Currents / by Jane Petrlik Smolik. 11.1.2017

Charlesbridge ISBN 9781580896481

INT Grades 4-6 Rating: 4

On a planation in Virginia, 11-year-old Bones Brewster has spent her life a slave, serving a harsh mistress, longing for freedom. When a series of circumstances occurs that leads to hope and heartache, she discovers something that no one can take away from her, while an old bottle set adrift a river may bring its own form of freedom.

An ocean away, Lady Bess Kent longs for adventure, to explore the world as her father does far away from her manipulative step-mother. When she discovers a bottle that has washed up on her English shores, its mysterious contents provide an adventure all their own, as well as help in a time of need.

In Boston, Massachusetts, Mary Margaret Casey irons shoelaces for eight pennies a week and, in her free time, fills a journal with stories about life and the people around her. Though she would love to be a writer, few options are open to a poor Irish girl, especially when any spare funds are needed to help her sick sister. When a shiny bottle catches her eye, Mary finds a valuable treasure inside.

In Currents, author Jane Petrlik Smolik presents a historically rich tale of three young girls living miles and an ocean apart, but whose lives and stories are intertwined and impacted by one bottle set adrift in the James River. The stories flow seamlessly from one to the other, with little reoccurring details (such as Merry’s Museum Magazine and inspiring quotes from the philosopher Marcus Aurelius) that tie them further together and add historical authenticity. Black-and-white illustrations and brief descriptions signal the story shifts, and an epilogue at the end brings closure for both the characters and readers. Messages of courage, friendship, compassion, sacrifice, and forgiveness drift across the pages. Hard topics such as slavery and prejudices are presented with an age-appropriate honesty that stirs both outrage and empathy. A note of caution: there is a somewhat graphic description of a slave being beaten in the first story.

Justina McBride, CLJ

The Lost Girl of Astor Street / by Stephanie Morrill. 10.24.2017

Blink ISBN 9780310758402

YA Grade 8 and up Rating: 5

Stephanie Morrill, author of the Ellie Sweet series, pens her first young adult mystery, set during the Jazz Age, a time of citywide corruption due to the gangsters and of changes in women’s rights.

In The Lost Girl of Astor Street, motherless, 18-year-old Piper Sail is convinced the police aren’t looking in the right place after the disappearance of her best friend, Lydia, and begins her own investigation into Lydia’s disappearance. Friends since childhood, both girls grew up in Chicago’s affluent neighborhoods under the expectations of what that means for their lives.

Daughter of a well-known mobster attorney, Piper takes her search for the truth into some unsavory neighborhoods. But a handsome Italian policeman–Detective Mariano Cassano–is determined to keep her safe and find the answers to Lydia’s disappearance. As she discovers more about her father’s profession and connections in the city, Piper questions the detective’s family’s relationship with her father. Is she willing to risk her life to dig deeply enough to uncover the truth? Where do Mariano’s loyalties lie? Is his interest in her genuine?

Morrill delivers a gutsy, intelligent heroine, a twisting mystery plot, and descriptive historical details (the Roaring Twenties!). The faith element is light and the relationships are clean. The Lost Girl of Astor Street engages the reader from the beginning, keeping one’s attention until the very end. Piper embodies the changing freedoms and restrictions that young women were facing in the Roaring 20s. With its descriptive narratives and well-developed characters, this title will have readers clamoring for more mysteries starring this intrepid amateur sleuth.

Recommended for public and school libraries for high school, young adults–and even adults who enjoy a historical mystery.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

Orphan’s Song / by Gillian Bronte Adams. (The Songkeeper Chronicles, 1) 10.23.2017

Enclave ISBN 9781683700289

YA Grades 6-8 Rating: 4

Twelve-year-old Birdie is haunted by the five notes of a beautiful song that continually come to her ears alone. She has never dared to sing the melody aloud or tell her secret to Madame, the tyrant she works for who already believes Birdie is nothing but a crazy, unwanted orphan. When she finally has the courage to sing the song to Amos, the peddler who has always shown her kindness, he warns her never to sing the melody again for it is dangerous and unnatural. Only moments after the final note fades from her lips, Birdie finds herself on the run from evil men.

As she tries to learn the truth about the song from Amos and those that aid her along the way, everyone seems to avoid giving her clear answers, whether out of protection or fear for what she is. Whom can she trust? Are the notes of such a beautiful melody truly to be feared and kept silent? Or is it, and she, the sole hope against a powerful enemy about to rage war on her land?

Orphan’s Song by Gillian Bronte Adams is a fast-paced, action-packed fantasy with page-turning suspense that will draw readers from the start. Complete with mythical creatures, talking animals, and a powerful sword, the plot holds true to its genre, while spinning its own unique twists and turns, presenting a fresh storyline and well-developed characters. The story is told from the alternating omniscient third-person point of view of Birdie, Amos, and Ky. Birdie is a timid orphan that has been beaten down her whole life but finally discovers the courage to give voice to the song that has always been inside. Amos is a fiery, loveable hero with a haunted past, while Ky is a brave, young thief with warring convictions and loyalty. A fight to silence truth and the few braves souls who dare to take a stand paint an age-old battle between good and evil. Overall, this first book is a great start to the series and is sure to prompt one to pick up its sequel.

Justina McBride, CLJ

Wolf Hollow: a novel / by Lauren Wolk. 10.18.2017

Dutton Children’s Books ISBN 9781101994825

INT Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

Eleven-year-old Annabelle is keeping a secret: Betty Glengarry, the new girl at school, is a bully. Annabelle endures Betty’s abusive words and actions for fear that Betty will harm Annabelle’s younger brothers. However, when Annabelle’s youngest brother becomes the recipient of Betty’s harmful schemes, Annabelle breaks her silence, telling her parents the truth. When Betty is confronted about her actions, she denies everything and, instead, makes alarming accusations about Toby, the strange drifter who wanders the surrounding hills and woods.

Living under the suspicions and bitterness of the past and current world war, Toby is the perfect target for Betty’s meanness. No one knows much about the quiet man, other than he fought against the Germans in France in World War I. Some think he is crazy, someone to fear, but Annabelle has only ever known kindness from him. Can Annabelle prove Toby’s innocence?

A 2017 Newbery Honor Book, Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is a gripping coming-of-age story about a girl who finds her voice in her Pennsylvania home town and uses it to stand up for justice and kindness. The plot speaks to the power of words that can do both harm and good and how prejudices and superstitions can blind others from seeing the truth before them. The tone of this book is somber, full of raw honesty that will evoke a gamut of emotions, particularly outrage, anger, and sorrow; however, Annabelle’s compassionate heart, determination to stand for truth, and her special relationship with Toby will inspire hope, courage, and love. Some endings are not always beautiful or happy–sometimes they are harsh and painful, but still they have the power to shape a life forever, just as words do. Such is the way that Annabelle’s story ends; it is an ending that challenges its readers to be a voice for truth and justice, to be the fruit rather than the frost.

There are some traumatic events portrayed in this book, including a young girl losing her eye, a boy being cut by a metal wire, as well as two deaths.

Justina McBride, CLJ

A Teen’s Guide to the 5 Love Languages: How to Understand Yourself and Improve All Your Relationships / by Gary Chapman. 10.12.2017

Northfield ISBN 9780802414359

YA Grades 7 and up Rating: 5

Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, is joined by Paige Haley Drygas in this book aimed at teenagers and their relationships.

Chapman builds on the concepts he first wrote about in the first book: (1) service, (2) words, (3) gifts, (4) touch, and (5) time. The premise of A Teen’s Guide to 5 Love Languages is that if someone is speaking our primary heart language, we feel loved. Everyone wants to be loved but how we want to be loved is different. By learning about one’s primary language, it is easier to learn another’s language. We tend to show our love through our primary language, but that might not be the way others experience love.

The authors apply these languages to a teen’s relationships: friends, dating, and family. By understanding one’s primary language, a teen can strengthen their friendships, decrease conflict, socialize comfortably, connect more deeply with others, and lessen relationship drama, especially when dealing with anger and forgiveness.

A Teen’s Guide is a short but practical book–less than 200 pages. It has a number of illustrations, quizzes, reflection questions, main points set in a different font and type size (making them easy to find), and everyday examples to demonstrate different dialects of these languages. For example, words have the following dialects: appreciation, encouragement, praise, and kindness. For the language of words: it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Recommended for teens and young adults, school libraries, and public libraries. Sixteen young adults and teens wrote reviews praising this book–although it is aimed at a teen audience, adults and parents could benefit from reading it.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives / by Kenneth C. Davis. 10.9.2017

Henry Holt and Company ISBN 9781627793117

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

This very interesting, eye-opening book written for young people is certainly of great interest to adults as well. The lives of five black enslaved people are highlighted along with much of the history of slavery and the involvement of four of our US presidents, including their own history with slaves and their opinions and actions concerning slavery.

Billy Lee, Ona Judge, Isaac Granger, Paul Jennings, and Alfred Jackson all have a story to tell–stories that have been mostly missed in history books although their owners all hold their own place in our country’s past. Their stories allow readers to understand those whose enslavement helped to build our country but were not conceived in chains rather than liberty.

The book is filled with photos and includes timelines between each long chapter. It is highly recommended for school and public libraries.

Ceil Carey, CLJ

The Ballad of a Broken Nose / by Arne Svingen. 10.6.2017

Simon & Schuster ISBN 9781419721304

YA Grades 6-8 Rating: 4

Bart loves boxing and has a ton of friends—at least, that’s what he tells his mother. As a Norwegian middle schooler, Bart has become a compulsive liar to cope with his rough life. When his mother stumbles home from the pub each night, Bart tucks her in and reminds her that they will have a better life soon—not that he believes that. His father left before he was born, his public housing apartment is dirty, and he lets others get bullied so he won’t get hurt.

Bart has a secret: he loves singing opera music. When his cute classmate Ada finds out, she can’t keep her mouth shut. She volunteers Bart as the special closing act in the school talent show. Horrified, Bart doesn’t know how to lie himself out of this one. Stage fright may not be the only thing hindering his big break. When Bart’s mom ends up in the hospital because of her addiction, Bart must decide what is most important: making a new life for himself or pursuing his mother’s dream of a better one.

Arne Svingen excels at exposing a range of socio-economic diversity in this Batchelder Honor Book. Bart can’t afford to eat multiple meals a day, yet Ada lives without basic worries. When they cross into each other’s worlds, the awkward tension tells just how different two friends can live. Despite their differences, Ada chooses to believe in Bart and encourage him to follow his dream in his time of need.

As a first-person narrative with a journal-like style, The Ballad of a Broken Nose is sprinkled with humor and harsh revelations of childhood. Some material in this book may not be appropriate for all middle school audiences. Because Bart is a middle schooler and so close to his own story, some details are washed over (such as his mother’s drunkenness, skipping school, and swear words) and new perspectives are homed in on (such as his drug-using neighbor’s kindness). This book gives two great lessons: never judge a person based on his background and pursue your dreams despite adversity.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

The Only Road / by Alexandra Diaz. 10.4.2017

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers ISBN 9781481457507

YA Grades 5-9 Rating: 4

When you’re a kid, the most you should have to stress over is doing your homework, and the biggest fear should be a zit in the middle of your forehead just before your birthday party. Not so for 12-year-old Jaime and his 15-year-old cousin Angela.

The Alpha Gang has targeted them to become new members–an order, not a choice. The death of Jaime’s cousin and Angela’s brother Miguel remains engraved in their memories, fresh and tangible proof of what will happen to them too if they refuse to join.

Alexandra Diaz’s realistic and tense drama takes us into the heart of Guatemala and the depths of despair as one close-knit family makes the gut-wrenching decision to send the two children away–in order to save their lives.

The money for the “fees” to travel to El Norte, sewn into the waistband of Jaime’s pants, weighs heavily upon him, along with the realization that his family has plunged deeper into debt for his sake. Now their future–and his–depends upon his making it to the United States. Jaime and his cousin dodge rogue border guards and endure hunger, thirst, fear, prejudice and hostility as they travel illegally from Guatemala into Mexico and then, hopefully, into the United States.

In an age of peoples displaced due to wars and catastrophes, and controversy over immigration issues, this title serves as a reminder of the reasons why many leave their countries for the dream and promise of America. The Only Road, a Pura Belpre Honor Book, reminds the reader that sometimes flight is the only option, and that love, at times, demands great sacrifices.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children, and Their Holy Dog / by Adam Gidwitz and Illustrated by Hatem Aly. 9.28.2017

Dutton Children’s Books ISBN 9780525426165

YA Grades 4-8 Rating: 4

The Inquisitor’s Tale centers around three children: Jeanne, William, and Jacob. These adventurers have been joined by circumstances and forged together by resolve. Along with a dog named Gwenforte, they are on a mission to stop the King of France. The time is the 13th century, and superstition and suspicion are rife. During their adventure, the children find that purported enemies are friends and some posing as friends are truly enemies. There are intrigue, excitement, danger, a good story, and a few twists and turns along the way. The children also find that not exactly fitting in may not be the worst thing in the world–and that being different is what helps you stand out and make a difference.

Adam Gidwitz has written a tale with several likable characters. His research into the 13th century aids in placing this fictional story into its presumed historical context. There is a section in the back that shows the source of his inspiration for some of the characters in the story. The illustrations by Hatem Aly aid the reader in visualizing what is occurring in the story. The story teaches while remaining a story. This is both its great achievement and also its danger.

The book touches upon the issue of Christian-Jewish relations in the medieval period. This can be seen in the attempt in the book by the authorities to burn copies of the Jewish Talmud. It can also be observed in some of the statements by characters and the author about whom God will save. The reader will likely be thinking through their response to issues that occur in the story much as the characters do. Overall, this book was enjoyable and recommended for those who like adventure with a solid dash of history.

Michael Wilhelm, CLJ

Billy Graham: America’s Pastor / by Janet & Geoff Benge.  (Heroes of History) 9.27.2017

Emerald Books ISBN 9781624860249

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

Part of the Heroes of History series, this biography for young people about evangelist Billy Graham is excellent. Beginning with his childhood as a 12-year-old still known to family and friends as Billy Frank, the authors take the readers through Billy’s life at home, in church and school, and then as a famous preacher of the Gospel. He was a small-town North Carolina boy who traveled the world and made friends with almost every famous person of the 20th century. He preached the message of salvation to over 200 million people in 185 countries, never agreeing to preach to a segregated crowd–a stance which had much to do with changes in civil rights in the United Sates as well as other countries of the world, such as South Africa.

The book also tells of Billy’s marriage to Ruth Bell, a missionary daughter who grew up in China, and their ensuing large family. At Ruth’s funeral in 2007, Billy assumed it would not be long before he joined his beloved wife in heaven. But at the writing of this review, Billy Graham is alive at 98 years of age.

The life story of Billy Graham, America’s foremost evangelist and also named as s National Treasure, is interesting but so much more than that. How God can use a person dedicated to Him is inspiring and encouraging to readers.

Ceil Carey, CLJ