Aftermath

Three years ago, Skye’s older brother Luka was implicated as one of three perpetrators in a school shooting that claimed the lives of four victims. Though Luka never fired a weapon, the police saw him walk out of the bathroom holding a gun, and when he didn’t drop it, they shot him dead. The evidence that he was a willing participant could not be more damning than that, though Skye cannot fathom how her “kind and thoughtful brother . . . joined his friends in a school shooting.” In the wake of endless harassment and her father walking out on the family, Skye and her mother moved away to live with her grandmother.  

However, a turn of events forces Skye to move in with her aunt back in the town she grew up in. She knows that while much of the country has forgotten the shooting, “the people here will have not forgotten. They will not have forgiven.” She finds herself going to school surrounded by peers who were personally impacted by the shooting. One of these peers is her former best friend, Jesse, who lost his older brother that fateful day. Skye had anticipated the isolation, dirty looks, and cruel comments. However, strange events start occurring and it seems Skye is being given cryptic clues that there is more to the story of the tragedy. Skye and Jesse end up reconnecting and teaming up to uncover the truth. Could Luka have been innocent? More urgently, could the true third perpetrator still be out there, planning another attack?  

Aftermath is largely told from Skye’s perspective. She is a well fleshed out narrator and the reader is able to sympathize with the shame and defeat she feels as the sister of a school shooter. She struggles with misplaced guilt over the lives lost due to her brother. It’s heartbreaking to see her suppressed grief over losing Luka. As she puts it, “You aren’t allowed to grieve for someone like Luka. It doesn’t matter if he was an amazing brother.” However, the book falters in the chapters that are told from Jesse’s perspective, which are in third person. The perspectives do not alternate evenly and Jesse’s point of view is shared less frequently. Moreover, the reader might feel a disconnect with his character due to the different perspectives. Unfortunately, Jesse’s narrations end up feeling unnecessary and they disrupt the narrative’s flow. 

Though Skye is a well-rounded protagonist, there are areas of her character that will leave the reader wanting. For instance, her relationship with her deceased brother is not adequately explored. The novel states that they were close, and offers a couple memories, but not enough depth for readers to understand their strong bond. In addition, Skye’s romance with Jesse falls quite flat. Since the two friends were developing an attraction to each other before the shooting, it’s rather predictable that the flame will be rekindled once they cross paths again, but their romance ends up feeling like an unnecessary addition to the story.  

Aftermath is well written and easy to follow; plus, it has interesting twists and turns. Though some of the events that take place admittedly stretch the suspension of disbelief, young readers will likely be too wrapped up in the story to care. As the sister of an apparent school shooter, Skye’s perspective is intriguing and not one commonly found in stories that handle this type of subject matter. Unfortunately, the book loses some of this uniqueness when Luka is revealed as having been innocent, even heroic. As such, Skye is given an easy out from her shame and her struggle to balance mourning her brother while also accepting that he took part in the tragedy. 

Even though Aftermath is a well-told story that manages to stand out among other YA novels that handle shootings, it is undeniably flawed. Despite this, Aftermath is definitely worth reading for those interested in crime fiction, especially if they are interested in viewing crime from a unique perspective. However, readers might end up being let down by the conclusion’s reveal, which feels like a bit of a cop-out. Readers who want to explore the grief associated with school shootings may also want to read Every Moment After by Joseph Moldover and Shooter by Caroline Pignat. 

Sexual Content 

  • After the shooting, Skye read message boards where someone suggested that Skye should be sexually assaulted. The post reads, “‘I hear one of those bastards has a sister. . . Maybe someone should take her and –’ I won’t finish that sentence. . .”  At the time, Skye was thirteen and she was “reading what some troll thinks should be done to me and wondering how that would help anything.” 
  • Skye recalls being thirteen and playing basketball with Jesse. She says that Jesse’s older brother, Jamil, looked her “up and down in a way that [made] me want to hug the ball to my chest.” 
  • Jesse recalls the same incident mentioned above, adding that his brother watched Skye leave with “his gaze glued to her ass . . . [saying,] ‘She’s gonna be hot someday, little brother. I’m gonna be thanking you then, for keeping her around.’” 
  • Skye is harassed by a group of older boys, and one of them tells her, “You’ve got a smart mouth. How about I show you a better way to use it?” Nothing ends up coming from this threat. 
  • Skye remembers her father being away on business trips, speculating that he was “screwing his business partner.” 
  • When Skye and Jesse kiss for the first time, Skye describes “[pressing her] lips to his,” but the two of them are interrupted before things escalate further. 
  • Skye and Jesse begin kissing passionately. She says, “I’m finally kissing Jesse . . . his arms tighten around me, the kiss deepening, igniting a spark that is definitely not for middle grade Skye.” 

Violence 

  • The shooting that took place three years prior to the events of the book is referenced several times. Skye recounts that the police saw her brother with a gun and that “they told him to drop it. He didn’t. They shot him. . . [Luka’s friends] Isaac and Harley opened fire elsewhere. When it was over, four kids were dead, ten injured. Harley was arrested. Isaac had fled. He was found two days later – dead, having saved the last bullet for himself.” 
  • An anonymous number sends Skye illegally obtained footage taken by students during the shooting. The first video she receives is of a victim “under her desk, sprawled and there’s blood . . . her dead eyes staring.” She receives videos of the other victims’ bloodied bodies as well. 
  • Skye joins the newspaper at school and finds several notes about her, one of them saying, “I hope someone puts a bullet through Skye Gilcrist’s head.” 
  • Skye finds herself locked in the newspaper room and someone shoves paper and lit matches under the door causing a fire. Skye says, “I feel heat on my leg and look down to see sparks scorching through my jeans. I smack them out and stay down . . .[I] grab the metal [door] handle and fall back, hissing in pain.” She finally manages to break out and pull the fire alarm, having escaped any real damage from the flames. 
  • Jesse, troubled since his brother’s death, apparently got in trouble for a series of fistfights, “culminating in an attack on a younger boy.” 
  • A group of football players—Grant, Duke and Marco—harass Skye on the street. Jesse sees and runs over to defend her, causing a fight to break out. Skye narrates that Jesse “grabs Duke by the jacket and throws him down . . . Grant aims a kick straight at Jesse’s head . . .  [his] boot hits him in the face.” A bystander intervenes and the fight is stopped. Jesse is left with a bloody nose. The scene is described over five pages. 
  • At school, a boy starts intimidating Skye and Jesse, and the situation escalates into this boy attacking Skye. Skye describes, “his hand slams into my shoulder, and I fly into the lockers. Jesse grabs the guy by the back of the shirt and yanks him away . . . I grab the guy’s arm. As he yanks away, my nails rake down his arm.” Someone intervenes shortly afterward. 
  • While Skye and Jesse are investigating clues at a park, someone attempts to abduct Skye at knifepoint. Skye describes him locking his arm “over [her] throat… [she] can’t breathe.” She fights him off. He lets go and takes a knife from his belt. The blade “slashes through [her] jacket. Slashes through skin and into flesh.” He shoves her into a pit but flees when Jesse finds the two of them. Skye’s cut is quite severe, and she is later treated by a doctor. 
  • In the book’s final chapters, Tiffany, the girlfriend of one of the perpetrators of the shooting, is revealed to have been the true mastermind behind the massacre. She breaks into Skye’s apartment with a gun and sedatives. She has a confrontation with Skye where it is revealed that Tiffany sedated her aunt and is planning to kill her and frame Skye. Skye manages to drive a knife “into her, just enough to make her drop the weapon and try to grab me, but I have her by the wrist. . . and two seconds later, I have her on her knees, arm pinned behind her head.” This all takes place over the course of eight pages. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • A group of high school football players that are harassing Skye is implied to be drunk. Skye tells them, “It seems like you’ve already had a few [drinks].” 
  • Jesse has been taking steroids at the recommendation of his track trainer, unbeknownst to his parents and the school. He eventually confesses and is kicked off the team. 
  • During the kidnapping attempt, Skye’s would-be abductor attempts to put her to sleep by putting a chloroform cloth over her mouth. 
  • Skye’s friend Chris is a weed smoker. 

Language 

  • After the shooting, Skye says someone wrote: “DIE, BITCH” in her locker. Bitch is used on multiple other occasions. 
  • Some refer to Skye’s lesbian aunt as a dyke. 
  • Shit is used twice. 
  • Profanity such as damn, hell, and ass is used often. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Skye says that people have told her that they hope her brother is “rotting in hell.” 
  • As she arrives at the airport near her hometown, Skye describes “praying that [she isn’t] recognized.”  

The Iron Tomb

When Sam Force goes to Egypt to spend the summer with his Uncle Jasper, he is ready for the usual vacation filled with museums and lessons about pharaohs and ancient gods. Instead, Sam arrives at the airport and learns that his uncle is missing and wanted by the police.

After narrowly escaping his own arrest, Sam sets off to find his uncle using a series of clues that Jasper left behind. But a group of mysterious men is hot on his trail, and Sam knows they’re willing to do whatever it takes to track down Jasper and whatever he was looking for.

Now all Sam has to do is find him first.

With the help of his new friends, Hadi and Mary, and using knowledge of ancient Egyptian history, Sam makes his way across Egypt determined to find his uncle. And if he does find Jasper before it’s too late, he may also uncover the secret of the Iron Tomb. . . a secret that could change Sam’s life forever.  

The Iron Tomb starts off with instant suspense as Sam gets to Egypt and is forced to hide from the police. Since Sam doesn’t know anyone from Egypt, except for his uncle, he must rely on Hadi and Mary, two teens he just met. Despite just meeting them, Sam puts his full trust in them which is unrealistic considering their unusual behavior. For example, Sam is riding in the back of a delivery truck and the police are hot on his trail. Mary suddenly calls and tells Sam to move to the truck’s roof. Then, Mary and her ‘handler,’ fly over the truck in a helicopter and save Sam. Despite this, Sam doesn’t question Mary’s motives until he overhears a phone conversation where Mary reveals that she is sure Sam can lead them to his Uncle Jasper. 

Even though many of the events are unrealistic, middle-grade readers will enjoy the non-stop action and unexpected twists. Learning about Egyptian history is a bonus. Black and white pictures are scattered throughout the book. The illustrations show maps and clues, and help readers picture some of the complicated plot points. Readers who enjoy ciphers and deciphering clues will enjoy trying to solve the mystery along with Sam.  

Even though The Iron Tomb focuses on the mystery of Jasper’s disappearance, the book doesn’t shy away from bloody violence. For example, when Sam is going through the sewers, two men dump a body into the water and a hoard of rats begins feasting on the corpse. The scene is graphic, bloody, and doesn’t advance the plot. In addition, one man kills another, then drinks his blood in order to survive. The graphic descriptions of violence will upset some readers.  

Despite the book’s flaws, readers eager for a dangerous adventure with plenty of surprises will find The Iron Tomb an entertaining read. While Sam is too trusting, he is also a smart, determined boy who doesn’t give up. Sam’s bravery and determination can be admired even though he often makes mistakes. Even though The Iron Tomb solves the mystery of Jasper’s disappearance, the conclusion clearly sets up another mystery that will take Sam to Belize in the second book of the series, Bones of the Sun God. Readers who want to learn more about Egyptian history should trek to the library and also grab a copy of The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld. Readers who are up for more action-packed adventure should also read Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra by Stuart Gibbs and Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas by Jonathan W. Stokes.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Five years prior to the book, Sam’s parents were murdered “in a hotel room robbery.”  
  • While in his uncle’s apartment, a man grabs Sam. “A thick woolen sweater snaked itself around his chest and wrenched him away from the sink. Sam cried out in surprise as he was pulled back against the body of a large man.” Sam is able to escape. 
  • A man with short hair is following Sam, who tries to hide in a store. When the man finds him, Sam throws jars of olives at him. “The Short-Haired Man laughed as the first one smashed near his boots. . . But the laughing stopped when the second bottle of olives exploded on the wall, showering Sam’s target with olives and shards of glass.” In order to escape, Sam pushes a shelf unit onto the man. “The ceiling-high wall of goods crashed on top of him. . . Sam could hear the man screaming and cursing.” The scene is described over two and a half pages. 
  • To escape the Short-Haired Man, Sam goes into the sewers where a “furry mass” of rats follows him. Sam shoots a rat and then “tiny fangs flashed in the light as the mob attacks their wounded comrade.” 
  • When Sam is in the sewer, someone throws a body into the water. “Sam watched with sick fascination as the rats went to work on their floating buffet.”  
  • One of the men who disposed of the body goes into the water after the man’s wallet. “Using the flashlight as a club, he belted the rats out of the way, grabbed the wallet, and waved it triumphantly. . . The wallet was covered in so much blood it looked like it had been pulled out of the victim’s chest. . .The blood dribbled down the man’s arm as he held his prize in the air.” 
  • When the rats attack the man with the wallet, he “howled and swatted one of his attackers with his flashlight. . .Rats began launching themselves at the terrified Egyptian, who dropped the wallet and began swatting rats. . .” The rat scene is described over two pages. 
  • When Sam tries to escape the sewer, the killers go after him. Sam throws his flashlight at the men. “The thud of metal on flesh triggered a stream of harshly spoken Egyptian, but the figure kept climbing. . .” The man grabs Sam, but Sam is able to escape. 
  • Sam, Bassem, and Mary try to escape two men on motorcycles. “Bassem took one step back and flicked the rod up like a samurai presenting his sword to his opponent. As the first bike came toward him, he swung down and across in one smooth, vicious motion that caught the rider in the middle of his chest.” The man crashes to the ground. Sam and his companions flee. 
  • The other biker continues to follow Sam and his companions, who hide in an open-air market. When the biker is in the middle of the crowd, Bassem throws smoke bombs into the crowd. “Chaos had exploded in the square. High-pitched shrieks from goats, donkeys, and men combined. It was like a bomb going off on Noah’s Ark.” Sam and his companions escape into the desert. 
  • When Sam finds his Uncle Jasper, Jasper looks like a “lifeless, blood-splattered body.” At first, Sam thinks Uncle Jasper is dead, but later Sam finds out the blood was from Jasper’s bloody nose. 
  • The Short-Haired Man slaps Sam. “The lighting-fast slap across the face sounded like a snapping stick in the confines of the dining room. His vision clouded; his eyes watered.” Later, the man slaps Hadi, a boy who works for him. “Hadi eyed his attacker through blood-covered fingers as he tried to stem the gush coming from the pulpy mess that had been his nose.” 
  • In an effort to kill Sam and Uncle Jasper, the Short-Haired Man causes an explosion that leaves Sam and Uncle Jasper buried underground.  
  • Sam finds a letter about how two men—Jason and Thomas—were trapped in a boat that got caught in a storm and buried by sand. The two men fight, and Jason “drove the wooden stake into the jugular vein and watched as his life force spilled out of him. . . A rich red pool, creeping out from his body across the floor. . .” Later, the man confesses that he “fed upon another” and drank the dying man’s blood. 
  • The Short-Haired Man plans to kill Hadi because Hadi knows too much. The man “straightened his arm and took aim at the back of Hadi’s head. The boy’s whimpering died away. . .” Sam distracts the man and saves Hadi’s life. 
  • Sam tries to shoot the Short-Haired Man with an old flare gun. The man mocks him and pulls the trigger several times. When the flare gun doesn’t go off, the man puts the gun in his pants. Then, “Thick and white, the smoke belched from the Short-Haired Man’s jacket, and he began to scream. . . Fat red tongues of flame signaled the second stage of an explosion that was meant to happen hundreds of feet up in the air. The Short-Haired Man was transformed into a fiery ball of flailing arms and legs. . .” The man falls into a shaft. 
  • The Short Haired Man climbs up the shaft, and grabs onto Sam’s ankle. Sam sees “five bloody, burn-ravaged fingers were locked around his ankle . . . hovering in the white smoke coming out of the shaft, was barely recognizable as human—a burnt and swollen head coated in sand made wet by the weeping skin.” Eventually, the man falls into the shaft and is buried by sand. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • After breaking his ribs, Sam is given an “injection” to dull the pain.  

Language   

  • Pissed off is used twice. 
  • The Short-Haired Man calls Hadi “a sewer rat working for money.” 

Supernatural 

  • Sam is given a scarab beetle necklace because “it is good luck and will keep us safe.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Akhenaten was named “the heretic king because he banned the worship of all the gods and decreed there would be only one. Aten, the sun god.” 

Jumper

Blair Scott has been “hell-bent on a career in wildland firefighting” since she was in high school. Being only nineteen, she and her longtime best friend, Jason, don’t expect to be recruited when the Forest Service calls for an additional class of smokejumpers. It’s a particularly rough fire season, though, and they are both accepted. The only thing holding Blair back is type 1 diabetes, and with Jason’s help, she is determined to hide her condition from their instructors.  

Training is strenuous, and both Jason’s and Blair’s families become more insistent that Blair tell the truth. They point out that the medical forms for the job say “‘diabetes may be disqualifying. It’s not an absolute.’” Blair doesn’t want to take any chances. Things are going too well to risk stalling the momentum. Eventually, however, things do begin to spiral out of control. When tragedy strikes, Blair is forced to pick up the pieces and decide where she goes from this point. 

Blair narrates the story, allowing for meaningful insights into her life and why she is so passionate about smokejumping. Also apparent is underlying guilt about Jason having to look after her. He is fiercely protective of her, to the point where Blair wonders if he would even be pursuing a job as a smokejumper if “he weren’t so committed to keeping [her] out of the ER.” This sentiment is most poignantly felt after a tragic accident that leaves Blair struggling to cope.  

The friendship between Blair and Jason is the highlight of the novel. It is refreshing to see Blair, who is a lesbian, enjoy a strong but purely platonic relationship with a man. Their dynamic is very enjoyable. At one point, Blair playfully muses that “Jason and I always fall for the same girls, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s him they want . . . If I were interested in guys, even a little, I’d probably join them.” The reader feels the connection between these two characters very deeply, and, as a result, the experiences Jason and Blair have together are impactful.  

Jumper is not a novel for everyone. The narrative is a slow burn that might be less than engaging for certain readers. A large portion of the story focuses on Blair and Jason’s training, and while it is undeniably an intense process and the risk of Blair having a health emergency looms, this part of the book is largely uneventful. In addition, Blair’s stubborn hotheadedness occasionally makes her difficult to like. Her ambitions are easy to empathize with, but her reckless nature can be frustrating as suspense is built around the danger she is putting herself in. 

Despite the aforementioned flaws, Jumper is a solid story about two friends fighting against the world. Readers who are interested in platonic male-female friendships will get a lot of enjoyment out of Blair’s bond with Jason. Additionally, those who are diabetic will relate to the protagonist’s struggles. The book also contains plenty of interesting information about smokejumping and just how difficult and dangerous the occupation is. The reader will be left with an appreciation for people in this line of work. Readers who enjoy Jumper should also check out the Peak Marcello Adventure Series by Roland Smith which takes readers into the suspenseful world of rock climbing. 

Sexual Content 

  • Blair is attracted to one of the female instructors, and Jason jokes that seeing the two of them run together is “orgasmic or something.” 

Violence 

  • In her childhood, Blair was bullied by a boy, so she retaliated by punching his nose “so hard, he squealed like a pig. Bled like one, too.” 
  • Early on, Blair and the other trainees are informed that a hand crew in Idaho “got caught between two walls of fire . . . there [were] no survivors.” 
  • In the Idaho fire, “members of the shot crew deployed to help clear an exit path sustained serious injuries that [grounded] some of them for the rest of the season.” 
  • Blair’s training is quite strenuous and results in minor injuries along the way, particularly when jumping. Blair describes: “[slamming] down on my already bruised hip . . . everything hurts, but I breathe into the pain. I can handle the pain.” 
  • One of Blair’s trainers stresses the importance of bending one’s knees when landing from a jump. He says, “you may have braces on your ankles. But there’s nothing to keep you from jamming your hip into the socket. I’ve only seen that happen once . . . I’d never heard a human being scream like that.” 
  • During a forest fire, Jason is killed in an avalanche when a boulder hits him in the chest. Blair hears “that meaty thwack of hard meeting soft, of expelled breath and crushed bones . . .  Jason is on the ground . . . There is a peculiar dent in his chest.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • One of the trainers frequently chews Nicorette gum. 
  • After dinner, most of the recruits “head for the bar, while the four of us still underage park it outside the A & W next door.” Fellow underaged recruit Luís suggested joining the guys at the bar, saying “come on, goody-goodies, it’s only beer.” He convinces everyone but Blair to go with him. 
  • Blair uses insulin shots due to her diabetes. 
  • After a particularly rough landing, Blair says that she’ll have Advil with her dinner. 
  • Blair buys a “big bottle of ibuprofen” to lessen the pain caused by injuries sustained during training. 

Language 

  • Damn is said frequently.  
  • Occasionally shit, hell, and variations of ass are used. 
  • Blair says that Jason has a “natural resting-bitch face.” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • A head trainer tells the newly minted smokejumpers, “‘If you’re the praying sort, ask for an early fall and a long, hard winter so we can regroup.’” 
  • During Jason’s funeral, Blair notes the pastor talking about Jason “like he was his favorite altar boy or something . . . Jason wasn’t religious. Why would they bother pretending he was?”

Just Three

Jillian is a teenage girl still reeling from the loss of her mother. But before her death, Jillian’s mom hired a woman named Rebecca to help out around the house. Two years later, Rebecca is still there, seemingly serving as a replacement for Jillian’s mother. When Jillian catches a romance beginning to blossom between her father and Rebecca, she panics and decides to set her dad up on a dating website. Her father is skeptical, but for Jillian’s sake, he agrees to go on three dates. Just three.

Chaos ensues. The first date ends in a chicken attack. On the second date, Jillian’s dad goes out with a pro biker and gets left in the dust. During the third date, Jillian and her brother spy on their dad’s picnic from the bushes and watch as it devolves into the woman yelling at him for cheating at chess. After witnessing the disastrous third date, Jillian realizes that Rebecca makes her father happy and that his happiness is what is truly important.

One of the main flaws of Just Three is that Jillian is not well-developed. Her primary character trait seems to be a strong dislike of Rebecca, who, in addition to being a blameless victim, is incredibly likable and described as having “this way of making everyone smile.” Jillian’s hatred for Rebecca is ostensibly balanced out by her love for her father, but she spends much of the novel attempting to sabotage his budding relationship. For these reasons, readers may find Jillian to be a somewhat unlikable character.

Just Three is told in first-person narration and alternates between Jillian’s matchmaking hijinks and her conversations with friends at camp. Like Jillian’s character, this second aspect of the story is not especially developed. The camp that Jillian attends is left unnamed and unexplained, and there is no clear arc within these conversations. The author hints at a romantic subplot between Jillian and a “nerdy” boy named Victor who she has a crush on, but this is not resolved in any meaningful way.

Meanwhile, Jillian’s matchmaking character arc is resolved suddenly in a single scene toward the end of the book. After the hostile third date, Jillian sees her dad with Rebecca and observes, “For some reason, [Rebecca] didn’t bug me so much this time. She was always so good-natured. I couldn’t imagine her ever screaming at my dad.” Given Jillian’s stalwart opposition to Rebecca up to this point, readers may find this emotional pivot to be rushed and unbelievable.

Despite the lack of character development, there are bright spots in Just Three. A key theme is learning to prioritize the needs of loved ones, even when it is difficult. While there is not an in-depth exploration of grief, children who have lost a parent or whose parents are dating other people may find Jillian’s actions relatable.

Released by Orca Current books, whose titles are written specifically for teens, Just Three ramps up quickly, but it’s a mixed bag. The easy-to-read story includes plenty of wacky scenes, which readers may find humorous. The book presents a surface-level exploration of grief and moving on. However, flat characters and a formulaic storyline detract from the quality of this premise. If you’re looking for a high-interest book written specifically for reluctant readers that explores family conflicts, you may want to start with In Plain Sight by Laura Langston.

Sexual Content

  • Jillian notes that all the girls at school “have the hots” for one of her friends.
  • Jillian’s father and Rebecca are described as “flirting” at several points throughout the book. This flirting mainly consists of laughing together or having lively conversations.
  • Jillian hears about a dating site and sets up a profile for her dad. He goes on three dates.
  • Jillian’s brother mentions that their dad “get[s] lots of attention from ladies” when he walks the dog in the park.

Violence

  • At a hobby farm, chickens attack Jillian. They surround her, “peck[ing],” “screeching,” and “flapping.” She emerges “covered in scratches.”
  • During a pool game, one of Jillian’s friends is accidentally hit “right in the face” with a ball.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Jillian’s brother calls her and a friend “geeks.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Naomi Brenden

The Hand on the Wall

Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph. She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century.

At least, she thinks she has. With this latest tragedy, it’s hard to concentrate on the past. Not only has someone died in town, but David disappeared of his own free will and is up to something. Stevie is sure that somehow—somehow—all these things connect. The three deaths in the present. The deaths in the past. The missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles, there must be answers.

Then, another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm—and a murderer.

The final book in the Truly Devious Series continues the fast-paced intriguing story that solves both the Ellingham’s kidnapping and the murders at the Ellingham Academy. Stevie is relentless in her desire to solve both mysteries and in the end, she is able to tie up all of the events in a satisfying manner. Even though the story ends in the typical detective story confrontation with all of the suspects together, the conclusion still has several surprises.

In addition to solving the mysteries, several of Stevie’s friends are able to find evidence of Senator Edward King’s corrupt behavior and come up with an ethical way to stop the senator from running for president. While his son, David, plays a part in King’s demise, David’s erratic behavior throughout the series makes him an unlikeable character who is difficult to relate to. While David had a difficult childhood, his bad behavior is never fully explained. And even though he treats Stevie with contempt and cruelty, in the end, she forgives him in order to give her a happy-ever-after ending.

The Truly Devious Series is highly entertaining and will keep mystery-loving readers on the edge of their seats. Even though the story revolves around high school students, the content has some gory details, some steamy scenes, and mature content. Readers who are ready for more mature mysteries should grab a copy of The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur or I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga.

Sexual Content

  • Francis and Eddie, two students from 1936, have sex. Francis thinks, “there were certainly other couples who had sex on the Ellingham campus—one or two. Those people did it giddy, bashfully, and wracked with terror. Eddie and Francis came to each other without fear or hesitation.”
  • While walking through the woods, Eddie tells Francis, “Once more. Up against the tree, like an animal.” Francis declines because she is late.
  • Francis hears that Eddie “fathered a baby once and the girl had to be sent away somewhere outside of Boston. . .”
  • At one point, Stevie and David kiss “over and over, each one renewing the last.” Then later, David “leaned down to kiss her, his lips warm against hers.”

Violence

  • The murders from the first two books of the series are summarized.
  • When a detective finds one of the kidnappers, he “punched him in the face, sending him crashing into some trash cans. When he was down, he flipped Jerry on his back and slapped a pair of cuffs on his wrists, pinning his arms behind his back. . .” The detective removes the man’s gun, binds him, and then ties him to the seat of a car.
  • When Ellingham’s wife was kidnapped, she was quiet for days. When a kidnapper let the “kid” play outside, the kid ran and hid. Ellingham’s wife “jumped” the kidnapper. “She jumped on top of me, dug her thumbs into my eyes. I dropped my gun. . . I grabbed a shovel or something from the wall and hit her with it, hard. There was blood, but. . . she was still standing. . .” When the other kidnapper sees what’s going on, he shoots and kills Ellingham’s wife. The scene is described over a page.
  • One of the kidnappers, Jerry, takes a detective, George, to where he left Ellingham’s daughter. The girl was left with a stranger in a remote location, where she died of measles weeks before the detective arrived. When George sees the girl’s grave, he picked “up the shovel, and was shocked by the first blow, which knocked him to his knees. They came fast, a flurry mixed with cries and gulps. The snow splattered with blood.” Then George kills the man who had been caring for the child; the murder is not described.
  • A man explains that when Ellingham died, most of the body wasn’t found. “We found three hands, a leg, a foot, some skin.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While waiting for the birth of a child, a family friend drinks wine.
  • Ellingham’s wife was addicted to cocaine. Her friend noticed her “behavior was changing; she was fickle, impatient, secretive.”
  • Fenton, a professor at a local university was an alcoholic. She died in a suspicious house fire.
  • To help her through panic attacks, Stevie takes Ativan.
  • In 1936, some of the rich girls hid their gin and cigarettes in the walls.
  • At Ellingham’s wife’s funeral, some of the guests drank “countless glasses of champagne.”
  • While trying to track down a suspect, a detective goes into a bar and orders a “glass of whisky.” Later, he shares a drink of whiskey with a friend.

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, bitch, bullshit, damn, goddamn, fuck, hell, holy shit, pissed, and shit.
  • My God, oh my God and Jesus are used as exclamations frequently.
  • There is some name calling including dick, asshole, and jackass.
  • One of the faculty calls the students morons and boneheaded.
  • In a diary entry, a student calls Ellingham a “sanctimonious prick.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • One of Ellingham Academy’s students from 1936, “set up a ring of candles on the ground and drew a pentagram in the dirt. He was always doing things like that—playing at paganism.”

The Screaming Staircase

In London, ghosts haunt the living and only children have the ability to sense these otherworldly beings and remove them from our world. Lucy Carlyle and her co-workers, Anthony Lockwood and George Cubbins, are agents working for Lockwood & Co., an independent agency without adult supervisors. After an assignment goes wrong and the agency burns a client’s property down, the trio are forced to investigate the most haunted house in England: Combe Carey Hall.

The suspicious circumstances behind Combe Carey Hall might place Lockwood & Co. in even more danger than they realize, especially as they attempt to solve the mystery behind a decades-old murder. Will Lucy and her co-workers make it out of Combe Carey Hall alive? Can they help a restless spirit pass on? Or will they become just another one of the property’s victims? And what is the mysterious owner of the hall hiding?

The novel is written from Lucy’s point of view and, while she comes off as far more mature than the average teenager, her insecurities and snarky personality make her relatable without compromising her likability. The banter and trust between Lucy, Anthony, and George make each of the characters shine. Every character has strengths and weaknesses that complement each other, and this elevates their teamwork skills. In addition, the dynamic between the trio helps emphasize the importance of relying on others while also trusting in one’s own abilities. After the group escapes Combe Carey Hall alive, Lockwood even says, “I trust your talent and your judgment, and I’m proud to have you on my team.”

Stroud’s worldbuilding around the supernatural elements of this alternate London is extremely interesting and intricate. A variety of different ghosts are introduced, plus several government and private agencies that investigate the paranormal. Stroud deftly addresses how the appearance of ghosts would impact London on a wider scale. To help readers understand this complicated world, a glossary of new terms is used, which includes specific agencies and specters’ abilities.

The Screaming Staircase is an excellent introduction to more macabre horror stories, especially for tweenagers who love longer novels. The book’s grim atmosphere is more intense than most novels geared toward young children, with consistent descriptions of death and its central mystery being related to murder. However, the descriptions of violence never breach into anything too graphic, and Stroud’s light-hearted dialogue ensures that the book is never too grueling. Nevertheless, the horror elements, while toned down for a younger audience, are still present. Younger readers could easily get nightmares, so consider avoiding this book if your child is easily frightened.

A double-edged facet of the book is its lack of a true moral. The Screaming Staircase is not trying to convey any deep messages or complex ideas, but that lack of intention helps ensure the novel is a fun and down-to-earth read. The fun dynamic between Lucy and her co-workers, interesting ideas presented in a haunted London, and macabre elements make Lockwood and Co.: The Screaming Staircase an excellent introduction to YA horror.

Sexual Content

  • When George goes looking through Lucy’s armoire, he says, “Well, there’s nothing in here but some charming tops and skirts and. . . Ooh, Lucy-I’ve never seen you wearing that.

Violence

  • When discussing the potential cause of a ghost’s manifestation, Lucy discusses how a man, “Fell down the stairs and broke his neck. . . He must’ve fallen with tremendous f-[orce].”
  • Lucy thinks about what happens to agents who forget to properly stock equipment. “A girl at Rotwell’s had died the previous week after forgetting to restock her magnesium flares.”
  • Lucy reveals that decomposed human remains are often the source of a ghost’s manifestation, “Most often. . . 73% of the time . . . it’s associated with what the Fittes Manual calls ‘personal organic remains.’ You can guess what that means.”
  • During an investigation, Lucy sees a corpse. She describes it as “a thing of bones, bared teeth, and shrunken skin, dark and twisted as burnt wood . . .”
  • Both of Lucy’s parents were abusive. Her father’s “hands were hard and swift in punishing any of his children who disturbed his usual taciturn indifference.” Lucy’s mother also “beat [her] sore.”
  • Lucy’s mother tells the story of a girl who committed suicide. The girl “waded out into the reeds, lain down in the stream, and drowned herself.”
  • Lucy and Lockwood discuss a variety of serial killers, including “the coin-in-the-slot killer” and the “one who kept heads in the fridge.”
  • When investigating the history of a house, George finds out that “in May 1926, the owner, a Mr. Henry Kitchener, had hung himself somewhere on the premises.”
  • The caretaker of Combe Carey Hall describes how a previous owner was a serial killer who decorated the hall with the skulls of his victims. “When he’d finished off each one, he set their skulls on the steps of the central staircase with candles burning behind the eye sockets.”
  • Lucy ponders the importance of securing a point of retreat while within Combe Carey Hall. She remembers, “two Grimble agents had been separated from their colleagues when the bathroom door blew shut on them . . . the two agents had been battered to death by whirling ceramics.”
  • While they’re in Combe Carey Hall, a thick, goopy substance called ectoplasm surrounds Lucy, Lockwood, and George. Lucy says, “It looks like blood, it smells like it. It’ll do as blood for me.”
  • Lucy finds the body of an agent who previously died in the house. “The neck was twisted at an odd, unnatural angle. One hollowed jacketed arm reached towards the hole as if it wished to drag itself forward and slip down into the dark.”
  • In an attempt to escape the torturous screaming of Combe Carey Hall’s staircase, Lucy nearly throws herself into the well. “Just a couple more strides and the screaming would stop. I’d be part of that silence too.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lucy describes her alcoholic father. “His breath smelled of strong, brown beer.”
  • Lucy’s old mentor “chain-smoked cigarettes.”

Language

  • As Lucy tries to get someone’s attention, “he didn’t bloody respond.”
  • As she tries to follow Lockwood’s plans, Lucy thinks, “What the devil was Plan E?”
  • When Lucy collapses, George bursts into her room and says, “What the hell’s going on?”
  • Lucy calls the initial investigators behind a woman’s disappearance “idiots.”
  • George discusses how suspicious their assignment is by saying, “This whole thing is screwy.”

Supernatural

  • The premise of the novel is centered around the existence of ghosts and how to destroy them.

Spiritual Content

  • When London first got infested by ghosts, people visited various places of worship. “Churches and mosques did excellent business as people sought to save their souls . . . ”
  • Combe Carey Hall was initially “a priory, founded by a breakaway group of monks from one of the local abbeys.”
  • The monks who took up residence in Combe Carey Hall eventually, “turned away from God to the worship of darker things.

by Mia Stryker

 

The Queen Will Betray You

In the second installment of The Kingdoms of Sand & Sky series, Princess Amarande deals with the aftermath of her fateful wedding. Having killed Prince Renard of Pyrenee, Amarande brought war to the Kingdom of Ardenia. She must return to her home to restore order while her true love, Luca, will return to the Torrent to reclaim his title of Otsakumea, the rightful leader of the Otxazulo, the fallen kingdom that was taken over by the Warlord.

Returning to Ardenia, Amarande is shocked to find her mother, Geneva, also known as the Runaway Queen and Warlord of the Torrent, has returned to Ardenia with Ferdinand, the son of the late King Sendoa. Despite having raised him on her own, Ferdinand is not Geneva’s son, but the son of General Koldo, making him Amarande’s half-brother. Far from a cordial family reunion, Amarande is imprisoned by her mother and declared dead. With Amarande’s absence, Ferdinand takes over as King. To make matters worse, Queen Inés of Pyrenee has vowed to marry King Domingu of Myrcell to fortify their kingdoms and attack Ardenia.

Imprisoned and betrayed by her family with her true love, Luca, miles away, Amarande finds help from an unlikely ally, Prince Taillefer of Pyrenee. The same Prince who tortured Luca to near death in the first novel. Knowing this is her only option for escape, Amarande accepts his help and the two of them escape to the Torrent to be reunited with Luca.

Meanwhile, in the Torrent, Luca finds the Otxazulo resistance and convinces them he is the lost leader of the fallen kingdom. The proof rests in the black wolf tattoo upon his skin. While Luca leads the resistance, Amarande and Taillefer are captured by the regent Warlord, who was appointed by Geneva. Now, Luca must save Amarande and prove, once again, that their love will survive any conflict.

At the brink of war, Luca leads the Otxazulo resistance to Amarande where she is rescued, and the regent Warlord is killed. Taillefer also escapes to kill his mother and reclaim Pyrenee as his own. Only Geneva is left for Amarande to defeat. However, facing her mother in an intense duel, Amarande is wounded and Geneva flees, leaving Amarande and Luca with a broken kingdom they must rebuild in the next chapter of their story.

The second book in this series has another fast-paced, action-packed plot, making it very engaging and easy to read. There is, however, a significant amount of graphic violence making it more suitable for older readers. Like the first book, the novel deals with the themes of true love, but there is also an emphasis on the importance of loyalty and trust as Amarande must decide who to put her trust in and who is worthy of forgiveness.

Amarande and Luca are kind, dedicated, and inspiring protagonists, but their characters are still undeveloped. Their love story is clear but lacks depth. This is addressed when Taillefer asks Amarande, “is Luca really your true love or just all you’ve known?” While it is unclear why Amarande and Luca are together, the uncomplicated history of their relationship makes for a sweet and pure romance. Overall, this is a fitting read for fans of The Princess Bride who enjoy wholesome romance with lots of action and adventure.

Sexual Content

  • Safe and far away from Pyrenee, Amarande kisses Luca “softly, mindful of his wounds. But her love was stronger than he seemed and put gentle fingers in her auburn hair, pulling her closer, deeper.” Soon, Amarande pulls away. After discussing their next adventure, Amarande “dropped another kiss on his lips, then up the line of his jaw.”
  • Before saying goodbye, “Amarande kissed Luca one last time—hard. As hard as she wished she had before he was kidnapped. As hard as she did when it was clear they’d escaped Pyrenee alive. As hard as she could—this kiss would have to hold her for days, if not weeks, or months.”
  • Queen Geneva refers to General Koldo as a “whore general.”
  • Amarande recalls the time on the pirate ship “she’d slept next to the bed in the captain’s quarters, holding [Luca’s] hand from her spot on the floorboards. He would’ve lain there, too, if the pain weren’t so great. Her stubbornness won out yet again.”
  • Happy to be reunited with Luca, “Amarande kissed him then. Eyes closed, mouth hungry, her whole mess of a body folded into Luca’s warmth. His arms tightened around her, a hand snaking through her hair and to her neck.”
  • Before returning to the fight, “Luca pressed another fevered kiss to Amarande’s lips, the princess shutting her eyes and drinking it in until, with one last gentle sweep of a thumb against her cheek, he drew away.”
  • Before facing her evil mother, Amarande showers Luca with kisses “to his spine. His shoulder blade—one, and then the other. Up his neck. Again, behind the ear—one, two. She settled the curve of her throat over his shoulder, her chin coming to rest on his collarbone, parched lips at his ear.”
  • After the battle with Geneva, Luca visits Amarande who is recovering in bed. He kisses Amarande and when she decides she is “strong enough to kiss him back, she did so, moving her hands to his hair, keeping Luca where she wanted him until she realized they weren’t alone.”

Violence

  • When Queen Geneva reveals her plans to imprison her daughter, Amarande draws her sword to attack but is thwarted by a hand clenching her neck, “squeezing precisely on the artery that supplies oxygen to the brain. An arm gripped around her middle—an arm clad in garnet-and-gold regalia.” Amarande faints and is brought to her cell.
  • Ula offers to clean Luca’s torture wounds. Luca confesses, “the sting of the process was one of a thousand bees under the skin, but the pain was minor in comparison with what he’d felt in the past week. And the wound looked only a little better, the skin bruised and raw with inflammation that ran down the whole hand-length gash in the middle of his chest, just beside his wolf tattoo. The flat black sutures were tight, straining to keep the swollen edges of flesh together.” His wounds are slowly healing.
  • Trying to look out the window of her prison, Amarande hoists herself up the wall using a bit of cloth. However, the “cloth tore and before she could lunge for another grip or pull her feet from the wall, Amarande fell with a resounding thud, the back of her head bashing into the stone floor.” Amarande feels a bit disoriented from the fall, but she is more frustrated than hurt.
  • Amarande’s brother, Ferdinand visits her in her prison cell to make peace, but Amarande refuses his offer; “the moment he was in range Amarande’s boot struck out and made jarring contact with his kneecap.” Amarande tries to attack again but, “Ferdinand was ready, grabbing her boot and yanking at it, trying to wrest it off with both hands. She pulled back, but he held fast, even managing to keep the dagger in his grip. Amarande’s other foot shot out and clocked his left hand. His grip faltered, he dropped his dagger, and she drove her heel hard into his knee yet again.” Soon, Ferdinand gains the upper hand. As Amarande hesitates, he removes a dagger from his boot, throwing it through the air. “The knife pinning her right between the tendons that sewed her knuckles in place. Impaled, Amarande’s hand flew open, dropping the dagger.” Ferdinand then removes the blade from her hand. “He braced her wrist against the wall with the other hand and, in one smooth motion, removed the blade,” but, “Amarande didn’t cry out, even as stars swirled in her vision and blood began to pour from her hand.”
  • While traveling through the Torrent, some of the Warlord’s men try to capture Luca by attacking his crew with fire. Ula, however, wouldn’t let them and “a fist-sized fireball shot over Luca’s shoulder, plowing straight into the leader’s gut.” The man “fell back, tunic and skin suddenly aflame. His bandana slid down as he hit the dry ground behind him, his face distorted with panic as he screamed horrifically.”
  • Before the other servants of the Warlord could retaliate, Ula’s “blade cut the stout one down with a blow to his wide upper back, and his grip upon Luca immediately died as he fell away.” Urtzi and Osana, friends of Luca’s, come to the rescue as Urtzi hits the other two men “with his own bucket and the glass jug. The instant the caustic antiseptic made contact, the torches shuddered and exploded,” and “all three men suddenly were ablaze.” The Warlord’s men are burnt to death, but Luca and his friends escape.
  • Luca and his group come across the dead body of their friend, Erfu. Urtzi examines the body and describes a “dart in his neck and an assassin’s smile. Slowed him down and then sliced him open. His tunic is torn, too—they checked his tattoo. Carved an X through it.”
  • Escaping from her prison cell, Amarande takes out her guard who “only seemed to register Amarande in the split second before the hilt of her sword crashed down upon the guardswoman’s temple.”
  • While fleeing Ardenia with Amarande, Taillefer kills a guard. “In the twitch of a moment, Taillefer’s free hand seized the guard’s dagger from the sheath at his belt, and sank it into the soft meat of the boy’s side.”
  • Amarande and Taillefer come across several dead bodies that “lined the creek bank—two, three . . . no, five—and two more floated in the shallow waters. No blood stained their sun-bleached clothes, no stab wounds obvious, no wounds at all.” Amarande discovers the water had been poisoned.
  • In the Torrent, Amarande and Taillefer encounter members of the resistance. Not trusting Amarande, “a knife shot out of the man’s hand, and the princess dove to the side. She rolled to her feet, dagger out and ready. His companion immediately rushed at her, sword tip aimed straight at Amarande’s belly. The princess pivoted and flattened, and the woman crashed forward under the weight of her driving weapon. As she fell to the dirt, Amarande immediately smashed the blunt hilt of her dagger down upon the back of her skull, rendering her unconscious.”
  • While Amarande fought with the resistance group, Taillefer battles a wild wolf. The wolf’s “paws connected with Taillefer’s chest and shoved him to the ground. He struggled to push away the animal’s jaws as the whole of the wolf’s weight was on him now, the snarling beast holding all the leverage.”
  • Taillefer and Amarande escape their battle only when the man pushes Amarande into a sand hole. The man’s “boot connected with her twisting back. The blow knocked the princess off-balance and she stumbled forward, her exhausted body lunging for solid ground. Where there wasn’t any.” Amarande tumbles into a hidden cave and Taillefer follows. They are bruised and sore, but alive.
  • After poisoning King Domingu, Queen Inés “did not release Domingu’s chin as he thrashed, words burbling up through the white foam on his lips.” He dies moments later.
  • At one of the Warlord’s camps, Taillefer was lifted into the air by a giant man. Amarande tries to save him, “but the movement she’d anticipated didn’t come—the prince’s body was tossed vertically, not horizontally. And, as he plummeted back toward the cracked earth, the man’s leg shot out and his boot connected with Taillefer’s gut. The crunch of a shattered rib reverberated in the air, a cry escaping into the new dawn with it. Taillefer landed in a heap, blood rolling out of his mouth.” Taillefer’s ribs are broken.
  • Amarande and Taillefer fight with followers of the Warlord until “something thunked hard against Amarande’s temple, tossing her off-balance. Her opponent used that split second to roll onto the princess, driving Amarande’s face into the sandy earth as she sat atop the princess’s back, pinning her in a way that left all of Amarande’s fight useless.” Amarande and Taillefer are captured to be brought to the Warlord.
  • To prove her ruthlessness, the Regent Warlord orders those who do not comply with her to be burned in a fire pit. She will spare only one of them if they “fight to the death—disfigurement, loss of consciousness, and general injury do not count. You have to be the last living, breathing person standing.” From her confinement, Amarande watched the “human kindling. Hopes and dreams consumed nightly, reduced to flesh, fat, skin, and sinew, until there was nothing left to burn.” Then, she heard “the unmistakable sigh of a blade carving the breath from a man’s throat. One. Two. Two bodies draped gently on the ground. One. Two.”
  • When Luca reveals himself to the Warlord, more chaos erupts. There is “blood spray, bodies tumbling into the pit, the fire roaring and coughing smoke with each addition. Daggers and swords met in violent, reverberating clangs. Boots crunched bones, and live bodies, shrieking to the stars.” In the chaos, the Warlord “was sent headfirst into her own flames.” She is burnt to death.
  • Taillefer is fighting for his life against the Warlord’s men with his “hands in a fury, going for all the soft spots on the soldier’s face—ears, eyes, lips. The prince’s forearm caught the boy’s windpipe, and his head flew back with a crack, sucking cry escaping from his lips.” He escapes.
  • While escaping her prison cart, Amarande notices “her arm was bleeding from her shoulder through the length of her forearm, the wood of the fractured cart taking a sliding bite on the way down.” Ula stitches up Amarande’s wounds later.
  • To defeat his mother, Queen Inés, Taillefer stabs her guard and “twisted and removed a dagger from where it had been lodged in the soldier’s liver for hours on end.” The soldier bleeds out and dies. Taillefer then throws poison on his mother, burning her skin and killing her. “The tincture had dissolved the skin at her throat, the meat of her exposed, veins and capillaries burned back like parchment blackening and curling in flame before vanishing altogether.”
  • While Amarande converses with the Royal Council members, Geneva violently enters the room and “one guard and then another fell to the floor, assassin’s smiles carved across their throats, blood gushing onto the collars of their regal Ardenian uniforms.”
  • While fighting, Geneva thrust her blade “straight for the vulnerable flesh of Luca’s unprotected torso.” Luca is wounded but not killed. Next, Geneva turns to fight Amarande. “Geneva smashed her body backward, driving Amarande even harder against the wall, so hard that her skull thudded off the unforgiving stone with a terrific crack.” General Koldo attempts to save Amarande by attacking Geneva from behind, but she is thwarted when Geneva thrusts her into a table. “[Koldo] was bleeding from the head, a huge gash over her eye from where she’d made contact with the massive piece of scrolled furniture.”
  • When the action subsides, Luca notices he had accidently struck Taillefer in the neck with his dagger. Luca watches as “blood framed each of his teeth in stark red, as if he’d sunk them into a still-beating heart.” Luca then saw the “weak slice to the jugular.” Taillefer slowly dies from the loss of blood.
  • Amarande is stabbed in the leg by her mother. She tries to overpower Geneva with her good leg, but Geneva “thrust a thumb straight into Amarande’s leg wound, and the princess’s body seized as she cried out, vision fading to white. Her mother shoved Amarande and her blade aside, and scrambled free.” Amarande begins to lose consciousness with “all her adrenaline tapped, blood pooling under her body from her leg, arm, somewhere else.” Amarande survives, but her mother escapes.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Hell is used once. When Amarande is brought to the Warlord, she curses by saying “stars and hell.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Elena Brown

Thanks for the Trouble

Parker Sante has not said a single word in 12 years; not since he witnessed his father die in a fatal car accident. Instead, he writes out his thoughts in a journal and watches other people interact; studying their movements and actions until it is the perfect moment to steal something that others would never know is gone. That’s exactly what he is doing when he locks eyes with Zelda. The striking, silver-haired vixen who seems to entrap him with just one look. Suddenly, not only does he want to steal from her, but he wants to get to know her. To talk to her.  

However, Parker quickly realizes that Zelda isn’t everything he thought she would be. She’s a dream, but one that may be coming to an end very soon. When Zelda receives a mysterious phone call, she makes it clear she plans to end her life. While she won’t tell him the details, Parker knows he must change her mind. So, the pair spend the next few days doing everything that Parker hopes will make Zelda fall in love with life again. It includes one wild night at a Halloween party (a scene that is very unlike Parker), becoming the middleman in a very public breakup at the movies, and even letting Zelda convince him to apply for college. However, as time passes, Parker falls more in love with Zelda and is increasingly frustrated because he knows nothing about her.  

Zelda remains an enigma to Parker until he demands she tell him who she is and why she is going to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. But the story that Zelda begins to tell Parker is one he never saw coming. Instead, it is filled with unbelievable lies that Zelda insists are her reality; a reality that causes her to remain young forever. But Parker isn’t buying it. People didn’t just stop aging and live forever…or did they?  

As Parker races against time, trying to change Zelda’s mind, he realizes that maybe she isn’t the only one who needs saving. After all, Parker was living his life at half volume until Zelda came along, and now that she’s here, he doesn’t want to let his life slip away again. He just may have to figure out how to live life to the fullest on his own. 

The odd, yet endearing friendship between Zelda and Parker adds a vibrancy to the novel that immediately draws in the reader. Considering all the challenges Parker faces, witnessing his social progression throughout the story will leave the reader with a sense of pride. For example, by the end of the novel Parker begins to make real friends at school and starts to form the connections that he always wanted but never had. While Zelda shows some signs of vulnerability, an air of mysteriousness remains around her. There are moments where even the reader will question if what Zelda is saying is true or just another made-up story to help her conceal her identity. Because of this, the reader may find themselves frustrated by Zelda’s consistent games, but they will simultaneously be entranced by her.  

While Thanks for the Trouble contains a great plot line and immense character development, there is a heavy presence of suicidal thoughts. Multiple times, Zelda mentions that she intends to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, and she eventually carries through with the action. While Zelda discloses to Parker that she cannot age and that is why she intends to commit suicide, the reader is still left with a feeling of uncertainty around that reasoning. Therefore, it never feels like we get a complete reason as to why Zelda wants to commit suicide, which makes the novel heartbreaking. While Parker consistently attempts to get Zelda to rethink her decision to commit suicide, that is the only form of suicide prevention that is present within the novel. The novel does not discourage suicide, and it does not discuss methods of intervention.  

Aside from the heavy topic of suicide, the plot will keep readers on their toes and the mystery never lets up. Readers never know what will happen next, which makes Thanks for the Trouble a must-read. The story is heartbreaking and honest in a way that many novels for young adult readers are not. The novel plays on the impulsiveness of teenage feelings when it comes to love and relationships, creating a sense of understanding between the reader and the characters. Parker’s devotion to Zelda reminds the reader that love is the greatest kindness you can show someone. Once more, Zelda’s journey through the novel and her eventual death brings light to the idea that life is fragile in every form, and that we may never know how much time is left. All in all, the novel makes resounding commentary on how love, life, and death are the three sole things that can never be stopped, even if we wish they could be.    

Sexual Content 

  • Zelda guesses what Parker does in his free time. “Seventeen? What a horrible age. I bet you spend most of your free time playing computer games and watching pornography on the Internet.”  
  • Parker recalls his first kiss when he was in seventh grade. He was playing spin the bottle with a friend and “the bottle had landed on her first, then on me, then blam! I was kissed. Kisses are weird that way. They’re supposed to be performed by two people simultaneously, but they don’t have to be. We even have a term for it- a stolen kiss– which is really just a euphemism for full-on-oral assault. I can remember looking up from the open mouth of the bottle only to find another open mouth rushing at me. A crush of lip and tongue and saliva and the chorus of yowls from the onlookers.” 
  • Someone tells Zelda what a cougar is. “A cougar’s an older woman who gets it on with young men.”  
  • Zelda lies about Parker and her being lovers. A boy at the Halloween party “asked me if you were my community service project. I told him we’d been lovers for months. That you’d made me feel things I’d never felt before.”  
  • Zelda and Parker kiss at a Halloween Party. “I turned to smile at Zelda and she kissed me, right on the mouth this time, and I kissed her back.”  
  • As Parker walks around a museum with Zelda, he says, “Usually, the only thing that keeps me awake is all the nudity. Though not nearly as common as bowls of fruit, naked ladies tend to feature very prominently in your average museum.”  
  • Parker and Zelda passionately kiss in the Shakespeare Garden. “I moved across the dark distance between us and put my arms around her waist, pulling her into a kiss. I felt the cluck of her phone dropping to the grass. A moment later we were on the ground too. She rolled on top of me, pinning my arms behind my head, pushing against me in a way that made me forget every single problem I ever had or probably ever would have.”  
  • Parker’s mother gives him sex advice. His mom says, ” Try to do it mostly with people you love. Use protection. Don’t be an asshole.”  
  • Parker and Zelda have sex. “We finished undressing each other and got into bed. The house was just cold enough that it felt really good under the covers, skin to skin. And then we were kissing, and then it was happening, and I’ll leave the gory details to your imagination if that’s okay by you.”  

Violence 

  • Parker steals from a woman’s purse at the hotel. “I glanced around the room, and when I was sure no one was looking, I reached over and undid the clasp of the silver-haired girl’s little blue handbag. I pushed through a cloud of Kleenex and deep-sea dove into the mysterious mire of femininity until my fingers found the wad.”  
  • Parker describes his version of the sleeping beauty storyline. “He’s actually a douche-bag king—one who already has a queen by the way—and he rapes her. She wakes up pregnant, so the king’s wife tries to kill her, bake her into a pie, and feed her to the king. The happy ending? The king decides to have his wife burned to death so he can raise a family with Sleeping Beauty.”  
  • Parker writes a fairytale and describes one of the characters abusing his wife. “As a punishment, he beat his wife around the belly with a bent piece of barrel wood.”  
  • Zelda tells Parker about her plans of committing suicide. “I am waiting for a phone call. And when it comes, I’m going to give this money to the first needy person I see. Then I’ll take the trolley to the Golden Gate Bridge and jump off of it.”  
  • Parker describes the car accident that killed his father. His father caught the back bumper of another car when he was switching lanes and “we were flipped over in the middle of the highway and my dad was dripping onto the fucking roof, you know.”  
  • Parker recounts a character in one of his stories being hit by his mother. “His mother slapped him upside the head again. Go back to bed child!”  
  • Parker tells Zelda about how he got charged with assault in eighth grade from pushing his bully. “I pushed him back one time, and I wasn’t paying…this one car was driving way too close to the sidewalk, and so yeah, he ended up getting hit. Trevor’s parents pressed charges, and maybe because he was white and I wasn’t, I got this minor version of assault put on my record.”  
  • When Zelda finds out Parker declined the phone call she had been waiting for, Zelda slaps Parker. “Finally, I grabbed her shoulder, and she spun and delivered a stinging slap right to my bruised cheek. I was blind with pain for a few seconds, and by the time I recovered, she was gone.”  
  • Parker finds Zelda about to jump off the bridge. “Now, you might think it doesn’t really matter one way or the other—if a person wants to kill herself, she’ll just find some other way to do it, right? Wrong. It turns out that most people make these decisions pretty lightly, on the spur of the moment when the thought occurs, they often don’t do it at all.”  
  • Parker describes how Zelda looks before she jumps off the bridge. “Imperfect sadness maybe, which was another way of saying there was a little splinter of happiness in there too. I’d given her that at least. And then she jumped.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Zelda pours rum into her drink. “She took a small leather flask out of her purse and poured some of it into her soda.”  
  • Parker goes to see his mom and she is drinking. “The eviscerated remains of a TV dinner were still in my mom’s lap, and she was holding a mostly empty glass of red wine.”  
  • Parker gets home and notices his mom is drunk. “My mom was clearly a little bit tipsy. . . ”  
  • Parker describes his idea of high school parties. According to Parker, high school parties are “a bunch of people getting together to be drunk, loud assholes, with a special emphasis on the loud. And another emphasis on the drunk. And a third emphasis on assholes, while we’re at it.”  
  • After being left alone at the party, Parker gets drunk. “I’ve never seen the appeal in getting hammered every time there’s alcohol on offer. But here I was at a party made up entirely of people I either didn’t know or didn’t like, so what else was I supposed to do?”  
  • Parker sees others at the party drinking. “Jamie Schmid, the host of the party, came running from the other end of the yard, a bottle of Budweiser gripped tightly in each fist.”  
  • Parker describes his mother’s bedside table. “Her drugs were on the bedside table – Prozac and Tylenol PM – alongside an empty bottle of wine.” 
  • Zelda confronts Parker’s mother about her alcohol use. Zelda says, “But you cannot expect your son to stand here and be lectured about self-control by an alcoholic.” 

Language   

  • Explicit language such as fuck, shit, and ass are used frequently. 
  • Parker says others describe him as “a thug.”  
  • A friend of Parker’s argues with him over who should go first in chess. “You’re Latino is what you are, son. And that whole white-goes-first bullshit is straight-up racist.”  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Parker describes some of the artwork in the museum: “All those haloed saints and weeping Marys and bleeding Jeses (that’s the plural of Jesus, right?) and yawn-inducing landscapes and dead chickens.” 
  • Parker, Zelda, and his new friends discuss God. The friend said, “God and science are not incompatible. And Zelda just said herself. Nothing adds up unless you consider God.”  
  • Parker expresses his thoughts on the Bible. “That’s the problem with the Bible—or one of them, anyway—it doesn’t just tell you what to do, it tells you what to want. That’s too much to ask, IMHO.”  

Poultrygeist

A chicken crosses the road and is promptly run over by a passing truck. When the chicken awakes, it realizes that it is now a floating spirit separate from its flattened body, and that the world around it is suddenly dark. From the darkness, the eyes of other spirits appear. The spirits explain to the confused chicken that while it was crossing the road, it got to what they call “the other side,” a realm where the spirits of animals exist. They tell the chicken that he has become a “poultrygeist.” 

Terrified, the chicken asks if he can be a friendly ghoul. His fellow spirits insist that they must haunt the living for eternity. The chicken declares that even though he’s a ghost, he will not haunt anyone, no matter what. When the chicken declares this, he suddenly takes on a form with disheveled feathers, furious eyes, and jagged teeth. When the chicken scares the other spirits away, he smiles and goes on his way, wishing the spirits good riddance. 

Poultrygeist is a fast and funny read with a darkly comedic twist on a familiar joke. The chicken’s violent fate might disturb younger readers, but his experience in the afterlife teaches them a thoughtful lesson about the dangers of peer pressure. Readers will be drawn to the vivid and colorful illustrations of the living realm, while the other side will interest them with a unique art style full of glowing, single-colored characters and muted backgrounds.  

The book does not feature any narration and instead uses illustrations and the characters’ dialogue to tell the story. Each character’s speech is distinguished by separate font colors that match the color of their spirit. For example, the font of the chicken’s dialogue is blue, matching the chicken’s blue spirit. Each page contains 1-6 sentences with simple vocabulary. Readers will enjoy the spirits’ habit of speaking in rhyme. Though the spirits’ furious eyes and sharp teeth may frighten younger readers, they can take comfort in the chicken’s unconditional kindness and ability to resist peer pressure. On one page, the chicken even breaks the fourth wall to check in on the reader, asking “Psst…you doing okay?” 

Poultrygeist is a particularly great read for readers adjusting to new situations and searching for the right crowd. The story teaches readers to be the version of themselves that they are comfortable being and to not allow the negative influence of others to change them. Poultrygeist readers will be amused by the exaggerations of the spirit world as well as the story’s wordplay. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • The chicken’s body is shown after it is run over. The chicken is flattened with a tire mark across its body and crossed-out eyes. While it is not explicitly violent, it could upset younger readers, particularly animal lovers. 
  • The spirit of a rat tells the chicken, “Time for you to play dead . . . then twist your head!” 
  • The last page of the book shows a squirrel starting to cross the road while a truck quickly approaches, implying that the squirrel will share the chicken’s fate. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • The spirits use rude language when trying to pressure the chicken into joining them. They call him names such as “weak”, and (ironically) “chicken.” 

Supernatural 

  • The story revolves around the ghosts of animals.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Girl in the Locked Room

A girl is locked in a room in an old, abandoned house. She has been hiding there for more than a hundred years. Another girl, Jules, arrives at the ruined house and sees a pale face in an upstairs window. Who is up there, she wonders, behind a locked door? 

Jules finds out that a young girl, Lily, has been watching her from the window. Jules is fearful, then fascinated, then eager to befriend—and help—the captive, who is burdened by a chilling secret from the distant past. 

Even though The Girl in the Locked Room is a ghost story that revolves around murder, the story won’t give readers shivery chills. From the start, readers know that Lily’s family was murdered. Since the family’s demise is not described in detail and leaves out any gore, the circumstances surrounding their death add suspense. The mystery of what happened will fill readers with curiosity.  

The story jumps back and forth between Lily and Jules’ perspectives, which allows readers to understand both girls’ feelings. Much of the suspense comes from the characters’ questioning themselves and wondering about each other. At times, the long string of questioning becomes overwhelming as they slow down the pacing.  

While the girls’ feelings are clear, the cause of some of the events is confusing. For example, portions of the family’s murder are played out each night and only Lily and Jules hear the raucous. The idea of multiple dimensions is introduced, which muddies the plot and makes the ending confusing. As far as ghost stories go, The Girl in the Locked Room is an uninspiring story with lackluster characters that will easily be forgotten. If you’re looking for a book that revolves around the supernatural, you should grab a copy of Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega and Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Jules moves into an old house, she learns that the family who used to live there was murdered and the house is haunted. Jules’ friend says, “Lots of kids have seen their ghosts, my brother included—he says if you go inside that house, you never come out.” 
  • At night, ghosts from the past reappear, playing out the past. In one viewing, a group of men finds the murdered bodies of the family. Their bodies are not described.  
  • Jules and her friend, Maisie, go into the old house. Jules thinks, “I knew people had been murdered in these rooms. Blood had stained its floor. Silent screams hung in the air.” 
  • Through multiple scenes, Jules learns what happened to the family. Mr. Bennett fired an employee who had stolen from him. Lily hears “the men’s voices rise. Mama screams and screams again. Lily hears explosions, two, three, maybe more. She recognizes the sound of gunfire. There’s more cursing, more thuds and bangs.” 
  • In the past, one of the women’s husbands was known to hit her and leave bruises “all over her arms.” When the man breaks into the Bennett’s house and his wife tries to stop him, “there’s a loud smacking sound, and Aunt Nellie cries out in pain.” 
  • In a plan to change the past, Lily doesn’t hide in the closet. Instead, when the men arrive, she goes downstairs and a man “grabs Lily and lifts her off her feet. He holds her under her arms as if she’s a dog. His breath smokes with whisky and his eyes are wicked, like the eyes of the old bull Papa keeps in the pasture.” 
  • When Lily breaks free, the man’s gun falls to the ground, and his wife, Aunt Nellie, grabs it. She says, “Stop right now, Charlie or I’ll shoot you dead. Don’t think I won’t.” Charlie’s friend shoots and accidentally hits Charlie. He “falls to the floor. His head is bleeding. A red stain spreads across the carpet.” The scene between Lily’s family and the bad men is described over ten pages.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The men who killed Lily’s family were drunk. 

Language   

  • When men threaten Mr. Bennett, he calls them “drunken fools.” 
  • Oh Lord, for the Lord’s sake, and Lord God Almighty are used several times. 
  • Someone asks, “What the devil’s going on?” 
  • Lily’s mom calls her husband an idiot. 

Supernatural 

  • When Lily’s ghost appears to Jules and her friend, “Jules and Maisie see her as she once was, not as she is now.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Lily’s pastor “told us the world would end in the year two thousand. Judgement Day would come, and the dead would rise from their graves, and we’d be sent to heaven or hell.”  

Remember Me

The day before her seventeenth birthday, Blue Owens wakes up feeling like something is wrong. Her memories are hazy, and everything seems vaguely familiar, yet so foreign. Her friends and family are acting weird and suspicious, tiptoeing around her, as if she will fall and break at any minute. Blue explains, “You ever get the feeling something’s going on and you don’t know what it is?”  

In the back of her closet, she finds a strange note that reads: meet me on the little blue bus at 7:45. Blue has no idea who wrote the note or any idea why someone would want to meet her. But she only has one day to decide what she’s going to do. 

Following her gut, Blue gets on the little blue bus at 7:45 and meets Adam, who seems like a stranger. But as they talk and connect, she is flooded with familiarity; it is as if they have always known each other. Because they have. Adam hesitantly explains that they have dated since the tenth grade. “In fact,” he says, they’ve “done everything together for two years.” Blue discovers that she “canceled” Adam, and chose to erase him from her memory. 

Realizing what she has done, Blue sets out to recover her memories and figure out why she “canceled” them. As she explores deeper into her past, she is faced with painful memories. Should Blue leave her forgotten memories in the past? Should she bring her memories back and experience her grief all over again?  

Set ten years in the future, Remember Me mixes sci-fi and mystery elements with a story about grief and finding yourself. While Blue is a determined, independent, and brave young woman, she is also broken and imperfect, as she is dealing with great tragedies. After Blue’s sister’s tragic death, Blue spirals into a deep depression, waking up “most days [wishing she was] dead.” Blue’s friends and family begin to worry, as she becomes detached, irritable, and overly spontaneous. Blue must decide if she wants to erase all memories of her sister, finding a supposed cure to her pain, or spiral further, hoping one day she will wake up “and be [the] kind of person who glows and has goals and a self that doesn’t torture them.”  

In the end, rather than truly canceling her past, Blue learns to live with her grief. Although “it still hurt[s] whenever” she thinks of her sister, as these memories can “break [her] apart,” Blue is able to “come back together” and be whole. She comes to terms with her past and realizes that memories of her sister, for better or for worse, are still a part of her and make her who she is. 

Remember Me is best for mature readers, as it deals with topics like depression, suicide, death, and grief. It also delves into the effects of divorce on children. Furthermore, it has an explicit sex scene and substantial use of profanity. Overall, Remember Me, is a must-read, with a diverse cast of characters, a strong female lead, and an interesting plot. The story discusses the difficulties of grieving and losing someone you love. Plus, it highlights the importance of learning to live with the painful events of your past and accepting them as a part of who you are. 

Sexual Content 

  • Blue’s friends, Turtle and Jack, are dating and “in love.” They often act intimate with each other in front of others. 
  • Turtle is practicing for a play and has to make out with Kevin, a boy who is gay and uncomfortable kissing a girl. While practicing for the show the two struggle to connect. The teacher who is directing their practice has Turtle and her partner Jack (who is also in show choir) kiss to show them how it’s done. “Kevin is watching, uncomfortably, from the side. Jack leans forward slowly, pulling Turtle flush against their own body, and they melt into a deep kiss.” 
  • In eighth grade, Blue kissed Jacobo Mancini. Blue “let him put his hands in my bikini bottoms. I remember playing a game where I was supposed to be in the closet with Calvin Locus and we were supposed to spend six minutes in there and we didn’t come out for a much longer time.”  
  • While riding the bus with Adam, Blue thinks that she does not “remember kissing [him]. . .  my body does. My body positively writhes with knowing.” 
  • After reuniting, Blue and Adam kiss. “Our lips touch and he presses the middle of my back toward him. I feel like an elevator falling up.” Later, their families pull them apart, Blue thinks “out of nowhere I’m back in that kiss, in the breathlessness that took me over.” 
  • Blue thinks about sex. She thinks, “I’m not so much thinking about sex per se, like me having it but I am thinking about the idea of sex, or why people want to have it.” She then imagines her and Adam together. “And it’s not like I want to have sex with him right away or something. . . But I would like to kiss him. Very much I would like that. I wouldn’t mind running my hands over the skin under his shirt, feeling his breath on my neck, his fingertips on my belly.” 
  • Blue notes that her friend lives in the older part of town, in a crumbling building where you “can hear their neighbors having sex when they’re trying to go to sleep.” 
  • When Blue and Adam first began to date, they spent “hours and hours on end” kissing. Then “the shirts came off. We spent about a month like that . . . then pants got inched down and finally off.” The two become sexually intimate with each other. Blue recounts a moment when Adam had “his head between my legs” for the first time.  
  • Before she cancels him, Blue visits Adam for what is supposed to be the last time. The two kiss. Adam “opens his mouth and it’s hot when he nips at my lips. It’s not a sexy kiss so much as a communication . . . an apology.” 

Violence 

  • Ten years into the future, there is an “international epidemic” of suicide, especially among young people.  
  • There is a bridge in Blue’s town that “people throw themselves off… all the time, and it’s been getting worse.” One instance causes the whole community to come together, when “Taylor Strong chucked himself off the edge”of the bridge. 
  • When Blue arrives at the beach, she sees Adam and explains “my throat drops into my toes… He has V draped across his arm and is swimming ferociously toward the shore. She is limp, head hanging backward, neck tilted back and exposed like she’s offering herself up to the sky.” She imagines V swam “straight to the spot where Dad told us not to go, swims out there vowing to prove that we all underestimate her. She swims straight into a riptide, gets pulled under, flails and kicks but the riptide is too strong for her. She’s carried away screaming when she reaches the surface, until she can’t fight anymore…. By the time the ambulance comes, I am as gone as V…  My sister is dead.” 
  • After her sister dies, Blue explains “most days when I wake up I wish I were dead.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • On her fifteenth birthday, Blue gets drunk. She explains that she “didn’t mean to get drunk but [she’s] such a lightweight that even though [she] only took a couple of sips” she was drunk. 
  • Blue attends a party with her friends and drinks.  
  • Blue observes the “worst my parents do is smoke joints out back after they think I’m asleep.” 
  • After her parents’ divorce Blue wonders if her father is hooking up with “one of those rafting girls he works with, sturdy, beer-drinking, tan, young.” 
  • Blue’s father explains to Blue before she was born, he “drank too much beer and cursed.” 

Language   

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes shit, fuck, bitch, ass, and pussy. 

 Supernatural 

  • None 

 Spiritual Content 

  • Blue and her grandmother attend a funeral. As they walk into the church, Gran “makes the sign of the cross twice, once as we pass the Lady of Guadalupe statue in the courtyard and again when we stumble over the threshold into the actual church.” 
  • Blue describes the funeral service. “A priest says some things about Jesus. . .  I just listen[ed] to the prayers, the talk of God having a place in heaven for Arturo, the God will look over his wife and his children, that Arturo is free now.” 

What Were the Salem Witch Trials?

Something wicked was brewing in the small town of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. It started when two girls, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, began having hysterical fits. Soon after, other local girls claimed they were being pricked with pins. With no other explanation available, the residents of Salem came to one conclusion: it was witchcraft! Over the next year and a half, nineteen people were convicted of witchcraft and hanged while more languished in prison as hysteria swept the colony. Author Joan Holub gives readers an inside look at this sinister chapter in history.  

What Were the Salem Witch Trials? will pull readers in with its fun format that has large black-and-white illustrations on every page. The book uses large font, short chapters, and easy vocabulary that make the story easy to read. Plus, each event is explained fully and broken into smaller sections, so readers do not get confused.  

The book doesn’t just cover the witch trials. Scattered throughout the book are sections that give additional information about the people and the times. Topics cover everything from Puritans’ beliefs, superstitions, stories written about the witch trials, Halloween, and even the McCarthy witch hunt. The end of the book includes a timeline, artwork that depicts the time period, and more pictures. 

The book doesn’t just stick to the facts; instead, Holub adds her own theories. For example, while no one knows why the accusers made their accusations, the book speculates that perhaps the girls “were scared.” Maybe if the girls “felt an odd pain, perhaps they wondered if an invisible hand had caused it.” Maybe the girls just want attention. This speculation will help readers put themselves into the accusers’ shoes and make them think about what they would have done in a similar situation.  

Anyone who is interested in the Salem Witch Trials or the Puritans should read What Were the Salem Witch Trials? Even though the book focuses on the trials, readers will also learn about the court system in Salem. “It was up to suspects to prove they were not guilty. . .The suspects in the witch trials were not allowed to have lawyers. They had to defend themselves.” Many came to believe that the trials were unjust, and readers will be surprised to learn the trials still have a lasting impact today. 

What Were the Salem Witch Trials? brings history to life in a format that will appeal to even the most reluctant of readers. Whether you are researching the Salem Witch Trials or just interested in the events, What Were the Salem Witch Trials? will be a helpful and interesting source. Readers who want to learn more about historical events should also check out the I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Sara Good and Sarah Osborne refuse to confess, “they were chained to a wall in jail.” 
  • Other accused people were “tortured to make them confess.” 
  • People convicted of witchcraft were killed. “They were chained to a post, with wood piled around their feet. The wood was set on fire.”  
  • For one woman convicted of witchcraft, “Her hands were tied together and so were her feet. At the end of the rope was a big loop, called a noose. When the noose was put around her neck, her feet were pushed off the ladder so they dangled in midair. The noose slowly choked her to death. It was an extremely cruel way to die.” 
  • Giles Corey refused to confess to being a witch, so he was pressed. Giles was “forced to lie on his back in a field near the jail, heavy stones were set on his chest. . . After two days of pressing, the weight of the stones crushed Giles Corey to death.” 
  • A four-year-old accused of witchcraft spent “eight months in jail and became mentally ill” due to her time in jail. In all, twenty people were executed, “nineteen by hanging and one by pressing.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The Puritans had remedies for illnesses. For example, when one girl became sick her parents might have given her “a dose of parsnip seeds” or “castor oil mixed with amber.” 
  • Some thought that a “witch cake” could cure witchcraft. The recipe instructed: “mix rye flour with some of the girls’ urine to make a sort of dough. Then pat the dough into a cake shape. . . feed it to a dog. While the dog ate the cake, the witch was supposed to feel every bite of its teeth. She would come to the house and beg for the pain to stop.” The witch cake did not work. 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Many people were accused of witchcraft, and the book includes specific examples of what people were accused of, such as one woman who “magically sent a wolf to chase [the accuser].” 
  • One woman was accused of being a witch and visiting the victims “in the shape of a bird.” 
  • Puritans believed that witches had “strange marks. . . witches supposedly communicated with certain kinds of spirits, called familiars, through these marks.” 
  • For good luck, some Puritans “might nail a horseshoe by their door. They’d spread bay leaves around the outside of their houses. Some people carried a piece of mountain ash. . .” 
  • In England, leaders “sometimes paid witchfinders to start witch hunts. Witchfinders were people who made deals with the Devil, but then had been cured. They . . . promised they could protect people from it.” 
  • Some speculate that the girls who accused others of being witches became upset after trying to look into the future. The girls “filled a cup with water. Then they dropped the clear part of a raw egg into the water and watched it swirl.” The girls saw a “coffin shape. This was bad news. A sign of death.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Puritans believed that the Bible’s words were law and that “discipline would keep children close to God and far from the Devil. That way, the Devil couldn’t trick them into doing his evil work.” 
  • When some of the girls in the village became sick, others “prayed for the girls to get well.” 
  • Puritans believed someone became a witch when “the Devil came and asked you to become his servant. He made you sign his special book, using your blood as ink.” 
  • In January 1697, “the Massachusetts Bay Colony held an official day of prayer and fasting to ask forgiveness for wrongdoings, especially in the trials.” 

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

Everyone in Fairview thinks they know what happened: Andie Bell, the pretty and popular high school senior was murdered by her then-boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. Five years later, Pip is not convinced that Sal is guilty. There are too many unanswered questions: Why was Andie’s body never found? Why would Sal kill Andie? Why would Sal kill himself?

While the case has officially been closed, all Pip sees are loose ends. With the help of Sal’s brother, Ravi, Pip tries to unravel the secrets of what happened in Fairview five years ago. Pip insists that Sal is innocent. Pip’s investigation becomes more than just a school project, putting not only herself but those who she loves in danger.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a suspenseful, thrilling read that has short digestible chapters and tons of twists and turns. Jackson uses an interesting style of storytelling that combines a traditional third-person narration with journal entries from Pip’s point of view, interviews, police transcripts, maps, text messages, and much more. Oscillating between each point of view gives interesting insights into Pip’s character. Pip is a headstrong and determined young girl, who seems like she has her life fully put together, but she is far from that. Readers will relate to Pip who, as a teenager entering into adulthood, does not fully know who she is as a person or what she wants to do with her life.

Pip recognizes the racial bias that may have played a role in the suspected murder Sal faced. For example, when interviewing the reporter, Stanley Forbes, who heavily covered the original story, he explains to Pip “it’s always the boyfriend or the ex-boyfriend. Not only that Sal was Indian . . .  [T]hey have different ways of life from us . . . They don’t treat women quite like we do.” Bullying and its effects are also discussed heavily, as the murder victim, Andie, was a notorious bully who caused real harm to her victims.

The book also explores sexual relationships in various forms, including consensual and non-consensual sex, as well as relationships between older men and underaged girls. Sexual assault and rape, along with common misconceptions surrounding these topics, are also discussed. For example, at parties, girls’ drinks are being spiked. When Pip confronts the person who has been doing this (after she found out he drugged and raped a girl) he attempts to justify it by saying “but, like . . . she didn’t say no.” There are also heavy themes of teenage drinking which in many ways is normalized throughout the book.

Overall, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is an entertaining, suspenseful story with interesting twists and turns that readers will not see coming. The story examines the actions of a group of teenagers, who are not always the good kids they are perceived to be. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder also tackles the difficult topics of death, grief, teenage drug use and other mature topics. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is perfect for mystery lovers who are ready to explore mature topics.

Sexual Content

  • Pip jokes that her friend is “the daughter of a porn star.” Her friend responds by saying her father “only did one nude photoshoot in the eighties.”
  • Two of Pip’s friends are described as having “a failed fling last year that amounted to just four kisses and some drunken fumbling.” Later, it is revealed that they have recently kissed again.
  • A photo is found showing a boy “wearing nothing but a pair of black underwear.”
  • Andie claims that she has a sexual relationship with an older man, a janitor who works at the school and is about twenty.  Andie blackmails the man’s sister with this information.
  • When Pip goes to a party she observes the “dancers and the overenthusiastic kissers.”
  • When carving pumpkins, a friend notes Pip’s pumpkin looks like “a vagina on fire.”
  • Pip interrogates a suspect, Max, asking if he “drug[ged] and rape[d]” a girl at a party. He responds that he did put something in her drink “but, like… it wasn’t rape. She didn’t say no.”
  • Pip finds out Andie has been having a sexual relationship with one of her teachers, Mr. Ward. He explains “it only happened twice.”
  • Right before Pip’s press conference, Ravi, Sal’s brother who has been helping Pip with her investigation, “[leans] in to press his forehead against” Pip’s. The two then share a kiss.

Violence

  • The basis of this book is Pip’s investigation of a murder and an apparent suicide. Sal, the suspected murderer, is believed to have killed himself by “taking a huge dose of sleeping pills, and plac[ing] a plastic bag over his head, securing it with an elastic band around his neck. He suffocated while unconscious.”
  • The murder victim, Andie’s younger sister, Becca, is mentioned to have “been hospitalized for self-harming.”
  • Pip is interviewing someone who knows about the drug dealer in the town. When Pip tries to leave, he “[grabs] her wrist to pull her back.” Then, she “grab[s] his wrist with her other hand and squeezed, digging her nails into his skin.” She is able to get away.
  • Andie bullies another girl, Natalie, in her class, tricking her into recording and sending a topless video of herself. Andie posts this video online and “loads of other people were sharing it. The comments were horrible.”
  • After a night of drinking, Max and a few of his friends went to a party. When it was over, Max “who was just as drunk as [the rest of the group], was driving too fast up the highway. It was like four a.m. and there were no other cars on the road. And then… this man comes out of nowhere . . . he was standing well back on the shoulder . . . [and Max] lost control of the car.” Though the man did not die, “there was so much blood . . . and his legs were bent all wrong.” The group covered up the accident.
  • Pip’s dog is kidnapped and she is blackmailed for all the information in the case. The dog is found “in the river . . .drowned.”
  • When Pip confronts Mr. Ward, the teacher Andie was sleeping with, he reveals that he and Andie fought. Mr. Ward “just pushed her to get her to stop. . . she fell back and hit her head on [his] desk. Hard. And . . .she was on the floor and her head was bleeding.” Andie was conscious and when he went to go get a first aid kit she disappeared. Thinking she had died, the teacher attempted to cover his tracks by killing Sal.
  • In order to cover his crime, the teacher stole pills from Sal’s house, and forced Sal to swallow them. The teacher “held [a penknife] up to his neck.” When Sal “started to struggle . . . [the teacher] pinned him down and forced him to take more” pills.  As Sal “lost consciousness, [the murderer] put the bag around his head.” After Sal died, the killer framed him for Andie’s murder, placing blood under his fingernails and Andie’s phone in his car.
  • Months later, Sal’s killer thinks he saw Andie on the side of the road, “messed up on drugs . . . skinny and disheveled.” He kidnaps her and locks the girl in his attic. Unfortunately, this is not Andie but a troubled girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • After Andie escapes her teacher’s house, she walks home and is confronted by her sister, Becca. The two fight and Andie is cruel to her sister causing her to snap. Becca explains that Andie tried to push her out of the way and Becca “pushed her back . . .and [they] were both shouting and shoving and then . . . it was so fast . . . Andie fell back onto the floor . . . Her eyes were closed. And then she was being sick . . . her mouth was full, and she was coughing and choking on it. And [Becca] just froze.” Andie dies and Becca hides the body in a septic tank on a farm.
  • Becca drugs Pip. Pip runs away dazed and confused. When Becca catches up to Pip, Becca pushes her. Pip “[falls] onto her back in the leaves and mud.” As the two fight “Pip’s head [is] smashed against a tangled set of roots, a snaking trail of wet down her face, the iron-bit of blood in her mouth.” Because of the drugs and her injuries Pip is in and out of consciousness. Becca gets on top of her and begins to strangle Pip, but Becca has a change of mind and retreats. At this moment Pip is rescued. Just as she is saved Pip falls into unconsciousness, but she is safe. This scene lasts over four pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Teenage and underage drinking is mentioned heavily throughout the story. It is talked about in passing, but many of the main characters also are described as drunk. Pip’s parents allow her to go to a party and drink. Her dad tells her, “I want you to remember to be, at least, a little irresponsible.”
  • Sal takes his father’s sleeping pills. His father “was taking phenobarbitals for his insomnia.”
  • In order to find out who is selling drugs, Pip talks to someone who has drugs at a party. He rolls them a joint, pulling “out a small baggy of weed and a packet of rolling papers.” Pip pretends to take a few drags.
  • Andie sells drugs, including “weed, sometimes ecstasy, mephedrone, ketamine . . . and Rohypnol.” (Rohypnol is commonly used as roofies).
  • Pip finds out that there are “instances of drink spiking happening at . . . house parties.”
  • When Pip asks to be excused from the dinner table, her father jokes “some people have to worry about their kids rushing off from dinner to inject heroin into their eyeballs. Be thankful it’s homework.”
  • After she was drugged and raped, Becca wakes up and doesn’t know “what happened or with who.” Becca asks her friend to go with her to get “the morning-after pill.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes shit, asshole, fuck, bitch, and slut.
  • “Scum Family” is spray-painted on the house of the suspected killer.
  • After a friend’s breakup, someone says, “Boys are dicks.”
  • A girl says her dad “married the whore like right after the divorce” (referring to the woman he was cheating with).

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Mikaela Querido

We All Looked Up

Ardor, a newfound asteroid, is barreling towards the earth—coming closer and closer each day. The threat of Ardor becomes clear as it is determined to have the capability to wipe out the entirety of civilization. Suddenly the simple lives of four teens doesn’t seem so cut and dry anymore. Given a few weeks left to live, the four find themselves contemplating life and what they want out of it.

Andy, Anita, Eliza, and Peter—four unsuspecting students at the same high school – find themselves intertwined in the lives of each other when an asteroid threatens to demolish the earth. Peter finds himself questioning if all there is to life is sports and the prospect of growing old. Andy has never cared about anyone or anything other than his best friend Bobo, but suddenly that changes when Anita comes into his life. Since the day she was born, Anita has only ever known the pressure to go to Princeton and fulfill the investment that her family has made in her. And Eliza finds art to be more reliable and kinder than any friend has proven to be. In the past, the four have passed each other in the hallway and only made off-handed comments to one another when no one is around. They have carried on with their lives and kept to their social crowds . . . until an asteroid threatens their planet.

Anita runs away from the restrictions of her family and becomes roommates with Andy as they pursue a music career and hope to perform at the end of the world concert. Peter has found the courage to declare his love for Eliza, even though they have an exceptionally bad history. Andy has no idea what he wants, but he knows that his best friend Bobo is acting crueler than usual. And Eliza begins photographing the pre-apocalyptic version of Seattle and posting it on Tumblr which quickly earns her more fame than she would like.

As the asteroid gets closer, the four go from strangers to friends. They confide in each other, plan an end of the world party, and defend Peter’s sister from her boyfriend and a drug dealer. They even break a bunch of teenagers out of a juvenile detention center. Four distinctly different characters come together and showcase that sometimes there is a comfort that comes from being seen by those you never thought were looking in the first place.

We All Looked Up gives the reader a unique glimpse into the thoughts of teenagers who grapple with the threat of the end of the world. Overall, the development of the characters is strong. But the societal labels put on the four main characters can come off a bit cliché, especially with the novel being set in high school. Each chapter alternates between Peter’s, Anita’s, Andy’s, and Eliza’s point of view, which allows the reader to get a glimpse into the inner thoughts of each character. While the actions of some of the characters are not exactly likable, they are entirely relatable. Coming from a teenager’s vantage point, it is easy to understand their reactions and missteps add a sense of realness to the story that elevates it for the reader.

The plot examines adult topics such as toxic relationships, drug and alcohol use, mental illness, self-harm, and gang-related violence. In addition, the scenes pertaining to violence are graphic and may disturb sensitive readers. If you’re looking for a story with a happy ending, potentially forego reading We All Looked Up due to the serious topics and melancholy conclusion. However, We All Looked Up is a good read for those who like to contemplate life’s what-ifs. For each trial the characters face, readers are reminded of the fact that everyone is just trying their best at life. People work constantly to exceed and yet can still fall short, but there is beauty in the fact that you can get up and try again. We All Looked Up reminds us that there is no better time than the present to start making the most of every day we have because no one knows exactly how many more precious days they have left to live.

Sexual Content

  • Eliza’s dad refers to her best friend Madeline as “a stripper dressed up as a prostitute for Halloween.”
  • Bobo (Andy’s best friend and Misery’s boyfriend) makes a bet with Andy. Andy must lose his virginity to Eliza before Ardor hits, or he has to pay Bobo $1,000. Andy says, “Come on, it’s inevitable. You’re the biggest virgin at Hamilton, and she’s the biggest slut. You’re just working the odds.”
  • Eliza recounts making out with Peter in the art room and being caught. “He sat her down on the table, still kissing her, his tongue rough in her mouth, and his hands were making their way up her shirt when the lights flickered on. A skinny blond girl stood between the black curtains in the doorway, her mouth agape, like some cartoon character expressing shock.”
  • Eliza brings a guy home with her from the bar, and it is alluded to that they have sex. “It took her fifteen minutes in front of the bathroom mirror to scrape away the telltale signs of an alcohol fueled one-night stand.”
  • After being caught making out with Peter, Eliza goes to school and sees that the word “S-L-U-T” painted on her locker. “By the time Eliza got to school the next morning, someone had already spray-painted her locker, one huge black word with four capital letters: S-L-U-T.”
  • Eliza mentions losing her virginity. “In reality, she’d never had a serious boyfriend, and she’d lost her virginity practically by accident at a summer camp for blossoming artists, to a pale Goth boy who only painted wilted flowers.”
  • Anita and Andy have sex before they perform at the concert. “‘I don’t want to die a virgin,’ Anita said. She immediately covered her face with her hands. ‘I know it’s crazy to say that right now, with everything that’s happened, but it’s the truth.’ She straightened up, took a deep breath, and looked him straight in the eye. ‘I like you. If you’re into it, then I’m into it.’”
  • Peter and Eliza have sex at the release party at the detention center. “Misery was one. Hopefully, she’d gotten a ride home. He had no idea what he’d say to his parents if he had to show up without her. Sorry, but I got distracted having sex with this girl I cheated on Stacey with last year. You’re going to love her.”
  • Eliza and Andy drunkenly kiss and begin to remove each other’s clothing. They proceed to almost have sex before Anita walks in and Eliza runs out of the room. “But as Eliza felt his hand drop down between her legs, as she unconsciously ground against him with her hips, she felt the wrongness of what she was doing crash like an asteroid against the plant-size need to connect with someone, with anyone, and she pushed him off her with a fury that she knew he wouldn’t understand.”
  • Another inmate asks Eliza if she would sleep with him. “You don’t know me, but I’m a really nice person. And I think you’re absolutely beautiful. If you tell me to go, I’ll go. But, I’d love to hook up with you, and because it’s the end of the world and we’re stuck here, I figured I might as well ask.”

Violence

  • Andy talks about the cop that is standing at the end of the football field of the high school and mentions his gun. He states, “Andy half expected him to whip out his sidearm and mow them all down.”
  • Peter gets brutally beaten by Golden and Bobo. At one point, Golden instructs Peter to put his hands behind his back to allow Bobo to attack him even further. “‘Hands behind your back,’ Golden said. He had the gun trained on Peter’s forehead. ‘Bobo, tie him up. He’ll probably kick your ass by accident otherwise.’”
  • Andy tases Peter with the encouragement of Bobo. “At first, Andy thought Peter was playacting-quaking and quivering like a fish just pulled out of the water, little grunts coming out of his slack mouth. Then his knees buckled and his forehead collided with the pavement. His body went still.”
  • Peter punches Bobo in the face after he makes a foul remark about Eliza. “A black blur of movement, a meaty thunk. Bobo was suddenly bent over, holding his hands to his stomach. And there was Peter, appearing out of nowhere, like some kind of superhero.”
  • Police intervene at a rally being held and begin to use tear gas to disperse the crowds.
  • Eliza tries to talk to a cop and he detains her instead. “The cop wretched Eliza’s arm behind her back, and then he was carrying her away, back beyond the wall of shields.”
  • Eliza, Misery, Bobo, and Kevin get detained and put into a juvenile detention center for being at the rally.
  • Andy references the suicide pact that he had with Bobo and how he was unable to go through with it. “He called Bobo’s cell as soon as he realized he couldn’t go through with it, but there was no answer, so he called the police. Later on, a paramedic told him it had come down to just a few minutes.”
  • Andy and Bobo steal a guitar from the mall and witness others looting.
  • Bobo kidnaps Misery and keeps her held hostage at the hotel he is staying at.
  • Anita shoots Golden. “‘What happened to Golden?’ Peter asked. ‘I shot him,’ Anita said. There was no remorse in her voice.”
  • Eliza stabs Bobo. “He slid off her, onto the floor, and she jumped on top of him, preparing for the next assault. But he didn’t move. She’d aimed for the heart and she’d found it.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Andy says he wants to “smoke a bowl.”
  • Andy mentions that Bobo’s dad was in an alcohol treatment facility.
  • Peter and Andy successfully get the detention center to release the juvenile occupants, the protestors have a large party in the detention center. There is a lot of alcohol provided and everyone is heavily intoxicated.
  • The characters frequently drink out of a bottle of alcohol or finish a bottle of alcohol.

Language

  • Profanity is used regularly and includes words such as shit, fuck, and ass.
  • Bobo is said to be able to “chat up the crackheads and gangbangers.”
  • Eliza is talking about her encounter with Peter with her father and says, “He can fuck off and die for all I care.”
  • When Eliza goes to see her father, he says “Gaga’s a fucking hag next to you.”
  • The term slut is used frequently.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Peter admits that he is a “Christian”, while Eliza confesses that she doesn’t believe in God.
  • As Ardor makes contact with the earth, Eliza finds herself “praying for forgiveness. Praying for grace. Praying for mercy.”

by Cassady McIntyre

Truly Devious #1

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: she will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester.

But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

Truly Devious will captivate murder mystery fans as it goes back and forth from the 1936 kidnapping of Ellingham’s wife and daughter and the current students who reside at Ellingham Academy. While Stevie scours the school’s archives for clues to the cold case, she also must navigate typical high school drama, which makes her a more relatable and likable character. While some of the students are a little too quirky to be believable, that doesn’t detract from the book’s entertainment value. Instead, it highlights some of the bizarre behavior of the ultra-rich. The story has the perfect blend of suspense, mystery, and teenage angst. Plus, there’s a mysterious boy Stevie isn’t sure if she should hate or love.

While most of the story revolves around the Ellingham’s school, the reader also gets a look into Stevie’s home life and the conflict between her and her parents. Stevie’s parents have never really understood why she can’t be “normal.” Increasing the conflict, Stevie’s parents also work for Senator Edward King—a rich, corrupt man who Stevie hates. While Senator King plays a small role in Truly Devious, the book hints that the senator will return in the next book in the series, The Vanishing Stairs.

The fast-paced mystery expertly blends the past and the present into an entertaining story that will keep the readers guessing until the very end. While the conclusion partially solves one mystery, the mystery of the Ellingham’s kidnapping ends with an interesting new clue which will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, The Vanishing Stairs. With interesting characters, a suspenseful mystery, and lots of surprising twists, Truly Devious will please mystery buffs who are ready for more mature content. If you’d like a tamer detective story, the Jess Tennant Mysteries Series by Jane Casey is a highly entertaining mystery that will thrill without the graphic images.

Sexual Content

  • Janelle recently broke up with her girlfriend and now has a crush on another student, Vi.
  • When two students disappear, a boy says, “I think they’re going to go back and bone. . .” Later, the students “walked close enough together and looked at each other in a way that made it clear that they had not parted ways right away last night.”
  • After a student dies, David and Stevie go back to her bedroom. After talking for a while, “David pressed his lips to hers. . . He was kissing her very gently, his lips pressing on her neck. . . Her hands were in his hair.” The make-out scene is described over a page. A teacher interrupts them and tells David to leave.
  • David wants to talk to Stevie about them making out. He tells her that her technique “was good. You really like to explore with that tongue. Every part of you is a detective, I guess. . . I like what we did.” After they talk, “she pressed her lips to his. . . Their lips met and they would be tighter for a minute, then they would both stop and stay where they were for another few seconds. . . He was stroking her hair, running his fingers up the short strands. . .” When there is a knock on the door, Stevie hides in the closet. David answers the door and leaves.

Violence

  • Stevie is investigating a murder from 1936. As she investigates, the story flashes back to the events when Dottie was murdered. While trying to escape from a man, Dottie falls, and “her fingers slipped along the rungs of the ladder, but she couldn’t get purchase. She was falling. The floor met her with terrible finality. . . There was an ache that was almost sweet and something pooled around her. . . When the darkness came for Dottie, it was quick and it was total.”
  • After delivering ransom money, Albert Ellingham is knocked out when “something came down on his head, and then all faded to black.”
  • When Ellingham’s wife’s body was found, “she was wrapped in oilcloth and she was in bad shape, real bad shape. . . Iris’s body was found to have three gunshot wounds.”
  • Ellingham and one of his friends die when their boat explodes. The death is not described.
  • A man named Vorachek is standing trial for the kidnapping of Ellingham’s wife and daughter. During the trial, he is shot. The death is not described.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • During prohibition, a secret tunnel was built, and “bottles of wine and liquor of every description” were stored in a hidden area.
  • Stevie has a prescription for Lexapro and Ativan. Twice Stevie takes Ativan while having a panic attack.
  • Ellie, one of the students, sneaks in champagne. When offered it, Stevie “decided to go for it. She had only drunk a few times in her life. . . the champagne was warm and had a hard, mineral taste and fizzed up her nose. It was not unpleasant.” Several times throughout the story, Ellie appears drunk.
  • Ellie tells Stevie that “plenty of people on the street will buy [alcohol] for you for five bucks.”
  • Ellie went to Paris with her mother and her mother’s “lover.” While there they drank wine.
  • Ellie says that a boy spent his time smoking weed and playing video games; later, Stevie finds out that this is untrue.
  • At a school gathering, some of the students pass around a flask. Stevie doesn’t drink from it.
  • After the kidnappers demand more ransom, Ellingham “poured some whiskeys with a shaking hand, giving one to the detective and keeping one for himself.”
  • While reading the Ellingham’s case files, Stevie finds out that a man who was present drank “often and in high quantities.”
  • Stevie and her friends play a drinking game. While playing the game, some of the players drink, while others don’t. “Stevie reached for the bottle and took a very tiny sip, just enough that the wine touched her lips and scent flooded her nose.”

Language

  • Several times a girl says, “It is hot as balls in here.”
  • Oh my God, God, and Jesus are used as exclamations occasionally.
  • Hell is used frequently.
  • Ass, damn, crap, pissed, and shit are used infrequently.
  • Ellie tells Stevie that her parents’ boss, a senator, is an asshole.
  • Stevie says, “I’m not being a dick.”
  • A girl says that a boy’s ex-girlfriend is a bitch.
  • Stevie says that her parents’ employer, a senator, is a “racist, fascist scum.”
  • The f-word is used twice.
  • In a heated situation, goddamnit is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

On a Scale of One to Ten

Tamar is admitted to Lime Grove, a psychiatric hospital for teenagers with a variety of issues. She’s asked endless questions. But there’s one question she can’t. . . or won’t answer: What happened to her friend Iris? As Tamar’s past becomes more and more clear to her, she’ll have to figure out a path toward forgiveness and find a way to live.

Tamar tells her own story which allows her self-hatred, guilt, and desire to die take center stage. While readers may not understand Tamar’s struggle, she is a sympathetic character who isn’t sure how to take control of her life. While in the psychiatric hospital, Tamar does little to help herself and she describes most of the hospital workers in a negative light. The staff members are either incompetent or too worn out to expend any energy on the patients. When a psychiatrist sees Tamar, his lack of compassion makes the sessions useless. While in the hospital, Tamar continues to try to harm herself and even attempts to end her life. Even though the story has a hopeful conclusion, the reason that Tamar is beginning to heal is unclear.

On a Scale of One to Ten is difficult to read because of Tamar’s graphic descriptions of her suicide attempts and her self-hatred. Tamar often refers to herself as a murderer because of Iris’s death. The constant reminders of Iris create suspense, but the circumstances of Iris’s death aren’t revealed until the very end. The reasons that led to Iris’s suicide are unrealistic and horrifying. When a girl sets Iris’s hair on fire, Tamar does nothing to help Iris, which is one of the reasons Tamar feels guilt. Tamar’s lack of empathy for Iris and her own despicable behavior is heartbreaking.

In the end, Tamar is on the path to recovery, and she realizes “there isn’t a cure. Except me: I am the cure.” On a Scale of One to Ten gives readers insight into one girl’s struggle with mental illness; however, the story doesn’t include how Tamar is finally able to cope with her guilt and suicidal thoughts. On a Scale of One to Ten excellently depicts Tamar’s emotions and gives insight into teens who struggle with mental health. Mature readers who want to delve into another book that explores mental illness should add Turtles All the Way Down by John Green to their must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • Tamar wonders if a charity shop is “a front for drugs, kidnapping, or prostitution.”
  • Tamar goes to a party at Toby’s house. While there, “I feel his face close to mine even though my vodka-brain is swirling my vision and Rihanna bursts on. . . I brush my lips against his and I don’t think it lasts for more than a few seconds.” Later, Tamar describes the “burnt taste of weed on his lips.”
  • Tamar, who is wearing a dress, wonders if the “person in the street is looking at me weirdly. . . [is] planning to stalk and rape me.”
  • After Tamar gets out of the hospital, she begins dating. Kissing is involved.

Violence

  • To get the bad thoughts to stop, Tamar hits her head against the wall. “If you slam your forehead hard enough, then it bleeds under the skin and the bruises are swollen and sore, but at least the thoughts disappear for a third of a second.”
  • Tamar cuts herself. “I make three thin scratches on my thigh, watch to see which one draws the most blood.” She then gets in the bath and, “I stretch out my arm in front of me and press down, slice the blade across the skin. I watch it split, blood starting to ooze out. . . I’m slashing, wildly gashing deeper, deeper into my undeserving body. . .” She is taken to the hospital and given stitches.
  • While in Dr. Flores’s office, Tamar begins “shouting and swearing every swear word in the English language. I’d . . . hurled the books with the hardest covers I could find at him. . . He’d swerved just as the Holy Bible smashed into his computer.” When the nurses tried to restrain Tamar, she “tried to bite them as they held my squirming body. . .”
  • Tamar tries to drown herself. She fills the bathtub and then “plunging below the surface, water burning nostrils, dancing into lungs that in equal measure try to accept and reject in confusion the muddy flood that prances into them.” The scene is described over two and a half pages.
  • Again, Tamar tries to kill herself. She talks about “how tight the noose felt as it dug into my soft flesh, how my eyeballs felt like they were going to burst out of my sockets, and I could feel my brain swelling against my skull . . .”
  • Ellie, one of the patients in the psychiatric hospital throws a fit. “She thumps on the corridor walls outside the bedroom, dashing and darting away from nurses who want to inject her. . . I don’t look out the window or my door, but I’m sure if I did, I would see the chairs that I heard land, flying across the corridor and slamming into walls. . .”
  • Iris is a new girl at Tamar’s school. One day, Iris, Tamar, and Mia (Tamar’s friend) go outside to smoke. “Mia lifted the lighter to Iris’s red hair. Iris’s face said it all before the flames did, and her hair billowed into a smoking russet plumage. Someone. . . engulfed Iris’s head in a blazer.” There were “sheens of crimson lining her scalp. Shiny tracks of peeled skin running across her forehead.” The paramedics treated her burns. Neither Tamar, nor Mia was punished.
  • Iris and Tamar go to a dam and get wasted. When Tamar leaves, Iris “put her boots back on and filled them with stones. . . [she] jumped into the surging pool below. For a few minutes her body was tossed around as if all her bones had been removed. . .” Her death is described over one-third of a page.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Tamar and her friend, Iris, were drinking and smoking after school. Both girls got extremely drunk.
  • Tamar and her friends smoke cigarettes often. Once, Tamar “smoked half the pack of cigarettes out of my window, curled up into my curtains. It made me feel sick . . .”
  • While in the psychiatric hospital, the teens are given a variety of medications such as risperidone, lamotrigine, and fluoxetine. For example, Tamar is given a sleeping pill.
  • Tamar describes her dad as “beer-guzzling.”
  • In the ER, a man is given acetaminophen.
  • A girl in the hospital says her “mother overdosed on heroin in front of her when she was three.”
  • Tamar ’s friend gives two guys money and assumes they will buy “a can of Budweiser and a packet of Royals.”
  • While on a home visit, Tamar goes to a party where the teens wait “for tipsy to kick in.” Tamar drinks “one shot, then drink the rest of the bottle single-handedly, like it is water. . .until the room swirls. . .” Tamar was so drunk she was taken to the ER and didn’t remember it in the morning.
  • When Tamar tries to kill herself, she is taken to the hospital and given antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers.

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes bullshit, damn, fuck, hell, piss, and shit.
  • A girl says, “my mum was a whore.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • While in the hospital, Tamar hears “Patient A” freak out. Then, “Distressed Patient A prays to God for it all to end, fractured cries between weeping. God doesn’t hear.”
  • At one point, Tamar is in so much pain that she prays, “Oh, God. Please make it end.”

 

A Kind of Spark

Ever since Ms. Murphy told us about the witch trials that happened centuries ago right here in Juniper, I can’t stop thinking about them. Those people weren’t magic. They were like me. Different like me.

I’m autistic. I see things that others do not. I hear sounds that they can ignore. And sometimes I feel things all at once. I think about the witches, with no one to speak for them. Not everyone in our small town understands. Not Jenna, who used to be my best friend. Not Nina, my older sister. But if I keep trying, maybe someone will.

I won’t let the witches be forgotten. Because there is more to their story. Just like there is more to mine.

A Kind of Spark is told from Addie’s point of view, which allows her to explain how it feels to be “neurodivergent.” For example, Addie explains, “Masking is when I have to pass as a neurotypical person, as someone who is not like me. I have to ignore the need to stim, to self-soothe, and I have to make firm eye contact. Keedie told me it’s like when superheroes have to pretend that they’re regular people.” Addie’s experiences will help readers understand autism and how people with autism experience the world differently. However, the frequent use of neurodivergent vocabulary becomes a little overwhelming.

While A Kind of Spark teaches readers about autism, it is also a story about sisterhood, friendship, and speaking up for what you believe in. Addie and Keedie both have autism, which gives them a special bond. Keedie often gives Addie advice. For example, Keedie says, “It’s better to be open about who you really are, what you’re really like, and be disliked by a few than it is to hide who you are and be tolerated by many.” Even though both girls struggle with their autism, autism is not portrayed as something that should be fixed. Keedie acknowledges that autism causes some difficulties, but she would not want to be any other way.

Throughout her journey, Addie faces bullying from both her classmates and her teacher. When her parents find out about the bullying, they remind Addie that she should have reached out to a trusted adult, instead of staying silent. As Addie learns about the women who were accused of witchcraft, she realizes that some of the women were different like her. However, some younger readers may be confused by the connection. While the unfair and violent way the women were killed is not described in gory detail, it may still frighten young readers.

A Kind of Spark is an entertaining book that allows readers to learn about autism through Addie’s experiences. While Addie sometimes feels misunderstood, her family helps her navigate the world in a positive manner. In the end, Addie is reminded that “The ocean needs all kinds of fish. Just like the world needs all kinds of minds. Just one would be really dull, wouldn’t it?” Readers who would like to read more books that focus on autistic characters should also read Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner and A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Addie is learning about women from the past who were accused of witchcraft. Addie’s teacher explains that “witches were dunked in the Nor’ Loch. Their thumbs and toes were tied together, and they were tossed into the water! . . . Guilty witches were removed from the loch and taken to Castlehill to be burned or hanged.”
  • An adult babysitter got upset at Keddie and “threw a plate and dived at Keedie. . .” Keedie began “Screaming, and crying, and beating her own head. . . Mrs. Craig sprang into action, cursing Keedie all the while, and using her considerable weight to restrain my sister. She pinned Keedie’s wrists to the floor and got right in her face.” A neighbor intervenes. The scene is described over two pages.
  • On a field trip, a man describes “crudely made thumbscrews, whipping, and other forms of torture” that were used on accused witches. In their town, two women “were dragged [to a tree] by the baying mob. . . the Juniper residents decided to use this very tree to carry out their vigilante sentence.”
  • Addie tells someone that “Lots of women were hanged here in Juniper . . .And some witches were burned, or put in barrels full of nails.”
  • A girl in Addie’s class destroys Addie’s thesaurus and writes “retard” on it. Addie gets upset. “I’m flying through the air and I land squarely on top of Emily. . . I hear her shouting, screaming, and people rushing around. I’m dimly aware of Emily shrieking beneath me as my fists flair and come raining down on her.” A teacher pulls Addie off Emily and only punishes Addie. The scene is described over two and a half pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One evening, Addie’s parents went “to the living room with some wine.”
  • Addie says one of her neighbors “gets drunk and sings on our street corner at night.”

Language

  • The kids in Addie’s class call her various names such as stupid.
  • Addie uses the word bloody once.
  • An adult babysitter called Addie’s sister a spoiled brat and a little animal.
  • Keedie says her sister’s teacher is a vicious cow.
  • Addie’s teacher tells her, “You are a vile girl.”
  • Someone asks Addie, “What the hell are you doing?”
  • A woman calls Addie and her friend miscreants.
  • Oh God and hell are both used once.
  • Addie’s sister tells her teacher, “you’re a disgraceful, ignorant, ableist coward, a monster, and a bigot.”

Supernatural

  • A man explains that “a curse is like an evil spell. It’s when someone calls down a higher power, or magical force, to harm another person.”

Spiritual Content

  • As Addie researches the accused witches, she thinks, “I bet you wished you were a witch. I bet in those moments, as they accused you of supernatural powers, you prayed to be able to cast a spell upon all of them.”

Daughter of the Pirate King #1

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain, Alosa, deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the daughter of the Pirate King.

Alosa is an interesting protagonist who wants others to think that she has no morals; however, she isn’t a completely vicious pirate. Even though she talks about the countless men she has killed, when she takes the crew of the Night Farer captive, she only kills those who are cruel and depraved. She lets the young pirates go and takes several of the pirates on as crew members. Plus, she doesn’t allow anyone to kill Riden’s brother, Draxen, because she doesn’t want to cause Riden pain.

Alosa’s only weakness is her loyalty to her father, who is cruel beyond measure. She wants to make the Pirate King proud, but her main motivation is her fear of being punished. Alosa’s desire to please her father is implausible especially because his “training” was torturous and cruel. Even though the Pirate King does not appear in Daughter of the Pirate King, his influence continues to guide Alosa’s actions.

Daughter of the Pirate King is a fast-paced story that gives the reader a window into the pirate world. Despite this, none of the pirates are typical. Instead, the cast of characters is unique and shows that even in the pirate world some are despicable, and some are honorable. While Alosa’s female crewmembers do not appear often, they demonstrate the value of honesty, loyalty, and friendship. Plus, Riden adds a dash of romance, and the banter between Alosa and Riden is a lot of fun.

Full of twists, turns, and betrayals, Daughter of the Pirate King will keep readers interested until the very end. However, the pirate’s life is full of violence and the book does not shy away from graphic descriptions of bloody fights. If you’re a swashbuckler ready for adventure, you will have a hard time putting Daughter of the Pirate King down. However, if you’re looking for an excellent pirate book with a little less violence, Piratica by Tanith Lee would be an excellent choice.

Sexual Content

  • When Draxen takes Alosa as a prisoner, he warns her, “‘You will be the only woman on a ship full of cutthroat thieves, and blackhearts who haven’t made port in a good long while. You know what that means?’ Alosa responds, ‘It means your men haven’t been to a whorehouse recently.’”
  • Alosa’s father “bedded” a siren.
  • Alosa goes into a town that has “a tavern on one side of the street, a whorehouse on the other.”
  • Alosa and Riden struggle and Riden throws her on the bed. Alosa “is about to tell him to shove off, but then I feel his lips at my cheek. He’s not kissing me exactly, just touching my cheek with his lips. . .When he does finally kiss me, it’s right below my ear in that sensitive spot. Then he moves lower, trailing his lips down my neck at the side, then back up in the middle. . . I move my lips to his ear. My teeth grave his ear lobe, and his hands tighten in a different way.” The kissing scene is described over two pages.
  • Riden kisses Alosa. She thinks she should stop him but, “Riden’s lips taste even better than I’d imagined. Or because his hands make my skin tingle where they hold the sides of my face. . . When Riden’s lips move down to my neck, I forget all about my father. There’s nothing except heat and chills all at once. . .” Finally, Alosa pushes Riden away.
  • In order to search Draxen, Alosa tries to seduce him. “When I lift my head up to his, he greedily meets me for a kiss. . .But I get no enjoyment out of this. . . I shove Draxen down on the bed and climb on top of him. . . I can feel the lust burning in him. It’s disgusting and wretched, and I want to stamp it out.” Alosa eventually knocks him out. Then she searches his clothes for a map.
  • In order to search Riden, Alosa tries to seduce Riden. “I trace his upper lip with the tip of my tongue. . . Before I know it, he’s got his hand at the back of my head, the other on the side of my thigh. . . Riden knows where to stroke my skin to make me feel more alive. He has me practically panting under the pressure of his lips.” Alosa almost loses herself in Riden’s arms but uses her siren’s ability to put him to sleep. The scene is described over three pages.
  • One of the pirates likes “the company of other men.”

Violence

  • There is an overabundance of violence in the book and not all scenes are described below.
  • Alosa often thinks about her father’s training. “It doesn’t matter that he shot me once to show me the pain of a gunshot wound, to have me practice fighting while injured. . .It doesn’t matter that he would starve me and weaken me, then give me tasks to complete. . .”
  • Alosa intentionally gets “caught” by Draxen, the captain of the Night Farer. Kearan, a pirate, grabs Alosa. She thinks, “I’m done kneeling on the floor like some servant. Bracing my hands against the wooden deck, I extend my legs backward, hooking my feet behind the heels of the ugly pirate standing there. With one yank forward, Kearan topples backward. . . I hear scuffling as Kearan finds his feet. I jerk my elbow backward, connecting with his enormous gut. There’s a large splat as he collapses on the ground again.”
  • When Alosa begins struggling to get free, Draxen “removes his right hand from his belt and reaches down for one of his pistols. As soon as he has it, he points it at the first of my men in line and fires. . .the body of my crewman falls backwards.” Alosa and Draxen continue killing each other’s crew until Riden stops them. Alosa is taken prisoner but the crew is set free. The scene is described over four pages.
  • When Riden gets too close to Alosa, she knees him “right between the legs.” Alosa then locks Riden in a cell.
  • The Night Farer finds a ship that looks abandoned. Riden and Alosa go to check it out and are surprised by three men, who were in a hidden room. Alosa slams her “heel into the foot of the sailor on my right. Then my free hand goes to the other sailor’s throat. I place one hand at the back of each man’s neck. . . it isn’t difficult to connect their heads. Hard.” Then Alosa’s “dagger flies straight and true, finding its place in the sailor’s chest.” Once the ship is safe, the other crew members board it.
  • Shack, one of the Night Farer’s crew members, tortures two prisoners. Later, he finds Alosa alone and grabs her. Alosa struggles to get away and kicks “him in the face with my free foot. His face is a bloody mess now.” Then she stabs him in the stomach. “I don’t wait more than a couple of heartbeats before dislodging the weapon and stabbing again, this time higher, towards the heart… He is dead in seconds.” The scene is described over three pages.
  • Alosa “escapes” from the ship, and Riden finds her. They have a short fight. “I cut him on his arm. Riden is going a bit easy because he doesn’t actually want to hurt me.” Finally, Riden grabs Alosa’s wrist “with his free hand, and raises my sword to my neck. Before I can blink, the hand at my wrist grabs my sword, and he’s pointing both blades at me.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • As punishment, Alosa is put into shackles and hung. “Blood starts to slide down my arms… Every once in a while, I’ll start to regain my strength enough to pull the pressure off my wrist for a brief moment.”
  • Riden explains why he killed his father. Riden’s brother, Draxen “pitched his skill with the sword against our father. . .He [his father] disarmed Draxen and was about to kill him. But I picked up my brother’s fallen sword. And I killed him.”
  • Draxen interrogates Alosa. “Draxen gets behind me and yanks my head backward by my hair. I grimace at the pain. He strikes the side of my face with a closed fist. . . Draxen hits me with his other hand. This one bites more deeply.” Riden steps in and stops Draxen.
  • Alosa and Riden are captured by a pirate named Vordan. Vordan wants to learn about Alosa’s siren abilities. In order to get her to obey, Vordan has someone hurt Riden every time she refuses. A pirate “pulls out his cutlass and rakes it across Riden’s upper arm, cutting through his shirt and sending blood streaming down.” Later, a pirate “steps forward and kicks Riden in the face. Blood trickled out of his nose, staining the sand red… Riden is now unconscious and can’t feel any pain.” During Vordan’s experiments, Riden is injured repeatedly and he is shot twice.
  • Alosa’s crew comes to her rescue. Alosa takes some of the pirates captive and orders her crew to kill the rest. Sorinda “starts stepping behind the men and slitting their throats one after the other. Killing is practically an art for her. The way she moves is magical.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the pirates, Kearan, carries a flask of rum and drinks often. Someone tells Alosa, “He’s an ugly drunk because it takes away the pain. He has no desire to live, yet no desire to die, either. It’s a tough spot to be in.”
  • Riden finds a sleeping tonic hidden in Alosa’s belongings.

Language

  • Profanity is used rarely. Profanity includes arse, bastard, bloody, damn, hell, and piss.
  • Alosa thinks Riden is a “cocky bastard.”
  • Someone calls Alosa a whore.

 Supernatural

  • Alosa’s mother is a siren and Alosa is able to “use the gifts my mother gave me.” She uses her song on Riden. “He follows, captured by my spell. I know what Riden wants in life. Love and acceptance. I weave those into the song and command him to sleep and forget that he ever heard me sing.”
  • Alosa explains her parentage, “for a child who is conceived by a siren on land will be more human than not.”
  • When Alosa uses her siren abilities, “I lose myself in others if I’m focused on their feelings and desires too long. They start to become my own, and I forget who I am.”
  • Alosa can read people’s feelings, but “I can’t read minds. . . I never know the whys behind people’s intentions.”
  • Alosa makes Riden and another pirate see things that are not there. “I imagine a magical world full of new colors and sounds. Butterflies with brightly lit wings flutter around me… Riden bears a look of sheer wonder and astonishment. He reaches out in front of him as if to touch the invisible creatures I’ve placed in front of him.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

I Am Alfonso Jones

Fifteen-year-old Alfonso Jones has had an interesting life. His class plans to put on a hip-hop rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Alfonso starring as King Claudius and his crush, Danetta, as Queen Gertrude. Danetta is also Alfonso’s best friend, and he wants to let her know how he really feels about her.

To complicate matters, Alfonso’s father is in prison after being wrongfully accused of murdering and raping a white woman. But now his father is finally being released from prison after being proven innocent! Alfonso’s mother sends him to buy a suit for his father’s return.

While shopping and changing jackets, a police officer fatally shoots Alfonso, thinking the coat hanger was a gun, despite the two objects having no similarity in appearance. Alfonso is transported onto a ghost train where he meets victims of police brutality. In the world of the living, Alfonso’s friends, family, and classmates struggle to come to terms with his death, and his death sparks massive protests throughout the world.

I Am Alfonso Jones is a touching novel about the Black Lives Matter movement and why the movement matters. The graphic novel uses a striking art style and simple, but effective prose, that allows the point to come across well; black lives do matter, and the loss of black life is a human rights issue. The novel also shows the different realities black people, especially boys and men, face. A mundane activity, such as buying a suit for a special event, can instantly turn into another death plastered all over news media outlets.

In America, there are unwritten rules for black people to follow. This is depicted in a scene where Alfonso’s grandfather, Velasco, gives his grandson “the Talk”—a conversation about race. Velasco tells Alfonso, “Son, this ‘talk’ is not what you think it would be. This is not about birds—or bees—flowers or any of that mess! This is about what it means to be black in America. You have to learn how to conduct—I mean, protect—yourself, especially in the presence of police officers. This is not a country that values black boys, men—women or girls, for that matter. Too many of our people are getting vacuumed into the prison industry or killed for no rational reason whatsoever but the skin they’re living in….”

I Am Alfonso Jones is told from the perspective of Alfonso and readers follow his daily life up to his death and beyond into the afterlife. The reader will experience the stories of other victims of police brutality from their point of view. The reader also sees the world of the living through the perspectives of Alfonso’s friends and family, most notably Danetta and his mother, as they struggle to get justice for Alfonso in a system that is rigged against them. They become organizers for Black Lives Matter, showing that the foundation of BLM is BIPOC women.

Because the story is told from the perspective of the BIPOC characters, the reader gets to see firsthand how the justice system fails marginalized groups. The plot even showcases the demonization of BIPOC for the system’s own failings and its ways of upholding white supremacy.

The graphic novel’s art uses black and white. The lack of color minimizes the violence committed by the police to prevent readers from seeing any real blood or injuries. The lack of color, however, centers the narrative and the violence toward black people. The character’s faces are expressive. The prose and emotional dialogue are easy to understand because it appears in speech bubbles, while the character’s thoughts are in air bubbles. The pages are heavy with words, averaging about 300 words per page.

I Am Alfonso Jones is a quick read that holds a lot of emotional weight. It encompasses why the Black Lives Matter movement is extremely important, especially in America, where massive injustices have been carried out to victims of color. If readers are confused as to why Black Lives Matter is an important movement, then I Am Alfonso Jones will answer that question.

Sexual Content

  • Alfonso and Danetta almost kiss once. Danetta wants Alfonso to make a move, while Alfonso is worried about getting rejected. Eventually, he thinks, “Oh, forget it! I’m just gonna do it —” before he’s interrupted. He doesn’t kiss Danetta because of being interrupted.

Violence

  • The book displays multiple events of police brutality, which usually end with the deaths of black people. Alfonso is shot and there are multiple flashbacks dedicated to what happened to him. One ghost was also shot by the police, and another was beaten to death. These scenes don’t last for more than four pages. The book opens with a page showing Alfonso running away from the bullet and the bullet eventually hitting him in the back. He shows a strong expression of intense pain. Unlike the other scenes, this is the most brutal because it was done to Alfonso, who is 15 years old.
  • Alfonso’s dad, Ishmael, returns home from work and is beaten by a police officer because he’s the main suspect for the rape and murder of a white woman. The scene lasts for a page. The officer slams Ishmael to the ground after Ismael saves his wife, Cynthia, from a fire in their apartment complex. After being slammed onto the concrete, Ishmael cries out, “Wait a minute! Wait! That’s my wife! That’s my wife! And my baby! My baby!”
  • During a peaceful protest, police throw tear gas into the crowd and the tear gas affects Alfonso’s classmates and Danetta. The scene lasts for two pages and shows police in full body armor, throwing the canister of tear gas. Panels show shots of Alfonso’s friends, who are teenagers, being hurt by the tear gas and punched by police. Danetta yells out, “My eyes are burning! I can’t breathe!” The police are attempting to take in some of Alfonso’s friends amidst the chaos.
  • An arsonist sets the store Alfonso was shot at on fire with a molotov cocktail. The scene lasts for a page and shows the lit bottle in midair before progressing into a panel with an explosion. A reporter recounts the incident, saying, “Markman’s department store, where African American teen Alfonso Jones was shot and killed, was the scene of a fire. Fire department officials suspect arson.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When he was a child, Alfonso smoked a cigarette which quickly caused an asthma attack.

Language

  • Danetta calls the character of Gertrude from Hamlet “a skank” twice.

Supernatural

  • Alfonso is turned into a ghost who rides on a train with other ghosts – all victims of police brutality. A few times he travels to the world of the living to check on his family and friends.

Spiritual

  • Alfonso’s grandfather, Velasco, is a reverend.

by Emma Hua

I’ll Never Tell

Friends for life. Or death. Spring break. Aruba.

Swimming, sunshine, and golden beaches. It was supposed to be the best time of Anna’s life. Paradise. But then the unthinkable happens. Anna’s best friend is found brutally murdered. And when the local police begin to investigate the gruesome crime, suspicion falls on one person—Anna.

They think she’s dangerous, and they’re determined to prove her guilt. With the police and media sparking a witch-hunt against her, Anna is running out of time to prove her innocence. But as she digs deeper into her friend’s final moments, she finds a tangled web of secrets, lies, and betrayal.

Will she clear her name in time? When the truth is finally revealed, it’s more shocking than anyone could have imagined.

Originally published as Dangerous Girls in 2013, I’ll Never Tell portrays a group of friends as partying rich kids, who spend their free time drinking, doing drugs, and having sex. The story is told through Anna’s point of view and jumps to various timeframes including when Anna meets her best friend Elise, a trip to Aruba during spring break, various points of the investigation, and Anna’s current experiences in jail. The shifting time periods are not confusing because they are clearly labeled, however, the format doesn’t allow any of the supporting characters to be well developed. As a result, it’s hard to sympathize with any of the characters, including Elise who is murdered.

Even though the story is a mystery, a large portion of the plot focuses on Anna’s jail experiences and explores how the wealthy escape the arms of the law. While this story thread is interesting, it is not well-developed, and in the end, none of the rich suspects are guilty of the crime. Another flaw in the story is the conclusion, which has several inconsistencies that take away from the murder reveal. When the murderer finally is uncovered, there is little shock value, but plenty of confusion.

In a world full of good books, readers can find engaging mysteries without the over-the-top partying and gratuitous sexual content. Unfortunately, I’ll Never Tell falls short in both mystery and entertainment. Readers looking for an excellent mystery should read Six Months Later by Natalie D. Richards, Heartwood Box by Ann Aguirre, and the Jess Tennant Mysteries Series by Jane Casey.

 Sexual Content

  • While at a bar, Chelsea tries to get a boy to dance with her. “She grinds above him like a lap dancer, laughing, until he finally catches her around the waist and follows her into the dark, one hand draped possessively across her shoulder.”
  • Anna and her boyfriend, Tate, kiss often. For example, Anna reaches up “to kiss him, and this time, there’s no tension, just a familiar low heat building, and Tate’s hands sliding along the edge of my shirt—”
  • Anna, Tate, and Elise dance. “Tate brings me (Anna) tight against him, and then it’s the three of us, me and Elise dancing up close to him and spinning away. . . Tate laughs between us, his hands linger on Elise’s waist as she grinds against him. . . I grab his hand away from her, pulling him wordlessly to the edge of the dance floor, my back finding some surface, his hands finding the curve of my hips, his lips finding mine.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • Elise says Tate is a “man-whore. He’s already dated four different girls this year.”
  • On Halloween, Tate likes Anna’s “sexy costume. . . His lips press against my neck again, but this time he bites down softly, playfully. . . he’s pulled me around so I’m facing him, his lips hard and searching on mine. . .” The scene is described over a page.
  • Elise says she dumped a guy because “he had a two-inch dick and no idea what to do with it.”
  • Elise and Tate plan their first time having sex. “He grinned, trailing his hand lower, down my throat, and across the sensitive skin of my breast. I felt my stomach flip over. . . Tate dipped his head, following the path of his hand with his lips now, kissing a winding trail down my body, while the other hand gently stroked, lower, in a slow rhythm that left me gasping.”
  • Elise has sex with several boys that she just met. Because of Elise, Anna realizes, “I could kiss a boy, breathless against the back wall of some club, and then just walk away not even knowing his name. Or, like Elise, do more. Do whatever we wanted.”
  • Elise and Anna have a sexual relationship, but their kisses are the only thing described.
  • While in Aruba, Tate and Anna share a room. One morning, “He pulls me back up, kissing me hard as he rolls over and crushes me in his embrace. . . then the kiss deepens, his hands reaching impatiently for the flesh of my thighs, easing them apart. I feel him harden against me.” When Anna asks Tate to wait, he decides to go for a run.
  • After hooking up with a boy, Elise complains about him. “You know he did this weird role-playing thing. . .He got off on the whole domination thing, you know, holding me down, trying to make me beg. I mean, I like getting thrown around as much as the next girl, but this was different.” Later, the boy tried to spike Elise’s drink with liquid Ecstasy.

Violence

  • While in jail, an inmate attacks Anna. “The girl lunges at me. I barely have time to get my hands up in defense before her body is on mine and she’s tearing at my hair, clawing at my face. . .The girl drives her elbow into my stomach, making me gulp for air. Her face is lit up, breathless and bright, nose bloody from one of my desperate blocks.” The fight is broken up when Anna is pulled off the inmate. Someone gives Anna a syringe that makes everything go black.
  • Elise and Anna get into an argument. Anna keeps “holding tight, until she shoves me away hard enough to send me flying to the ground among the shattered glass. . . there’s a dull pain in the back of my head, where it cracked against the floor.”
  • Elise slept with Niklas once. Later, he goes to see Anna in prison. Niklas says, “Found yourself a prison bitch yet? Some action in the shower?”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Anna, Elise, and a group of friends go to Aruba over spring break. They drink beer, vodka, and other alcohol excessively throughout the trip.
  • During a trial, an attorney tries to “establish Miss Chevalier’s normal partying routine” by showing a picture of her and her friends drinking. Anna says, “We all drank. Just some wine, or vodka with mixers, you know? The guys had beer.”
  • During the trial, Anna’s attorney tells her that the prosecutor will “ask about the weed and the pills. About my mom’s Xanax, and the times Elise tried her dad’s Percocet, about the cocaine Melanie saw Elise try over Christmas break, and the liquid X Niklas tried to feed her in the club that night.”
  • Anna thinks the lawyers are trying to say “[she] led Elise astray. . . that [Anna] coerced her into skipping school, and staying out too late, and drinking dollar shots in dive bars until she screwed strange guys in the bathroom of clubs that should have never let [them] in.”
  • Elise and Anna go to a restaurant and “sip cocktails from sugar-rimmed glasses.”
  • Tate meets Anna at a college party where they both drink beer. Later, they “do lime Jell-O-shots together.”
  • Anna and her friends go to each other’s “big, empty houses, sneaking liquor and smoking weed.”
  • After Elise is murdered, one of her friends “spends most of the day curled up in his room with the blinds drawn, woozy on anti-anxiety meds.”
  • Elise takes prescription pills “sometimes. When I don’t’ want to deal with . . . feeling, like this.”
  • After Elise is murdered, Tate “was having panic attacks. . . so they put him on a bunch of meds. He was pretty out of it.”
  • While in prison, Anna is given sleeping pills.

Language

  • “Oh my God”, “God” and “Jesus” are used as explanations occasionally.
  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes: ass, asshole, bitch, bastard, bullshit, dykes, hell, pissed, and shit.
  • When Elise ignores Anna at school, Anna thinks, “What was she going to do? Tell her friends to go fuck themselves, cast herself out of their world, all alone?”
  • Elise tells a girl she is a “skanky bitch with no soul.”
  • One of Anna’s friend’s posts, “So hungry, could murder a fucking rhino” on his social media account.
  • Elise flirts with a young vendor and then upsets him. He yells, “Fucking Americans! You are whores!”
  • Someone calls Anna a pussy.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Heart and the Bottle

A young girl, much like any other, finds herself fascinated with the world surrounding her. From the sea to the sky and everything in between, the young girl finds herself continuously curious about everything the world carries—that is, until the world no longer carries something very important: a loved one who has recently passed away.

To reconcile the emotions that come with this passing, the young girl decides her best option is to bottle away her heart. But as she grows older, the girl quickly finds that lugging her heart around in a bottle is not just cumbersome, but it also drains the girl’s ability to stay curious about the world.

When the girl finally feels that it is time to free her heart from its bottle, it will take another curious, young girl to help her find the solution to freeing her heart.

The Heart and The Bottle tackles the complicated topic of grief through a touching metaphor. Bright illustrations show what words find hard to describe. For example, the passing of the main character’s loved one is not told explicitly through the story. Rather, it is conveyed through an illustration of the girl looking at an empty chair that the loved one sat on earlier in the book. In this way, the illustrations of the book capture the inarticulable moments in a child’s life, whether it’s a trip through their wide-reaching imagination or an attempt to conceptualize grief and death in a healing way.

Even though The Heart and The Bottle is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. The writing itself contains some larger words that may be harder for a young reader to work out on their own, but the number of words per page is sparse, averaging about one to eight sentences per page. Additionally, a number of pages in this narrative do not rely on words at all, but instead communicates the relationship with the young girl and her loved one through text bubbles filled with illustrations of plant life, galaxies, bees, whales, and other compelling aspects of the world.

The sparse text and elaborate illustrations show the ways in which this book seems to be a space for conversation; the illustrated pages without words grant room for parents and their children to talk about the images on the page. In so doing, The Heart and The Bottle gives all readers the chance to understand a way to move through grief while maintaining a fervor and love for the surrounding world.

Though perhaps a heavier read, The Heart and The Bottle tackles the difficult topic of grief in a kid-friendly manner. In addition, it gives a vital message to young readers experiencing grief for the first time. The Heart and The Bottle lets all readers know that it is okay to feel things intensely, it is okay to take time to heal, but most importantly, it’s okay to allow yourself to stay vulnerable and curious to the surrounding world despite the events that may come your way.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • There is no violence, but it should be noted that there is a reference of a family’s members death that is illustrated through an empty chair and the words, “She took delight in finding new things . . . until she found an empty chair.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Wild Thing

Twelve-year-old Winnie Willis loves horses—just like her mother did. But since her mom died two years ago, Winnie, her sister, Lizzy, and her father have moved five times. Winnie never cared much—until now. She has a chance to buy the horse of her dreams at an upcoming action—but how will she even earn enough money? More importantly, how can she possibly convince her dad not to move them to another town. . . again?

After the death of Winnie’s mother, Winnie feels as if the accident that killed her mom was her fault. But when Winnie begins working with a frightened horse, Wild Thing, Winnie uses the same methods that her mother taught her. As Winnie shows Wild Thing unconditional love and trust, Winnie begins to process her own feelings. With the help of new friends, Winnie learns that “God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. Jesus didn’t die for nothing!”

Told from Winnie’s perspective, Wild Thing explores themes of friendship, death, unconditional love, and trust. Through prayer, Winnie explores her conflicting emotions. In addition, Winnie explains the methods that she uses to “gentle” Wild Thing. The connection between Wild Thing’s healing and Winnie’s healing is made clear—both of them need to learn that they are loved, and they can trust God.

One positive aspect of the story is that Winnie explains horse terms in a simple way that readers will understand. As Winnie works with the horse, she explains the horse terminology in a way that naturally blends with the text. Plus, the back of the book includes a diagram of the parts of a horse, a dictionary of the different ways horses talk, and includes other horse-related terms.

Wild Thing is an easy-to-read story that blends horse action with Winnie’s personal struggle. Along the way, Winnie meets a variety of people who are all a little bit quirky. While none of the supporting characters are well-developed, their kindness shows how a community of people can help each other. Through Winnie’s prayers and Bible verses, the story highlights God’s unconditional love without being preachy. Wild Thing will entertain readers as well as reinforce Biblical truths.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A character is called an idiot three times. For example, when Winnie accidentally throws manure on a girl, the girl asks, “Did you see this idiot throw Towasco’s manure all over me?’

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Winnie believes in God and often thinks about his words. For example, Winnie’s mom used to say, “Winnie Willis, in the beginning God created heaven and earth and horses. And sometimes I have to wonder if the good Lord shouldn’t have quit while he was ahead.”
  • Often, Winnie prays to God telling him about her emotions and her wants. For example, Winnie prays, “I know we haven’t had much to say to each other lately, since Mom’s. . .well, you know. . .it’s tough to talk to you. So I’m sorry to be coming just because I want something. But I guess you already know—I want that Arabian. I want to love her. I want her more than anything in my whole life. . .except for wanting Mom back.”
  • Winnie gives a prayer of thanks four times. For example, when Winnie thinks God answered a prayer, she prays, “Did you do this, God? If you did, thanks.”
  • Winnie and her sister have two framed needlepoints hanging on their wall. One says, “For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. –Psalm 57:10.” The other needlepoint reads, “God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. Jesus didn’t die for nothing!”
  • When a neighbor drops by to see Winnie, the woman says, “I’ll be praying for you and that horse!”
  • Winnie doesn’t think God understands her pain. Her sister tells her, “Jesus lived inside skin like ours, so he’d understand. He knows, Winnie. And he loves you. You have to believe God loves you.”
  • When Winnie worries about the cost of raising a horse, her dad says, “Your mother always said God’s love could see us through anything. All things are possible with God, right?”

 

Ophie’s Ghosts

Ophelia Harrison used to live in a small house in the Georgia countryside. But that was before the night in November of 1922, and the cruel act that took her home and her father from her– which was the same night that Ophie learned she can see ghosts.

Now, Ophie and her mother are living in Pittsburgh with relatives they barely know. In the hopes of earning enough money to get their own place, Mama has gotten Ophie a job as a maid in the same old manor house where she works.

Daffodil Manor, like the wealthy Caruthers family who owns it, is haunted by memories and prejudices of the past and, as Ophie discovers, ghosts as well. It is filled with ghosts who have their own loves and hatreds and desires, ghosts who have wronged others, and ghosts who have themselves been wronged. And as Ophie forms a friendship with one spirit whose life ended suddenly and unjustly, she wonders if she might be able to help—even as she comes to realize that Daffodil Manor may hold more secrets than she bargained for.

Ophie’s Ghosts pulls the reader into the story from the very first page and will keep readers engaged until the very end. While Ophie’s tale shows the harsh realities of living in the 1920s, the story is spun using kid-friendly descriptions. However, younger readers could be disturbed by Ophie’s encounters with ghosts, many of whom died tragically. The ghosts are from every walk of life and include people of all ages and races. While Ophie interacts with many ghosts, none of the ghosts try to harm her. For Ophie, the danger comes from the living.

Readers will empathize with Ophie, who is thrown into servitude at a young age. Through Ophie’s experiences, readers will come to understand the difficulties African Americans faced during the 1920s. The story gives many examples of discrimination and explores the topic of passing as caucasian. In the end, Ophie cries because “girls who believed in happily ever afters could be murdered in attics, and because men who just wanted to have their voices heard could have their words choked off forever.”

Throughout the story, Ireland references people and events of the time. However, the text doesn’t explain the references and most readers will not understand their significance. For example, Ophie’s mother makes several comments about bootleggers, but the term is never explained. In addition, the story uses some difficult vocabulary such as irksome tomes, incandescent, tincture, fluffing, and blotto. Despite this, most readers can use context clues to understand the term.

Through Ophie’s point of view, Ophie’s Ghosts paints a vivid picture of life in the 1920s. Ophie points out the unfair circumstances that rob her of her childhood. However, despite the hardships Ophie faces, she is never bitter. Instead, she thinks about her Daddy. “Daddy had often said that when presented with two choices, a hard thing and an easy thing, the right thing was usually the more difficult one.” Because of her Daddy’s words, Ophie has the courage to listen to the ghosts and help them move on.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction, should also read Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxie and The Player King by Avi. For readers who want to learn about history, but aren’t ready for more mature books, Survival Tails by Katrina Charman and American Horse Tales by Michelle Jabés Corpora would be good choices.

Sexual Content

  • Ophie asks Cook about a woman she saw. Cook replies, “Sometimes Mr. Richard likes to bring home . . . a bit of company, but those girls are not business of yours.”
  • Ophie likes to read romance books. “Mama would have had a fit if she knew her daughter was reading such things, stories of girls who were compromised, whatever that meant, and kissed boys who left them heartbroken.”
  • Sophie asks Clara, a ghost, about her beau. Clara said, “A lady never kisses and tells.”
  • A woman in a dressing room goes into the kitchen. Ophie wonders, “Did Clara know that Richard was having friends over, friends who walked around the house half-dressed after sleeping in most of the day?”

Violence

  • Ophie’s father is murdered because he voted. His death is not described.
  • After killing Ophie’s father, a group of men burn down Ophie’s family home. Ophie and her mother hide from the men. “The snap and crackle of fire slowly grew louder than the voices of the men, a roar of consumption, followed by thick smoke that twined sinuously through the treetops. . .”
  • When a group of men are standing around talking, Ophie thinks, “The men who were in her yard, yelling and laughing, were the kind of white men who had beat up Tommy Williams just because he accidentally looked the wrong way at a white lady from Atlanta. After they’d pummeled Tommy, they’d dropped him off in the woods near Ophie’s house, most likely because they’d figured no one would find him.”
  • Even though Ophie is young, she still understands that “Colored folks who’d broken some unspoken rule, gotten uppity and acted above their station, paid the price for such an error with their lives.”
  • Sophie meets a ghost who is just a boy. He has “bloody welts crisscrossing his back.”
  • When Ophie tries to help her cousin with her homework, “the result had been a vicious slap without any kind of warning.”
  • Caruther tells about a boy who was whipped “until the white meat showed.”
  • A man is hit by a trolley. “He boarded the trolley right through the closed door, his suit torn and bloody, his hat missing entirely. . . his gray suit and pale skin made the blood dripping from his head all the more vivid.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses Penelope’s body. Clara goes after Penelope’s murderer with a pair of scissors. To prevent another death, Ophie throws salt. “The container burst into a shower of salt as it hit the girl in the chest. There was a sound like the room was inhaling, the air grew thick . . . Clara crumbled to the floor.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ophie sees a ghost who was “still wearing his service uniform and drinking to numb the pain of a heart broken by a war fought in trenches.” Later, Ophie finds out that the ghost died because of his drinking.
  • After Mrs. Caruther has a “fit,” “the doctor gives her laudanum.”
  • A ghost asks Ophie, “Do you think you could get your hands on a bottle of gin. Spirits for the spirit!”
  • One of Mrs. Caruther’s servants “snuck drinks from a flask tucked into her garter when she thought no one was looking.”
  • Caruther’s son has friends over to the house and they “spent most of their time all blotto.”
  • When Mrs. Caruther’s son announces his engagement, he serves champagne. One of the guests has red wine.

Language

  • Ophie’s cousins call her stupid and “a dope.”
  • Caruther calls a servant a “jigaboo.”
  • Ophie’s mother says she misses her husband “every damn day.”

Supernatural

  • Ophie and her aunt can both see and communicate with ghosts.
  • Ophie’s Aunt Rose tells her not to trust the dead. “You keep iron and salt in your pockets at all times. That way they can’t take hold of your body, which some of the more powerful ones will try to do.”
  • Aunt Rose educates Ophie about ghosts. Aunt Rose says, “Ghosts are attracted to feelings—sadness and happiness, and all the other betwixt and between.”
  • Ophie wonders if ghosts are “too terrible for Heaven.”
  • Aunt Rose tells Ophie about a ghost who was “stealing her husband’s breath, using it to make her stronger.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses a young woman.
  • To keep a ghost out of a room, “someone had placed a thick band of salt across the threshold just inside the bedroom door.”

Spiritual Content

  • While at church, Ophie likes to watch the pastor and his wife. “It made Ophie feel that maybe some of those Bible words were actually true, even if she didn’t entirely believe they were meant for her.”
  • After Ophie’s father dies, the pastor tells her, “Your daddy has gone to heaven to be with Jesus.”
  • Ophie says a quick prayer several times. For example, when Ophie and her mother take a trolley car, Ophie “prayed for the trolley to hurry.”
  • Ophie wonders why Mrs. Caruther is so mean. Ophie thinks about the pastor’s wife who “once talked about sin as a heavy burden that folks carried around: ‘When you carry that sin around, when you let it weigh you down, you want to make sure that everyone around you is suffering as well . . .let Jesus take it and hold that burden so that you can carry on as a light in the world.’”
  • Ophie’s father told her, “The good Lord is always testing us, Ophie, in big ways and small. You do the thing you know to be right, always, no matter what.”
  • Ophie’s teacher told her that it was “the Christian thing to do to turn the other cheek.”
  • When someone steals, Ophie’s mother tells the lady, Jesus will give you yours.”

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Twelve-year-old Coyote Sunrise and her dad, Rodeo, have lived in an old school bus named Yager for five years—the same amount of time it’s been since her mother and two sisters suddenly died in a car accident. Coyote and Rodeo haven’t gone back home since the accident. They’re only looking forward and never turning back. Then, Grandma calls Coyote and tells her that the city is tearing down the park in Coyote’s hometown—the same park where Coyote, her mom, and sisters buried a treasure chest.

Coyote devises a plan to trick Rodeo into driving home to Washington State to get the treasure chest. Along the way, Coyote and Rodeo pick up an eclectic cast of characters, all with their own stories and destinations in mind. Coyote and Rodeo both learn that to move forward, sometimes you must go back.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is a funny, touching book that explores themes of grief and love. After the tragedy that strikes their family, Coyote and Rodeo never allowed themselves a moment to process their grief. They go so far as to pick new names for themselves, and they consider going back to their home in Washington State to be a major “no-go.”

When Rodeo figures out that Coyote has tricked him into taking them back, they must face each other not as companions on a school bus adventure, but as a father and daughter who lost the rest of their family. Coyote demands of him, “Why can’t you be my dad?” Coyote and Rodeo’s relationship is one of the most interesting dynamics because so much goes unsaid between them. Although Coyote helps explain certain rules and turns-of-phrase for the reader, Coyote and Rodeo’s relationship is more complicated than what’s initially expected.

Coyote is the narrator of this book, and she has a unique way of speaking to the other characters and to the reader. Coyote is funny and expressive, but much like with her relationship with Rodeo, there are certain things that are left unsaid until she’s comfortable thinking about them. For instance, she doesn’t even think about her sister’s names until late into the book. Through Coyote’s narration, the reader can see her complexity.

The supporting characters are striking and dynamic, and Rodeo and Coyote embrace their new friends with open arms. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is as much about putting the past to rest as it is about a found family. In the end, Coyote and Rodeo are happy to remember their loved ones while embracing their found family. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is for readers of all ages and is a must read because it handles the universal themes of grief, love, and family with an intelligent and kind hand. This isn’t a journey to miss.

 Sexual Content

  • Lester needs a ride to Boise, Idaho, to get his kind-of-ex girlfriend Tammy back. She wants him to get a “real job” while Lester wants to play in his jazz band. Lester tells Coyote, “If I get a real job, she’ll marry me.” This spawns a conversation between Coyote and Lester about love that lasts for a few pages.
  • Salvador asks Coyote why she’s really headed north, and Coyote responds, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” Salvador’s “face flushed deep red” and then Coyote clarifies, “Geez. I mean, I’ll tell you where we’re going if you tell me why your mom and aunt lost their jobs.”
  • Salvador’s mom and aunt tell Coyote funny stories from their childhood. According to Coyote, one of the stories was about “something about their mom walking in on Salvador’s mom with a boy. They wouldn’t give [Coyote] all the details on that one, but the embarrassed blood running to [Salvador’s mom’s] face pretty much told [Coyote] what [she] needed to know.”
  • On their journey, Coyote and Rodeo pick up a girl named Val. Val tells them that she was kicked out of her parent’s house because she’s gay. Coyote relates that her mom’s sister, Jen “is gay, and her wife Sofia, is [Coyote’s] very favorite aunt-in-law, and the thought of having someone hating on them for who they love made [Coyote] want to put on boxing gloves.”

Violence

  • Coyote explains, “My heart stopped short like a motorcycle slamming into the back of a parked semi (which I actually saw once outside Stevenstown, Missouri . . . not a sight you’re likely to forget, I promise you).”
  • Coyote’s cat, Ivan, is startled when he wakes up on Rodeo’s neck. Ivan sinks “all ten of his razor kitten claws” into Rodeo’s neck. Eventually Ivan lets go, though Rodeo is bleeding a bit.
  • When her new friends ask where Coyote’s other family members are, Coyote responds, “They’re . . . they’re dead, ma’am. They were killed in a car accident five years ago.”
  • Salvador admits that his dad physically abuses Salvador and his mom. Salvador tells Coyote, “Sometimes he . . . hits.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Coyote describes the gas station’s contents, noting that beer is one of the drinks lining the coolers along the walls.
  • Rodeo buys a six-pack of beer at a gas station and sits out back, drinking it.

Language

  • A variety of creative language is used to show displeasure. Only adult characters use words like hell, badass, and damn. Everyone often uses words like darn, weirdo, freaky, heck, wimpy, holy heck, dang, crazy, idiots, stupid, shut up, morons, jerk, pee, crap, pissed, and freaking.
  • Coyote sometimes refers to Rodeo as “old man.”
  • While telling a story about two animals, Rodeo refers to the crow in the story as an “ornery old cuss.”
  • One girl at a campground says, “Oh. My. God” in response to how cute Ivan is.
  • The girl from the campground mentions that she’s reading Anne of Green Gables and Coyote responds, “Oh, lord, I love Anne of Green Gables!”
  • Coyote once uses the phrase “how on god’s green earth” as an exclamation.
  • When Rodeo and Lester accidentally leave Coyote behind at a gas station in Gainesville, Florida, Coyote says, “Oh god” and “Oh, lord.” Coyote and Lester use these sorts of exclamations often.
  • A few years back, Rodeo installed an old bell in the bus. Rodeo and Coyote named it the “Holy Hell Bell on account of if you really put your arm into it, that old bell made a holy hell of a racket.”
  • Coyote stands in a river and pees. She says, “if you’re already standing in a river and you’re getting out to go pee, you’re doing it wrong.”
  • When the brakes give out on Yager, Lester “said a couple words [Coyote] won’t repeat, but with which [Coyote] totally agreed.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Coyote and Rodeo have a ceramic pug that sits on the dashboard of their bus. They call him the “Dog of Positivity, and Rodeo insisted he was a sort of canine guardian angel, keeping us happy.”
  • Coyote explains her beliefs just before a miracle happens. She says, “Now, here are some things I generally don’t believe in: fate, astrology, angels, magic, or the mystical power of wishes. Sorry, I just don’t. So there ain’t no easy explanation for what happened next. But that’s all right, ‘cause not everything in this world needs to be explained. We can just chalk it up to luck and call it good.”
  • Coyote mentions her mom on the bus. Coyote says that doing this is like “farting in church,” as in deeply inappropriate.
  • According to Coyote, Rodeo is “always saying how the universe seeks balance.” Coyote isn’t sure what this means.
  • Coyote says that “Rodeo says that anywhere outside can be a church, ‘cause anytime you’re in nature you can feel God.”
  • Rodeo, Coyote, and other characters say, “Help me, Jesus,” and other similar phrases.
  • Ms. Vega prays when the bus’s brakes give out.

by Alli Kestler

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