Kneel

Football is everything to Russell Boudreaux. It’s his talent, his community, and his ticket to a Division I scholarship, where he’ll earn enough money to be set for life. Entering his senior year and final football season, Rus knows his future depends on a successful season. As the captain of the Jackson Jackals, his primary goal is to defeat his school’s rival, Westmond, and lead his team to a championship. However, everything quickly goes wrong. 

When the Jackals’ quarterback, Marion LaSalle, gets arrested for a crime he didn’t do, Rus suddenly becomes entangled in a battle against racism and discrimination. With the help of his teammates and childhood friend, Gabby Dupre, Rus embarks on a mission to give voice to the Black community and promote justice for the town of Monroe. Yet, with every newsworthy action, Rus risks placing himself—and his football future—in jeopardy. Will Rus achieve justice for the Jackson Jackals and Monroe? Or will his political activism cost him his season and his future? 

Rus is the story’s exciting main protagonist, and he strives to stand up for what is right. As a young black man, he sees the tension between the white and black communities of his town, and he desires justice for the racist attacks on the past and present black population. Despite being told to focus solely on football and ignore the blatant acts of inequality, Rus chooses to risk his life to shed light on his town’s issues. His courage and dedication to raising his voice are admirable, and his fearlessness to expose the town’s discrimination through the newspaper should set an example and encourage readers to stand up and fight for what’s right in their own lives. 

The story’s enjoyable nature stems from Rus and his supporting characters. From the start, these characters help readers become invested in the plot by portraying actions and emotions that feel authentic and genuine. Whether it’s Gabby’s ambition to promote justice, Ms. Jabbar’s passion to discover truth, or Marion’s fortitude to succeed on the football field, readers can connect with these characters through shared human experience. Although some readers may not experience this type of overt discrimination, they can relate to the presence of difficult and frustrating circumstances in life. 

The story’s main conflict arises from Rus’s inability to balance football and political activism. Through these struggles, Rus’s resolution to “stand up for his people . . . despite people wanting to see [him] fail” highlights the book’s message about assertiveness: the ability to express one’s opinions and stand firm in one’s values. While this lesson can inspire readers to stand up against inequality in their own lives, the conclusion to the story’s problems can come across as idealistically hopeful or something achieved only in a perfect world. In addition, because the story centers around the theme of justice and equality, there are less action-packed football scenes in it compared to other sports stories. 

In conclusion, Kneel explores the themes of inequality, injustice, and self-expression through the journey of a promising black football star in Louisiana. Of course, the story does feature some heavy topics, like the impacts of modern-day racism, and its prolific use of offensive language and references to alcohol can be unwelcoming. However, the story’s strength comes from its applicable message that will stay with readers long after they put the book down. While football doesn’t play a major role in the story, Kneel will inspire readers to stand up for their beliefs despite their challenges. 

Sexual Content 

  • Rus’s friend, Marion, refers to sex by saying “smashed” and “the birds and the bees.” 
  • During lunch, Gabby and Rus’s “arms occasionally [brush] against each other.” Rus believes the “closeness felt natural, even though Gabby shied away every time it happened.” 
  • When Rus and Gabby sit next to each other, Rus notices that Gabby “scooted her hand next to mine. Her pinky finger grazed my skin.” 
  • Marion believes that Rus “blowing off steam” means he’s “off banging Gabby.” 
  • At one point, Gabby grabs Rus’s hand, and Rus says “I like the hand-holding. I’d like to do other things too, but I was willing to move at Gabby’s pace.” 
  • On the porch of his house, Rus kisses Gabby. “His lips pressed into hers. A blend of emotions collided as we kissed—the months of longing, the layers of protest and anger and frustration. The recent nights of separation, when I didn’t know if she was okay. All of it went into that rush of release.” 
  • In the car, Gabby leans “across the center console for another kiss,” and Rus “gladly [meets] her halfway.” 

Violence 

  • During a football game against Deerlake, Rus gets “pinned to the ground” by a big Deerlake linebacker. 
  • Before a major football game, Marion and Bradley Simmons, the quarterback for Westmond High, “[tousle] on the ground.” Soon afterward, Marion’s face is bruised and bloody, the officials suspend the game, and the two boys are taken to the police station. 
  • Terrance, one of Rus’s teammates, believes that Shreveport’s crowd wants “to lynch us for real.” 
  • Rus and Darrell, one of Rus’s teammates, “lunge across the aisle” and fight after a disappointing football game loss. No one is injured during this scene. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Rus mentions that his teammates drink beer at a Friday night party. 
  • Rus’s father, Pops, takes a “measured sip from his beer” during a conversation between Rus, his mom, and Marion. 
  • Beer makes multiple appearances at Terrance’s party, such as in the “liquor cabinet” and a “cooler of beers.” 
  • Gary Tounior, Darrell’s cousin, has a “Swisher blunt hanging from the lips” during a party. 
  • Rus’s teammates smoke and “conceal their blunts” during a party. 
  • Darrell pops “the top off a can of beer” and hands it to Rus during a Friday night party. 
  • Marion drinks and runs off with a “bottle of Olde English” after a rough conversation with Rus. 
  • When Marion is kicked off the football team, Rus fears that he is “still looking for answers in bottles of malt liquor.” 
  • During homecoming preparation, Coach Fontenot, Rus’s football coach, spits “a wad of chewing tobacco into [a crumpled water bottle] before tucking it out of sight.” 
  • During a political rally, activist Charlotte Martin talks about a man who was arrested for selling “loose cigarettes outside of a convenience store.” 
  • Dave, Gabby’s close friend, asks Rus if he wants some “beer” during a college party. 
  • At Terrance’s house, Rus remembers “sneaking booze out of his mama’s liquor cabinet and staying up too late.” 

Language 

  • Marion gives Rus “the finger” after Rus jokes about his lack of a car. 
  • Profanity is used excessively. Profanity includes shit, damn, ass, hell, horseshit, piss, and fuck. 
  • “God,” “Jesus,” “Lord, help us,” “Lord knows he deserves worse,” and other similar phrases are used rarely as an exclamation. 
  • Marion threatens to call Bradley a piece of “trash.” 
  • The term “negro” is used several times. 
  • Gary insults Rus by calling him a “Mr. Big Man Baller.” 
  • One of Westmond’s football players, Lawrence, calls Rus a “nigga.” 
  • During a fight, Gabby calls the people on the football field a “dick.” 
  • Rus describes the town’s reaction to his decision to kneel during the national anthem as “bullshit.” He and Gabby use it again later on in the book during a similar conversation. 
  • Coach Fontenot calls his football team “a bunch of gosh darn amateurs” after a bad play. 
  • Rus describes football practice without Marion as a “shitstorm.” 
  • Rus feels like an “asshole” when he prematurely brings up his scholarship opportunity with Clemson to Marion. 
  • Bradley calls Lawrence a “fucking asshole” when he apologizes to Marion. 

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • Rus’s teammate, Karim, has a tattoo of his mother posed “as Mother Mary—complete with a bowed head and hands folded in prayer.” 
  • Rus’s mother believes that “prayer and perseverance” will fix her family’s problems. 
  • Rus repeats a “prayer” that the rungs of his tree house ladder won’t break under his weight. 
  • After throwing a good football pass to Rus, Marion kisses “his fist then point[s] to the sky, as if sending God a little prayer.” 
  • When Rus runs to his car after a football game, he prays “to God” that “[the car] would start tonight.” 
  • When Rus and his friends are being chased by the police, Rus “hope[s] to God” that Terrance grabbed his house keys. 

Joseph Stalin

In 1917, Russian workers shocked the world by overthrowing their emperor and ending centuries of tyranny. The leaders of the Russian Revolution proclaimed a new nation—the Soviet Union—and promised to build a just society run by and for the common people.  

Instead, they gave the world Joseph Stalin. 

Stalin turned the Soviet Union into a world power—at an almost unimaginable cost. He uprooted millions of peasants and starved millions more to death. He executed his enemies, real or imagined, and filled a notorious system of prison camps with Soviet citizens. He was more ruthless than any of the previous Russian emperors.  

Joseph Stalin takes readers through Stalin’s life, from his troubled childhood until his death. The book adeptly includes enough detail to provide context and color to each chapter without overwhelming the reader with facts. From Stalin’s childhood to his time as a revolutionary and finally to his span as leader of the Soviet Union, Stalin’s life is fraught with violence. 

Reading about Stalin is not for the faint of heart. From bombs to gulags, mass executions to deliberate starvation, the information in this book—while not described in graphic detail—is disturbing in the extreme. Each chapter contains one to two black-and-white historical photographs. In addition, there is a seven-page photo collection in the middle of the book. While the illustrations are often grainy enough to obscure any gory details, the images of corpses, skeletons, and violence may be disturbing.  

Joseph Stalin is written at a high reading level, with some challenging vocabulary. Each chapter is only four to six pages long, making this a short read for those interested in learning about this dark chapter in history. The story is engaging and quick-paced, perfect for readers who do not want to get bogged down in endless details. Readers don’t need to know much about Stalin in order to understand this non-fiction book, but enough facts are included that those familiar with Stalin’s life will still learn something new. The book ends with a timeline of Stalin’s life and a glossary that includes definitions of both Russian terminology and some of the more difficult vocabulary.  

While the short chapters and illustrations will help readers engage with this disturbing tale, the difficult vocabulary and extremely violent content make this book a good fit for more mature readers. Teaching our youth about dark chapters in history is essential in educating and empowering the next generation; however, this book may give sensitive readers nightmares. Readers who would like to learn more about Stalin’s time period without disturbing details should instead read Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • A flood near Kolpashevo unearths a mass grave. “As the current eroded the riverbanks . . . human skeletons began to tumble from the ground. Half-frozen, mummified bodies surfaced in the layer below the skeletons. Many of the remains slid into the river.” 
  • The secret police “forced local residents to tie weights to the bodies and sink them in the river.” The KGB said the bodies were “military deserters executed after World War II . . . but the people of Kolpashevo knew the truth . . . In the late 1930s, friends, relatives, and neighbors . . . were shot in the back of the head and shoveled into a mass grave” by the local secret police. A black-and-white photograph of a mass grave accompanies this chapter.  
  • When Stalin was a young boy, he “once threw a knife at his father in order to protect his mother from a beating.”  
  • When Stalin was twenty years old, he joined the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, where “he organized protests, strikes, and riots. At one point, he was suspected of setting a fire in an oil refinery.”  
  • In 1905, during protests across Russia, “peasants lashed out at their landlords, burning their estates to the ground and torching police stations . . . [Stalin] and other revolutionaries created battle squads to harass and kill tsarist troops.” Afterwards, the “tsar allowed vigilante death squads called the Black Hundreds to roam the countryside and crush all signs of public protest.”  
  • When Stalin started working for Lenin and the Bolsheviks, he “took up life as a gangster . . . [he] robbed banks, trains, and mail ships. In one murderous assault, [his] gang blew up two horse-drawn carriages.” Forty people were killed. 
  • The Bolsheviks “sent squads of assassins armed with rifles, pistols, and homemade bombs into Russian cities. Between 1906 and 1909, the Bolsheviks and other revolutionary groups killed more than 2,600 police and government officials.”  
  • There are many references to people being “shot” and “executed,” often “with a bullet to the back of the head.” For example, the NKVD in Stalinabad “ended up shooting more than 13,000 [people].” Not all instances of executions are listed here.  
  • A Red Army newspaper said, “Without mercy, without sparing, [The Red Army] will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them drown themselves in their own blood.”  
  • Lenin (the leader of the Communist revolution in Russia) said, “How can you make a revolution without firing squads? If we can’t shoot [enemy] saboteurs, what kind of revolution is this?” 
  • Stalin had many slave-labor camps called gulags. “Prisoners . . . lived on starvation rations and received little medical care. They were purposely worked to exhaustion. They died by the thousands. . . At least one million would die in the gulags,” the book says, though many think the number is much higher.  
  • Gulag survivor Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about how prisoners “singled out for bad behavior” were thrown into a “bedbug infested box.” When the bedbugs swarmed the victim, “he waged war with them strenuously, crushing them on his body and on the walls, suffocated by their stink. But after several hours, he weakened and let them drink his blood without a murmur.”  
  • Stalin creates a massive famine where “peasants were dropping dead of starvation.” Millions starve, and “once-lively villages [became] ghost towns with skeleton-thin corpses lining the street.”  
  • The famine gets so bad that “reports of cannibalism leaked out from the worst affected regions. In the city of Poltava, children started mysteriously disappearing from the streets. Before long, fresh supplies of meat appeared in the normally barren city markets. Upon inspection, the meat was found to be human flesh.”  
  • Sergei Kirov, a rival of Stalin, is “shot dead in Leningrad by an assassin.” Many suspect “that Stalin had ordered Kirov’s murder to get rid of a dangerous rival.” Trotsky, another rival, was later assassinated by “a blow to the head with an ice pick.”  
  • Two rivals of Stalin are “dragged from their cells and shot. Afterward, the bullets were removed from their brains and kept by NKVD chief Genrich Yagoda as souvenirs.”  
  • Many times during Stalin’s reign, “mass graves were dug.” Several photos of dead bodies and skeletons are included in the book.  
  • During World War II, Red Army officers received orders to “execute deserters and troops who fled from battle. More than 150,000 soldiers were shot in 1941 and 1942 alone.”  
  • The chapter on World War II includes a photograph of two Soviets being hung by Nazis. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Stalin’s father “was an angry man who drank heavily and beat his wife and son.”  
  • It is said that “Georgians had a reputation for drinking hard, singing loud, and settling feuds with punches if not daggers,” and Stalin “fit right in.”  

Language  

  • A politician praises Stalin’s Five-Year Plan, saying, “Damn it all . . . you just want to live and live—really, just look what’s going on.”

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Stalin’s mother was “determined to see [Stalin] wear the long black robes of a Russian Orthodox priest.” Stalin enrolls in Tiflis Spiritual Seminary but is kicked out.  

The Godhead Complex

Sadina and the islanders are up against both man and nature as they navigate their way to Alaska. There, they hope to meet the mysterious Godhead, unsure of what separates myth from truth. But the Godhead, now led by Alexandra, is fractured. Within the cracks of their sacred trinity, secrets are revealed that blur the lines of good and evil forever. 

After a devastating discovery, Isaac and Sadina are forced to split up. Minho holds the rest of the group together, but it’s his beliefs that are slowly falling apart. What once drove Minho to join his sworn enemies is causing him to question everything. When Sadina finds a clue in The Book of Newt, her mission to meet the Godhead becomes even stronger. Isaac and Old Man Frypan come across an enigmatic traveler and learn that the cure isn’t what it once was. They are shaken to the core when they realize that the immunes aren’t as immune as they should be, and the world as a whole is evolving in a dangerous new direction. 

In Alaska, The Godhead and the sacred site of the Maze face something that no generation of Pilgrims before them has ever witnessed. Beliefs will change, futures will be rewritten, and not even the Godhead knows what will happen next. 

Isaac’s best friend, Sadina, has been told that there is a chance her blood may be the Cure to the Flare virus. The Remnant Nation and The Godhead each offers their own plan for a cure for the Flare. Isaac and Sadina feel that “they needed to help end the Flare for good” by “taking Sadina’s blood” and creating a Cure, but Isaac and Sadina don’t know who to trust—The Remnant Nation or the Godhead.  

An important theme in The Godhead Complex is how people in positions of power can manipulate those who are desperate for answers. The Godhead claims to offer a “cure” for the Flare virus that will reshape humankind as we know it: “For the non-infected, the Cure sequenced DNA structures that had been left abandoned in humankind, opening new pathways and abilities whose potential had been lost or never discovered.” These abilities include perfect memory, strength beyond normal human capacity, and even telepathy. Alexandra, a powerful leader in the Godhead, calls herself a goddess and is even willing to kill her counterparts in the Godhead to gain more power for herself. Alexandra tells the public that she has found a cure for the Flare virus and that, “You all will become Gods and Goddesses, if you accept the Cure.” 

One important character is Old Man Frypan, a man who was a test subject in the original Maze experiments decades ago. Frypan is a character from the original Maze Runner Series, set seventy years before this novel, and he constantly offers Isaac and his friends sage advice. For instance, Frypan says, “You trust yourself first, and after that you trust those who trust you.” Frypan explains a main theme in the novel: sometimes people who begin with good intentions can become dangerous. For example, Sadina, Isaac’s best friend, asks, “If [the Godhead] really wants to cure the Flare, that can only be good, right?” Old Man Frypan tells Sadina, “People are manipulative, motivated by power, greed, and things you and I aren’t capable of.” 

The theme of people turning on each other for power is pertinent. The major war that happens centers around two leaders of the Godhead, Alexandra and Mikhail, and their attempts to secretly gain power over each other. For example, Mikhail says, “It was Alexandra’s war within her own mind that made it possible for Mikhail to sneak away so often to the Remnant Nation. To build an army of Orphans solely to defeat her and wipe the Flare from the earth for good.” Both characters are set on destroying each other, even though in the previous novel it appeared that they were both on the same side, with the Godhead. 

Readers who enjoy switching between the points of view of several characters will enjoy the way this book builds suspense by focusing on multiple characters’ perspectives. Readers who enjoy science fiction and action will find this book thrilling, as long as they are not put off by occasional instances of violence. The ending will have readers on the edge of their seats. Isaac and his friends discover that “something about the sequencing that blocks the Flare also blocks reproduction . . . The Evolution [from taking the Cure] will cause our extinction.” The end of book two leaves Isaac struggling to reckon with the truth: “How can [the Cure] save the population while ensuring it ceases to exist. How could both realities be true?” Isaac and his friends decide they only have one option, to go to Alaska and confront the Godhead.  

Sexual Content 

  • Sadina and her long-time girlfriend, Trish, kiss. “They kissed, and Sadina squeezed Trish even tighter, and the cheese-fest might have lasted forever if Dominic didn’t race up to the deck.” 

Violence 

  • In a prologue, the widespread effects of the Flare virus are described: “screams of death” like “souls being cooked from the inside out.”  
  • Isaac’s friend, Sadina, recalls an event from the first book in the series, The Maze Cutter, where Kletter was murdered by two strangers. “Kletter got her throat slit open.” 
  • Mikhail discovers that a fellow member of the Godhead has been murdered: “It took [Mikhail] a handful of seconds to realize what he was looking at—not because his brain was confused, but because he had never before this moment seen a body without a head.” 
  • While sneaking into the Remnant Nation, Mikhail is stabbed. “Before [Mikhail] could even wonder who was behind him, he felt the screaming stab of a knife in his lower back.” However, Mikhail does not die from this wound.  
  • Alexandra witnesses an arrow kill her assistant. “Alexandra stopped at the sight of her faithful servant’s expression, crooked with pain . . . His knees hit the ground, a single red arrow jutting from his neck.” 
  • Mikhail witnesses a group of cranks, people infected with the Flare that turn into zombie-like creatures, “chewing at their own limbs” to escape chains. 
  • When a crank escapes the chains, Mikhail kills it. “[Mikhail] then stabbed the crank in the neck. Right in the artery.”  
  • To protect her friends, Sadina kills a crank. “[Sadina] steadied the gun in both hands then blew a bullet through the crank’s head.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • Occasionally characters will use profanity such as ass, damn, and shit.  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Nicholas, a member of the Godhead, says the Cure will make humans into gods. He says, “God is nothing but a complex, we are all gods.” 
  • Alexandra, a leader of the Godhead, refers to herself as “Goddess.”   
  • Alexandra tells the public, “You all will become Gods and Goddesses, if you accept the Cure.” 
  • Roxy, a wise woman who joins Isaac and his friends on their mission tells stories of “the God with the Angels and the Devil.” Roxy says, “Hell is a place you go to after you die, where the Devil rules his little scary kingdom. I don’t believe in it, not literally anyway, but some people do.” 

Scene of the Crime: Tracking Down Criminals with Forensic Science

From the critically acclaimed author of The Book of Chocolate, The Human Body, and From Here to There, comes an all new nonfiction deep dive into forensic science. What is evidence and how do investigators gather it? How do you determine how long a body has been dead? Do fingerprints differ from person to person? How did some of the world’s great fictional detectives, like Sherlock Holmes, further the study of forensics? Packed with lively photos, classroom activities, and engaging prose, budding private eyes and scientists will be eager to find the answers to these and other questions in HP Newquist’s latest, and to learn about everything from the world’s first autopsy in Ancient Rome to the role that DNA plays in solving crimes along the way. 

Scene of the Crime is a fascinating book that takes a deep dive into the science of forensics. From the beginning of time, crime has been a part of the world. This is where Scene of the Crime begins. However, the information is presented in short chapters, making it easy to understand. In addition, the use of illustrations, photography, and other graphic elements break up the oversized text. In order to make the book easier to understand, whole pages are devoted to crime scene vocabulary, and other information such as different eras of society. To engage readers, the book encourages readers to act like a detective by completing activities such as identifying a footprint. The visual elements include illustrations, vocabulary, and activities that will appeal to a large number of readers. 

While much of the book discusses murder investigations, it also includes interesting information about the first detective story written by Edgar Allen Poe as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character Sherlock Holmes. Readers will be fascinated by how Sherlock Holmes helped shape forensic science. For example, because of Sherlock Holmes, police “attempted to reconstruct the crime based on all evidence.”  

Using real crime, Scene of the Crime explains that some crime investigators found ways to process evidence by accident, and other’s used ways to determine guilt and innocence in unconventional ways. For example, Cesare Lombroso was a doctor who believed that “physical features—such as an unusual forehead or large hands—could tell if people were going to be criminals or not.” Readers will recognize many of the scientist mentioned in the book and be surprised at how the scientist helped shape today’s investigations.   

When it comes to forensic science, new methods are still being discovered which causes ethical debates. For example, DNA from genealogy websites was used to catch the Golden State Killer. Even though DNA can be used to identify murders, there is debate about the ethical use of DNA. “If we leave our DNA everywhere—including on door handles and tissues—does that mean the police are free to collect it no matter what? Even if we’re not suspected of committing a crime?” Scene of the Crime also leaves the reader with this question: How will artificial intelligence affect how crimes scenes are investigated?  

Although Scene of the Crime is fascinating, it is not for the faint of heart. While the deaths are not described in gory detail, victims’ wounds are discussed. This includes a segment on how the body decomposes, which is gruesome and disturbing even though it’s described scientifically. There are also several pictures that show decomposing bodies that are being researched at a body farm—facilities that use corpses to study decomposition of the body. Despite this, anyone who is interested in the law enforcement field should read Scene of the Crime. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Because the book is about solving murders and gives examples of real crime scenes, including the condition of the bodies, not all examples from the book are included below.  
  • In the 1500s, torture was used to “get suspects to admit to crimes. . . Speaking out against God, not going to church, or practicing witchcraft were considered among the worst crimes one could commit.” This caused the Spanish Inquisition which used “trial by ordeal” to determine guilt or innocence. “For example, one version of the trial by ordeal was known as the ‘drowning of witches.’ The way to find out if a woman was a witch was to tie her up and throw her in the river. . . If she floated, she was guilty.” Several other examples are given. 
  • When Ceasar died, people wanted to know the cause of death. “Ceasar’s physician examined the ruler’s corpse. . . He made a report. It stated, very succinctly, that ‘Ceasar had been brutally stabbed twenty-three times, but only one of these proved fatal, and that was to his heart.”  
  • In 1784, a man named Edward Culshaw was murdered. “Someone shot him in the head. . . The doctor who examined Culshaw’s corpse removed the bullet from his head. Along with the bullet, the doctor found something strange. Pressed against the bullet—inside Culshaw’s skull—was a small piece of wadded-up newspaper.” The newspaper helped convict the killer and the killer was “taken away to be hanged.”  
  • In 1892, two children “had been stabbed in their beds. [Their mother] accused her neighbor Ramon Velasquez. . . The police—using a technique many police departments did at the time—beat Velasquez in the hopes he would confess. He would not.” They locked him in a jail cell with the bloody corpses of the two children overnight.” He still didn’t confess. 
  • Later, police discovered that the children’s mother, Francisca, killed them. “Francisca had done it because she wanted to be free of the boys in order to marry her new boyfriend, who did not like children.” 
  • A chapter is dedicated to Jack the Ripper, who killed five women. “The five women had their necks cut by a large knife. The killer then opened one of his victims up, as if preparing them for surgery, and removed their internal organs. These were placed around the victim’s body.”  
  • One chapter discusses how Al Capone’s gang violence advanced ballistics testing. Capone’s gang and George “Bugs” Moran’s gang were causing havoc in the streets. Then on Valentine’s Day 1929, “seven of Moran’s men were rounded up and taken to a garage. They were lined up against a wall and shot to death by four gunmen who sprayed them with machine-gun bullets.”  
  • In 1983, “the body of fifteen-year-old Lynda Mann was found raped and strangled in the woods in the rural country. . . There were bodily fluids on her corpse, but no fingerprints.” Three years later another fifteen-year-old was discovered “murdered in a similar fashion.”  
  • The book explains the crimes of the Golden State Killer who “killed at least thirteen people, sexually assaulted more than fifty women, and committed over a hundred burglaries. He killed men and women, broke into their homes, stole their jewelry, and sometimes paused to eat the food in their kitchen.” DNA was used to find the Golden State Killer and he was sentenced to prison.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Mathieu Orfila “was fascinated by chemistry, especially the chemical mysteries that lurked in poison.” Mathieu wrote several books on poison and how to tell if a dead person was killed by poison. In 1840, Marie Lafarge’s husband died after he became sick. “The Lafarges’ maid told police that she had seen Marie mixing arsenic in Charles’ food. . . It came to light that Marie had bought so much arsenic that the local pharmacist stopped selling it to her.” During the trial, Mathieu Orfila used a test and discovered arsenic was “in the body. Charles had been poisoned to death.” 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • In the 1500s, spectral evidence was used. “Witnesses claimed they saw visions of dead people—ghosts. The ghosts helped witnesses identify the criminal.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • None

What If It’s Us

When Arthur found out he was going to spend the summer in New York doing an internship at a branch of his mom’s law firm, he was thrilled. As a theatre fanatic, he was excited at the prospect of living right at the heart of where everything happens. But when he gets there, he realizes that life in New York is no Broadway show. He misses his friends back home, Jessie and Ethan, and there are no other high schoolers at the firm to hang out with. The two people closest in age to him, Juliet and Namrata, are in college and treat him like a little brother, not a friend. And on top of it all, his parents have been bickering nonstop since they landed, and their New York apartment is too small for Arthur to get away from it. 

Ben’s summer isn’t going much better. During the school year, he spent so much time with his then-boyfriend, Hudson, that his grades suffered. Now, to graduate on time, Ben has to spend his break in summer school. To add insult to injury, he and Hudson broke up shortly before the end of the school year after Hudson cheated on him, causing a rift in their friend group as their mutual friends took different sides. Ben still has his best friend, Dylan, but his other friend Harriet only hangs out with Hudson now. Summer school is bad enough, but his broken friendships are really starting to take a toll on him. 

When Ben and Arthur first meet in the post office, they hit it off right away, but forget to exchange names or contact information. When they find each other again, they call it New York City magic, a sign from the universe that they should be together. After a few rocky starts, they begin to date. But Arthur has never been in a relationship before, and Ben has way too much on his plate. And, of course, there’s the fact that at the end of the summer, Arthur will have to leave New York. Can they make their relationship work despite all of these challenges, or are they simply not meant to be together? 

What If It’s Us is a humorous, cute, and cozy teen rom-com that’s easy and fun to read. It is full of references, particularly to contemporary Broadway musicals and Harry Potter, for fans to enjoy; however, knowledge of these references isn’t necessary to enjoy the book as a whole. All of the characters, particularly Arthur and Ben, are well-developed and fleshed-out, making them easy to relate to and sympathize with. The chapters alternate between both Ben’s and Arthur’s perspectives, giving readers a glimpse into both characters’ thoughts. Although they both make mistakes and have problems, they work through them together, making them an easy couple for readers to root for. 

Fans of Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera will love their collaboration on this book. The novel flows well, without major style shifts, something that is difficult to achieve in a collaborative project. Each of their distinctive styles shines through while still working with the other, not overpowering it. Overall, What If It’s Us is an adorable teen rom-com, perfect for readers who want a simple story about the power of love. Its main lesson is to live in the moment; even if love and friendship may not last forever, they can still be beautiful and are worth pursuing. Fans of What If It’s Us should also read They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera and Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli. 

Sexual Content 

  • When Ben goes to his best friend Dylan’s house, Ben knocks on Dylan’s bedroom door before going in because a few months ago “[Ben] walked in and he was really going at it with himself. ‘Hand out of your pants?’ [Ben] ask[s]. ‘Unfortunately,’ Dylan responds from the other side.” 
  • On Ben and Arthur’s first date, Ben mentions, “My best friend, Dylan, once sent me a link to some Harry Potter porn. You can never read those books the same after you’ve seen Hermione, Harry, and Ron in a potions lab shouting Erectus Penis.” 
  • Ben and Arthur have their first kiss. Arthur’s “eyes are closed, and [Ben’s] lips move against mine, and WOW, I don’t know what the rules are around the appropriateness of getting a boner in this sort of moment, but– oh. I should kiss him back.” 
  • When Arthur brings Ben to his apartment to meet his parents, Arthur worries about how he should introduce Ben. “If he’s not my boyfriend, what do I call him? My friend? My gentleman caller? The guy with whom I think about having sex with 99 percent of my waking hours? And yes, I mean that both ways. I spend 99 percent of my waking hours thinking about how I’d like to spend 99 percent of my waking hours having sex with Ben.” 
  • During a dinner with Ben’s parents, Ben and Arthur go to Ben’s bedroom. They sit on top of Ben’s bed together (the door is open) and Ben thinks about sex. “I sit beside him and think about sex because that’s what happens when your beautiful boyfriend is in bed with you. If we make a move to have sex while he’s still in New York, it’s going to be his first time. That’s wild pressure. I want to prove myself to him so that no matter what happens between us, he won’t ever look back at me and regret our choice.” 
  • When Ben and Arthur are home alone, they mess around in Ben’s room. “And for a moment, we just stay like that– chest to chest, cheek to cheek. And then, slowly, [Ben’s] fingers trail closer to my boxers, slipping under their waistband. ‘This still okay?’ Holy shit. I laugh breathlessly. ‘Yup.’ So this is actually happening. It’s happening. It’s happening, and my whole body knows it. His hand slides down another inch. I don’t think I’ll ever not be hard again. His eyes never leave mine. He looks nervous. And he holds me like I’m breakable.” They do not end up having sex. 
  • Ben and Arthur kiss in Arthur’s apartment when they are home alone. “I just love this. Every part of it. The hitch in [Ben’s] breath and his slightly swollen lips and knowing I’m the one who made both of those things happen. I love the way the spaces between our bodies vanish, like we can’t be close enough. I love the feeling of my hands in his hair. I love the softness of the nape of his neck. And most of all, I love it when our lips are touching and our mouths slide open and my heart’s a mile a minute, and breath becomes something we share.” 
  • Ben and Arthur have sex for the first time in Arthur’s room. Ben describes, “We get going and we go slow . . . I kiss him and I call him beautiful and I tell him I love him and we go on past that finish line. We laugh and we catch our breaths.” 
  • When Arthur helps Ben study for his chemistry exam on Arthur’s last night in New York, Ben says, “I can’t believe we’re spending your last night studying for my fucking exam.” Then, Adam details the following exchange: “‘I love studying with you for your fucking exam.’ ‘I’d rather forget the exam part and go straight to–’ I clap my hand over his mouth. ‘Don’t say ‘fucking.’ Don’t you dare.’” 
  • Arthur comes up with the following mnemonic device for remembering the first nine elements on the periodic table: “Happy Hudson loves boners but can never overcome flaccidity.” 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Ben, Arthur, and their friends go to a karaoke night, and someone asks one of their friends to “go use your beard to get us some alcohol.” This doesn’t work, and the four drink Coke instead. 

Language 

  • “Fuck” is used often as an intensifier, and once as a synonym for “have sex with.” 
  • “Shit” is sometimes used as an exclamation. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Ben and his parents say grace before dinner. “This evening Ma is thanking God for the food on the table, for my abuelita who fell getting out of the car and my aunt who’s taking care of her, for Pa’s modest pay raise kicking in at Duane Reade, and for everyone’s well-being.” 

Mermaid Myths

Are mermaids compassionate beings waiting to save drowning sailors, or vindictive creatures hoping to lure people to their deaths? The answer depends on the lore, which is vast and varied. Throughout the centuries, people around the world have reported seeing mermaids on rocks or bobbing in the sea. Even in the 21st century, people are drawn to the mystery of the mermaids and the folklore surrounding them. 

Mermaid Myths takes a swim through the mythical mermaid world looking at different legends. Readers will find the many mermaid stories and hoaxes in this engaging book entertaining as well as educational. They will learn how different cultures view mermaids and will be surprised at the similarities in the different myths. This exploration of mermaid folklore opens a unique and entertaining window into studies of world culture. 

Many mermaid myths tell of the doomed love between human and mermaid. However, there are many more legends about the deceptive power of mermaids, who sing to men causing their deaths, or lure humans into water to drown. In addition, several mermaid tales explain how a mermaid once turned into a goddess. Despite the repetitious nature of the legends, readers are sure to find new and fascinating information in each. 

The book is both interesting and visually appealing. Each page has large illustrations that include short captions. Each section is broken into smaller snippets based on the country the myth originated from. Another appealing aspect of the story is the fun facts that appear in a graphic that looks like a scroll. Throughout the book, readers will encounter bolded words that may be unfamiliar. However, the words are defined within the text, making the passage easy to understand. 

Mermaid Myths is the perfect book to learn about the history behind mermaid legends. While none of the myths are covered in detail, the book will spark readers’ curiosity and give them different topics they may want to research further. Readers will be surprised to learn how mermaid mythology still fascinates people today and some women are actually professional mermaids! If you love The Little Mermaid, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stronger Tides, or even Mako Mermaid, then Mermaid Myths is a must-read. Those interested in learning more factual information about myths should also read the other Myths Across the Map books.  

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Sirens are “half woman and half bird, and are very dangerous. . .Their singing tricks humans who hear them into thinking the sirens are beautiful. Passing sailors are so enchanted that they sail into the island and crash against the rocks.” 
  • Iara is a malevolent goddess found around the Amazon River. She is known for causing drownings and other accidents. “Her jealous brothers try to kill her. Instead, Iara kills the two men.”  
  • In Japan, legends warn sailors about catching a ningyo. “If the net entangles a ningyo, her distress can cause a tsunami.” 
  • A fisherman caught a ningyo and prepared it “as he would any other fish food. . . It was so good that [his daughter] eats all of it.” She lived for 800 years, “sadly wandering from place to place.” 
  • The goddess Atargatis falls in love and marries a human man, whom she accidentally kills. “Filled with grief, Atargatis throws herself into the sea. The gods see this and do not let her die. They change Atargatis into a mermaid and make her a goddess of the sea.” 
  • A man found a mermaid in his wine cellar. “Frightened, the man shot the mermaid. As she died, the mermaid cursed the man and his family. She said he would never have a son. The curse appeared to come true as the man had seven daughters.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • The book explores different powers that myths and legends report mermaids to have. For example, “Mermaids have the power to control many things. Some use these powers for good. Others, however, use them to bring death or bad luck to humans.” 
  • Mermaids can “cast a spell by singing or by staring at a human. In this way, mermaids lure people into the water to drown.”  
  • “If a mermaid kisses a human, that person can then breathe underwater.” 
  • Naiads and nereids are freshwater nymphs. “As kind and generous goddesses, the nereids are friendly with sea creatures . . . they also protect sailors and fisherman, and rescue those in trouble.” 
  • According to Haitian mythology, La Sirene can “cause violent storms when she is angry. . . If La Sirene takes people under the sea, she keeps them there for seven years. During that time, the mermaid queen teaches her captive humans magic.” 
  • In German mythology, nixes are shapeshifters. “On land, a nixie can turn herself into many things. She might be an old woman, a horse, a snake, or another animal.” 
  • The Inuit people have a myth about Sedna, the water goddess. She married a man who then turned into a bird. “Sedna was very unhappy, and her father came to rescue her. As they made their escape, a storm brewed.” Sedna fell into the water and died. “From then on, Sedna became the goddess of the sea. All the creatures of the sea were born from her body.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Vicious Deep

One crashing wave and Tristan Hart was gone for three days. Sucked out to sea in a tidal wave and spit back ashore at Coney Island with no memory of what happened. Now his dreams are haunted by a terrifying silver mermaid with razor-sharp teeth. 

His best friend Layla is convinced something is wrong. But how can he explain that he can sense emotions like never before? How can he explain he’s the heir to a kingdom he never knew existed? That he’s suddenly a pawn in a battle as ancient as the gods? Something happened to him in those three days. He was claimed by the sea . . . and now it wants him back. 

The Vicious Deep’s protagonist Tristan is an interesting if somewhat self-centered character who doesn’t consider the long-term consequence of his actions and is hyper-aware of his sexuality, even in difficult situations. For example, when Tristan discovers he is half-human and half-merman, one of his first thoughts is what happens to his penis when he’s a merman. In addition, Tristan believes that his best friend Layla is the only girl for him, but that doesn’t stop him from appreciating other girls and crudely commenting on his sexual desires. Teens will connect with Tristan because he’s not a typical hero; instead, he is a teenage boy who struggles to accept the changes in his life. For instance, though the world’s fate is in Tristan’s hands, he is slow to take action and has a hard time coming up with a plan to complete his mission of finding the oracle.  

When Tristan travels to the floating island of the Sea King, he learns about the merfolk’s imperfect world. Much like the human world, the merfolk’s world is full of problems. Because Tristan did not grow up in the merworld, his grandfather, the Sea King, decides to have a competition to see who will become the next ruler. The Sea King breaks a trident into three pieces and eligible princes must find the pieces in order to become the next heir to the throne. While the merworld’s island is beautiful and has some surprising aspects, Tristan isn’t at the island long enough for readers to understand the merworld. 

Once Tristan returns to New York City, he relies on the help of two merpeople—Kurt and Thaila. Kurt’s serious nature is contrasted by Thaila’s curious and enthusiastic behavior. Readers will enjoy seeing a typical New York high school from the merpeople’s perspective. In addition, Kurt and Thaila help Tristan—and the reader—understand the merworld’s political structure and problems.  

The Vicious Deep’s conclusion has some action-packed scenes; however, the conclusion would have had more impact if some scenes were cut out. It’s unbelievable that Tristan, Kurt, and Thaila would spend time at the high school and even go to swim practice when evil creatures keep appearing in New York. In addition, the high school scenes reinforce the idea that Tristan is a “man-slut” who had sexual encounters with several girls whose names he can’t even remember.  

Readers who love mermaid books will enjoy watching Tristan learn about the merworld even though he lacks heroic qualities. Tristan’s interactions with the merpeople are interesting and often suspenseful. The large cast of characters gives readers a peek into the merworld, which will leave readers with a sense of wonder and fear. While Tristan finds one piece of the trident, readers will have to read the second book in the series, The Savage Blue, to see if Tristan has the bravery and leadership qualities to become the next Sea King. Readers who love books with rich world-building should also read the Starcrossed Trilogy by Josephine Angelini. 

Sexual Content 

  • During a storm, Tristan jumps into the ocean to save someone, but he gets swept away. When his friend, Layla, finds him in the ocean, she jumps in and starts mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. However, Tristian is not dead. He presses “her down against me. I touch my tongue against hers and taste the salt on her bottom lip.” Layla hits him.  
  • Tristan goes to a party with his girlfriend, Maddie. After she confesses her love, Tristan goes and kisses another girl. Maddie breaks up with him.  
  • Tristan thinks about his mom reading fairy tales to him. “Sometimes I’d tell her she and Dad should’ve tried for a daughter, and then I realized I was telling my parents to keep having sex.” 
  • After the storm, Layla goes into Tristan’s room to check on him. He wakes up to find Layla watching him. Tristian takes “an extra pillow and uses it as a buffer between my erection and the world.”  
  • One of Tristan’s friends likes to “smack girls on their asses.” 
  • When Tristan turns into a merman, he thinks, “I wonder where my feet go? I wonder where my dick goes!” He makes several references to this. 
  • When Tristan goes to his class, his teacher is wearing a dress “that fits every single curve.” When she talks to him, Tristan “start[s] to get an erection.”  
  • When Layla goes in front of the King of the Seas, someone asks her, “Do you have anything to offer the king, besides your virtue?” 
  • Tristan has a reputation as a man-slut. At one point, he thinks back to when he was thirteen and “put my hand under Catherine Valdorama’s bikini top.”  
  • Thaila, Tristan’s mermaid friend, meets a human boy named Ryan. While at school, Ryan “gets down on his knees, and kisses Thalia on her sweet full mouth. . . Thalia rests her hands around Ryan’s face, bringing him in, and neither of them seems to notice the crowds.” Afterwards, they kiss several more times.  
  • Tristan and his ex-girlfriend are talking and she states, “I blew you.”  
  • Because of strange mermaid magic, the students at Tristan’s school begin making out and “grinding against each other.” As Tristan walks through the hall, he meets two angry girls he hooked up with. He is surprised by their anger.  
  • Tristan transforms into a merman and takes Layla out into the ocean. “I part my lips and lean down at the same time she lifts her face up. The force of her mouth on mine pushes us back. . . She runs her hands all along my arms, and I trace the soft length of her spine.” Layla pushes Tristan away and is upset because she thinks Tristan is using magic to seduce her. 

Violence 

  • While in the merworld, Layla challenges Elias, a merman, to a swimming contest. After she wins, Elias goes after Layla, and Tristan jumps in. “I have my arms around him. One under the right arm and one over his left shoulder. I squeeze him and he pushes hard against me, so we sink into the water. . . We’re locked in a wrestler’s grip, forearm to forearm.” Suddenly, Elias’s “grip loosens, and his eyes roll back into his head.” He sinks into the ocean and dies. 
  • Tristan’s grandfather talks about his sister, Nieve. His grandfather says, “When we were young, she killed my mother’s newest babe out of jealousy. She was banished. . . When Father made me king in her stead as eldest, she killed him.”  
  • While outside the school, creatures called merrows attack. “The tallest one has the head of a hammerhead shark on the body of a human.” The creature’s “eyes are dirty yellow. His permanent smile reveals bloody gums. He raises his fist in the air and brings them down hard on the ground, shaking the field right under me. I swing and catch him on the side, and he winces. . .Layla runs around us as she brings the dagger down through his back.” 
  • One creature tries to run, but “the guys let their arrows fly up at the fence . . . He charges at me [Tristan] . . .I punch him with all my strength, my knuckles come away bloody from the sharp scales on his cheekbones. I slash my dagger out with both hands, but he jumps back from every swing.” Kurt sends an arrow right through the creature’s throat, saving Tristan. The scene is described over five pages.  
  • During the fight, Layla is injured when a creature sprays her with poisonous needles. Tristan takes his “dagger, and as gently as I can, rip the thin cotton of her T-shirt. The needles go right through it, and I can’t take the shirt off without hurting her. . . Thalia is pulling out the spikes and sobbing at the same time.” Layla would have died, but magic saves her life.  
  • A merrow with the head of a shark bites a boy. “A heap of tattered bloody clothes. . . The boy hits the ground with a wet thump. The corners of his lips are white and cracked. His eyes open, staring at the sky. . . Down where the boy’s leg used to be is a mess of sand and bone and loose skin.” The boy dies. 
  • Tristan learns that vampires secretly exist in the human world. The vampires “might bite, but they don’t kill. Vampire killings are easy to find, because after they feed on human blood they’re basically euphoric and are pretty sloppy about cleaning up the bodies.” 
  • Tristan and his friends go to a party. While at a party, a window shatters, and “kids race past us out of the house. . . Outside, anyone who couldn’t run away is hiding behind lawn chairs, bushes, and garbage cans. . . Princess Violet is lying with her hand against her chest. There’s a shard of glass sticking out of it. The girl’s green eyes are full of tears.” 
  • The merrows appear. “Kurt wrestles with a hammerhead merrow who looks like nothing but sinewy strength.” One of Tristan’s friends kills a merrow with a baseball bat. “Their rotting flesh and black blood cover the ground.” 
  • Tristan looks up and sees “the yellow-scaled merrow wrestles with someone on the balcony. . . I can only hear the loud snap of a neck. . . The heave of the body over the merrow’s head. He throws the limp body over the balcony.” Tristan’s friend, Ryan, dies. 
  • When a merrow goes after Maddie, Tristan’s ex-girlfriend, Tristan throws his dagger, and “it pierces the merrow’s spine. The merrow stumbles once, deteriorating into mush as he does.” The full battle occurs over six pages.  
  • While in Central Park with Gwen (a mermaid engaged to Elias), Elias attacks her. “Elias’s hand holds her at the neck. Her pale fingers hold his wrist. . . Gwen kicks at the air as he raises her up with one arm.”  
  • Tristan mocks Elias and he “tosses Gwen to the side. . . Elias charges at me, all arms and bare chest . . . Now with Elias’s face bloody and tender under my fist, I don’t feel any pity for him. . . Elias stops moving. I can feel his body go limp under me.”  
  • As Tristan and Elias fight, Gwen throws a dagger at Elias. “Then Elias goes stiff. He falls on top of me. . . He lands sideways with my dagger in his back. Smoke fumes around the golden hilt.” The scene is described over four pages. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • After being pulled out of the ocean, Tristan is taken to the hospital and given sedatives.  
  • There are many references to people drinking alcohol. For example, at dinner, Tristan sees his parents “sip on red wine, and Coach Bellini, whose mustache is tipped in beer foam.” 
  • Tristan usually doesn’t drink alcohol. Instead, “I nurse the same bottle the entire night and pretend like it’s always a new one.” 
  • At one point, Layla gets drunk.  
  • While in the merworld, Tristan drinks seaweed ale.  
  • Tristan convinces his friend, Ryan, to throw a party. When Tristan shows up, there is a keg and other alcohol for the teens to drink.  

Language 

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, damn, pissed, goddamn, fuck, holy crap, and shit.  
  • Ohmigod is used as an exclamation occasionally.  
  • There is some name-calling. Names include bastard, bitch, douche, dumbass, creeper, and jerk.

Supernatural 

  • Tristan discovers that he is part human and part merman. He is a descendent of Triton, Son of Poseidon, god of the sea. 
  • In the story, most humans don’t know that they share their world with mermaids, fairies, vampires, and other mythical creatures.  
  • Tristan gets a tattoo with “ink that allows us to shift whenever we want. It is the blood of the abyss, primordial and, of course, painfully difficult to extract.” 
  • When Kurt and his sister come on land to help Tristan, they use a glamour. “It’s a light spell to tone down our natural colors. We are no longer achingly beautiful. Now we’re just exceptionally beautiful.” 
  • One of Tristan’s teachers is a seer. “She can see the future, but only when she’s entranced in the words of others. For instance, when she had us read those poems, she was probably seeing at the same time.”  
  • Kurt and Thalia have the power to “shift into fish form.” Thalia can also speak to her sea horses. 
  • The creatures that attack Tristan and his friends are merrows. “Sometimes a mermaid gives birth to a deformed child, not fully human or mer-kin. It has no reason, no sense of speech.” One Sea King decided that “merrows born at court would be killed instantly. King Karonos thought it was too cruel, so instead he had a prison built for them . . .”

Spiritual Content 

  • While having a bad dream, Tristan prays “to every god that has ever or will ever exist that is not a shark.” 
  • When Tristan asks if there is a mermaid heaven, his friend Kurt says, “We are of the sea, and to the sea we return. An ancient merman like the king, would become a great coral reef, no matter what the climate. Someone like me, like my parents, would turn to surf.”  
  • Tristan’s friend Ryan reveals that he has only had sex with one girl. He begs them not to tell anyone. Ryan says, “I don’t even know what god you pray to, but swear on him, please.”  
  • When Tristan speaks to an old and ugly oracle, he prays “to whatever gods are out there” that the oracle isn’t trying to seduce him. 

Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World

Since 2012, the organization Girls Who Code has taught computing skills to over 40,000 girls across America. Now, its founder Reshma Saujani wants to inspire you to be a girl who codes!  

Bursting with dynamic artwork, down-to-earth explanations of coding principles, and real-life stories of girls and women working at places like Pixar and NASA, this graphically animated book shows what a large role computer science plays in our daily lives, and how much fun it can be.  

No matter your interests—sports, art, baking, student government, social justice—coding can help you do what you love and make your dreams come true. Whether you’re a girl who’s never coded before or a girl who already enjoys coding, this entertaining book will have you itching to create your own apps, games, and robots to make the world a better place. 

Printed in bold two-color and featuring art on every page, Girls Who Code packs in a lot of information in a fun format that will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Not only is the book visually appealing, but it also breaks up the text by including one or more graphic elements on each page. While the text uses a lot of coding vocabulary, readers can use context clues to figure out the meaning of most words. Many of the coding words appear in large green text to indicate that the word appears in a glossary at the back of the book. Some of the key concepts are further reinforced with quote bubbles. The book also uses a lot of info graphs including timelines, short biographies of real-life women, and comics. In addition, the teens that appear on the pages are a diverse group. 

One of the best aspects of the book is that it explains complicated concepts in ways that are easy to understand. For example, “An algorithm is simply a set of instructions you follow in a certain order to complete a task. A muffin recipe is an algorithm. So is a dance routine. . . your morning routine can be an algorithm.” The book gives multiple examples and includes illustrations to go along with the text. Even though the focus of the book is coding, there are also life lessons such as, “Nobody is perfect. Not even robots.” 

Girls Who Code is an educational book that will appeal to anyone who has wondered about creating computer programs, video games, or other apps. The book’s easy-to-read format and real-life examples make understanding the different aspects of coding easy. In addition, the book mentions many women who have made an impact in technology. Girls who enjoy coding and computer science may also want to read the following fiction books: Click’d Series by Tamara Ireland Stone and Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Our Violent Ends

The year is 1927. The chaos of the previous year has done nothing to quell the blood feud between the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers, and the streets of Shanghai are still rife with death and violence. But this is not only the work of the blood feud—foreign powers have increasingly become intertwined with the rival gangs, leading to talk of a brewing civil war. The possibility of peace feels further away than ever.  

The madness no longer sweeps through the streets like a contagion, infecting everyone it comes across, but that does not mean the madness has left the city for good. Monsters disguised as ordinary people still prowl through the streets, launching targeted attacks in crowded areas that cause everyone in the vicinity to rip their own throats out. It may no longer spread, but it is no less deadly.  

Betrayal, heartbreak, and death make all hope of reconciliation between Roma and Juliette seem impossibly far away. They miss each other terribly, but at the same time cannot forgive each other’s terrible actions. But when their fathers, in a rare show of cooperation between the Scarlets and the White Flowers, order Roma and Juliette to work together to find a cure for the new madness, they are once again thrown together and forced to cooperate. Their reconciliation is a relief to both of them as they realize how powerful they are together. But are they enough to save their city? The universe is never kind to star-crossed lovers, and they may just have to choose between saving Shanghai or themselves. 

Our Violent Ends is a dazzling conclusion to Roma and Juliette’s story. The prose is vivid, rich, and imaginative, and it fully immerses readers in Roma and Juliette’s world. While Our Violent Ends is on the longer side, there is never a dull moment – scenes packed with action transition smoothly into heartfelt confessions that will leave readers on the edge of their seats. Several subplots create many moving parts that all work together to culminate in a grand finale.  

The rich cast of characters is another factor that makes this novel a thrilling read. The narration switches between many points of view, allowing readers to inhabit many of the characters’ heads and get to know them and their motivations. The relationship between Roma and Juliette is an extremely complicated one, and these nuances are fully explored; neither character is perfect, and their circumstances often force them to hurt each other, but they ultimately work through their flaws to find a middle ground. 

Our Violent Ends is a great modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet. Like the play, this novel emphasizes the immense harm that hatred causes and reminds readers that unfounded hate leads to dreadful violence. Teens who enjoy intricate plots and cutthroat characters will love this book and think about Roma and Juliette’s story long after they close the final page. It is a satisfying conclusion to the duology begun by These Violent Delights. Fans of Romeo and Juliet may also want to read Crossing the Line by Simone Elkeles and Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine. 

Sexual Content 

  • Roma and Juliette kiss in a safe house. “Roma pressed his lips to hers with such ferocity that Juliette gasped, the sound immediately muffled when she pushed herself up and drew closer. Despite his burning energy, Juliette felt Roma’s mouth move with sincerity, felt his adoration while he trailed kisses all down her neck. ‘Juliette,’ he whispered. Both of their coats came off. Roma had the zip of her dress pulled in seconds too, and Juliette lifted her arms to accommodate. ‘My darling, darling Juliette.’ The dress fell to the floor. With some disbelief, Roma suddenly blinked, his eyes clearing for the briefest moment while she worked at his shirt buttons.” It is implied that they have sex, but not explicitly. 

Violence 

  • Juliette shoots a White Flower, wounding but not killing him. “Her pistol kicked. Juliette pressed back into her seat, her jaw hard as the man below dropped his weapon, his shoulder wounded.” 
  • During an altercation between the Scarlets and the White Flowers, Roma shoots, aiming for Juliette. “Roma reached into his jacket pocket and drew his gun, and Juliette had no choice but to jolt herself out of her daze. Instead of combating the would-be assassin, he had decided to shoot at her. Three bullets whizzed by her ear. Gasping, Juliette struck the floor, her knees grazing the carpet hard as she threw herself down.” The shot misses Juliette.  
  • Roma attacks Juliette. “He slammed her into the pipes. The effort was so forceful that Juliette tasted blood inside her lip, sliced by her own sharp teeth. She stifled a gasp and then another when Roma’s hand tightened around her throat, his eyes murderous.” Juliette defends herself: “Just as Roma shifted forward, perhaps intent on his kill, her hand closed around the sheath beneath her dress and pulled her blade free, slicing down on whatever she came in contact with first. Roma hissed, releasing his hold. It was only a surface cut, but he cradled his arm to his chest, and Juliette followed close, leveling the blade to his throat.” The fight stops when they call a truce and agree to talk. 
  • A monster attacks unnamed patrons at a bar. “The cabaret becomes enswathed in black, an ever-moving blanket of infection, and in seconds, the first succumbs, hands flying to throats and clutching, clutching, clutching, trying to squeeze the insects out. Nails break into skin, skin splits for muscle, muscle parts for bone. As soon as blood spurts from one victim, inner flesh exposed and veins pumping red, the next is already tearing before they have a moment to feel the visceral disgust that comes with being soaked in hot, sticky gore.” All of the patrons die. 
  • Benedikt, Roma’s cousin, is attacked by Scarlets. “He didn’t even have the chance to pull a weapon. A blow came to the side of his face out of nowhere, then Benedikt was reeling, crushed to the ground amid shouting and cursing and someone calling for the death of his whole family. His arms were bent back and his head was pushed hard into the cement, before something ice cold, something that felt like the butt of a gun, jammed up against his temple.” He escapes uninjured when the Scarlets are all shot by a third-party sniper. 
  • Tyler, Juliette’s cousin, shoots and kills two White Flowers. “Tyler pulled the trigger twice in rapid succession, two White Flower heads cracking with an explosion of red, crashing to the ground. Chenghuangmiao [the market] erupted with a wave of screaming, but most shoppers reacted quickly and hurried out of the way, in no mood to be caught in a gangster dispute. They didn’t have to worry. This was no dispute; there were no other White Flowers nearby to retaliate.” 
  • Marshall, Roma’s best friend, kills a Scarlet who recognizes him. “The bullet landed true. With a harsh clatter, the Scarlet’s weapon fell to the floor. It might have been a gun. It might have been a dagger. It might have even been a throwing star, for all the consequence it held. But in the hazy dark, all Marshall cared about was it being out of reach, and then the Scarlet collapsed too, a hand clasped over the hole studded into his breastbone.” 
  • Tyler sets fire to a building full of White Flowers as a targeted attack because of the blood feud. “Juliette could see him, holding a plank of wood swirling with flames. Behind him, the building’s roaring inferno drowned out the screams, drowned out the whole occupancy burning to death. Juliette heard nothing save that they were pleading–women in nightgowns and elderly banging on the closed windows, muffled Russian crying to stop! Please stop! 
  • Juliette kills a White Flower who is attacking Tyler. “Without slowing her run, Juliette jumped over the threshold of the temple entrance and pulled the knife sheathed at her thigh. When she threw, the blade pierced into the White Flower’s neck smoothly, striking its target with nary a sound before the White Flower pitched sideways and fell.” 
  • During a fight, Roma throws a knife at Juliette, wounding her shoulder. “The pain did not come at first. It never did: a blade entering always felt cold and then foreign. Only seconds later, as if her nerve endings had finally registered what happened, did intense, sharp agony reverberate outward from the wound. . . Juliette managed, turning to look at the blade half-embedded in her shoulder, then at Roma. His jaw was slack, face drained of color. The wound, meanwhile, immediately started to bleed, a steady stream of red running its way down her dress.” Roma and his younger sister, Alisa, help stop the bleeding. Juliette is left with a scar. 
  • An unnamed foreman in a factory is killed by revolutionaries. “One slash, that’s all it takes. A knife over [the foreman’s] throat and he’s twitching on the floor, hands clasped around the wound in a futile attempt at holding the blood in. The red seeps regardless. It does not stop until he is naught but a body lying in a scarlet pool. It soaks the shoes of his workers, his killers. It is carried from street to street, the faintest red print pressed upon crumbling pavement and into the roads of the Concessions, marring stains upon the clean white sidewalks. This is what revolution is, after all. The trailing of blood from door to door, loud and violent until the rich cannot look away.” 
  • Lord Cai has Rosalind, Juliette’s cousin, whipped after finding out that she was spying for the White Flowers. “The lash came down again on her back, and Rosalind cried out, her whole body shuddering. They didn’t allow her to crumple to the floor: there were four Scarlets around her, two to hold her upright, one with the whip, and one standing just to the side.” Juliette defends her by “striking her fist across the guard’s face.” 
  • In a duel between Roma and Tyler, Juliette shoots Tyler, killing him. “Both her hands came around her smoking pistol. There was no room for regret now. She had done it. She had done it, and she could not stop there. She turned, and with a sob choked on her tongue, she shot each and every one of Tyler’s men before they had even comprehended what was happening, bullets studding their temples, their necks, their chests.” 
  • A Scarlet shoots a man named Da Nao because he is helping Roma and Juliette escape the city. “The Scarlet fired, and Da Nao fell with a spray of red, the bullet in his head killing him instantly.” 
  • Dimitri, a White Flower, shoots a group of Scarlets who are holding Roma hostage. “The Scarlets didn’t have a chance to fight back. Some managed to retrieve weapons, some managed one shot. But the workers had them surrounded, rifles already aimed, and with a pop-pop-pop! reverberating along the whole street, the Scarlets all dropped, eyes blank and glazed, fleshy wounds studded into their chests. The blood splashed generously.” 
  • The madness infects a crowd of people. “Destruction tore through the scene: a bloodbath, infecting those who hadn’t run fast enough. Juliette’s eyes swiveled to the side. A woman: dropping to her knees, fingers sinking into her neck and pulling without any hesitation. A scream–a figure, running to her. Her husband: cradled over her corpse and keening a loud, desolate noise. then he too gouged at his own throat and fell to the ground.”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • “Shit” is used a few times as an exclamation. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None

You’ll Be the Death of Me

Ivy, Mateo, and Cal were once a tight-knit trio. Their first adventure, which they nicknamed The Greatest Day Ever, involved skipping a particularly boring class trip to wander around Boston. They vowed that their friendship would last forever—which lasted until the end of eighth grade. There was no big falling out; they merely drifted apart, as friends tend to do. 

Now, they are seniors in high school. Before school, they run into each other by chance but none of them are particularly excited to start the school day. Ivy, straight-A student and perfectionist, had just lost the senior class president election and is dreading her classmates’ reactions; Mateo is burnt out from working two jobs on top of doing school work and he just needs a break; and Cal just got stood up for a breakfast date with his girlfriend and is itching to do something reckless. They decide to skip school and recreate The Greatest Day Ever. What’s the worst that can happen from missing one day? 

But their lighthearted adventure takes a turn when they discover the body of one of their classmates, Brian (nicknamed Boney) Mahoney, in an abandoned studio in Boston. They begin to investigate, determined to find the murderer and the motive. But in doing so, they uncover many secrets—about their classmates, their school, their town, and even about themselves. 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets an Agatha Christie-worthy mystery in You’ll Be the Death of Me. The high stakes, plot twists, and quick pacing—the entire story takes place over one day—create a thrilling novel that will captivate readers and leave them unable to put the book down. The mystery continues to be solved until the last page. In the last chapter, clues are still being uncovered, and the book ends with yet another twist; this cliffhanger ending, particularly in a stand-alone novel, may not leave every reader satisfied. 

This book features three main protagonists, each with distinct personalities. Each chapter switches between Ivy’s, Mateo’s, and Cal’s point of view, allowing all three to share the spotlight equally. Because their personalities are so distinct, readers will easily be able to relate to at least one of them consistently and recognize their friends in others. The protagonists’ stories, emotions, and interactions with each other feel very real despite their current situation, making them easy to sympathize with even when they fight and make mistakes.  

You’ll Be the Death of Me is perfect for readers who enjoy secrets, fast-paced mysteries, and rekindled friendships. It’s the kind of book that can be read and enjoyed in a day, thrilling enough to be captivating while being easy to understand. Readers who enjoy You’ll Be the Death of Me may also like Five Survive by Holly Jackson and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.  

Sexual Content 

  • Ivy remembers when her brother, Daniel, replaced her notes for a speech at her school’s junior talent show with a page from their aunt’s latest erotic novel. She panicked and ended up reading the page out loud, and “a teacher had to rush to the stage and stop me, right around the time I was describing the hero in full anatomical detail.” 
  • Ivy describes Mateo’s cousin’s boyfriend as someone “who took particular delight in grabbing his crotch every time I walked past him in the hallway after my meltdown at the junior talent show.” 
  • Mateo and Ivy kiss in private. Mateo describes, “Ivy shivers, leaning forward until her soft lips graze mine. It’s not enough though; it’s nowhere near enough. I tangle my fingers in her hair and pull her closer for a long, lingering kiss. Any questions that might’ve been floating around my brain about whether this is a bad idea—and yeah, there were more than a few—disappear at the sensation of her mouth against mine. Kissing Ivy is both familiar and exhilarating, like coming back to a place I wish I hadn’t left and finding it’s even better than I remember.” 

Violence 

  • Mateo gets into a fight with Charlie, a friend from school, because Mateo thinks that Charlie was involved in the murder. “For a few seconds we’re a tangle of twisted limbs and flailing fists, throwing punches that don’t land hard enough to do damage as we grapple on the floor.” Ivy breaks up the fight. Mateo and Charlie are both left with minor injuries. 
  • Ivy is lured onto an abandoned street and put into a car by a mysterious figure. “His hand reaches out, lightning-quick, yanking the cables so hard I go sprawling at his feet. . .Sharp pieces of gravel bite into my palms and knees. . . I try to stand out then, but a hand reaches out, shoving me back down, and I realize I shouldn’t be angry. I should be scared. I open my mouth to scream, and a hand clamps over the bottom half of my face. Suddenly it’s hard to breathe, and panic floods my entire body as I’m hauled roughly to my feet.” 
  • Mateo gets into a fight with his cousin’s boyfriend, Gabe. Mateo ducks “all of his badly aimed punches and throw[s] him flat on his back, straddling him and pinning his hands until all he can do is struggle helplessly like a trapped bug.’” Mateo lets Gabe go when he tells him the information he needs. 
  • Cal and Ivy fight the people behind Brian’s death after being captured by them. Cal details, “I’m flat on my back, the entire right side of my head on fire from the impact of Coach Kendall’s fist. The element of surprise ended way too fast. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Lara scrambling on the floor, going for the gun, until Ivy leaps at her and drags her back. They’re a tangle of motion, all blond hair and flailing limbs.” This scene lasts for three pages, and police arrive before anyone is killed. Cal is left with a minor concussion. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Ivy faints after seeing a syringe on the ground, and Mateo thinks, “Maybe it’s some tortured artist who overdosed and . . .” 
  • Ivy drinks a few sips of whiskey to calm down. “When Mateo returns with a single shot glass, amber liquid barely covers the bottom.” 
  • Charlie, the trio’s friend, gets drunk in his house. “‘He was freaked about Boney, and then freaked about his house getting torn apart, so his solution was to break into his parents’ vodka.’ Cal clears his throat and adds, ‘Which, I guess, beats overdosing on the Oxycontin that he stole.’”  
  • A major plot point is drug deals. Charlie sells drugs, as does Mateo’s cousin Autumn. 

Language 

  • Profanity is used sometimes. Profanity includes shit, dick, and fuck.  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Heart of a Champion

From the day Seth Barham first learns about earning run averages, slugging percentages, and walks-to-strikeouts ratios, he and Jimmy Winters are best friends. Over the years they eat and breathe baseball, and it seems as if nothing can ever break their bond. But as Seth discovers, gifted athletes like Jimmy are rarely perfect idols but rather complex, unpredictable people in their own rights. Here is a heartfelt tribute to those friends who come but once in a lifetime – the kind that change one’s life irrevocably and can never be forgotten. And here, too, is a moving testimony to the strength and courage that grow out of loss.  

Seth and Jimmy first connect over baseball and are soon inseparable friends. However, Heart of a Champion is told strictly through Seth’s eyes. This point of view allows the reader to see Seth’s insecurities and his inability to stand up for what he believes. Although Seth is a sympathetic character, his self-deprecating attitude becomes annoying, especially since Seth often reflects on how an athlete can be hardworking and dedicated but still “never amount to anything.” Seth doesn’t believe he can be a great player because he does not have natural talent. This allows Seth to put Jimmy on a pedestal, even though Jimmy is not always a good friend. 

Baseball fans will be entertained with the play-by-play baseball action as well as the discussions about famous baseball players like Babe Ruth. The story also focuses on the father-son relationship. Seth’s father died when he was a young child, and his death has left a deep hole in Seth’s life. Even though Seth doesn’t remember his father, he misses having a father in his life. In comparison, Jimmy sometimes wishes his father was dead because his father is an alcoholic who makes promises he can’t keep. Even though the story doesn’t go in depth about the psychological effects of having a broken father-son relationship, readers will relate to both boys who desperately need a strong father figure in their life. 

Heart of a Champion also shows the dangers of alcohol. Others talk Seth into drinking, and at first, Jimmy has the strength of character to keep sober. As the book progresses, Seth realizes that when it comes to moral issues, such as drinking, “You don’t decide anything important once. . . What really happens is that you have to decide again and again, every day, every hour, every minute.” Jimmy eventually dies after he gets drunk and drives into a tree. But since the reader doesn’t see Jimmy’s struggle with alcohol, his death doesn’t have a strong impact.  

Sports fans will enjoy Heart of a Champion because of the sports action as well as how Seth and Jimmy connect over baseball. Because the story describes many of the boy’s baseball games, Heart of a Champion is best suited for readers who have a general understanding of baseball. The well-written story weaves in important life lessons about honesty, friendship, and the dangers of alcohol. While the story’s conclusion is tragic, it reminds readers that one decision can lead to unintended consequences that affect everyone around you. Baseball-loving readers who want more baseball action should read The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz and Heat by Mike Lupica. However, if you want a sport-related book that deals with hard-hitting issues like depression, drinking, and difficult family life, grab a tissue and the Hazelwood High Trilogy by Sharon M. Draper. 

Sexual Content 

  • When Jimmy and Seth try out for the baseball team, the coach says, “I want you here — on the baseball diamond — not out drinking or getting your girlfriend pregnant.” 
  • Jimmy’s father begins dating a string of young women. 

Violence 

  • Jimmy and his mom move to another town. Jimmy explains, “Two nights ago my father pounded on the door about midnight. When my mother opened it a crack, he shoved his way in. He screamed that she had a guy with her, and that he was going to kill them both. . . Then he grabbed her and started shaking her. She has bruises on both her arms.”  
  • During the summer, Jimmy and Seth play baseball at the park. A kid named Dayley begins playing with them. The other players were afraid of Dayley because “he was big and strong and mean. Everyone said that in a fight he once pounded a guy’s head into a wall and knocked him unconscious.”  
  • During a game, Jimmy intentionally runs into Comin, another player. Seth describes the incident: “I can still see Comin pivot. I can still see Jimmy barreling in on him. And I can still see Comin pinwheeling into the air. But most of all I can remember Comin landing, and the weird way his knee bent under him, and the sound it made, a popping sound I’ve never heard before or since. . .” Medics arrived and “lifted him onto the stretcher, his lower leg flopping like a strand of cooked spaghetti.” Comin has to have surgery, but the readers don’t learn if Comin has lasting injuries.  
  • A car full of teenagers hits a dog. “The spaniel was thrown fifteen, twenty feet in the air. . . the driver burned rubber as he tore away. . . [the dog] was lying on his side, panting heavily, blood trickling from his mouth. . . He blinked a few times, closed his eyes, opened them once more. Then the breath went out of him for the final time.” The dog’s owner assumed the driver was “some drunk high-school kid.” 
  • During a game, Franks, one of the players, intentionally runs into the catcher. “Instead of sliding, Franks put his shoulder down and barreled into the catcher. When the dust settled, the catcher was rolling around in the dirt holding his shoulder and moaning.” The coach benches Franks. 
  • Todd, another one of the baseball players, confronts Jimmy about his drinking. In response, Jimmy calls Todd names. Then, “Todd took a swing at Jimmy, catching him on the top of the head and knocking him back over the bench.” Two other players break up the fight. 
  • During a game, Seth is batting and he lets a ball hit him. “I took the fastball square in the back. The pain roared up my spine, and filled my brain, bringing me to my knees. I don’t know what it feels like to be shot, but it can’t feel a whole ton worse than being hit by a ninety-mile-an-hour fastball.”  
  • Jimmy and some of the guys from the team go out drinking. Jimmy left first. Later, two guys, “were driving home when we saw his Camaro piled into a tree. . . The police were there. . . but the Camaro didn’t look all that smashed up.” Jimmy dies. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Jimmy’s father, Mr. Winter, is an alcoholic, who often drinks beer around Jimmy and Seth. For example, when Seth visits Jimmy, “Mr. Winter was stretched out on the sofa, a beer in his hand and a slew of empties on the floor.” Despite this, Mr. Winter drives Seth home. 
  • Tustin, a high school student, takes Jimmy and Seth to his hideout in the woods. When he offers the boys a cigarette, Seth takes one. Then, “Tustin reached behind him, opened up an old box, and pulled out a six-pack of Budweiser.” Seth drinks the beer, but Jimmy refuses to drink.  
  • While at the hideout, Tustin says, “Sometimes, I come up here in the afternoon and take off my clothes so that I’m nice and cool and comfortable. Then I lie back on this mattress and drink a few beers and flip through those [pornographic] magazines.” 
  • One of Seth’s teammates invites some of the guys to his house. “Todd kept asking Jimmy if he wanted a beer. The more Jimmy said no, the more Todd pushed.” Eventually, both Seth and Jimmy get drunk. Afterward, Seth pukes all over himself and has a terrible hangover; however, the players begin drinking together every week or two. 
  • Jimmy’s father eventually goes into “some alcohol treatment program” and stops drinking. 
  • Jimmy and Seth go to a wedding. As they leave, Jimmy takes “a couple of bottles of champagne.” The boys drink the champagne, get drunk, and then Jimmy drives Seth home. 
  • Jimmy begins drinking regularly and skipping school. One of Jimmy’s teammates says, “Jimmy’s found some hole-in-the-wall grocery where he can buy beer. He’s been hounding guys to go drinking with him.” 

Language 

  • In order to play on the same team, Jimmy asks Seth to lie about where he lives. When Seth’s mom refuses, Jimmy says, “Your mother is a total bitch.” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • During a game, Seth prays that a pitcher would be yanked from the game.  
  • During Jimmy’s funeral, “the minister started by talking about what a tragedy it was. . . and how God might have had Jimmy die so other kids might learn, and how it might actually be for the better.” 

Throw Like a Girl

When softball star Liv Rodinsky throws one ill-advised punch during the most important game of the year, she loses her scholarship to her fancy private school, her boyfriend, and her teammates all in one fell swoop. With no other options, Liv is forced to transfer to the nearest public school, Northland, where she’ll have to convince their coach she deserves a spot on the softball team, all while facing both her ex and the teammates of the girl she punched. . . Every. Single. Day.

Enter Grey, the injured star quarterback with amazing hair and a foolproof plan: if Liv joins the football team as his temporary replacement, he’ll make sure she gets a spot on the softball team in the spring. But it will take more than just a flawless spiral for Liv to find acceptance in Northland’s halls, and behind that charismatic smile, Grey may not be so perfect after all. 

Readers will instantly connect with Liv, who is a hard-working, spunky protagonist worthy of admiring. When Liv is forced to change schools, she is determined to prove that she will be an asset to the softball team. Even though Liv joins the football team to impress the softball coach, Liv doesn’t slack or complain. Because of her competitive nature, Liv gives the football team 100% and proves to the players and the coaches that she is an integral part of the team. While Liv’s work ethic and athletic ability are admirable, Liv’s loyalty to her family and friends makes her lovable. However, Liv is not portrayed as a perfect person; teens will relate to Liv’s flaws and insecurities. Plus, Liv’s lively personality makes Throw Like a Girl incredibly fun to read.  

Liv is surrounded by well-developed and likable supporting characters. Liv’s family is an important part of the story and her little brother is adorable. While Liv’s family don’t always agree with each other, they (usually) don’t hide secrets from each other. The family’s healthy dynamics make it easy to fall in love with them. However, Grey steals the show with his winning smile, his charismatic personality, and his confidence in Liv’s football skills. There are plenty of swoon-worthy moments that will have the reader’s hearts melting.  

Throw Like a Girl has the perfect amount of football action, teen drama, and romantic moments. In addition, the story has a positive message because Liv learns that “standing up for yourself doesn’t mean walking away.” Readers will cheer for Liv when she’s on and off the field and by the end of the book, Liv will feel like a favorite friend. Throw Like a Girl is so charming that it will appeal to both sports fans and romance enthusiasts. For more sports and swoon-worthy moments read Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally and Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg .

Sexual Content 

  • When Liv first begins playing football, she is nervous about being a quarterback. During practice, Liv is uncomfortable because “for the eighth time in so many minutes, my hands are hovering near the rear-end seam of his pants. Like, right underneath his junk. Big, bulgy, manly junk.” 
  • Before a football game, Grey meets Liv outside the girl’s locker room. Grey’s “fingertips graze my cheek, moving down until they gently tip up my chin. My pulse stutters. . .” Before they can kiss, a friend interrupts them.  
  • When Liv drives Grey home, they sit in the car and talk. Then, “Grey closes the space between us, his lips warm against mine. They’re softer than I imagined, but the scrape of stubble pressing into my chin is 100 percent rough-and-tumble boy.” They stop when the porch light comes on. 
  • Grey and Liv kiss often. However, most of the kisses are not described. For example, Grey shows up at Liv’s house to check on her and her “arms lock his neck, lips to his.” 
  • During one conversation, between Liv and Grey, she thinks “We’ve made out and I’d love to do it again rightthehellnow. . .” Later in the conversation, Grey asks Liv to be his girlfriend. Liv “answer[ed] him with a kiss. Hard and full.”  
  • When his parents are away for the weekend, Grey invites Liv in and takes her to his bedroom. Then he tells Liv a secret. Liv “close the distance between us, twisting to push up onto my knees, draping my arms over his shoulders. . . I’m looking down on him, my chest touching his, the end of my hair pooling against his collarbone. . . And then I kiss him.” The scene ends here. 
  • Liv and Grey have an argument. A few days later, at football practice, they make up. “Even with the eyes of our teammates on us, he dares to touch my face, his strong hands cupping my cheeks, rough thumbs dusting my mouth in the breath before his lips crash into mine. Immediately, I wrap my arms around his waist. The hard planes of his chest conform to my curves. . . The wolf whistles start. . . It’s only by sheer, indoctrinated willpower that I’m able to pull myself out of the kiss.” 

Violence 

  • Liv’s sister, who is a lesbian, is the softball coach. During a softball game, a member of the opposing team, Kelly, says, “Does it bother you? Your sister being paid to check out your teammates?” When the game is over, Liv attacks Kelly. Liv describes, “The knuckles of my hand smack her straight across the ski jump of her obnoxiously pert nose, and we tumble to the infield dirt. I have her pinned, my butt across her kidneys, knees on either side of her squirming stomach.” When the girls are torn apart, Kelly has a bloody nose and Liv has a black eye. The fight is described over three pages.  
  • During a football game, the opposing team is unnecessarily rough. One of the payers, Jake, gets tackled and afterwards he does not move. The coaches go out to check on him and call for a medic. Liv “exhale[s] as I realize that though they’re keeping him steady, not a single one is gripping him like he’s not moving under his own power. I can see Jake’s mouth moving. Blood streaming down from a cut over his left eye.” Jake is not seriously hurt.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • During dinner, Liv’s adult sister drinks wine and her father “pops open a beer.” 
  • Grey takes Tylenol for a headache.  
  • After Liv goes on a date, her dad waits up for her. When she arrives, he has a “beer in hand.” Another time when Liv gets home, her father and sister are waiting for her and they both are drinking beer. 
  • Before the story begins, Grey was driving drunk and crashed into a tree. The accident isn’t described.  

Language 

  • Profanity is used profusely. Profanity includes ass, asshole, bastard, bitch, crap, damn, dick, freaking, goddammit, hell, and shit. 
  • God is frequently used as an exclamation.  
  • Christ and Jesus are used as an exclamation several times. 
  • After fighting the opposing team, Liv thinks, “Maybe all the soccer players in Kansas City are smart enough to know that gay people aren’t pedophiles.” 
  • When a football player flips someone off, the coach says, “Put down that hand, Rogers, or I’m taking that finder as a sacrifice to the god of high school football. Might take that senior captain title, too, for good measure.” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • While talking about sports, Liv’s best friend says, “God did not make you a volleyball player, that’s for sure . . .” 

Nic Blake and The Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy

Nic Blake has a secret to keep from the rest of the world—she has a magical power called the Gift. This makes her, like her father, a Remarkable. Nic explains her life as a Remarkable in an Unremarkable world, “an Unremarkable . . . doesn’t have the Gift or any supernatural ability.” Nic knows that the majority of people in her town are Unremarkables and that “a majority of Unremarkables don’t know about the Gift or know that Remarkable creatures exist. Though Nic knows she has these powers, she still does not know how to use them. As she is about to have her twelfth birthday, Nic is excited that, “My dad’s gonna teach me how to use the Gift so I can finally be a real Manifestor.” Nic reveals, “Although we Manifestors are born with the Gift inside of us, we still have to learn how to use it, and there are lots of ways to use it, too.”

In Jackson, Mississippi, Nic is happily living with her father, Calvin, and hanging out with her best friend, JP. Her world is about to change, however, when Nic’s mother, who Nic has not seen since she was a baby, suddenly reappears in her life—along with a twin brother, Alex, whom Nic didn’t know she even had. Nic’s twin brother Alex and Nic’s mom reveal that they had to find Nic because her father has been accused of stealing a magical weapon by the Remarkable government. Nic’s mom and her brother have come all the way from the land they call home, Uhuru, a super technologically advanced city where only Remarkables live, to find Nic.

When Nic’s dad is accused of stealing a dangerous, magical weapon, Nic, JP, and Alex must set out on a quest to find the magical weapon and prove that Nic’s father is innocent. Along the way, Nic shows herself to be an extremely insightful Manifestor, even though she doesn’t know how to control the Gift. Throughout the novel, Nic learns more about her powers as well as how they connect with her ancestry. For instance, Nic recalls a story about how some of her ancestors who were caught by slavecatchers were freed by a Manifestor who “whispered ancient words to them, and they remembered who they were . . . They flew off like birds to freedom.” Nic recognizes that the Gift “helps us when we need it,” and gradually learns how to use her powers.   

Nic is an extremely empathetic character, who struggles to comprehend having a mom and brother enter her life unexpectedly. Nic explains, “It feels like my world was made of sand and I didn’t know it, and a gigantic wave has crashed in, wiped it out, and left me with something that doesn’t resemble my life.” Readers will appreciate the sacrifices Nic makes to prove her father’s innocence, even though her family dynamic is completely uprooted. Nic thinks, “I never would’ve thought that my dad would be a wanted criminal . . . it’s hard to believe this is my life.” Nic’s father admits his mistakes in keeping secrets from her. Nic’s dad says, “No matter my reasoning, I kept you from an amazing mom and brother.”  

Another reason readers will love Nic is that she is a very open-minded character and treats each new person she meets with respect, Remarkable or not, because her father has taught her that “some Manfestors like to make sure other Remarkables know that [Manifestors] are the most powerful Remarkables. Dad says it’s silly; that as Black folks we’ve seen people like us get treated as inferior and we shouldn’t do that to others.”

A major theme in Nic Blake and The Remarkables is reconnecting with estranged or lost family. Nic is dealing with a lot: “finding out I was kidnapped, that my dad may be a criminal, and that I have a mom and a twin brother.” Throughout the novel, Nic has to learn to trust and rely on Alex to help her navigate through Uhuru. Alex shows Nic how to use Uhuru’s technology. But Nic also helps Alex by demonstrating bravery, such as when she approaches a dragon for help, while “Alex whimpers.” In this way, both Nic and Alex bring something to the table and help each other on their journey. Alex and Nic’s relationship adds a great deal of heart to the story, as they realize that they actually have a lot in common, they even begin to call this “twin telepathy.”

Nic Blake and The Remarkables ends on a cliffhanger, with Nic receiving a threatening message from an anonymous source because she has found and returned the magical weapon. The threat tells Nic, “You think you’re gonna get away with finding what I hid?” This ending will certainly keep readers on their toes and excited to read the next book. Readers who enjoy stories with fantasy, action, and family will find this book absolutely delightful. Nic’s journey leaves readers with an amazing message about trusting in your own abilities. As Nic says, “The power to save myself, it lies within me.” 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Nic’s powers accidentally knock out her Uncle Ty. Nic explains, “Our hands touch, and everything happens in a flash. Uncle Ty’s Glow goes out like a fire doused with water, and a jolt shoots through my palms, making my own aura glow so bright, it blinds me . . . [Uncle Ty] hits the ground with a thud.” Uncle Ty recovers quickly, but Nic feels extremely worried that she accidentally hurt someone.  
  • Nic and her dad visit a Civil Rights Museum when her dad tells her what happened to Emmett Till. Nic explains what her father taught her about the event, saying, “[Emmett] was accused of whistling at a woman. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but Dad said that back then because Emmett was Black and the woman was white, some people did think it was a big deal. The woman’s husband and brother-in-law kidnapped Emmett in the middle of the night and killed him. [Emmett] was fourteen; a kid like me.” 
  • Nic and JP encounter a Boo Hag, which Nic explains is like a vampire except that these creatures “live off breath instead of blood. They climb on victims at night and suck the oxygen from their bodies, and sometimes they steal the person’s skin.” 
  • Nic and her friends encounter a ghost-like creature called a haint. JP asks the haint how he died: “[the haint] points at a tree, hangs his head, and holds his hand up as if it’s a rope. ‘Oh,’ JP murmurs. ‘You were lynched.’” 
  • Based on his interpretation of a prophecy, Uncle Ty believes that he is meant to defeat Nic and attacks her. Nic says, “My brain doesn’t process what he’s said until the lightning bolt whizzes straight for me.” Nic is able to escape Ty with her mom and dad’s help.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Nic’s father gets her a hellhound as a birthday present: “The woods dissolve, revealing my backyard, and that fire-breathing, gigantic hellhound is a tail-wagging little hellhound pup.” 
  • Nic explains the difference between the Gift and magic. “The Gift is an innate power that lives in us Manifestors. Magic, on the other hand, is a corrupt form of the Gift. It’s hard to control and super destructive. Also, magic in real life can only be performed with a wand, and the magic in wands runs out after a while. We Manifestors don’t need wands.” 
  • While Nic is in the kitchen, “a deep growl rattles the door to the basement.” Nic asks, “Is that the demon you caught at the governor’s mansion?” Nic’s dad explains that it is a demon, saying, “I swear, demons can’t stay away from that place.” 
  • Nic can identify other Remarkables. Nic says, “the Remarkables light the place up a bit thanks to the Glow, different-colored auras that tell you the kinda Remarkable they are.” 
  • Nic’s dad creates an illusion of stars on her ceiling. “With the wave of his hand, my ceiling disappears and a night sky takes its place.” 
  • Nic’s father’s best friend, whom she calls Uncle Ty, gives Nic a G-Pen. Uncle Ty explains that the “Gift-Infused technology” can only be bought in Remarkable cities. The G-Pen allows Nic to “write to any [Remarkable person] with it, and they’ll see it wherever they are . . . You simply think about the person and write to them in midair.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • JP has very religious parents. JP’s parents tell him, “Phones are quick access to the Devil.”  
  • Nic’s neighbor, Mr. Zeke, takes a trip to “a Remarkable city or historic site” each year, and this year “he went to Africa to see the Garden of Eden.” 
  • Nic and her friends encounter a woman named DD, but they realize something about her real identity. Nic says, “You’re the Devil’s daughter,” and then Nic hears, “Countless voices wail as a cackle echoes in the distance, sounding as evil as the Devil himself. That’s because it is the Devil himself.” 
  • JP saves Nic from the Devil’s daughter by chanting “Jesus” and “holding a cross made of forks, spoons, and rubber bands like a shield. [JP] points it in DD’s direction. ‘Jeeee-suuus!’ The skeletal hands explode into dust, freeing [Nic].” 

Ruin and Rising

Following his successful attack on the Grand Palace, the Darkling now rules Ravka from his shadowy throne. Alina, Mal, and what remains of the Second Army escape through Ravka’s underground tunnels, which are controlled by the Apparat. The Apparat, formerly the King’s spiritual advisor, now leads the cult that has formed around those who consider Alina the Sun Saint. But Alina’s light summoning powers are useless so far underground, and she fears the Apparat will attempt to use her as a puppet for his own gain. Even though Alina and her friends are safe, Alina feels uneasy, and is determined to escape the Apparat’s clutches and return aboveground to defeat the Darkling. 

Eventually, Alina and her friends manage to make it out. They reunite with old allies and set off on a harrowing journey to obtain a powerful tool that just might be the key to finally defeating the Darkling: the firebird, the third and final of Morozova’s legendary creatures that, once killed, can serve as powerful amplifiers. Although Alina already possesses two of Morozova’s amplifiers, more than any other Grisha has, it has not been enough to match the ancient Darkling, who has had centuries to hone his powers. 

But nothing in the world of Grisha is ever straightforward. Alina is entering completely uncharted territory and attempting to stretch her powers to unprecedented lengths. The more she discovers about the firebird and Morozova’s history, the more she begins to doubt her plan. In the end, Alina must decide if saving her beloved country is worth the immense sacrifices she would have to make. Only one thing is certain – no matter what Alina does, neither she nor Ravka will ever be the same. 

Ruin and Rising is a stunning conclusion to the Shadow and Bone Trilogy. This book is full of twists and turns and epic battles that will have readers on the edge of their seats. Nothing and nobody are ever what they seem to be, and the surprises will elicit plenty of gasps throughout the story. There will be tears, too – the losses and anxiety of war lead to heartbreaking revelations between characters who had fought as one. Betrayals abound and rivalries form, and nobody emerges from battle quite the same person they were before. 

Between the action-packed scenes, there are plenty of heartwarming interactions between characters that keep Ruin and Rising from getting too dark and remind readers of the humanity behind these otherwise ruthless soldiers. Every single character is complex and experiences tremendous character growth. Alina is by no means a perfect heroine, but it is in how she addresses her mistakes and strives to fix them that makes it impossible for readers not to root for her. Even the Darkling, by the end, is not meant to be looked at as pure evil, but rather as an overambitious child who let his hunger for power get the best of him in adulthood. This story, and these characters, will stay with readers long after they finish the last page. Readers interested in exploring another unique world with magic should also read the Legacy of Orïsha Series by Tomi Adeyemi and the Something Dark and Holy Series by Emily A. Duncan. 

Sexual Content 

  • When Nikolai, Alina’s friend and ally, asks Alina about her time underground, Alina says, “There’s not much to do underground besides train.” Nikolai jokes, “I can think of a few more interesting ways to spend one’s time.” 
  • Genya, Alina’s friend and former servant to the Ravkan King and Queen, describes how she poisoned the King. “‘I poisoned my skin, my lips. So that every time he touched me–’  She shuddered slightly and glanced at David. ‘Every time he kissed me, he took sickness into his body.’” In the first book, Genya confirmed that the King treated her as if she was a prostitute.  
  • The Darkling and Alina visit each other in dreams due to the connection between their powers. During one of these dream scenes, the Darkling kisses Alina. “He leaned in. I felt his breath against my neck, then the press of his mouth against my skin just above the collar, almost a sigh. ‘Don’t,’ I said. I drew back, but he held me tighter. His hand went to the nape of my neck, long fingers twining in my hair, easing my head back. I closed my eyes. ‘Let me,’ he murmured against my throat. His heel hooked around my leg, bringing me closer. I felt the heat of his tongue, the flex of hard muscle beneath bare skin as he guided my hands around his waist. ‘It isn’t real,’ he said. ‘Let me.’” Alina pushes him away soon after. 
  • When Alina goes to wake up David, she opens the door to David’s room to find “a very bleary Genya and David [blinking] up at [her] from beneath the covers of a single narrow cot.” 
  • When Alina and Mal talk to each other about their shared childhoods in the Keramzin orphanage, Mal sheepishly tells Alina, “‘I had some very . . . distracting thoughts about you. And I felt guilty for each one of them. You were supposed to be my best friend, not . . . ’ He shrugged and turned even redder.”  
  • Alina and Mal sleep together for the first time. “I drew him to me, felt him shudder as our bodies came together, skin against skin, felt the heat of his lips, his tongue, hands moving until the need between us drew taut and anxious as a bowstring waiting for release. He clasped his hand to my wrist and my mind filled with light. All I saw was Mal’s face, all I felt was his body –  above me, around me, an awkward rhythm at first, then slow and steady as the beat of the rain.”  

Violence 

  • In order to escape the underground tunnels, Alina and her friends fight the Apparat and his followers. “Mal had gotten hold of a sword, and his blade flashed as he cut through one guard, then the other. They toppled like trees. Two more advanced, but Tolya and Tamar were there to stop them. David ran to Genya’s side. Nadia and Zoya flipped another guard in the air. I saw Priestguards on the periphery raising their rifles to open fire.” This scene occurs over four pages. Several people are injured, but the only deaths are described above.  
  • Alina and her friends are ambushed by members of the First Army who want to take Alina back to the Darkling. Nikolai and his flying ship come to Alina’s aid, and they manage to escape, but Nikolai claims all the First Army soldiers have to die; he doesn’t want information of Alina’s whereabouts or allies to return to the Darkling. “Tolya and Tamar followed, cutting through the remaining ranks of militia while Nikolai and his crew tried to lend cover from above. I saw one of the militiamen break free and run for the woods. Tolya put a bullet through his victim’s back, and before the body had even hit the ground, the giant was turning, his hand forming a fist as he crushed the heart of another knife-wielding soldier looming up behind him.” This scene occurs over two pages. 
  • Baghra, Alina’s tutor, explains her family history and connection to Ilya Morozova, the famous Grisha who created the amplifiers Alina seeks. When she was a child, Baghra accidentally killed her sister using the Cut, a special power that severs anything in two, after she broke Baghra’s favorite toy. “Remember, if you can, that I was just a child, a lonely child, with so few treasures of my own. I lashed out at my sister. With the Cut. I tore her in two.”  
  • The Darkling kills Sergei, one of Alina’s allies. “In one movement, the nichevo’ya ripped Sergei’s limbs from his body and severed his head from his neck. [Alina] had the briefest glimpse of the shock on his face, his mouth open in a silent scream, then the pieces disappeared beneath the cloud bank.” 
  • Although Ravka is a safe haven for Grisha, other countries view Grisha as abominations. Harshaw, one of Alina’s allies who did not grow up in Ravka, says that “when [his] brother’s power showed itself, they cut his throat and hung him upside down to drain like a pig in a slaughterhouse.”  
  • Alina and her team attack the Darkling and his army. “The first shot struck one of the Darkling’s oprichniki [personal guard soldiers]. He toppled over the skiff’s railing. Then the shots came in a rapid patter, like raindrops on a rooftop at the start of a storm. Grisha and oprichniki slumped and fell against one another as confusion broke out aboard the glass skiff. I saw more bodies fall.” Many of the Darkling’s soldiers die or are injured, but Alina’s team remains unharmed.  
  • The Darkling brings in reinforcements, turning the tide of the battle. Alina describes, “I heard screams, shouting, our soldiers returning fire. A red stain appeared in the sand and with a lurch I realized that one of our people was bleeding.” Several, including Alina, are injured.  
  • When it becomes clear that the Darkling’s forces are too powerful, Mal convinces Alina to sacrifice him in order to take down the Darkling. “With Mal’s fingers guiding mine, I shoved the knife up and into his chest. The momentum jerked me forward, and I stumbled. I pulled back, the knife falling from both our hands, blood spilling from the wound, but he kept his hold on my wrist. ‘Mal,’ I sobbed. He coughed and blood burbled from his lips. He swayed forward . . . He gasped, a wet rattle. His full weight slumped against me, dragging me down, fingers still clenched, pressed against my skin as if he were taking my pulse.” 
  • Alina stabs and kills the Darkling. “With one swift movement, I drove the shadow-wrapped blade deep into the Darkling’s heart. He made a soft sound, little more than an exhalation. He looked down at the hilt protruding from his chest, then back up at me. He frowned, took a step, tottered slightly. He righted himself. A single laugh burst from his lips, and a fine spray of blood settled over his chin. ‘Like this?’ His legs faltered. He tried to stop his descent, but his arm gave way and he crumpled, rolling to his back.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Alina and her allies occasionally chew jurda, a stimulant used to stay awake (its effects are similar to coffee).  

Language 

  • “Saints” is used frequently as an exclamation, much like “Oh God.” 

Supernatural 

  • This book involves a magic system known as the Small Science, a way of manipulating matter in a way that appears supernatural or magical. Those who can wield the Small Science are known as Grisha; many of the main characters in this novel are Grisha.  
  • The Grisha are split into three orders: Corporalki (the Order of the Living and the Dead), Etherialki (the Order of Summoners), and Materialki (the Order of Fabrikators).  
  • The Darkling and Baghra are Shadow Summoners, while Alina is a Sun Summoner; these are unique abilities that no other known Grisha possesses. For example, Alina summons light for the first time since going underground. Alina “felt the light, miles above me – so tentative, barely a whisper. Panic gripped me. The distance was too great. I’d been foolish to hope. Then it was as if something within me rose and stretched, like a creature that had lain idle for too long. Its muscles had gone soft from disuse, but it was still there, waiting. I called and the light answered with the strength of the antlers at my throat, the scales at my wrist. It came to me in a rush, triumphant and eager . . . The light slammed through me and burst over the room in a blinding cascade that illuminated the almost comical expression on the Apparat’s face.” 
  • Alina describes some of the contents of Morozova’s journals. Ilya Morozova was one of the first known Grisha, famous for his inventions, his dedication to studying the Small Science, and his creation of the three amplifiers. “His early journals chronicled his experiments: the blacked-out formula for liquid fire, a means of preventing organic decay, the trials that had led to the creation of Grisha steel, a method for restoring oxygen to the blood, the endless year he’d spent finding a way to create unbreakable glass. His skills extended beyond those of an ordinary Fabrikator, and he was well aware of it.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • Many Ravkans worship Saints, and some consider Alina a living Saint, and call her Sankta Alina (Saint Alina) or Sol Koroleva (Sun Queen). 

Why We Fly

From the New York Times bestselling authors of I’m Not Dying with You Tonight comes a story about friendship, privilege, sports, and protest. 

With a rocky start to senior year, cheerleaders and lifelong best friends Eleanor and Chanel have a lot on their minds. Eleanor is still in physical therapy months after a serious concussion from a failed cheer stunt. Chanel starts making questionable decisions to deal with the mounting pressure of college applications. But they have each other’s backs—just as always, until Eleanor’s new relationship with star quarterback Three starts a rift between them. 

Then, the cheer squad decides to take a knee at the season’s first football game, and what seemed like a positive show of solidarity suddenly shines a national spotlight on the team—and becomes the reason for a larger fallout between the girls. As Eleanor and Chanel grapple with the weight of the consequences as well as their own problems, can the girls rely on the friendship they’ve always shared? 

Why We Fly was inspired by real people who took a stand against racism. John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their Black power fist at the Olympics in 1968. Similarly, Collin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem in protest of the treatment of Blacks. Why We Fly explores the idea that players should “shut up and play” and the consequences athletes face if they voice their opinions. The story’s message is clear—athletes and others should not be punished for peaceful protest. However, the main characters’ experiences also highlight the importance of having a plan before you protest. In addition, the story reminds readers that no one should be forced to support a cause. By reading, Why We Fly today’s readers will gain insight into effective activism and be encouraged to explore ways they can help others. 

The chapters alternate between Eleanor’s and Chanel’s points of view. Since the girls are of different races, readers will begin to understand how race and wealth affect a person’s experiences. While the story explores important themes, the main characters are difficult to relate to. Even though Eleanor and Chanel have been best friends most of their lives, neither one is a good friend. For example, after Eleanor is voted captain of the cheerleading team, Chanel ghosts her. In addition, Chanel is critical of Eleanor’s relationship with star quarterback, Three. Many readers will dislike Eleanor’s and Chanel’s behavior and thus will have a hard time relating to them. 

On the other hand, Eleanor has a difficult time considering things from other’s point of view. When she is voted cheerleading captain, she accepts the position and never considers how it will affect Chanel. As cheerleading captain, Eleanor doesn’t show positive leadership skills and Chanel eventually has to jump in to unite the team. Then, when Eleanor encourages the cheerleaders to kneel during the national anthem, she doesn’t think about the consequences or how it would affect others. Eventually, she goes to talk to a rabbi who says, “Living up to a legacy doesn’t mean celebrating it. It means we pick up the baton and keep running the race. It also means we need to check ourselves and our assumptions about how far we’ve come, or haven’t.” Eleanor learns that when protesting, having good intentions is not enough—she should have also considered different people’s points of view and the consequences others would face if they protested.  

While many books have imperfect characters, Why We Fly’s characters are unlikable because they are self-centered and have unhealthy relationships. Despite this, readers who are interested in activism can learn important lessons about effective protest. In addition, readers may want to research some of the influential people the story mentions such as Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson, President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Readers who want to explore issues of discrimination and wealth should also add these books to their reading list: Jackpot by Nic Stone, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones & Gilly Segal. 

Sexual Content 

  • After physical therapy, Three and Eleanor are talking. “He leans closer, and I freeze, dying for him to kiss me and feeling ridiculous that I’m so desperate for him to kiss me that I’m willing for it to happen in this doctor’s office. . . I lift my face, and his lips brush mine gently at first, and then he presses closer, and we fall over a cliff into the kiss.” The doctor interrupts them. 
  • One of the characters wears a shirt that reads, “Woke Up Lesbian Again.” 
  • Eleanor and Chanel go to a BBQ at Three’s house. When Eleanor and Three begin to flirt, Chanel says, “It’s a Planned Parenthood cautionary tale right before our eyes.” 
  • Before a football game, Three and Eleanor have a moment alone. Eleanor kisses him. Three “holds me to him, running that hand all the way up my back and into my hair. His lips part mine, and we kiss until we’re so tangled in each other that the stadium noises fade. . .” They are interrupted by another football player, who yells, “Three! Untangle yourself from that octopus, and let’s go.” 
  • A friend drops Three off at Eleanor’s house. Eleanor wonders, “Why did he have to get a ride to what is obviously going to look like a hook-up?” 
  • Eleanor slept with her previous boyfriend, Roman. Eleanor’s friend said, “Roman was the type to kiss and tell, and she was right. . .” Eleanor isn’t sorry that she slept with Roman, she’s “just mad everyone thought it was cool to slut-shame me for my choice while admiring him for doing the same thing.” Later, Eleanor reveals that Roman is the only person she has had sex with. 
  • Eleanor and Three are hanging out at her house. They begin kissing. Three says that he doesn’t expect her to have sex with him, but Eleanor says she wants to. “Three lies back, taking up my entire bed, leaving me no space and no option other than to press up against him and rest my cheek on his chest. . .” Before they can have sex, they get into an argument, and Three leaves. 
  • On social media, someone posts: “Looks like Chanel Irons will be the next Barack Obama. Anyone know if she’s straight? I’m here for being her Michelle. We can un-hetero that White House together.” 

Violence 

  • Before the book begins, Eleanor falls during cheerleading practice. Eleanor “came down wrong. . . I flailed, trying to save myself too. My head thwacked James’s shoulder on the way down, then hit the mat. One leg bent under me, and my ankle collapsed. . . when I came to, the throbbing in my head blinded me to all the other pain.” Months later, Eleanor is still in physical therapy. 

 Drugs and Alcohol 

  • In order to deal with stress, Chanel sneaks into the school bathroom to vape marijuana. She loads “the cartridge of Runtz, press and release the button, and take a short breath.”  
  • Chanel is suspended from school. Afterwards, she hides in the shed behind her house. “Even though I normally take only one short puff, I find myself taking extra puffs today and holding the vapor longer.”  
  • Because of the pressure of applying to colleges, Chanel is “stoned for nearly two months.” 
  • After a football game, a bunch of teens go to a player’s house. Before his parents leave the room, they padlock the liquor cabinet. 

Language 

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes ass, bitches, bullshit, crap, damn, hell, piss, and shit. 
  • Fuck is used once. 
  • Oh God and dear God are infrequently used as an exclamation. 
  • Three’s mother dislikes Eleanor and calls her “locker-room lice.” 
  • Eleanor and Chanel kneel during the national anthem at a football game. Afterwards, someone posts a picture with a caption that says, “Now we’ve got a Jew bitch on her knees with the primates.” 

 Supernatural 

  • None 

 Spiritual Content 

  • Eleanor was part of a competition squad that would pray “before every tournament—in Jesus’s name.” Because Eleanor is Jewish, she seeks out her rabi’s advice. “His guidance gave me the guts to ask the team to change the prayer to something more egalitarian.” 
  • Eleanor mentions religious holidays such as the High Holy Days and Rosh Hashanah. 
  • Eleanor goes to synagogue during the High Holidays. Her brother wears a bar mitzvah tallit (a prayer shawl), but Eleanor is upset that she forgot hers. The knots on the tallit represent “the number of commandments in the Torah.” 
  • During the service, the rabbi says, “When I look around, both at our larger world and our own community, I see enormous pain. I see injustice . . . There are those who deny the humanity of people of color. Who asks that they be silent in the face of unequal, hateful, violent treatment. . . We have a moral obligation to bear witness to injustice in society. . . it is our responsibility to protect the marginalized and to partner with other communities to confront the powerful who perpetuate injustice.” The sermon goes on for two pages. 

Treasure Island: Runaway Gold

Three kids. One dog. And the island of Manhattan laid out in an old treasure map.  

Zane is itching for an adventure that will take him away from his family’s boarding house in Rockaway, Queens—and from the memory of his dad’s recent death. Some days it seems like the most exciting part of his life is listening to his favorite boarder, Captain Maddie, recount her tales of sailing the seven seas. 

But when a threatening crew of skater kids crashes the boardinghouse, a dying Captain Maddie entrusts Zane with a secret: a real treasure map, leading to a spot somewhere in Manhattan. Zane wastes no time in riding the ferry over to the city to start the search with his friends Kiko and Jack, and his dog, Hip-Hop.  

Through strange coincidence, they meet a man who is eager to help them find the treasure: John, a sailor who knows all about the buried history of Black New Yorkers of centuries past—and the gold that is hidden somewhere in those stories. But as a vicious rival skateboard crew follows them around the city, Zane and his friends begin to wonder who they can trust. And soon it becomes clear that treasure hunting is a dangerous business . . . 

Treasure Island: Runaway Gold reimagines Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic book Treasure Island. While the books have a similar plot line, many of the original story’s details are changed. Treasure Island: Runaway Gold revolves around Zane and his three friends, who are searching for a lost pirate treasure. Along the way, they meet Captain John, who claims that he wants to help the kids find the treasure but doesn’t want a share of the prize for himself. Right from the start, many red flags show that Captain John cannot be trusted, and Captain John eventually betrays Zane’s trust. However, Captain John was clearly a villain from the start, so his betrayal feels anticlimactic.  

The first chapter jumps right into action and there is never any lull. Fast-paced action scenes dominate the book. Despite this, the book finds time to shine a light on how Black slaves were used to build Wall Street and other important Manhattan buildings. In death, many were buried in a graveyard. However, “colonists didn’t care about a Black cemetery. For centuries, folks kept building over and through their graves.” This historical information blends seamlessly into the story, creating a cohesive mystery that is tied to the pirate treasure.  

Readers who want a story with plenty of action and suspense will quickly be swept away by Treasure Island: Runaway Gold. However, the story’s fast pace doesn’t leave a lot of room for character development, the ending is rushed, and readers will be left with many questions. Despite these flaws, Treasure Island: Runaway Gold uses an interesting premise to teach about Black history.  

A few black-and-white illustrations are scattered throughout the book, which helps bring the events to life. In addition, the back of the book has a glossary of Zane’s skateboarding tricks and an Afterword that explains “how the [enslaved] Black people contributed to New York becoming the economic heart of the world,” as well as how “Thomas Downing, the son of enslaved people,” used his wealth to fund the Underground Railroad. Readers who want to learn more about the Underground Railroad should also read The Underground Abductor: An Abolitionist Tale about Harriet Tubman by Nathan Hale and Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Zane has a friend named Jack, who has an abusive father. Zane explains, “Since second grade, I’ve known the pattern. Dad home, Jack had accidents. Bruises, sprains. A black eye.” Later it is revealed that his father once broke Jack’s arm. 
  • Jack shows up at the skate park with “his body tilting left while his hand holds his side. Kiko says, ‘His dad still thinks he’s a punching bag.’ ” The conversation stops there. 
  • Zane gets home and finds, “it looks like a bomb has hit the dining room. Broken plates, shattered glasses, oatmeal, soft eggs, and crushed toast are on the floor. . .” Zane runs upstairs to find Captain Maddie “passed out cold.” Zane’s mother explains that skater kids and “that nasty boy came in frightening our guests, tearing up the place. Demanding to see Captain Maddie.” 
  • When the doctor comes, Captain Maddie, “is upright, flailing a small knife, slick with blood.” Captain Maddie dies. The doctor says, “The shock was too much for her. Probably an aneurysm.”  
  • During the night, the skater kids come back to Zane’s house. “Six skaters dressed in black, canvassing the house . . . Hip-Hop dives, racing across the grass, and bites someone. A scream. Jack is right behind Hip-Hop, punching right, left. . . Zane and his friends begin throwing baseballs at them . . . Some boys try blocking with their skateboards. Others limp away. Another runs. . .” 
  • Zane, Jack, and Kiko go to Manhattan to look for treasure. The skater crew swarms them. “Brave, ready for a fight, Jack sails into the gang, his board sideswiping other boards, his hands shoving, unbalancing the skater. . . A kid pulls Jack’s arms behind his back. . . [Zane] pull[s] the kid off Jack while Jack punches back at three kids trying to get a hit.” 
  • As the fight continues, “Jack gets pinned, his face against asphalt. I tug one kid off before I’m pounded in the gut and taken down.” At the end of the fight, “bloodred bruises cover his [Jack’s] face and arms. More, I know, are hidden beneath his shirt. He took the brunt of the beating. . .” The fight is described over five pages. No one is seriously injured.   
  • Zane and his friends are on a boat driven by John when the skater boys begin to “tail our boat, edging closer and closer, gunning, then leveling the engine. Almost like he’s going to ram us.” The skater boys’ boat gets so close that “a wall of water rises, slaps, and [Zane] topple[s] overboard.” 
  • John, Zane, and his friends sneak under a restaurant that was used to hide slaves. When men hear them, the men give chase. Zane describes, “The men are closer. Close. I’m not going to make it. . . I kick. The man grunts, stumbles back. . . Jack, beside John, is furiously pitching oyster shells. With a grunt, he throws his weight against a shelf filled with dusty jars, and jugs. The shelf falls, crashing, shattering glass and ceramic.” John, Zane, and his friends slip under the restaurant and escape. 
  • Zane and Kiko sneak into the old Woolworth’s building. A guard sees them entering an elevator and the guard gives chase. Zane shouts, “startling the guard, using my skateboard to whack his hand away.”  
  • One of the skater boys, Findley, grabs Hip-Hop and puts him in a sack. Matt, another boy, grabs Zane. Zane describes how Matt “twist[s] my arm. My knees buckle. He punches, kicks me. I crumple.”  
  • Kiko tries to help Zane. She grabs a cane and “like lightening, the cane flashes down on his arm, swings sideways—whack—slamming into [Matt’s] side. . . [Matt] dashing forward and back. Hopping left, then right. Feigning a punch. . .” Kiko uses the cane to smack Matt who “gasps, drops to his knees. He’s not unconscious, but it’s still a knockout . . .” The scene is described over three pages. 
  • In a multi-chapter conclusion, Jack reveals that when his father beats him, his mother “doesn’t defend me. Never did. Even when I was little, she said, ‘A boy needs to learn how to defend himself.’ When Dad started whaling on me, she left the mobile home.” 
  • John reveals that he is the lead of the skater boys’ gang, and takes Zane and Kiko to his secret hideout. John’s “first mate” Rattler makes sure Zane and Kido can’t escape. “Taunting, Rattler faces me as two pirates pin my arms beneath my back, roping my hands together.” Kiko is also tied up. Afterwards, Zane is hit occasionally. 
  • John’s secret hideout is under the city in an old, abandoned tunnel system. To search for treasure, John has his crew begin dynamiting the ceiling of a tunnel. “Gunpowder with wicks are driven into the tunnel’s sides, its unfinished ceiling.” Petey, who is about eight years old, is tasked with lighting the dynamite. When the dynamite goes off, “Petey tumbles. The torch arcs, twirls like a giant sparkler, landing on Petey’s back. . . Jack’s on it. Kicking aside the torch, he drops, patting Petey’s shirt, smothering flames. . . Petey groans. Beneath his shirt’s jagged burnouts, his skin is red, blistering.” Petey passes out and Kiko administers first aid. 
  • As the skater crew continues to set off explosions, the bones of the people buried there begin to fall. The kids are “tossing skeletons like ordinary sticks. . . ‘Look at this.’ A kid holds a skull and happily throws it to his mate.” Zane is upset that John and his crew are “disturbing graves.” 
  • John taunts Zane by saying, “Zane, a mama’s boy. Worse, a weak, whiny boy missing his dad.” Zane goes “berserk. I’m hitting, kicking, punching John. . . I fall flat, seeing stars. John slapped, shoved me.” When Zane and Kiko refuse to join John’s crew, they make them “walk the plank.”  
  • While in an underground abandoned subway, Zane and Kiko are forced to “walk the plank” which is an old pipe that is dangerously high. Kiko goes first and the crew begin throwing bones at her. “Findley lets a rib bone fly. Others throw rocks. Kiko wabbles, tries to duck low. Arms protecting her head, she shifts forward and back, side to side.” Kiko makes it across the pipe. 
  • As Zane walks the plank, “stones, skeletons fly. Rocks sail wide, especially from younger boys. Others bruise my shoulder and arm.” Zane makes it across the pipe. 
  • Zane and Rattler, one of the skater boys, duel it out by skating. After Zane has a good run, “Rattler leaps toward me, swinging his board at my head.” Kiko jumps in, “Knocking it out of his hands.” The fight ends. 
  • While in an underground tunnel, Zane, Kiko, and Hip-Hop find “hundreds of rats. Rats squeaking, running, crawling over one another. . . In his jaws, Hip-Hop snaps rat after rat. Shaking his head, he breaks their necks. He’s an efficient, killing machine. . . Hip-Hop has made a path—but it’s gross. Limp rats, blood. . .” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Jack’s father spends his money on alcohol instead of food and bills. 
  • John tells Zane that his “best mate” was a woman who would “drink gallons of rum and never spend a day hungover.” 
  • While talking about the history of slaves being used to build Wall Street, John says, “I need a swig. . .Rum helps set the mind straight.”  
  • Jack says, “Alcohol turns my dad into a wild man. . .” 
  • At one point, John is “sauntering off-balance” because he’s drunk. He offers Zane a flask and says, “Rum cures a lot of ills.” 
  • When a young boy is burned, Kiko gives him ibuprofen. 

Language 

  • Occasionally, there is name-calling such as brat, loser, failure, jerk, and traitor. 
  • John opens an old trunk expecting to see treasure. When the trunk is empty, he yells, “Aargh. Damnation.” 
  • John calls one of the skater boys a “gutless swine.” 

Supernatural 

  • Zane sees visions of the past. “Images like photographs. Now they seem like a silent movie. Figures move, stumble. I see a long line of shackled people, some stumbling, some wailing . . .” During the three-page vision, Captain Maddie shows Zane how slaves were used to build Wall Street.  
  • Occasionally Captain Maddie appears, but Zane is the only person who can see her ghost.  
  • Zane has a vision of Thomas Downing, a wealthy Black man who helped hide people who were escaping slavery. The vision guides Zane to the underground room where Thomas hid slaves.

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Ace of Spades

Chiamaka, one of two Black students at the elite Niveus Academy, is more than ready for her senior year. Since her freshman year, everything she’s done at Niveus has been with Yale’s pre-med program in mind – taking the hardest classes, staying on top of her grades, making connections. When she is selected to be one of the senior Prefects at the back-to-school assembly, she is pleased but not surprised. After all, this was the track she meticulously planned for since day one. 

By contrast, Devon, the only other Black student, is ready to fall back into Niveus’s monotony, finish his senior year, and get out. Quiet and shy, the only place he truly feels at ease at Niveus is in the music classroom, where he can escape into building his portfolio for Julliard’s piano performance program. So, when he is also selected to be a senior Prefect, he is taken aback: he is a good student, but not an exceptional one.  

But things never stay quiet at Niveus for long: soon after the semester begins, a mysterious entity who calls themselves Aces begins sending incriminating messages to the entire school, exposing students’ deepest, darkest secrets. After a few texts, Chiamaka and Devon realize something disturbing: Aces seems to be only targeting them. They pair up to try and take Aces down, but the more they dig, the more they uncover about their classmates, teachers, and Niveus’ dark past. It soon becomes clear that they can only trust each other – or can they do even that? 

Ace of Spades is a gripping read from the start. The pacing is a bit off-putting at times– the book starts slow, uncovering the story layer by layer, and then speeds up in the end with several plot twists that are not as developed as they could be. Nevertheless, Chiamaka and Devon are both such smart and compelling narrators that readers will quickly get hooked – the story is told from both of their perspectives, so readers get full insight into both characters’ lives and see both similarities and differences in their experiences. Both Chiamaka and Devon go through a lot of character development throughout the story. Despite their flaws, they are sympathetic characters that readers will root for and be able to relate to.  

While Ace of Spades is a deeply important read, it does handle many difficult topics, such as institutional racism, drug use, incarceration, and death. None of these issues are sugarcoated and they are all integral parts of the story, especially racism. Because these issues are given the gravity they deserve, several parts of the story are rather heavy. While readers should be aware of the heavy subject matter going into this book, it should not deter them from reading it since all of the issues are important to talk about and learn about as they are prevalent in our world today. 

Overall, Ace of Spades is a suspenseful thriller that exposes many systemic injustices prevalent in our world today, sending an important message about how to combat them. It has a multi-layer plot that is slowly and carefully peeled away to reveal a big picture that is truly shocking and thought-provoking. Although parts of this story are uncomfortable to read about, they reflect important issues in our modern society that are vital to address and discuss. Ace of Spades will hook readers from the start, and leave them thinking about it for weeks to come.  

Sexual Content 

  • Chiamaka remembers the first time she and her best friend, Jamie, hooked up at a party. “He told me to meet him in his bedroom, and while that night we only made out, it was the catalyst for what happened the rest of the year: Jamie sneaking kisses, whispering things in my ear, asking me to come over . . . ” 
  • Aces leaks a video of Devon and his ex-boyfriend having sex. Chiamaka (and the rest of the school) get a text notification from Aces, plus the video: “Just in. Porn is easy to come by these days. You either search for it online or it falls right in your lap when you least expected it to.” Chiamaka doesn’t click on it, but she “could hear the sounds of it playing from Jamie’s phone.” 
  • Aces exposes the fact that Chiamaka and Jamie hooked up last year. “Belle Robinson [Jamie’s current girlfriend], you have a problem. I’d ask your boyfriend and his bestie, Chiamaka, what they were doing this summer. Hint, it involves no clothes and a lot of heavy petting.”
  • Devon has sex with an ex-boyfriend. “Dre moves off the bed and goes over to the drawer in his desk, pulling out some condoms. I look away from him now and up at the ceiling, listening to the sound of the rain hitting the windows and the wind angrily crying out, letting it drown my thoughts. His weight tilts the bed as he leans over me and joins our lips together again . . . And then, when we are finally done and I’m in his arms, I let myself cry.” 
  • A poster of Chiamaka is circulated at a party and spreads around Niveus. “Posters of a passed-out Chiamaka in a short silver dress, black tights, black heeled boots, mascara dried on her cheeks, and her hair a tangled mess. Some of the posters have Bitch written in big black bold text, others Slut.” 
  • It’s implied that Chiamaka and her girlfriend make out, or more. “Belle nods, a sly smile on her lips as she reaches up to her shirt and starts to unbutton it. ‘Want to continue not talking?’ she asks, the yellow of her bra making everything inside tingle. ‘Not talking is my favorite thing to do,’ I tell her.” 

Violence 

  • Chiamaka has a flashback to when she was in the car with Jamie behind the wheel, and they hit a girl. “Rain pounds the road as I peer out the window at the body – her body. Through the rivulets, I see her face. Blond curls, pale skin, a dark pool forming a halo around her head. I gag, gripping on to the cold, hard dashboard, closing my eyes. I feel so sick.” This scene is described over two pages. 
  • After a picture of Devon and his ex-boyfriend kissing is leaked, Devon worries about the violence he might face from the homophobic community. “The guys in my neighborhood, the ones I used to go to school with, they’d kill me if they saw that picture. Toss my body into the garbage disposal once they were done with me. These guys watch me on my walk home, staring me down, smirking. Sometimes they yell shit. Other times they push me to the ground, then walk off laughing. The picture would make things in my neighborhood ten times worse.” 
  • Jamie physically attacks Chiamaka, and she defends herself. “I’m cut off by Jamie wrapping his hands around my neck and squeezing. He’s shaking as he strangles me and I’m wheezing, laughing and gasping for air . . . I don’t want Jamie’s face to be the last thing I see before I die, and so I summon all the remaining strength I have, and I kick him in the crotch. Jamie staggers back, releasing me. I cough, throat hurting, chest aching. I don’t give myself time to pause before I kick him again. This time he falls to the ground.” Chiamaka runs away, shaken but uninjured. 
  • The headmaster of Niveus holds a gun to Chiamaka’s forehead to stop her from exposing Niveus’ secrets but doesn’t shoot her. “Before I can do anything else, I feel a large hand grab me, dragging me away through the curtains. I glance back, trying to break out of this powerful grip, and that’s when I feel cold metal pressed to my forehead. A gun.” Chiamaka gets away by “[sticking] something in [the headmaster’s] neck. He freezes up and drops to the ground, the gun dropping with him.” 
  • A fire breaks out at Niveus. Most make it out, but a few people die, including Jamie. These deaths are only mentioned, not described.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Chiamaka got drunk at a party with her best friend, Jamie. “We’d both gotten drunk, so drunk I don’t remember much of that night.” 
  • Chiamaka got drunk at a party with her now-ex-boyfriend. “He thrusts his hand out, this time spilling a bit of his drink, before concentrating hard on placing it down straight.” 
  • Devon has sold drugs to support his family. When he asks his mom to let him help with the bills, she “shakes her head. ‘I know what you want to do and I don’t want you doing that ever. I want you off those streets, in that classroom – making your life better, not jeopardizing it.’” 
  • Chiamaka and Devon have some wine in her basement. “I open up one of the liquor cabinets and I take out a bottle of Chardonnay, placing it on the island. I get out two wineglasses and pour some into each, before sliding one over to Devon. I don’t even like the taste of it, but I know it will help me relax a little. I only poured half a glass so that we wouldn’t be too relaxed or out of it, just enough to give us some liquid courage.” 

Language 

  • Shit and fuck are used occasionally. 
  • The n–word is used once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Devon’s mother is a devout Christian and often prays to God. For example, when the family is struggling financially, she says, “It’ll work itself out, Vonnie. God never falters.” 

Yes No Maybe So

Jamie’s summer is not turning out like he hoped it would. After his fear of public speaking cost him a spot in a highly coveted internship, he settles for volunteering on a campaign for a Georgia State Senate candidate. It’s certainly not the glamorous summer he envisioned, but he’s wanted to be involved in politics and effect change for as long as he could remember, so he’ll take what he can get. Plus, it gives him breaks from bat mitzvah planning with his younger sister, Sophie. 

Maya’s summer doesn’t look promising, either. Between her parents potentially divorcing and her best friend, Sara, focused on work and getting ready to move away to college, it feels like her life is completely falling apart. Nothing feels right anymore, and she wonders if it ever will again. 

But when Jamie and Maya’s moms reconnect, they suggest that Jamie and Maya go door to door trying to get votes for the campaign Jamie is volunteering for. At first, neither is thrilled about the idea– Jamie is a nervous wreck around strangers, and Maya has enough on her plate already. But the more time they spend knocking on doors and promoting their candidate, the more they realize just how much is at stake in this election. And the more time they spend together, the more they realize that they don’t completely hate each other’s company. Are they growing closer as friends, or something more? 

Yes No Maybe So is a fast-paced rom-com that readers will tear through. Because the chapters alternate between Jamie’s and Maya’s perspectives, both characters are well-developed. Seeing the story unfold through both of their eyes adds lots of layers and nuance. Both characters have regrets and make mistakes, but learn from them and apologize; their ability to communicate and willingness to share their feelings is refreshing. The buildup to their eventual romance is satisfying too. Since they start out as friends, their relationship is clearly based on mutual respect and genuine regard for one another.  

This book also deals with complex issues such as antisemitism and Islamophobia, and how those manifests in politics. While these issues are not sugarcoated and are given the gravity that they deserve, there is still a healthy balance between the political and the romantic subplots. The two subplots complement each other well because neither one dominates the other. Yes No Maybe So’s main message is one of love and acceptance. Although we all have differences, it is important to respect people’s choices for how they want to live their lives, provided they are not hurting those around them. 

Overall, Yes No Maybe So is a fun and engaging read, perfect for teenagers who are looking for an optimistic (but not cheesy) view on the world we live in. It is a heartwarming romance full of twists and turns, while still sending a vital message about the importance of speaking out against injustice. Readers will fall in love with Jamie and Maya, and root for them as they try to navigate their friendship, as well as the ever-changing world around them. 

Sexual Content 

  • When thinking about how he often fumbles when giving a speech in public, Jamie nervously envisions himself giving a campaign speech and makes a sexual joke. He says, “Seriously, I wouldn’t just lose my election. I would call it an erection. And then I’d lose.” 
  • Jamie’s eighth-grade sister, Sophie, discusses games that she and her friends are planning to play at a no-adults birthday party. “We’re doing Spin the Bottle, we’re doing Seven Minutes in Heaven, we’re doing Suck and Blow. . . With a playing card.” 
  • Maya’s favorite season of The Office is “season two. All that Jim and Pam sexual tension.” 
  • Maya goes to Jamie’s house. His friends leave, joking that Jamie and Maya probably want “alone time.” Jamie and Maya laugh it off, but Jamie thinks, “Alone time. With Maya. In my house, which contains my room, which contains my–okay, I’m not going to think about beds. That would be absurd. No point in thinking about beds or alone or Maya or alone with Maya in beds or–” 
  • Jamie and Maya watch an episode of The Office together. During a particularly romantic scene, Maya puts her head on Jamie’s shoulder, and Jamie gets an erection. “Her head’s still on my shoulder, even though I’m the king of awkward, with my arm just hanging down stiffly. God. Speaking of stiff– I adjust the blankets, blushing furiously. Think of Asa Newton. Think of Ian Holden, Jennifer Dickers. Fifi. Fifi’s humanoid hands—Crisis averted.” 
  • Jamie and Maya kiss for the first time in Target. Then they move into a dressing room for privacy. Maya “sinks onto the bench, and I follow—kissing her forehead, her cheeks, her lips. But then she hugs me, shifting backward, until I’m almost on top of her. I rest my hand behind her head before it hits the bench. Our legs tangle together, sneakered feet dangling off the edge. This time, when we kiss, it’s more urgent. Her hands fall to the back of my neck, gently threading my hair. My fingers trail down her bare arms, and she smiles against my lips.” 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • “Fuck” and “fucking” are sometimes used as an intensifier. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Jamie is Jewish and Maya is Muslim. They bring up their faiths, and how it affects their lives, many times throughout the story. For example, this story takes place during Ramadan, so the fact that Maya is fasting often comes up. She says, “‘I don’t do coffee on Ramadan. . .  I don’t even do water. I eat suhoor way before the sun is up and then I eat after the sun sets. That’s it.” 

Always Isn’t Forever

J.C. Cervantes’ novel follows Ruby and her long-time boyfriend, Hart. When Hart suddenly passes away in a drowning accident, Ruby struggles to figure out her new plans for the future—a future without the love of her life. Unbeknownst to his friends and family, Hart experiences a miracle, as his soul comes back to life in the body of someone else. Unfortunately for Hart, his new body is that of Jameson Romanelli, a football player at his school that Ruby describes as “arrogant, selfish, [and] obnoxious.” Because Jameson is in a coma after a car crash, an angel named Lourdes is able to put Hart’s soul into Jameson’s body. Lourdes explains to Hart that Jameson’s soul is about to pass on, and this is what allows her to put Hart’s soul into his body.  

Hart must try to reckon with his new body and he can’t tell anyone who he really is. This allows him to grow and experience new things. For instance, Ruby describes Hart as a bit of a “worrywart. . . when we were kids, he wouldn’t climb the monkey bars or anything more than four feet off the ground, he started a petition for seat belts on the school bus.” In addition, Hart is “a stickler for the rules.” But that changes when Hart has to learn to convincingly do things that Jameson would normally do, in order to not clue anyone in about his divine intervention. For instance, Hart needs to learn a lot about football, as Jameson is a top athlete at their school and he is under a great deal of pressure from his father. Being in Jameson’s body allows Hart to understand that people face pressures we have no way of knowing about from surface-level encounters. Hart explains, “I’ve only lived in Jameson’s body a day and I already feel like shit. Imagine how bad he felt living his whole life under this kind of pressure.” 

Because Hart (referred to as Hart/Jameson later in the book), now in Jameson’s body, is not able to tell Ruby what happened, Ruby feels completely confused as to why Jameson is suddenly reaching out to her and being nice. Eventually, as Ruby spends more time with this “new” Jameson, she starts to feel that “I couldn’t stand [Jameson] and then he woke up from a coma and I felt this weird connection and then I hung out with [Jameson] and to be honest he wasn’t that bad; he was nice.” Ruby feels conflicted about enjoying her time with Jameson, but says, “I felt like . . . like we’re connected by something bigger.”  

Always Isn’t Forever switches points of view at the start of each chapter, which will help readers relate to each of the characters individually. Though Hart initially judges Jameson, Hart grows as a character because he can feel Jameson’s emotions. For example, Hart discovers that Jameson had a serious girlfriend who “had a rock-climbing accident and died.” Hart is able to feel Jameson’s grief: “I feel an ache deep between my ribs that shoots into my heart.” Hart recognizes that this grief is what drove Jameson to alcohol. Hart learns about how the pain of grief can affect people who may seem hardened on the outside, like Jameson.  

Even though the book’s characters are extremely empathetic, the situation regarding what happens to Jameson’s soul when Hart’s soul is put into his body is not explained in detail. This causes confusion especially because Jameson’s memories begin taking over Hart. For instance, Hart lost some of his memories. He explains, “I have no idea how to sail this boat that evidently, I bought and fixed up and don’t remember a damn thing about.” However, Hart regains all his memories at the end, and though this leaves a happy ending for Ruby and Hart, the reader might be confused as to why the angel did not just give Hart all of his memories to begin with.  

Overall, the theme of processing grief is extremely pertinent in Always Isn’t Forever. Readers will empathize greatly with Ruby as she explains how she feels after Hart’s death: “At first, I let [grief] have at me. I knew the grief was eventually going to swallow me up. And I wanted it to.” Later in the novel, Ruby recognizes that her grief has caused her to give up things she used to enjoy. She reflects that she’s “given up what I love: the water, my dreams to travel—even myself. I guess a part of me is terrified that if I let myself want again, it’ll just be one more thing ripped away. But how is a life without desire worth living?” Eventually, Ruby is able to open up to Jameson and share her feelings, which allows her to refocus on her dreams of travel and college that she had put aside in the depths of her grief.  

Sexual Content 

  • Hart and Ruby share a quick romantic moment. Hart says, “[Ruby] gives me a kiss, meant to be a peck, but I’m greedy, and in a nanosecond the kiss is deeper, our bodies pressed so close I think we could melt into this mattress.” But the kiss ends abruptly, with Hart saying, “Sometimes I wish we had never agreed to wait to have sex until college.”  
  • To test her theory that “a part of Hart is inside Jameson,” Ruby approaches Jameson and kisses him. Hart/Jameson describes, “[Ruby] pulls me closer, opens my mouth with her own. Every nerve in my body is on fire. I let go. I deepen the kiss, feel its heat, its desire, and all the questions it’s asking . . . our erratic breathing matches the rhythm of the kiss now, frantic, out of control. As if this is the last kiss we’ll ever have. I want more of [Ruby]. All of her.” 
  • Ruby and Hart/Jameson spend a romantic evening together. Ruby says, “Each kiss more urgent than the second before, the longing growing, growing, growing.” 
  • Ruby asks Hart/Jameson if he wants to be intimate with her. Ruby explains, “We’d sworn we’d wait until college. But now. . . if this is my only chance. It was always going to be Hart. It was, is, and forever will be—Hart.” But they stop before they go any further than kissing because Hart/Jameson says, “No, not like this.” 

Violence 

  • When a little boy accidentally falls overboard during a storm, Hart goes out into the dangerous waters to rescue him. Even though the boy is saved, as Hart attempts to get to the boat’s ladder, “My fingers trace its edges just as a colossal swell sucks me under. The waters are dark . . . violent. I fight my way to the top, but it’s not there. I have no idea which way is up.”  
  • Hart’s drowning is described over a page, including Hart’s feelings about dying: “They say our life passes before our eyes right before we die, but it isn’t true. I think two things in that moment: I should have spent that extra minute with my dad. I should have chosen to spend tonight with Ruby. The water closes in . . . Water rushes into my nose and mouth, floods my lungs.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • It is briefly mentioned that Jameson’s car accident was caused because he was driving under the influence. Later, Hart explains that Jameson’s long-time girlfriend passed away. “That’s why [Jameson] started drinking.” 

Language 

  • Ruby refers to Jameson as a “two-faced son of a bitch”  because he cheated off her schoolwork and toilet-papered her house.
  • Occasionally, characters use words like asshole, shit, and damn.  
  • Rarely, characters use the word fuck.  
  • When frustrated, Ruby exclaims, “I swear on the baby Jesus that I am not a violent person.”  
  • Gabi, Ruby’s sister, exclaims, “Holy Santos,” when she discovers “a part of Hart is somehow inside of Jameson.” 

Supernatural 

  • Lourdes, an angel, explains to Hart that he “can go back to a human life; you can live out your days until your actual scheduled time to die . . . All we have to do is find a body that is on the verge of death.” 
  • As Hart’s soul enters Jameson’s body, Hart explains, “I stare out of Jameson’s eyes. The world looks different . . . I thought [Jameson] might tell me to get the hell out of his body. But no. You want to know what he said? What his last words were before he checked out for good? ‘Don’t waste it, man.’” 
  • Gabi, Ruby’s sister, tells Ruby that she has a theory about Jameson. Gabi says, “What if . . . [Jameson] has a message from the other side, from Hart . . . because he was so close to death?” 
  • Initially, when Lourdes uses her angel powers to put Hart’s soul into Jameson’s body, she explains that Hart will not be able to tell anyone exactly what happened to his soul. Lourdes explains that in order for Hart to be able to explain the truth of what happened to his soul to Ruby, Lourdes will “use the only power I have that is great enough . . . I will give up a single wing.” Lourdes’ sacrifice allows Hart to be able to explain what happened to his soul, so that Ruby can understand what happened to his soul after he drowned.  
  • Lourdes tells Hart, “When the death angel came for me . . . I asked to use my last wing to give you back your memories.”

Spiritual Content 

  • Lourdes tells Hart that she used her abilities as an angel on him. “You’re not in heaven, and you’re not exactly dead . . . I saw you struggling and I knew [drowning] was going to be painful, so I pulled your soul out early to save you from all of that.”  
  • Ruby’s sister, Gabi, does a card reading for Ruby. The cards that have been passed down through generations in their family. Gabi says the cards are “a special gift from the ancestors.” Gabi “takes the World card in her hands, closes her eyes, and meditates for as long as necessary until she gets that ‘message’ from our ancestors.” Gabi explains that she “heard a single whisper; it said, ‘message?’” 

Flirting with Fate

Ava Granados’s family has a magical secret. Ava explains, “All the women in the Granados family had this keen, odd, otherworldly ability to pass along blessings to their female descendants. But here was the catch: they could only do so from their death beds.” When her grandmother is dying, Ava and all her sisters rush to their grandmother’s bedside. Unfortunately, due to a flash flood, Ava gets into a car accident and is too late to receive her Nana’s blessing. While her sisters receive their blessings, including an extremely detailed memory and the ability to persuade others, Ava is devastated to not have received her grandmother’s parting gift.  

When Ava attends the celebration of Nana’s life, she looks up and suddenly sees her recently deceased grandmother looking at her. Ava describes, “A figure emerged from the orchard a mere thirty feet away. Wide-eyed, dimple-cheeked, perfect auburn coif. Nana?” When Nana lay dying, she accidentally gave Ava’s blessing to someone else, but because she is now a ghost, she has no memory of what happened. Nana asks Ava to help her restore the blessing to its proper recipient or Nana “will remain a ghost . . . until this is made right.”  

Ava realizes that Nana’s blessing must have accidentally landed on the boy whose car she crashed into. For guarded Ava, befriending some random boy is the last thing she wants to do. Desperate to help Nana reach peace, Ava must find a way to connect with this mysterious boy, Rion, in order to be able to recapture her Nana’s blessing. Nana encourages Ava to open up to Rion and to look within herself. Nana says, “You can always recognize the love when it belongs to you.” Over the course of the novel, Ava learns to trust in herself and her feelings for Rion.  

Many readers will be able to relate to Ava because she is afraid of being hurt or rejected. Ava begins to spend more time with Rion, all the while trying to figure out how best to get her Nana’s blessing back. Nana encourages Ava to look within herself. Nana says, “You can always recognize the love when it belongs to you.”  

Ava and Rion end up connecting over the loss of a parent. Rion’s parents died in a car accident while Ava’s mom left. However, they both blame themselves for their parents’ absence.  Because Rion is able to share his emotions, Ava is able to truly open up about her feelings. Ava explains, “I used to blame myself for my mom leaving too. She left when I was seven, and I used to think if I had been better, nicer, more, then she would have stayed.” Ava is able to comfort Rion by sharing what she has learned. She tells Rion, “We can’t blame ourselves for things we had no control over.” Ava and Rion’s relationship is extremely impactful as it allows them both to share feelings about things that they previously kept inside.  

Overall, Ava’s journey to opening up her heart and embracing things she never thought possible is extremely compelling. Similar to Cervantes’ other work, Enchanted Hacienda, Cervantes continues exploring the theme of magic being inherited through female descendants. Though there is a romantic relationship brewing between Ava and Rion, there is also a major focus on the importance of family, as Ava’s relationship with her Nana is central. Nana encourages Ava to open her heart, saying, “I gave you the gift of an open heart . . . you keep people at arm’s length; you don’t trust. I don’t want you to go through life closed off from love.” This wonderful novel leaves readers with an important message: trust yourself and open your heart to possibilities.  

Sexual Content 

  • Ava’s sister, Carmen, sees a cute guy at a party. Carmen tells Ava, “Look, there are a lot of boys to kiss in this world.”  
  • Ava explains her negative history with relationships. “Relationships always ended badly, with a goodbye and a broken, unmendable heart . . . at least for someone. But last year [Ava] did kiss Bryce Wellington on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland just to get it over with . . . Sadly, it felt unimpressive.” 
  • Ava’s sisters are watching The Notebook in the living room, and Ava remarks, “Clothes were flying off [the characters] and the last thing Ava wanted to do was stand there with her grandmother’s ghost and a fifteenth-century saint while a monster sex scene played out ten feet away.” 
  • Ava believes she and Rion are having a romantic moment, when suddenly, she realizes she is actually kissing his twin brother, Achilles. Ava says, “His lips brushed against hers. She felt a jolt, an alarm that screamed wrong, wrong, wrong.” After realizing she is actually kissing Rion’s brother, Ava “jerked free, horrified, as she wiped her mouth on the back of her hand.” 
  • After pushing Rion out of the way of a falling tree, they kiss. “She felt her body yielding, falling deeper into Rion. And then their mouths met. And Ava was no longer falling. She was dissolving. The forest and the sky fell silent. The world evaporated. There was only this moment.” 
  • Ava kisses Rion at a party. Ava “reached up, bringing his lips to hers. Allowing herself to be swept away in his trust, his warmth, his love.” 

Violence 

  • When Achilles tricks Ava into kissing him, Rion finds out and tackles Achilles. “The brothers rolled across the dirt, all grunts and curses and years of unspent anger.” They finally stop when Ava yells at them. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Characters occasionally use moderate language like shit, damn, and ass.  
  • When Nana suddenly appears as a ghost, Ava exclaims, “Jesus Christ!” 
  • Nana, in her ghost form, splashes water at Ava’s sisters who exclaims, “Holy Mary, Mother of God!” 

Supernatural 

  • Ava explains an example of a blessing in her family. “Ava’s great-grandmother had graced Nana with an angel’s voice. Before that, Nana couldn’t even sing off-key . . . After the death-bed blessing? It was like listening to a Mexican Pavarotti [Opera star] when [Nana] opened her mouth to sing.” 
  • Ava’s sister, Viv, is given the blessing of persuasion by her grandmother. Viv explains, “It’s not like I can go around making people do anything I want them to. Nana said I would just be able to help others see my side of things.”  
  • Ava’s other sister, Carmen, received the blessing of memory from Nana. Carmen says, “I got the blessing of memory, which I guess means that I can recall details, read or hear or see something once and remember it verbatim . . . it’s weird—like having a camera in my head.” 
  • Ava’s Nana appears to her one last time at the end of the book. Ava explains, “And then, as if by magic, the mist parted, just enough for Ava to see Nana . . . [Nana] was young, beautiful, beaming with joy.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • As Ava drives to get to her grandmother’s bedside, Ava prays that she will make it there in time to say goodbye. Ava says, “Listen, God . . . If you get me home with enough time, I’ll go to confession for. . . I’ll go for a whole week.” 
  • Nana is guided in her ghost form by Saint Medardus. Medardus introduces himself as, “I am the patron saint of weather, vineyards, brewers, captives, prisoners, and teeth . . . I hail from the fifteenth century and am [Nana’s] guide, here to help her.” 
  • Ava attends confession, as she promised to do on the night of her Nana’s passing. Ava is nervous about it and says, “What if I see someone I know? What if the priest laughs at me? What if I get it all wrong?” But she ultimately speaks to the priest and after she confesses, the priest says, “Your penance is to say six Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.” 

These Violent Delights

The year is 1926. Shanghai is a city torn apart by violence and bloodshed. Two rival gangs–the Chinese Scarlet Gang and the Russian White Flowers–have long been engaged in a blood feud that leads to perpetual chaos in the streets. Nobody knows exactly how this feud started, but neither side shows signs of stopping, preferring instead to fan the flames by continuing to match action for action. 

Not only that, but new, much more obscure powers are also slowly seeping in, threatening to divide Shanghai even further. Growing numbers of Europeans are arriving, attempting to reform the ways of the city in the name of “progress.” There’s also a monster that now lives in the Huangpu River, identified only by its massive form and glittering eyes. In addition, a madness is sweeping through the city like a contagion, possessing ordinary civilians and causing them to suddenly rip their own throats out. 

Caught in all this chaos are Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov. Juliette has just returned from her four years abroad in America. Now, she must assume her rightful place as the heir to the Scarlet Gang. Roma, on the other hand, has been performing his duties as heir to the White Flowers. Despite the feud between their families, and their own complicated history, Roma and Juliette come to realize that everything plaguing Shanghai is interconnected. They must combine powers–secretly, of course–to save their city. After all, they had been lovers once, before betrayal on both sides sent Juliette away. But is their former relationship enough of a buffer between their families’ complicated history to allow them to work together? As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule. 

These Violent Delights is a stunning fantasy retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This novel takes a familiar story in wildly unfamiliar directions, transposing it onto a landscape that is closer to our modern world while retaining a historical element. This is not the Shakespeare you read in English class – the fantastical elements and action-packed scenes are sure to hook readers from the start. The characters themselves are also compelling because the point of view shifts between characters, allowing readers to get to know both Roma and Juliette and sympathize with them despite their cutthroat actions.  

Because this story has many moving parts to it, with several subplots and historical commentary woven throughout, the pacing of the plot feels off at times – too slow in some parts and not nearly slow enough in others. The prose, too, often oscillates between lush and imaginative, and clunky and awkward. However, the wide array of characters in this book greatly redeems its lacking qualities, and readers will root for Roma and Juliette in their quest to fix both the problems in their city and in their relationship. 

Overall, These Violent Delights is a fantastic debut novel, perfect for teenagers who want a fresh spin on a classic tale. It ends in a dramatic cliffhanger, setting the scene perfectly for its sequel, Our Violent Ends. 

Sexual Content 

  • Several passing references to brothels are made. For example, Juliette comments that, “In Shanghai, it was easier to count the establishments that didn’t double as brothels than the ones that did.”  
  • Roma and Juliette accidentally walk in on a couple who are implied to be having sex. “Juliette opened the first door she came upon. Two distinct yelps of surprise sounded as light seeped into the tiny room. Juliette squinted and saw a man with his pants down. ‘Get out,’ she demanded. ‘This is my room,’ the woman on the bed protested.”  
  • Roma and Juliette kiss in a private room. “Juliette hooked her legs around his and twisted her hips until Roma was the one flat on his back and she loomed over him, kneeling on the sheets . . . his hand was moving higher and higher, brushing her calf, her knee, her thigh. Juliette’s palm sank lower, until it was gripping the space underneath the smooth collar of his white shirt . . . They both gave in at once. Roma’s kiss was just as she remembered. It filled her with so much adrenaline and exuberance that she could burst. It made her feel too ethereal for her own body, as if she could tear out of her own skin.”  

Violence 

  • A group of Scarlets and White Flowers get ready to fight. “In a blink: guns upon guns. Each arm raised and steady and trigger-happy, ready to pull.” The police stop them before any further violence ensues. 
  • Juliette watches a man possessed by the madness kill himself. Juliette “saw the man thrashing on the ground, his own fingers clawing at his thick neck. . . most of his nails were already buried deep into muscle. The man was digging with an animal-like intensity–as if there was something there, something no one else could see crawling under his skin. Deeper, deeper, deeper, until his fingers were wholly buried and he was pulling free tendons and veins and arteries. In the next second, the club had fallen silent completely. Nothing was audible save the labored breathing of the short and stout man who had collapsed on the floor, his throat torn into pieces and his hands dripping with blood.” Many similar scenes occur throughout the novel. 
  • Juliette verbally provokes her cousin, Tyler, who physically attacks her. “Quick as a flash, Tyler slammed her into the wall. He kept one hand scrunched against her left sleeve and the rest of his arm splayed against her clavicle, pushing just enough to make a threat.” Juliette retaliates in self-defense. “Her right hand jerked up–fist clenched, wrist hard, knuckles braced – and made centered, perfect contact with her cousin’s cheek . . . Then Tyler stumbled, letting go of Juliette and whipping his head to look at her, hatred stamped into the hollows of his eyes. A red slash buried the line of his cheekbone, the result of Juliette’s glittering ring scraping through skin.”  
  • Juliette remembers an explosion caused by the White Flowers that killed many of her family members. “Her ears were screeching – first with the remnants of that awful, loud sound, then with the shouting, the panic, the cries wafting over from the back, where the servants’ house was. When she hurried over, she saw rubble. She saw a leg. A pool of blood. Someone had been standing right at the threshold of the front door when the ceiling caved in.” 
  • Juliette has a cutthroat reputation. “[The Scarlets] were killers and extortionists and raging forces of violence, but as the rumors went, Juliette Cai was the girl who had strangled and killed her American lover with a string of pearls. Juliette Cai was the heiress who, on her second day back in Shanghai, had stepped into a brawl between four White Flowers and two Scarlets and killed all four White Flowers with only three bullets. Only one of those rumors was true.”  
  • Roma tries to accost Juliette with a gun to her forehead, and Juliette defends herself. “Before Roma could so much as blink, her right hand came down hard on his right wrist, twisting his gun-wielding hand outward until his fingers were unnaturally bent. She slapped down at the gun with her left hand. The weapon skittered to the ground. Her jaw gritted to brace for impact, Juliette twisted her foot out from behind Roma’s and jerked it against his ankles–until he was falling backward and she followed, one hand locked on his neck and the other reaching into her dress pocket to retrieve a needle-thin knife.” Roma surrenders, stopping the fight. 
  • To get information, Juliette physically attacks someone with a garrote. “Madame squawked when Juliette pulled the garrote wire tight, her fingers flying up to scrabble at the pressure digging into her skin. By then the wire was already wrapped around her neck, the micro-blades piercing in.” Madame survives this, left with a bleeding cut on her throat. 
  • Roma participates in a sparring match that starts out as a game, but takes a turn when he realizes that his opponent, Dimitri, has a blade. “Dimitri kicked out and Roma took the hit. A fist flashed in his periphery, and in his haste to get away, Roma dodged too hard, overjudging his balance and stumbling. Dimitri struck again. A flash of the blade: a slit opened on Roma’s jaw.” The match ends when Roma is declared the winner after he “[reaches] out and [grabs] a fistful of Dimitri’s shoulder length black hair…[slams] a knee right into his nose, [takes] his arm and twists backwards until Roma [has] a grip on his neck and a foot stomping down on the back of his knees.”  
  • A British soldier draws his gun on Roma and Juliette, and Roma shoots him in self-defense. “A bang sounded from the space between them. Juliette immediately whirled around to catch the British tail collapsing where he stood, a bright-red spot blooming on his chest.”  
  • Marshall, Roma’s friend, hits Juliette, and she attacks him back. “From his seat, Roma bolted up and shouted, ‘Mars!’ but Juliette was already pushing Marshall back, her throbbing jaw giving way to anger and her anger intensifying the pulsating pain making its way to her lip.” The match ends abruptly when Marshall starts laughing, and Juliette helps him to his feet; this altercation ends as quickly as it began, and Marshall and Juliette work together for the remainder of this scene. Neither is seriously injured.  
  • Juliette shoots the man she and Roma believe to be the cause of the madness, Zhang Gutai. “Juliette fired. Zhang Gutai looked down, looked at the blotch of red blooming on his white shirt.” Zhang Gutai dies as a result of this wound. 
  • Juliette attempts to shoot the monster in the Huangpu River. “Juliette aimed her gun and fired – again and again and again in hopes that it could kill the monster, or, at the very least, slow it down – but the bullets bounced off its back like she had shot at steel.” 
  • Paul, a British man, tries to drown Juliette when she discovers a secret. Paul “grabbed a fistful of her hair and stuck her head in the water . . . Juliette bucked and kicked, harder and harder with no avail.” She gets away by stabbing a needle into his wrist.  
  • Juliette kills the river monster’s human host, Qi Ren. “Juliette raised the pistol. Her hands were shaking. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. Once again, she pulled the trigger. The bullet struck his heart. The bullet was as loud as the bang at the end of the world. But Qi Ren’s sigh was soft. His hand came up to his chest gingerly, as if the bullet were nothing but a heartfelt compliment. Rivulets of red ran down his fingers and onto the wharf, tinting his surroundings a deep color.” 
  • Juliette shoots Marshall and his “head lolled back. He was motionless. Motionless.” It is later revealed that Juliette and Marshall staged this “murder” and Marshall is alive.   

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Several references to opium are made: for example, the narrator describes fighting between the Scarlet Gang and the White flowers as “more commonplace in heady Shanghai than the smoke of opium wafting from a thick pipe.”  
  • One key plot point is that the British supply lernicrom, a fictional opiate, to various groups. 
  • Benedikt, Roma’s cousin, drinks vodka at a bar. “Roma lifted the cup in front of Benedikt and took a cautionary sniff. His cousin snatched it from his hands. ‘Don’t drink that,’ Benedikt warned.” 
  • Roma and Juliette play a drinking game with someone they want to get information from: one shot in exchange for one question. Roma gets drunk enough to fall down; Juliette gets “woozy enough to see in doubles but not enough to lose balance.” 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

That Weekend

Three best friends. A lake house. And a secret trip—what could possibly go wrong?  

It was supposed to be the perfect prom weekend getaway. But it’s clear that something terrible has happened when Claire wakes up alone and covered with blood on a hiking trail with no memory of the past forty-eight hours. Now everyone wants answers—most of all, Claire. She remembers Friday night, but after that . . . nothing. And now Kat and Jesse—her best friends—are missing.

What happened on that mountain? And where are Kat and Jesse? Claire knows the answers are buried somewhere in her memory. But as she’s quickly finding out, everyone has secrets—even her best friends. And she’s pretty sure she’s not going to like what she finds out. 

That Weekend begins by following Claire, who wakes up in the middle of the woods and cannot remember anything. Right from the start, suspense is created due to Claire’s missing friends.  

Although readers may sympathize with Claire’s situation, Claire is so wrapped up in herself and her romantic feelings for Jesse that it is often difficult to feel sorry for her. This makes her an unreliable narrator, leaving readers wondering if she is telling the whole truth. All of this creates a character that readers may struggle to like. 

The book’s timeline isn’t consistent, which causes confusion. For example, the first chapter begins in the present, but then jumps to a flashback from three days earlier, then two days earlier, and then one day earlier. Later, the second half of the book jumps from the present to flashbacks, while also changing to another character’s perspective. Keeping track of the narrator and various flashbacks means the reader has to pay close attention to the titles at the beginning of each chapter in order to understand what is happening.  

Another flaw is that the conclusion of the story isn’t very convincing. For instance, the FBI is unable to find Kat and Jesse, however Claire is able to locate her missing friends without difficulty. To make matters worse, the reader discovers that Kat and Jesse planned their own kidnapping because Kat’s father was abusive and Kat’s grandmother demanded that Kat break up with Jesse. However, in the end, Kat and Jesse part ways and Kat returns to her controlling family. Plus, it can be hard to sympathize with Kat because her actions are responsible for three deaths.  

Because of the forgettable characters, the complicated timeline, and the strange plot twists, That Weekend is a confusing story that readers may want to leave on the shelf. If you’re looking for a suspenseful book that is more entertaining, read Six Months Later by Natalie D. Richards or We Were Liars by E. Lockhart 

Sexual Content 

  • There is a rumor that Jesse “had hooked up with some girl from Westhampton beach after Battle of the Bands.” 
  • After breaking up with Ben, Claire tells Jesse that sex “doesn’t have to be a big deal. Ben turned out to be an asshole, but I don’t regret that he was my first.” Jesse is surprised that Ben was Claire’s first.  
  • At school, Jesse gets into a fight with “some asshole sophomore who’d been teasing him. Jesse was white in the face when a teacher pulled the other kid off him. When Jesse looked down at his hands, drenched in the blood spurting from his nose, he’d started to tremble . . .” 
  • When Claire was fifteen, she went to a party and met up with Amos, who “at seventeen, was practically a man to me.” Amos “runs his hands down my sides, tugs the waist of my jeans. I’m in my brand-new red bra. . . Amos flipped me onto his bed. The Captain Morgan shots roiled in my gut; his sheets, too cool . . .” When Amos tries to undo the zipper of Claire’s jeans, she stops him and says she wants to go home. 
  • On New Year’s Eve, Claire goes home with her ex-boyfriend, Ben. They’re sitting on the couch when Claire notices Ben watching her. “I feel my lips part as he reaches. . . I climb onto Ben so I’m facing him. He pulls my face to his and kisses me. . . he flips me over, pushing my shirt up to kiss my belly button. He moves lower, and I close my eyes. . .” It is implied that they have sex. The scene is described over one and a half pages.  
  • Ben drives Claire home. Before she leaves, Claire is “brushing my lips over his. . . but the urgency in Ben’s body as he kisses me back makes it clear. This time, things will be on my own terms.” 
  • After Claire and Kat have a fight, Amos tells Claire, “[The fight] almost made me pop a boner.” 
  • Kat babysits for a woman who “disappears so fast there’s no doubt she’s off to get laid.”  

Violence 

  • At a party, Claire sees her boyfriend walking up the stairs with another girl. Claire assumes he is cheating on her. When he chases after her, she “slap[s] him across the face.” Claire then leaves the party. 
  • A television personality, Brenda Dean, has a show about real crime. “Twenty years ago, Brenda Dean’s younger sister was abducted off her bike and murdered, the killer never caught. Brenda dedicated her life to justice—first as a lawyer, then with her own cable show.” 
  • Brenda interviewed a woman whose toddler disappeared. Brenda “accused the mom of knowing more than she was saying about what happened to the baby; the woman left the set a sobbing mess, and went home to slit her wrists in the bathtub.” 
  • While at a ransom drop, Kat’s father tries to stop the getaway car and he is dragged behind it. He has surgery but never awakens from his coma. He dies several months afterward. 
  • An FBI agent interviews Claire. During the interview, the agent says, “You ever hear of the plane crash in Queens after September eleventh? . . . My mother and aunt were on that flight.”  
  • Kat comes home late and her dad grabs her. Kat yells, “Get the fuck off me!” Then Kat’s father grabs her and “the world went black when my head smacked against the wall. For a moment I thought I might not come back, that I was dying— when I woke to him shaking me, fear replacing the rage on his face, my mother in the doorway whimpering. . .”  
  • Kat, Jesse, Amos, and another accomplice, Mike, plan a fake kidnapping. However, many things go wrong. Claire, who didn’t know about the plan, gets angry and leaves. She runs into Mike, who panics and attacks Claire, who stabs him with a knife. Afterward, “Mike winced as he lifted the sleeve of his T-shirt . . . Blood poured from an angry slash on his shoulder.” He cleans the wound with Vodka.  
  • Claire is canvassing a house where she thinks Amos is hiding out. “I’m changing gears when my car lurks forward. My forehead knocks into the steering wheel . . . A scream catches in my throat as Amos Fornier pulls me from the car and throws me to the ground, my spine numbing as it hits snow and ice. I see the shovel in his hands at the same moment he brings it down on my head.” Amos takes Claire hostage. 
  • Claire tries to leave, but Kat “blocks my escape through the doorway. When she grabs my arm, something snaps in me. . . I grab a handful of her hair and pull until she’s struggling beneath me like a cat. . . She’s clawing at me; I yank her hair until she’s falls to her knees, smashing her face into the edge of the dresser.” Amos holds a gun to Claire’s head and she stops fighting. 
  • Amos tells Claire about an incident with Kat’s father. Kat’s father found Amos playing with a cigar torch. He “picked me and Kat up by the backs of our shirts. Dragged us outside and held me over the deck railing. He stuck the flame right in my face. He kept saying, ‘You want to see what fire does to a body?’” 
  • Amos, who is drinking heavily, tries to convince Kat to allow him to kill Claire. His plan was to, “Get some booze in her, slip [a fentanyl patch] on while she’s passed out, and bam, overdose.” Kat refuses to let Amos kill Claire, but later Claire puts the fentanyl patch on Amos and he dies. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Both the adults and the teens in the story drink alcohol, so not all instances of alcohol consumption are listed below.  
  • Claire goes to a party and sees her boyfriend in a hot tub sitting on a girl’s lap. In response, she goes inside. Claire’s friend pours her a “few inches of rum into a cup and tops it off with a splash of Coke.” Claire gets drunk. Other teens at the party are also drinking alcohol.  
  • When lost, Claire goes into a bar where a man “raises his beer bottle to his lips, his eyes raking over me.”  
  • When Claire and Kat are alone in the lake house, Kat breaks out a bottle of wine and the two share it and get “giggly-tipsy.” 
  • While in the hospital for a head injury, Claire is given morphine, ibuprofen, and Ambien to help her sleep. Claire is also given a prescription for Ativan, which is supposed to help her with anxiety; however, she is soon taking Ativan in larger doses than recommended.  
  • Claire’s cousin, Amos, smokes weed and eventually becomes a drunk.  
  • Claire finds out that Amos was kicked out of school for selling drugs on campus but he continues to sell drugs afterward.  
  • Someone posts a picture of Claire at a party. “Jamie Liu and I knocking back shots. My eyes are glazed, my head tilted back. Jamie is laughing at me . . . I barely recognize the girl in the picture. She looks like the sloppy chick at the party you never talk to, who hangs on your neck like a spider monkey, crooning into your ear that she’s so wasted.” 
  • A few days after Clarie gets home from the hospital, she sees her mom, “cradling a glass of seltzer that I’d wager has vodka in it.” 
  • Claire is working at a restaurant on New Year’s Eve. One of the customers is her ex-boyfriend’s mother, who is drinking champagne.

Language 

  • Profanity is used often and includes ass, crap, damn, goddamn, fuck, hell, piss, and shit. 
  • OMG, Oh God, and Jesus are used several times. 
  • There is some name-calling such as asshole, bitch, bastard, and douchebag.

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Occasionally, Claire quickly prays. For example, after leaving a party, Claire is “praying I won’t cry in front of Jesse . . . I am not religious, but I say a silent prayer to whoever. . . [that] I had the presence of mind to keep my goddamn mouth shut. . .” 
  • When her friends disappear, Claire thinks, “I wasn’t raised with religion, but I don’t know if I accept that it’s all random, that we’re not accountable to anyone. I make a silent bargain with whoever is listening: . . . I’ll be a better friend, if only they come home and be okay.” 
  • Claire is home alone when the doorbell rings. She says “a silent prayer that whoever is at my front door is selling something . . .” and is not someone she knows.

Siege and Storm

After narrowly escaping the Darkling and his army, Alina and Mal are on the run. They try to make a new life for themselves in Novyi Zem, but they have to be careful. Alina, the Sun Summoner, is hardly inconspicuous wearing her amplifier made from Morozova’s stag as a collar, and the Darkling has spies everywhere. 

But she and Mal can’t outrun their enemies. They aren’t in Novyi Zem long before the Darkling finds them. He captures them and brings them on a ship led by Sturmhond, a famous privateer. The Darkling intends to drag Alina and Mal back to Ravka and continue expanding the Fold. But first, he is determined to hunt down the sea whip – the second in the triad of Morozova’s legendary creatures that can be used as powerful amplifiers – and force Alina to kill it and claim its scales as a second amplifier. This would magnify her summoning abilities and give the Darkling access to even more of Alina’s power.  

But Sturmhond and his crew are not what they seem. When they turn on the Darkling, Alina finds herself with powerful allies and renewed hope. Her new alliance with Nikolai Lantsov, the ever-witty and incredibly charming second-born prince of Ravka, throws her into Ravkan political dealings. Ravka’s precarious position in world politics means the country cannot be saved with Grisha power alone. Alina begins accompanying Nikolai to war council meetings as Ravka attempts to broker peace treaties with its neighboring countries, and she quickly realizes that Ravka was in much greater danger than she ever imagined. But will all of Alina’s efforts be enough to stand against the Darkling, who remains Ravka’s greatest domestic threat? And can Alina and Mal’s strained relationship survive Alina’s growing power and importance? 

If writing a good first book in a trilogy is hard, then writing a good sequel is even more strenuous. But Siege and Storm electrically picks up Alina’s story right where it left off and keeps the momentum going all the way to the end. The plot involves many twists and turns and never lets readers be lulled into a false sense of security. From heart-stopping action scenes to breathtaking exchanges between characters, there is never a dull moment. 

In Siege and Storm, Bardugo fleshes out her world even more, expanding on Ravka’s function as a country by placing it into a larger “world” context. Readers learn about this complicated history along with Alina, so the new information is masterfully woven throughout the story. Alina is a fascinating narrator, and readers get to experience her thought process and understand how and why she makes her decisions. Alina is not a perfect heroine by any means, but her flaws are what make her relatable. Even when she makes mistakes, she strives to fix them, and her self-awareness, compassion, and perseverance are traits that make her an admirable protagonist.  

Siege and Storm brings back all of the fan-favorite characters from the first book in the series, Shadow and Bone. Plus, several new characters are introduced that are equally quotable and loveable. Bardugo delves even deeper into her characters, forcing them to confront their darkest demons and complicating their relationships with each other. As tensions rise and power dynamics shift, Alina and her friends and allies must fight to remain united in the face of the real threats instead of turning against each other and letting their jealousies and vulnerabilities win. Siege and Storm ends on a dramatic cliffhanger that will leave readers excited beyond measure to get their hands on the next (and final) book in the series, Ruin and Rising.  

Sexual Content 

  • Mal kisses Alina harder than usual when they are in private. “His tone was light, but when his lips met mine, there was nothing playful in his kiss. He tasted of heat and newly ripe pears from the Duke’s garden. I sensed hunger in the slant of his mouth, an unfamiliar edge to his need that sent restless sparks burning through me. I came up on my toes, circling my arms around his neck, feeling the length of my body melt into his. He had a soldier’s strength, and I felt it in the hard bands of his arms, the pressure of his fingers as his fist bunched in the silk at the small of my back and he drew me against him. There was something fierce and almost desperate in the way he held me, as if he could not have me close enough.” 
  • During a fight, Mal tells Alina that he distances himself from her to protect her position as a leader. “‘Why do you think people asked me on the royal hunt? The first thing? They wanted to know about me and you.’ He turned on me, and when he spoke his voice was cruel, mocking. ‘Is it true that you’re tumbling the Sun Summoner? What’s it like with a Saint? Does she have a taste for trackers, or does she take all of her servants to her bed?’” 

Violence 

  • Alina has nightmares. “Sometimes she dreamed of broken skiffs with black sails and decks slick with blood, of people crying out in the darkness. But worse were the dreams of a pale prince who pressed his lips to her neck, who placed his hands on the collar that circled her throat and called forth her power in a blaze of bright sunlight.” 
  • The Darkling describes how he will punish Alina if Mal refuses to track the sea whip [a dragon]. “Because every day we don’t find the sea whip, I’ll peel away a piece of her skin. Slowly. Then Ivan will heal her, and the next day, we’ll do it all over again.”
  • The Darkling and Sturmhond’s crew capture and kill the sea whip. “Beads of water flew from [the sea whip’s] mane, and its massive jaws opened, revealing a pink tongue and rows of gleaming teeth. It came down on the nearest boat with a loud crash of splintering wood. The slender craft split in two, and men poured into the sea. The dragon’s maw snapped closer over a sailor’s legs and he vanished, screaming, beneath the waves.” This scene is described over three pages. 
  • After Sturmhond’s crew turn on the Darkling and become Alina’s allies, the Darkling and his army attack them. “Pistol shots rang out. The air came alive with Inferni fire. ‘To me, hounds!’ Sturmhond shouted, and plunged into action, a saber in his hands.” This scene occurs over 10 pages. The following two bullet points happen during this scene. 
  • Ivan, the Darkling’s right-hand man, is killed by Tolya, one of Sturmhond’s crew members: “The fingers of Tolya’s outstretched hand curled into a fist. Ivan convulsed. His eyes rolled up in his head. A bubble of blood blossomed and burst on his lips. He collapsed onto the deck.”  
  • The Darkling unleashes his nichevo’ya, or shadow monsters, on Alina and her allies. “The nichevo’ya reached the masts of the schooner, whirling around the sails, plucking sailors from the rigging like fruit. Then they were skittering down onto the deck. Mal fired again and again as the crewmen drew their sabers, but bullets and blades seemed only to slow the monsters. Their shadow bodies wavered and re-formed, and they just kept coming.” Sturmhond’s crew manages to confuse the nichevo’ya long enough to escape. 
  • Sturmhond tells Alina she needs to be more ruthless, and tells her how he earned the respect of his crew. The first time he ever tried to board an enemy ship, the captain laughed at him and mocked him, so Sturmhond “cut off his fingers and fed them to [his] dog while [the captain] watched.” 
  • Mal spars with other Grisha soldiers in practice fighting matches. “Eskil [a minor character who is Grisha] let out a loud oof as Mal clamped his arms around him, keeping the Grisha’s limbs pinned so that he couldn’t summon his power. The big Fjerdan snarled, muscles straining, teeth bared as he tried to break Mal’s hold. . . Mal tightened his grip. He shifted, then drove his forehead into [Eskil’s] nose with a nauseating crunch. Before I could blink, he’d released Eskil and hammered a flurry of punches into [Eskil]’s gut and sides.” This scene occurs over three pages. 
  • Alina wanders outside the city and encounters the Ravkan peasants who congregate outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of Sankta (or Saint) Alina. They crowd around her, trying to get close to her and touch her. “The bodies pressed tighter, pushing and shoving, shouting at each other, each wanting to be nearer. My feet lost contact with the ground. I cried out as a chunk of my hair was ripped from my scalp. They were going to tear me apart.” Tolya and Tamar, Alina’s bodyguards, rescue her before it’s too late, and Alina is left shaken but uninjured.  
  • The Darkling and his nichevo’ya attack the Grand Palace after Vasily, Ravka’s lazy and arrogant crown prince, double-crosses his brother, Nikolai. Nikolai is Alina’s ally and friend, and he had plans to save both Alina and Ravka. However, many people die in this nichevo’ya attack. Vasily, Alina, and many others are injured. This scene occurs over 13 pages, with several interludes for dialogue.  
  • During the fight, “Vasily lifted his saber high and charged, bellowing with rage. Mal stepped in front of me, raising his sword to block the blow. But before Vasily could bring down his weapon, a nichevo’ya grabbed hold of him and tore his arm from its socket, sword and all. He stood for a moment, swaying, blood pumping from his wound, then dropped to the floor in a lifeless heap.” 
  • Alina attacks the nichevo’ya to save her friends. “Another pack of nichevo’ya descended from the windows, clawing their way toward Nikolai and his mother. I had to take a chance. I brought the light down in two blazing arcs, cutting through one monster after another, barely missing one of the generals who crouched cowering on the floor. People were screaming and weeping as the nichevo’ya fell upon them.” Alina and many of her friends, including Mal, escape, but they don’t know whether or not Nikolai was able to get to safety. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Novyi Zem is the center of the jurda trade. Jurda is a stimulant people use to stay awake. For example, “Zemeni men liked to tuck the dried [jurda] blooms between lip and gum, and even the women carried them in embroidered pouches that dangled from their wrists. Each store window [Alina] passed advertised different brands: Brightleaf, Shade, Dhoka, the Burly.” 
  • When Mal returns from a hunt, he tells Alina about how he and the other Grisha who went on the hunt entertained themselves. “We spent more time every day playing cards and drinking kvas [an alcoholic beverage analogous to beer] than anything else. And some duke got so drunk he passed out in the river. He almost drowned. His servants hauled him out by his boots, but he kept wading back in, slurring something about the best way to catch trout.” 
  • Alina complains about how boring war council meetings are, and Nikolai jokes, “Next time, bring a flask. Every time [Vasily] changes his mind, take a sip.” Alina replies, “I’d be passed out on the floor before the hour was up.” 
  • After missing his guard shift, Mal is found hungover. Alina and Tolya find him the next morning. “[Mal] hadn’t changed his clothes from last night. There was stubble on his chin, and the smell of blood and kvas hung on him like a dirty coat.” 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Siege and Storm involves a magic system known as the Small Science, which is a way of manipulating matter that appears supernatural or magical. Those who can wield the Small Science are known as Grisha; many of the main characters in this novel are Grisha.  
  • The Grisha are split into three orders: Corporalki (the Order of the Living and the Dead), Etherialki (the Order of Summoners), and Materialki (the Order of Fabrikators).  
  • The Darkling and Baghra, Alina’s tutor, are Shadow Summoners, while Alina is a Sun Summoner. These are unique abilities that no other known Grisha possesses. For example, Alina uses her power when Sturmhond steers his ship through the Fold: “Hurriedly, I braced my feet against the deck and threw up my hands, casting a wide golden swath of sunlight around the [ship].” 

Spiritual Content 

  • When she and Mal reach Novyi Zem, Alina prays, “Let us be safe here. Let us be home.” 
  • Ravkans worship Saints, and some have started to worship Alina as a living Saint, calling her Sankta Alina (Saint Alina) and Sol Koroleva (Sun Queen). 
  • Some Ravkan peasants sell relics of Saints, such as fake bones supposedly once belonging to different Saints. Nikolai tells Alina, “There are rumors that you died on the Fold. People have been selling off parts of you all over Ravka and West Ravka for months. You’re quite the good luck charm.” 

The Enchanted Hacienda

Harlow Estrada is an editor who has recently been through a breakup and lost her dream job, as she struggles to decide what her next path in life should be. Harlow’s mother invites her to come to the family farm, referred to as the Estrada Hacienda, and spend time reconnecting with her family and their land.  

Harlow feels out of place, even among her family, as she is the only female member of her family without magical abilities. She explains, “the magic happened to skip me entirely. Unlike my two sisters and pair of primas [cousins] and every other ancestress before me.” Harlow’s mother and aunt decide to leave on a sudden vacation. They leave Harlow to take care of the family’s land, as well as their magical plants. Harlow is determined to use this time to learn more about her family’s legacy and about how she fits into it.  

Harlow is an empathetic character that many readers will be able to relate to, as she struggles to figure out her place in the world, as well as within her family. Harlow emphasizes, “I mean, if I can’t have the Estrada family magic, I still want to feel like there’s significance to my work, my life . . . And now I’m worried I am and always will be unremarkable.” During her return to her family’s farm, Harlow realizes that it is a great opportunity to write something of her own, and she feels deep down that she should write “something magical.” She begins working on a novel inspired by the magic she experiences upon her return to her family’s land. 

Though she’s just experienced a terrible breakup, Harlow happens to run into a mysterious man named Ben, who she later learns is the grandson of Beverly—her late grandmother’s best friend. Tied together by their families and the magic of Harlow’s family farm, Harlow and Ben’s initial spark only grows stronger as they pursue a relationship together. However, their feelings for one another become complicated by Harlow’s important self-discovery, as she realizes she does in fact have magical abilities like the rest of her family. Harlow notices a glimmer in Ben’s eyes when they are kissing and realizes, “Ben Brandt has been magically bonded to me.” 

Desperate to understand how Ben was bonded to her, Harlow returns home to ask her mother for help. Harlow is shocked when her mother tells her, “[Your aunt] and I believe that you are an enchantress,” as Harlow has “lived [her] life believing [she has] no magic.” This exciting revelation leaves Harlow with a difficult decision to make, as she realizes, “I have to break the bond,” and risk magically destroying all of the feelings she and Ben have for one another in the process. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as they wonder what will happen between Harlow and Ben.  

The Enchanted Hacienda is written for adults, many teens will be drawn to it since J.C. Cervantes has written so many young adult novels. Readers who enjoy fantasy, magic, and an immersive setting will love this book, as it heavily focuses on the power of nature and the beauty of Mexico.  

Harlow’s growth throughout the novel provides a reassuring message that everyone has something that makes them special. Through writing her novel, Harlow realizes that her main character is reflective of her own desire to “find her way, to learn to speak the language of the blooms, to unearth the family secret.” Harlow’s writing mirrors her own journey of learning more about herself and her family. Harlow’s completion of her novel and the support of her family emphasizes a major theme in the novel: the strength in family. Harlow summarizes the theme of family when she calls this love, “The kind of love that believes in you, challenges you, walks through fire for you, makes a home for you—the kind of love that transforms you.” 

Sexual Content 

  • When Harlow visits his family’s home in Quebec, Harlow and Ben kiss for the first time. Harlow says, “Drowning in his touch, I drink him in while he kisses me hungrily, urgently like he might never kiss me again.” This passionate kissing scene lasts for about a page.  
  • While waiting out a rainstorm inside an old barn, Ben and Harlow kiss passionately, and it begins to go further. Harlow says, “And then I feel that tug again. Powerful. Alluring. A kinetic spark that ignites every cell in my body . . . Ben’s fingers trace my bare stomach. They hover near my bra, then slip the seam.” Before they go any further, they are interrupted when Ben gets a distressing phone call. 
  • Harlow and Ben spend an intimate afternoon together beside the river.  “I’m [Harlow] still sinking when my hand unhooks the front clasp of my bra. I want to feel his heat against my bare skin.” This scene lasts about two pages, but just before they go further Harlow stops Ben, noticing a magical, “uncommon spark of light” that unnerves her.  
  • Harlow and Ben begin to passionately kiss. Harlow says, “My body is on auto-drive, operating on sheer emotion when I tilt my head back and kiss him. An urgent fiery kiss that is all-consuming.” This scene continues for three pages before Harlow stops Ben, feeling guilty about the bonding magic.  
  • Harlow and Ben are intimate. “We finally break apart near the table, and then [Ben’s] reaching behind me and untying my apron, never taking his gaze from mine as it falls to the floor. I stand perfectly still, savoring the pleasure of his touch.” This scene lasts four pages.  

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Harlow explains that her ex-boyfriend, Chad, is excellent at telling when there is a problem. Harlow explains, “He smells problems like a police dog sniffs out cocaine.” 
  • Harlow is about to attend a party to support Chad, even though she’s just been unexpectedly fired from her dream job. Harlow thinks, “You’re going to pull your shit together . . . pour a glass of merlot, put on a dress, and have the time of your goddamn life.” 
  • After Harlow’s break up, her friend “pulls bottles from her oversize bag and begins to mix a concoction of gin, sugar, champagne, and some red syrupy stuff.” 
  • Harlow enjoys the solitude of the empty hacienda, explaining, “I make a margarita with that aged añejo tequila my mom saves for special occasions before I find a good book in the study.” 
  • While attending a vow renewal of family friends, Harlow sees Ben who “is holding out a champagne flute to me.” 
  • Before Harlow attempts to remove the bonding magic between her and Ben, she takes “a shot of añejo” with her aunt. Harlow says, “’To courage,” and then she “tip[s] the amber liquid back.” 

Language 

  • Harlow and her friend, Laini, often use profanity such as shit, ass, and damn.  
  • Occasionally, Harlow and other main characters use “fuck.” For example, When Chad tells Harlow to wear something “appropriate.” Harlow’s friend says, “I’ll let you go. But only in a dress that screams, ‘Fuck the patriarchy.’” 

Supernatural 

  • Harlow describes her family’s land and how they create magic via plants. “The real family power, though, is in how they combine blooms, or concoct elixirs, using petals, leaves, and stems to create prosperity, love, health, hope, protection, or even to cause separation, doubt, fear, and misery. It’s all so complicated and beautiful and alchemical.” 
  • To help Harlow sleep, her mother uses “dream magic.” Harlow explains, “Then, as I fall back on my pillow and close my weary eyes, I remember that my mother sometimes uses holly for the power of dream magic.” 
  • Harlow discusses how her family is able to use their magic discreetly, explaining, “To the general passerby, it looks like a lovely vintage florist. But to the locals and a select few, this is the spot where you place and pick up your order of magic. After you sign the non-disclosure agreement—that is a modern addition. We operate using a whisper network, whispers carried on the wind of our town, El Viento, named for the goddess who is responsible for its creation.” 
  • To choose which Estrada family member will watch the farm and take care of the magical gardens while Harlow’s mom and aunt are out of the country, Harlow’s mother uses a “white iris petal, known for its faith and virtue.” Harlow’s mom explains, “You will each sleep with this under your pillow tonight. Whoever’s petal turns blue will act as the guardian.” Harlow’s petal turns blue. 
  • Harlow delivers a magical bouquet filled with memory magic that will allow her late grandmother’s friend, Beverly, to magically bond with her husband, William. Harlow explains that the bouquet is infused with memory magic, to help William recapture his memories of his life with Beverly, as he struggles with dementia. Harlow says, “Beverly and William Brandt were bonded at precisely 7:58 p.m. The moon was high, their hands connected, each breathing in the fragrance of the magic as he accepted the bouquet—just as instructed. I knew the moment it happened. [William’s] eyes sparked with flickers of gold, a sure sign that the bonding was complete.” 
  • The bonding bouquet that Harlow delivers to Beverly and William begins to work. Harlow explains, “[William’s] arms around [Beverly] with a familiarity that made me soar with joy and relief and even wonder,” showing that the memory magic has worked.  
  • When Harlow’s mom tells Harlow that she does have magic, Harlow tries magically bringing a flower back to life.  Harlow does “as [mom] says, and in a few seconds, I feel the vibration of life in the hydrangea; slowly I connect a thread of magic to it. The flower pulses as I open my eyes and watch it unfold into a healthy bloom.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Harlow explains the story of how their family gained magical abilities. “The Aztec goddess Mayahuel whispered the given names of each child in the family,” and this instilled their family with power that passed down through the generations.  
  • Harlow says, “A lot of kids learn fairy tales, or stories from the Bible, but in my family? The very first tale you learn and commit to heart is the tale of a young and very beautiful goddess named Mayahuel whose jealous grandmother hid her in the farthest corner of the universe . . . wanting to conceal the goddess’s beauty and power.” 
  • Harlow’s family’s magic began with her great-great-grandmother; “Legend has it that the soil called to my great-great-grandmother when she came through this land on her way to somewhere else. . . the Aztec goddess of agave, Mayahuel, appeared to her and told her that if my great-great-grandmother used the land according to her instructions, the goddess would grant our family’s female descendants an unimaginable magic.” 
  • Harlow reflects on her childhood imagination about her family’s gardens. “I used to imagine the most fantastical night creatures swooping in to pollinate the flowers, to offer their gifts of magic to Mayahuel.” 

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