Significant Others III: Feature High School Reviews

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Ahmadi, Arvin. 2019. Girl Gone Viral. Penguin Random House LLC (Viking Books for Young Readers). 416pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-42-528990-7.

Social media fame, data hacking, privacy, and high school drama collide in this story of technology used in the near future. Opal Hopper, a 17-year-old girl, will do anything she can to hack back into her father’s life and find out why her father disappeared all those years ago. She was only left with a cryptic note claiming his absence was too complicated to explain. She attempted to track him down by reaching out to his business partner, Howie Mendelsohn. Her requests were ignored. So, in an attempt to move on from her dad, Opal enrolls in a school for technical prodigies. There, she becomes a host for a show called, Behind The Scenes. Behind The Scenes uses data hacking to track people’s emotions when watching the show. She is given an opportunity to meet Howie by entering the Make-a-Splash competition on WAVE, a virtual reality social media site that Howie created. The narrative blends with texts and other technologies, sometimes affecting the pace of the story; but Ahmadi’s relatable characters keep the story engaging. However, Girl Gone Viral ends abruptly with no real ending to the story of Opal’s chase for her father. This book will definitely appeal to young adult readers and get them thinking about how far technology will take them in their own lives. (MB)


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Scott, Ceylan. 2019. On a Scale of 1 to 10. Scholastic Inc. (Chicken House). 281pp. $10.99. ISBN 978-1-33-832376-4. 

Tamar struggles to come to terms with her friend Iris's death. After attempting suicide, Tamar is admitted to Lime Grove, a psychiatric hospital. She slowly starts to come to terms and open up about what happened to her friend Iris. This book gets in the reader’s head, the characters are deep and well thought out. The reading level is perfect for someone in about 7th grade. The emotional level requires readers to have a fair amount of maturity, though. The pace of the story is great, and the story seemed so realistic. (MRC)


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Donaldson, Jennifer. 2019. I Know You Remember. Penguin Random House LLC (Razorbill). 326pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-59-514854-4. 

Ruthie Hayden was supposed to arrive back to her hometown to catch up with her best friend, Zahra Gaines– only to   hear the devastating news that her friend had vanished from a party only a few days before Ruthie’s return.

As Ruthie searches for clues as to where her friend is, she realizes Zahra was not the same girl she once knew. This story tosses the reader’s emotions one direction and then wrenches them back another direction. Throughout this novel, Jennifer Donaldson will make you question more than just where Zarah went. She will have you wanting to know a lot more about life in Anchorage, Alaska. Any young-adult interested in a mystery thriller will be drawn to this book. (KMF)


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Haas, Abigail. 2019. I’ll Never Tell. Simon & Schuster (Simon Pulse). 388pp. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-53-444509-3.

Aruba was supposed to be a fun spring break vacation for Anna Chevalier and her best friends, and it was until the brutal murder of her best friend, Elise. When the local police begin investigating the murder of Elise, suspicion falls on one person and one person only- Anna. Anna finds herself trapped in a different country fighting against the accusations of being her best friend's murderer. The story is told in a format of phone calls and interviews. It also moves between the past and present of Anna’s life, leading up to the climax of the book. Abigail Haas does not cut back on the suspense throughout the entire book, using character and plot development that will keep the reader in the dark until the very end. Any young-adult interested in a mystery thriller will be instantly hooked to this jaw-dropping book. (KMF)


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Deaver, Mason. 2019. I Wish You All The Best. Scholastic Inc. (PUSH). 327pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-33-830612-5.

When Ben De Baker comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they are immediately kicked out of the house. Ben gets taken in by their estranged sister and her husband and starts over at a new school to finish up their senior year. This book explores a variety of difficult topics, such as personal identity, family dynamics, anxiety, depression, therapy, and self-expression. Mason Deaver, does a brilliant job of showing these themes throughout the novel. The book features a nonbinary protagonist and that point of view is supported by the fact that it is written by a nonbinary author. While incorporating these more serious themes, the author also packed this book with full-faced smile-inducing moments and heart fluttering romance. This book is perfect for anyone who loves themes of LGBTQ+, mental health, sweet romance, and family relationships. (RL) 


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Sibson, Laura. 2019. The Art Of Breaking Things. Penguin Random House LLC (Viking Books for Young Readers). 390pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-45-148111-5.

Ghosts– those people who come into your life and then leave, but their actions shape and haunt you every second of every day. What happens to seventeen-year-old Skye when Dan, one of her ghosts, comes back? Skye has tried everything–partying, drugs, alcohol, even looking for love in other guys– to take away this numb feeling she has within her. Skye wants to major in art at the college of her dreams, but will she attend college or will she stay and protect her little sister, Emma, from Dan? Will Sky’s mom’s new engagement to Dan bring the past back up to the surface? Her best friends Luisa and Ben– the boy Skye has secretly fallen in love with– don't even know her huge secret: no one does. Skye hasn't even said it out loud.  She faces many obstacles and challenges in her senior year of high school. How can she make everyone understand? I don't recommend this book for sensitive people. I would recommend it to young adults who like a story of overcoming trauma and being able to express yourself. (KM)


I Felt a Funeral in My Brain

Walton, Will. 2018. I Felt a Funeral in my Brain. Scholastic Inc. (PUSH). 304pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-54-570956-9.

At first, I was reluctant to pick up Will Walton’s I Felt a Funeral in My Brain. It had been on my reading list for some time, and personally, I dislike stories told through poetry– mostly because I find them pretentious. But when I finally got around to reading it, I was not disappointed. 

I Felt a Funeral in My Brain tells the story of Avery, a gay teenage boy whose home life with his grandfather, adoptive grandmother, and alcoholic single mother is less than ideal. I felt like Walton had a strong overarching narrative, despite the fact that he tends to jump between past and future without warning. The book also explores themes like death and grieving very well– especially for a book aimed at young adults, a genre which tends to glamourize subjects like alcoholism or the loss of a loved one in order to build up a character’s backstory. Unlike his contemporaries, Walton does not do this. In fact, the personal losses Avery experiences are not a narrative device to give Avery some sort of tragic backstory. They’re personal losses that Avery must work through as he continues on with his life. All in all, I Felt a Funeral in My Brain was a great read. I especially enjoyed its realistic depiction of loss and familial relationships, and the writing was fantastical and yet grounded in reality. I can’t wait to see what Walton does next. (JR)


A Field Guide to the North American Teenager

Phillipe, Ben. 2019. Field Guide to the North American Teenager. HarperCollins (Balzer & Bray). 384pp. $18.99.  ISBN 978-0-06-282411-0.

Field Guide to the North American Teenager, by Ben Phillipe, is one of the rare books that I picked up and immediately became invested in. From the very second I read the flap on the front cover, I knew I would love this book, and it did not disappoint.

Field Guide to the North American Teenager opens with Norris Kaplan who is a hockey-loving Canadian and is reluctantly moving to Texas with his mother. Still reeling from the birth of his much younger half-sibling, the sensation of being replaced by his older father, and a simmering resentment toward his mother for moving them, Norris makes for an excellent lead character. The only problem? In the beginning of the book, he isn’t. Initially, I was disappointed by the bland, cookie-cutter approach to Norris’s character as a whole. He followed the same tried and true formula of ‘snarky teenage protagonist’ as every other YA novel. The supporting characters seemed equally as bland, with mean-girl cheerleaders, manic pixie dream girls, and quirky best friends abound. Still, I continued reading in the hopes that the story would get better. And, to my surprise, it did! Ben Phillipe makes an effort to fully flesh out each and every one of his supporting characters beyond their cookie cutter roles and takes a more critical approach to the ‘snarky protagonist’ archetype. Half of his refreshing approach is the fact that Norris actually faces the consequences of his actions. When everything is said and done, the consequences don’t go away. This leads Norris down a rabbit hole of self introspection readers don’t ordinarily get from YA protagonists. While Field Guide to the North American Teenager starts as a bland stereotype of a book and transforms into something much bigger. Ben Phillipe has created a wholly unique and thought provoking novel by laying out the scene for each reader– the act of simply looking at him or herself in a mirror and thinking ‘ew.’ (JR)


Come November

Van Dam, Katrin. 2019. Come November. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 373pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-33-826842-3.

Come November tells the story of Rooney Harris, a high school senior living with her mother. Her parents have divorced, and she resents her father for leaving almost as much as she resents her mother for clinging to a cult called The Next World Society– an organization that believes the end of the world will happen on the seventeenth of November. Her mother is jobless, with no income other than Rooney’s part time job and child support checks from her father. Tragically, Ronney’s mom has no intentions of finding another job or of being a stable caretaker for either of her children. So, in addition to the rush of college applications, Rooney is burdened with her family’s financial situation and the care of Daniel, her little brother. In Come November readers get a realistic and heartbreaking look into the psychology of the cult mentality, how a parent’s choices can impact their children, and how Rooney and her family are supposed to go on with their lives after the end of their world. I found the book an extremely emotional read, and I was quickly invested in the lives of the protagonists and their struggles, despite my initial disdain. (JR)



Grant, Michael. 2018. Villain. HarperCollins (Katherine Tegen Books). 352pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-246787-4.

When I was in middle school, I loved Michael Grant’s Gone series; so when I heard of a sequel series, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, Villain did not live up to its hype. The Gone series itself is a dark series; and there’s no shortage of death, torture, teenage pregnancy, and smoking– which can all seem rather glamorous when a person is in middle school. But, as a person ages, this chaos just seems ridiculous. 

Villain follows the cast of the Gone series after the finale. It starts off following their re-introduction to everyday society as they begin to process their past trauma, and then the story gets weird– in true Michael Grant fashion. The book is filled with superpowers, robots, and a cartoonishly evil villain who was probably meant to be sympathetic at one point, but the amount of extremely graphic murder/torture scenes tend to counteract that. All in all, I did not enjoy this book. I thought the plot was difficult to believe, the character’s actions made little to no sense, his characterization was poor, and I’ve read fanfiction about the original Gone series better than this book. (JR)


This is What it Feels Like

Barrow, Rebecca. 2018. This is What it Feels Like. HarperCollins (HarperTeen). 400pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-249423-8. 

Traditionally, in YA books, if a person of color has gone through trauma, said trauma can usually be traced back to one thing: gang violence. While I’m not against realistic fiction depicting the struggles of black Americans, the repeated narrative of ‘black main character escapes from poverty/gang violence/slavery’ can get old fast– which is why when I picked up this book, I was pleasantly surprised. The three main characters of this book are Hannah, Jules, and Dia. Prior to the start of the book, they were friends and all performed in a band together. Then, they drifted apart because of Hannah’s alcoholism, which– unlike other stories surrounding the topic of alcoholism– she is not treated like a criminal in the narrative for her actions. If anything, Hannah’s reasons for drinking are painfully relatable. The story also deals with other topics like teen pregnancy and questioning sexuality as a young person. It’s a refreshingly diverse read with an engaging plot and great themes on music and its ability to bring people together. I really enjoyed this book. It was a real breath of fresh air amongst usual YA books. It touched on a lot of hard topics without criminalizing its young characters or damaging the narrative. (JR)


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Youngdahl, Shana. 2019. As Many Nows As I Can Get. Penguin Random House (Dial Books for Young Readers). $17.99. 417pp. ISBN 978-0-52-555385-4.

For dependent and sensible Scarlett Oliviera, opportunities were endless. She had perfect grades, and her resume screamed excellence. This Scarlett was a year ago. Now, Scarlett has finished her first year of college in Maine and is on her way back to her hometown in Colorado. However, she is not the hero Graceville painted her when she left. On the drive back, she reflects on her summer before college, the hasty choices she made while there, and the arduous times after. Scarlett has also been left to mentally manage the cosmic aftermath of the impulsive, unconventional romance with her childhood friend David– whose irresistible destruction had ripped Scarlett away from her usual grounded self. Youngdahl encapsulates the effects of grief, guilt, and mourning in a bold and ingenious way, making readers empathize with all characters– even those whose choices prove troubled and complicated. Told through non-linear flashbacks, As Many Nows As I Can Get decodes what it means to be human through love, longing, and loss. With themes and elements that are oppressive yet surprisingly relatable, this gripping debut is perfect for any young adult looking for closure from the abstract thoughts of their choices and regrets. (PS)


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St. Anthony, Jane. 2019. Whatever Normal Is. University of Minnesota Press. 149pp. $14.95. ISBN 978-1-51-790677-1.

Margaret and her closest friends Isabelle and Grace have three goals for the summer before their senior year: get a job, a car, and a boyfriend. Grace secures a waitressing gig at the local Minneapolis Emerald Cafe. She meets a mysterious college boy named Teddy and determines she must claim him as her own. This book follows the teens as they navigate what it means to be “normal” and how they later redefine the word for themselves. Set in the 1960’s, the story has a tender and heartwarming tone, accompanied with an underlying sense of naivety true to the time period. St. Anthony beautifully depicts the coming-of-age moment when we learn the complexity and depth of others lives. A quick yet evoking story, Whatever Normal Is is best suited for middle-leveled readers who relate to the early notions of teenage Grace. (PS)


A Curse so Dark and Lonely

Kemmerer, Brigid. 2019. A Curse So Dark and Lonely. Bloomsbury (Bloomsbury YA). 477pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-68-119508-7.

Harper has cerebral palsy, her mother is dying of cancer, and her brother has to work for the local gang to help cover their absent father’s debts. Needless to say, Washington DC, is not treating her family well. When Harper is on the lookout for her brother, she sees a man try to take a woman off the streets. Without a second thought, she attacks him with a metal rod, and all of a sudden is no longer in DC - or anywhere else in this world. She is in Emberfall, also known as Rhen’s kingdom, which is cursed to repeat the season of fall over and over again. At the end of each fall, Rhen turns into a monster with no control over who he kills. The only way to break this curse is to have someone fall in love with him. After over 300 failed seasons, this season is Rhen’s last chance to save his people from himself. Between an evil sorceress, attackers from the north, and a girl that hates his guts, this season is off to a great start. How Harper’s cerebral palsy is portrayed shows how she didn’t let her condition limit her from doing what she wanted. She rides horses, learns swordplay, climbs down a terrace, and whatever else she puts her mind to. Throughout the book, Harper and Rhen’s relationship slowly evolves as they help each other and this kingdom. A Curse of Dark and Lonely is a good book for anyone who loves fairytale retellings with a twist. (RLW)


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Nix, Garth. 2019. Angel Mage. HarperCollins Publisher (Katherine Tegen Books). 542pp. $19.99. ISBN 978-0-06-268322-9.

Ystarans wait for the day they can return to their homeland. They await the return of Liliath, the Maid of Ellanda, who led their ancestors to safety in the neighboring country of Sarance and who will lead them back to their homes when the time comes. The Ystarans are cursed. If they are touched by angelic magic, their blood turns to ash. Liliath’s return means the return of Pallenial, the Archangel of Ystara, who will cure them all of the Ash Blood Plague. When Liliath returns, however, she has other plans; her people’s needs mean little to her; but she takes an interest in four young Sarancians: Simeon MacNeel, Agnez Descaray, Henri Dupallidin, and Dorotea Imsel. These four Sarancians hold the purest essence of pallenial; and wishing only to be with her beloved, Liliath won’t stop until she fixes her mistake from one hundred and sixty years ago– no matter whose life is lost. Set in a world of Garth Nix’s own creation, the narrative help readers visualize the world as the four main characters explore their surroundings. From the Queen’s chambers to the desolate wasteland of Ystara overrun by beastlings, every location is painted in vivid detail. This book is great for young adult readers, as it shows readers what someone might do just to be with the one person he or she loves. (NZ)


Tarnished are the Stars

Thor, Rosiee. 2019. Tarnished Are The Stars. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 372pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-33-831227-0.  

Anna is a mechanic. She’s also the most wanted criminal on the settlement for ignoring the Commissioner’s laws and saving people’s lives with illegal technology. Nathaniel is the Commissioner’s son. Abused from a young age, all he wants is approval and acknowledgment from his father. Eliza is the Queen’s loyal eyes, dedicating her entire life to her Majesty’s service. Set in a distant future where humanity has destroyed Earth, and people are searching for a new planet in the vast emptiness of space, Tarnished Are the Stars touches on some important life topics pertinent to readers in this day and age. Unfortunately, on Earth Adjacent, the settlement where these characters live, a strange illness has appeared which attacks the hearts of anyone born there. Anna, Nathaniel, and Eliza must overcome their differing agendas and work together to end the deadly epidemic before the Commissioner ends them first. A beautiful blend of space opera, queer romance, and high-stakes dystopia, this story appeals to a broad audience and warns readers of a possible future where humans no longer have a home. (NZ)

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Yates, Alexander. 2019. How We Became Wicked. Simon & Schuster Publishing (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books). 368pp. $12.99. ISBN 978-1-48-141984-0.

What would you do if you had to live inside a city enclosed in glass? The city in question is called Goldsport; and it is one of the last surviving cities in America– since the singers arrived. The singers are mosquito-like insects that, upon biting a human, people are either given a terrible disease referred to as “Wickedness” or people are given the human immunity referred to as the “Vexed.” The Wickedness transforms human beings into brutal, immoral savages, bent on murdering the uninfected, yet they are polite– asking permission before they kill their victims. Among the Vexed is Astrid Gold, one of the descendants of Amblin Gold who founded Goldsport. Astrid wonders if people still live on the island near Goldsport, called Puffin Island, since sometimes the lighthouse still shines. She plans to take a boat out and find out. This book keeps readers in suspense, develops a believable storyline, and weaves themes from today into tale which takes place in another place entirely. Would you risk everything to leave a city, which is your safe haven, to answer all of your questions? Learn what Astrid now knows in Alexander Yeats’ novel, How We Became Wicked. (TZ)