yo students who she hopes to fit in with, even if she is not wealthy or privileged. Weatherby is hiding a secret, but it turns out that her classmates are too, ones they are all desperate to conceal. When they are tapped to join the oldest, most powerful secret society in the world, their secrets may all come to life. 

The premise was interesting and paced well. There are themes of power and privilege and finding your own moral compass, as well as climate activism. I just wish that the characters were older than 12. They act older and are placed in situations that would seem better with older kids. Even a top-secret society may want to wait a few years to tap out its elite. While culture and race aren't mentioned, the two main characters seem to be white. 

Michelle in the Middle 

The Jake Show by Joshua S. Levy - ADVISABLE

The Jake Show
by Joshua S. Levy
, 240 pages. Katherine Tegen (HarperCollins), 2023. $19. 

Language: G (0 swears o 'f'); Mature Content: G; Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY:, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

Jake Lightman feels like a character in a TV show. His parents are divorced and he's acting different parts for each parent. For his mother, he's “Yaakov” but he's “Jacob” for his father. He wants to go to a particular summer camp with his friends, but his father won't approve because the camp is too Jewish, and his mother won't approve because it's not Jewish enough. Jake concocts a plan to get there, but it means lying to both parents and getting his friends involved. But things only get more complicated once he gets to camp, he finds it more and more difficult to keep up with all the lies - and he risks losing his friends over it. 

A moving story; poor Jake is torn between trying to be what each parent expects, and not being able to be himself. I felt for him. I loved how honest his friends were, taking him to task when he needed it, while also being supportive. Levy's story was engaging. Certainly written for a Jewish reader, however, I didn't feel on the outside - everything was in context and made sense to the story, even though I wasn't familiar with everything going on. A great book about a kid navigating his parents' divorce, and his place in it. The characters are Jewish, one character, Caleb has come out as gay. 

Lisa Librarian 

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Blood City Rollers by V.P. Anderson and Tatiana Hill - ADVISABLE

Blood City Rollers by V.P. Anderson, illustrated by Tatiana Hill
, 190 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL Random House, 2024. $22 

Language: G (0 swears) Mature Content: PG (some same sex attraction) Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: SEVERAL 

13yo Mia has been working towards representing Romania in the Olympics since she was three-years old. A horrible fall during a competition puts her out of commission as a figure skater, but then she is kidnapped by undead roller skaters and recruited for a paranormal roller derby team made up of vampires. Mia suddenly discovers that she likes being part of a team, even if she's human and they aren't. 

It's obvious that Anderson and Hill play roller derby. The art captures the ups and downs and excitement of the game. Though vampires and roller derby seem an odd pairing, it makes for a fun story. Anyone who plays roller derby is going to love it, and it's a great introduction to the game for newbies. The characters are strong and there is obviously a sequel coming, so it will be interesting to see what happens to Mia in book two. Characters come from different ethnic groups and time periods. 

Michelle in the Middle

Table Titans Club by Scott Kurtz - ADVISABLE

Table Titans Club
by Scott Kurtz
, 224 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL Holiday House, 2024. $23 

Language: G (1 swear, 0 F);  Mature Content: G; Violence: G 

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: MANY 

Valeria Winters is hoping to make a fresh start at a new school. Her mother has made her promise not to get into any more fights. She has a terrible first day of school until she is asked to join the Table Titans, the Dungeons and Dragons club. The club may not last long unless Val and her new friends can save it, which is not easy since there's a girl who seems out for revenge. 

This is a fabulous book about fitting in and friendship and the power of role-play. I love seeing Dungeons and Dragons featured in a story, and with the popularity of D&D at my school, the book should be a welcome addition. The art is bright and colorful and helps tell the story. Go Table Titans! Culture and race isn't specified, but there is a variety of skin colors in the art. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Friday, June 14, 2024

The Sherlock Society by James Ponti - ADVISABLE

The Sherlock Society
by James Ponti,
352 pages.  Aladdin (Simon and Schuster), 2024. $19 

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY:  EL, MS - ADVISABLE 

APPEALS TO: MANY 

12yo Alex, his older sister by a year, and Alex's two friends, Yadi, and Lina, decide they are going to solve mysteries for the summer. Zoe's grandfather even joins in, contributing his sweet journalism skills. The group they dub the Sherlock Society, begins their summer looking for the long lost treasure of Al Capone, but comes across something far more sinister as they begin treasure hunting in the Florida Everglades. 

This new series is reminiscent of City Spies, where young kids with primo skills do undercover with adult supervision. Ok, it's a lot the same. But you will forgive Ponti because he does weave a good story and this one will make a whole new generation want to become detectives just like their parents did after reading the Nancy Drew and the Three Investigators series. It's refreshing to have competent and caring adults lend a hand and the kids are likable. I am looking forward to book two. The culture or race is never specified, though Yadi uses some Spanish. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Calculation of You and Me by Serena Kaylor - HIGH

The Calculation of You and Me by Serena Kaylor, 336 pages. Wednesday Books (St. Martin’s Press), 2024. $24.

Language: R (79 swears, 1 “f”); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

When Josh told Marlowe they needed to take a break the summer before senior year, Marlowe expected to get her boyfriend back at the start of the school year. Instead, the break becomes a breakup because Marlowe isn’t romantic enough. Marlowe is determined to show Josh she is enough, and she begs Ashton to help her win Josh back.

The best part about this book: celebrating romance and healthy relationships. Kaylor’s characters poke fun at common tropes and point out the toxicity of romanticized relationships. Kaylor balances the real with laugh-out-loud one liners and makes a space for anyone—and everyone—to love love the way they want to love love. It was an absolute delight to read.

Marlowe has autism. Poppy is described as having “brown” skin, Hazel is described as having “dark brown” skin, and Mateo is implied Latino. Several of the main characters are part of the LGBT community, though very few are explicitly defined. The mature content rating is for underage drinking; mentions of drugs, condoms, pornography, and sex; innuendo; and partial nudity.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen