If You’re Gone / by Brittany Goodwin. 1.22.2018

Edge of 22 Publishing ISBN 9780997579000

YA Grades 7-10 Rating: 3

Lillian never dreamed she’d ever go out with Brad, the boy who had always frightened and tormented her when they were younger. Yet she’s been his steady girlfriend for five months now and very much in love…until the day he disappears. She is terrified that something awful has happened to him, but given his shady past, the police are convinced he’s missing “by choice.”

Instead of spending her summer relaxing, preparing for her senior year of high school, and filling out college applications, Lillian embarks on an intense physical and emotional search for Brad. The town rallies to canvas the area. Lillian worries that if he’s hurt she has to find him quickly. But, she wonders, what if, like the cop said, he left because he wanted to? And if so, why didn’t he tell her?

If You’re Gone is a novel that reveals the capacity of young adults to love deeply despite their tender age, and to act with determination in times of deep emotional and spiritual crises. Brittany Goodwin uses the story of the missing teen to explore ideas of love, forgiveness, peer relationships, and community support (both religious and secular).

Lillian’s search for Brad, and the self-knowledge she develops, makes If You’re Gone an excellent choice for a classroom, youth group, or teen book club because it provides a point of engagement for profitable discussions. What are the actions of a true friend? Is there a difference between loving and being in love? Why is forgiveness important? How do you handle pain and/or loss so that you can go on living?

Lillian’s discovery is not what she expected, and the reader must decide whether or not Lillian makes the right choice.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer / written by Stephen McCaskell and Aaron Armstrong, Illustrated by Rommel Ruiz. 1.10.2018

Patrol ISBN 9780999083512

YA Grades 7-12 Rating: 5

Luther is a beautifully and uniquely illustrated book containing edifying biographical teaching about the premier figure of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. This is a useful book for parents to read to kids, but it is not a kid’s book per se. It is what may only be called a serious kid’s book.

Several factors contribute to the serious character of the book. First, there is a lot of text in this book. The amount on each page is limited, but it is a big book and it adds up. In this reviewer’s judgment, a child would have to be at least eight and a strong reader to listen patiently, let alone read on his or her own. Second, all of the illustrations are done in grayscale. The look is very striking and memorable—and it lends an overall gravity to the book’s contents. This is not a hagiography or a light treatment. Third, the book is divided into multiple parts, making it suitable for nightly reading in successive evenings. Finally, the book ends with something like an altar call, a homiletical application.

This reviewer has a serious desire to use the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to impress upon his children the importance of the Christian doctrines retrieved in that time period. The Luther book is a valuable tool for this weighty and joyful task.

The book is something of a companion to a documentary on Luther which is also worth viewing; the illustrations in the book derive from those used in the film.

Mark L. Ward, CLJ

Glimmer Girls series / by Natalie Grant. 12.20.2017

London Art Chase / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 1)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752653

A Dolphin Wish / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 2)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752530

Miracle in Music City / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 3)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752509

Light Up New York / by Natalie Grant. (Glimmer Girls, 4)

ZonderKidz ISBN 9780310752745

INT Grades 3-6 Rating: 4

Musician Natalie Grant pens her Glimmer Girls series for young girls, featuring the adventures of twins Mia and Maddie and their little sister Lulu.

In London Art Chase, the Glimmer girls travel to London to watch their singer mom, Gloria Glimmer, perform at a concert. During their sightseeing at the National Gallery, they stumble upon a mystery–a stolen painting. Maddie and her sisters track the clues throughout London to recover the stolen artwork.

In A Dolphin Wish, the Glimmer family is in San Diego. When they visit a nearby water park, the girls overhear animal workers discussing the problem of animals not staying in their habitats. The girls revisit the sea park to look for clues. Mia leads the adventure to keep the animals safe.

In Miracle in Music City, singer Gloria Glimmer wants her daughters to think of othersneeds. She gets them involved in an annual benefit and auction. The girls are involved in more than just raising money–they have another mystery to solve!

In Light Up New York, the Glimmer family is sightseeing while in New York for a benefit concert. As usual, the girls stumble across another mystery, and deal with sibling rivalry and random acts of kindness.

Grant pens a delightful series for young readers with a family similar to her own (she has twins and a younger daughter). The faith element is very evident, yet it is not preachy. The family prays together and tries to treat one another with kindness. The family motto is: “Glimmer Girls, Sparkle & Shine, But most of all, Be kind.” In each book, the girls investigate a mystery they stumble across. Together they learn lessons about being good friends, telling the truth, and following their instincts. The characters are appealing, the dialogue is genuine, and the storytelling is lively.

Recommended for school and church libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

The Alliance / by Jolina Petersheim. 12.19.2017

Tyndale ISBN 9781496402219

YA (Adult) Grades 7-10 Rating: 3

When an airplane crashes in the field near her house, Leora rushes out to help, hoping for survivors. Together with a few of the local men, they pull a lone pilot out of the wreckage and carry him into Leora’s house. When he comes to, Moses, the pilot, reveals that an EMP–an electromagnetic pulse–knocked his plane out of the sky. An EMP, he explains, is a special warhead that wipes out technology, taking out the power grid and everything that relies on a computer, such as supermarkets. Moses, an Englischer outsider, must persuade the peaceful community of Montana Mennonites to prepare to defend themselves from the looting and crime that a food shortage will surely bring.

Astounded by the scenario that Moses depicts, the elders stand frozen in unbelief and inactivity. They never carry weapons and would never harm anyone. If they have food, they must share it. But teenage Leora, the sole care-taker of her grandmother, younger brother, and mentally-challenged sister, quickly realizes that she must protect her family. But how far is she willing to go to accomplish that? And where, in a time of crisis, does falling in love fit in?

In The Alliance, a community’s standards and collective beliefs are put to the test, and hardship, hunger, and danger, unveil each person’s strengths and flaws. The story asks the reader to consider the consequences of our dependence on technology and to examine what the need for survival might bring out in each of us. Petersheim asks, ”How does one keep faith and kindness alive while trying to preserve one’s own life?”

The Alliance suggests that we can only face our greatest fears and achieve peace when we surrender our lives to God. To discover whether or not Leora succeeds, the story continues in Petersheim’s next novel, The Divide.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Princess Academy series / by Shannon Hale 12.18.2017

Princess Academy / by Shannon Hale (Princess Academy, 1)

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781582349930

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone / by Shannon Hale (Princess Academy, 2)

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781599908731

Princess Academy: Forgotten Sisters / by Shannon Hale (Princess Academy, 3)

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781619634855

INT Grades 4-8 Rating: 4

Prolific author Shannon Hale pens a series about a teen girl who prepares for life in a palace–but this is not an ordinary fairy tale.

In The Princess Academy, Miri was selected from her mountain village to attend an academy that prepares girls for a life as the prince’s prospective bride. Girls from all over the country are sent to the academy, where they compete to be chosen as the next princess at the end of the year-long process. A harsh headmistress, combined with rigid rules and practices at the academy, push Mira into a leadership role among the girls. Will she be chosen as the next princess? Does she want to be if it means leaving her village behind?

In The Princess Academy: Palace of Stone, Miri returns to the capital for the prince’s wedding. While she is there, Miri attends the school at the Queen’s Castle where she meets new friends who are planning a revolution. She is torn between a new attraction and an old love, as well as her loyalty to the new princess and her belief in the ideas being promoted by her new friends. Miri is offered the choice to study at the university or return to the mountain, to be a lady to the princess or the betrothed of a stone carver. What will she decide?

In The Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters, Miri is ordered by the king to start a princess academy for three royal cousins in a faraway place. When she gets there, she finds her students aren’t interested in learning about etiquette, and they know almost nothing about their ancestry. The more time she spends with them, the more she realizes they are a well-guarded secret no one knows about and that those who do know will go to great lengths to keep it that way.

Hale is an excellent storyteller–her characters are well-developed and the plot moves along nicely. This isn’t your typical fairy tale; the happily-ever-after is not guaranteed. Mira grows and matures through the books.

Recommended for school and public libraries. Princess Academy (book 1) was a Newbery Honor nominee, and the sequels are noteworthy as well.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

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