A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw

Unique tale surrounded by mystery!

Travis has been hired to find a missing author. He follows Maggie’s path as far as he can then he disappears too. The forest community has secrets that threaten to be revealed unless the leader can keep everyone subdued and believing in him and the community. When a young woman delivers her baby two months too early, members want to retrieve medical help from the outside but the leader, Levi, refuses to allow it. That’s when things start to unravel. Interesting and unique tale surrounded with mystery, 4 stars!

The Orphan Keeper by Camron Wright; Adapted for Young Readers Edition

Based on a miraculous true story!

A young boy, Chellamathu, lives with his family amongst Indian poverty. He has many siblings and it’s difficult for his family to take care of everyone. He’s kidnapped and taken to an orphanage for sale. He’s kidnapped along with a few other children and they ride for three hours before they reach the orphanage. While there, he helps the other children with fear, loneliness and sickness. He’s eventually sold to an American family and moves away. Little by little, he forgets his past and that he was kidnapped. He did tell his American family that he was kidnapped when they first received him but they didn’t speak his language. He learns to participate in school and activities but never truly feels like he belongs anywhere. He can’t understand why he feels that way. His family kept photos, records and a voice recording from when they adopted him and named him Taj. In the recording, he states that he’s been kidnapped. When he’s college age, he meets an Indian family and they hear the recording and tell him what he said. After that, Taj starts on a mission to find his Indian home and family. Through acquaintances, luck and perseverance, he finds them and has a heartwarming reunion! Great story. Even though the writing is dry, the story is touching and miraculous! 4 stars!

Trigger by N. Griffin

Disturbing fictional neglect and abuse!

Small town, USA is where Didi attends school but she lives with her father in a secluded area. He’s abusive and neglects to give Didi everything she needs. Didi is terrified and on edge always, even when she’s not around her father because she’s worried she’ll do something wrong and he’ll find out somehow. Her father makes her run laps around the property so she can become as quick as possible but she doesn’t know why he cares about that. He also forces her to learn and play chess and compete in tournaments and she has to be the best. Eventually Didi understands the reason her father has made her do these things but it might be too late for her to save herself.

Likes/dislikes:
The story is disturbing because of the neglect and abuse. The effects on the child’s physical and mental well-being are portrayed through the coping skills the main character develops over time to deal with her life; they were heartbreaking at times. The timeline jumps around and that was difficult to follow. The ending was the best part.
Language: R for 67 swears and 22 f-bombs.
Mature Content: R for physical abuse and severe neglect.
Violence: R for child abuse and hunting child with a gun.
Ethnicity: Didi has brown hair but other characters’ ethnicities aren’t described.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

A powerful, authentic read!

Starr lives in a rough part of town and after one of her best friends gets shot in a drive by shooting when they’re ten, Starr’s parents have her attend a private school that’s safer. Now Starr is sixteen and she witnesses her other childhood friend getting fatally shot by a police officer. Her friend did nothing to provoke the shooting. This is a powerful novel about much more than racism. It’s also about choices, bravery, integrity and helping others. This book has a lot of swearing which is authentic to the lifestyle of the character’s surroundings but the message of empowerment makes it a must read. 5 stars for a novel that will stick with me.

Likes/dislikes:
I liked how the author shows reality and brings her characters to life to make the readers care about them. I like that two different worlds are brought together by two teens living in both and experiencing the stark differences in each. Character development is abundant and bravery and integrity are a huge factor in the main character’s life and family. I love how the main character’s family is open to discussing everything instead of keeping secrets from each other.
Mature content: PG-13
Underage drinking, marijuana use
Page 81 foreplay (boyfriend touching of girlfriend’s pubic region)
Page 376 arousal (the boyfriend had a bulge in his pants when he kissed his girlfriend)
Violence: PG-13
Fatal Shooting at a party. Police brutality and fatal shooting of a teen male. Riots, gang beatings, starting fires.
Language: R for 100+ swears and 54 f-bombs

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-hate-u-give

Talk Santa To Me by Linda Urban

A cutesy Christmas story!

Francie helps her family with their Christmas business and all of the ups and downs that go with it. She’s trying to overcome her horrible, mistaken kiss and outlive the teasing that’s occurred ever since the boy shared the details with his friends. He told everyone it was like kissing a stick. A few people have offered ways to overcome the bad kissing problem and only one person truly helps her, and helps her without judgment, by kissing her and offering sincere and honest critiques. Once that’s over, Francie gains some confidence and is able to go after her crush. A cutesy Christmas story, 3 stars!

Language Content: PG for three uses of the word dang
Mature Content: PG-13 for underage drinking, kissing
Violence: none
Ethnicity: mixed
Likes/dislikes: I liked the mixed ethnicities, the cute Christmas setting and the light humor. I didn’t like the length of time it took for the romance parts to appear in the book. I enjoy the service that the Christmas interns give by offering to buy books for a girl who only wants to finish reading Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, since the copy she had didn’t have the ending; it was missing. That’s her request in the letter she wrote to Santa.

I Guess I Live Here Now by Claire Ahn

A well-written and descriptive realistic fiction story that makes me want to visit Korea! 4 stars!

Melody is caught by a police officer smoking her first joint with her friend Sophie. They both managed one cough-inducing puff. The officer takes them both home, giving them a warning to not do it again. The next day she discovers that her parents have decided that they all need to be together so she’s moving with her mom to Korea and away from New York City. The two of them have lived in a tiny New York City apartment for most of Melody’s life while her father has worked in Korea and traveled back and forth to visit them. Melody and her mom have a close relationship but everything in Melody’s life changes once they’re in Korea. Her father is strict and gruff, her grandparents seem cold, distant and uncaring. She does make some friends and her Dad encourages socializing, which helps ease the family tensions and the homework stress. Her relationship with Sophie is strained too and Melody wants to figure out how to pursue her dream of becoming an interior designer while mending relationships with the people she cares about and navigating two countries as her home. A well-written and descriptive realistic fiction story that makes me want to visit Korea! 4 stars!

Language: 24 swears, including 1 f-bomb
Mature content: PG-13-kissing; underage smoking of marijuana
Violence: PG-arguing
Ethnicity: Korean, Ethiopian, American and many languages, such as French, spoken and ethnicities represented in Korea when Melody goes to a nightclub.
Likes/dislikes: I love the descriptions of each setting the main character is in. I also like the relevance of family contention and teen angst that takes place as Melody’s father tries to completely control her and she discovers her mother keeping secrets. She sees her grandfather treat her father the same way her father treats her and she wonders why he does that to her when he seems to dislike being treated like that. Great insight into Korean culture through Melody’s experiences as she visits places and tries new foods.

Family of Liars by E. Lockhart

Heads up, Family of Liars is a prequel but also a spoiler to We Were Liars!

Carrie is the oldest of three sisters. When the youngest sister Rosemary drowns, the three remaining sisters must follow the family motto and not show any grief. Carrie becomes addicted to painkillers after jaw surgery that her father insists she needed to give her a stronger looking jaw. The summer after Rosemary drowns, their cousin Yardley brings her boyfriend and his two best friends to the island. They’re funny and help lighten the mood on the island. Carrie and Pfeff are interested in each other but he keeps being inconsiderate and annoys Carrie. She discovers a secret that her mother’s been keeping and it’s consuming Carrie. Pfeff also turns out to be self-centered and when the cousins see him kissing Carrie’s sister Penny, things become precarious. I enjoyed Pfeff’s humor and the writing is exemplary. I felt firsthand what the characters were going through because of the details. Humorous parts with Pfeff changing lyrics of Mary poppins song, Step In Time:
Take no prisoners, do some crimes
Know your math facts! Step in time.
Every time he would sing this, it made me chuckle!
Heads up, Family of Liars is a prequel but also a spoiler to We Were Liars! It’s an enjoyable read full of teen angst, 5 stars!

Ethnicity is predominantly white.
Mature content is PG-13, underage drinking and smoking, attempted rape
Violence is PG-13

It’s All in How You Fall by Sarah Henning

A very cute YA romance!

Ethnicity- predominantly white with a mix of colored people.
Caroline, a fifteen-year-old gymnast, has to stop competing due to an injury. Her brother’s friend Alex tries to help her find something else that’s active but not harmful to her back and is enjoyable for her, so they try several different sports to see what Caroline likes. Alex has a crush on Caroline’s friend Sunny so she’s trying to set the two up without being obvious. Everything is going fine until she realizes she’s developed a crush on Alex. This is a super cute story that builds on friendship and appreciation and turning into more. A very cute, young adult romance! 4 stars!

Ethnicity- predominantly white with a mix of colored people.
No violence, PG content, two f-bombs and 37 other swears, mostly by Caroline’s brother.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Tremendously honest, heartbreaking and soul healing!

Kya lives in the marshlands of North Carolina with her poverty stricken family. Her father is abusive and, one by one, her siblings leave and, eventually, so does her mother. Her father stays and he seems better for a time, even kind. Then he falls back into his old ways again and ends up leaving too. Kya tries school for a day but after being bullied, she doesn’t return. She makes it completely on her own and digs mussels to sell to the local store to bring in money for food. Tate, a boy a few years older than Kya, loves to explore the marsh. They become friends and he teaches her to read. With reading, she discovers and teaches herself to be literate and all about the marshlands and its nature. She illustrates and collects samples of everything she finds in her marsh area. Tate leaves to attend college and becomes a biologist and works in the marsh. He submits Kya’s illustrations and notes to a publisher and she becomes a published author several times over. She adds comforts to her house and lives well by her own wealth. She lives simply but she gets electricity and running water and other basic comforts that she’s never had. When Tate went away to college, he realized that his life would be difficult for Kya. So, he doesn’t visit her for years. While he’s away, the local and popular Chase moves in on Kya. He tricks her into thinking he’s going to marry her, all the while dating other women. Kya eventually sees his engagement article in the local newspaper and ends it with him. Later, he attacks her, trying to rape her and he beats her up. She fights back and escapes. His body is found later and it looks like he fell from the fire tower in the marsh. Since he was a local celebrity, the police are pushed to investigate for foul play. Kya is arrested and faced with a murder trial. The whole time I’m reading the part after Chase attacks Kya, I’m hoping she killed him but I also don’t want her to be found guilty. The suspense builds to intensity and I couldn’t put the book down! Tremendously honest, heartbreaking and soul healing! 5 stars!

Gone Dark by Amanda Panitch

Her survival skills might keep her alive!

Zara’s father is a survivalist that lives on a compound. Zara and her mother used to live on the compound too, until seven years ago. Now she lives with her mother and attends public school far away from her father’s compound. Her father’s survival lessons are drilled into Zara’s head and she replays them often. When there’s a widespread blackout, Zara uses her survival knowledge to get away from a strange man chasing her, to find her mother and to help her friends. As they travel looking for safety and to reach her father’s compound for protection, they come across a lot of danger and strange, sometimes creepy situations, cult communities, religious communities, families stealing supplies from them and people that will do anything for self preservation. Interesting, unique dystopian story, 4 stars!