PRISONER OF ICE AND SNOW by Ruth Lauren

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When Valor’s twin sister was arrested and thrown into the infamous juvenile ice prison, didn’t care that she had stolen a priceless heirloom and destroyed a strategic alluance with another country.  Sasha was her sister, and Valor would break her out.  But first she had to get herself thrown in.  A purposely failed attempt to assassinate Prince Anatol earns her a life sentence.  But the prison is more terrible and difficult to break out of than Valor imagined.  And she soon realizes that Sasha is innocent and Prince Anatol is up to something.  Starting to regret that she didn’t kill him when she had the chance, Valor dodges the prince’s watchful eye as she attempts to plan a daring escape for herself and a growing gaggle of friends–despite the fact that no one has ever escaped before. 

This novel has hints of Disney’s Frozen in the icy environment and fierce sisterly love, but features unique characters and a noteworthy lack of magic.  Middle grade fantasy fans will enjoy this promising new series opener.

GARVEY’S CHOICE by Nikki Grimes

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Garvey wishes his father could accept him for who he is.  He just doesn’t like sports.  He likes reading.  His father’s comments sting, and the only thing that seems to soften the blow is eating.  And eating.  The more weight he gains, the more he is tormented by his father and his classmates.  Can Garvey find a way to connect with his father and love himself?

Told in a series of poems, Garvey’s story tackles the struggle to overcome the judgments of others and find a sense of self worth.  Despite Garvey’s difficult relationship with his father, they do love one another and ultimately will gain a deeper understanding for each other as they grow closer.  Short and full of beautiful language, this new novel from Nikki Grimes will appeal to middle grade realistic fiction readers, poetry lovers, and even reluctant readers who may be encouraged by the short chapters and abundant white space.

THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT by Chelsea Sedoti 

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When Hawthorn learns that popular, perfect Lizzie Lovett disappeared during a camping trip, she isn’t exactly sad.  But she is curious.  Lizzie was the most popular cheerleader in Hawthorn’s older brother’s grade.  Camping?  The Lizzie Hawthorn knew was way too concerned with designer clothes and make-up to spend the night in the woods.  Not that Hawthorn knew Lizzie well.  Like everyone else, Lizzie treated Hawthorn as a social outcast. But for some reason, Hawthorn is drawn to the mystery of Lizzie’s disappearance, and it isn’t long before she comes up with a crazy theory of her own–a theory so nuts that she becomes the school laughingstock.  Only Lizzie’s boyfriend, Enzo, seems to believe that Hawthorn’s theory might be true.  And as they begin to investigate, she winds up closer to Lizzie–and Enzo–than she ever would have imagined.

This realistic fiction novel pits a unique narrator with an unconventional family background against the common conflicts of friendships, family relationships, first love, high school social strata, and finding one’s identity.  The story is engaging not only due to the mystery of Lizzie’s but also thanks to compelling characters and relationships.  An enjoyable read from a new YA author!

SKINK, NO SURRENDER by Carl Hiaasen

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When Richard’s cousin (and best friend) Malley disappears, a little amateur detective work confirms his worst fear: she has run off with the man she met on the Internet.  While the police try to track her down, Richard heads down to their favorite getaway on the beach where he meets a seemingly insane, homeless environmental activist named Skink.   It turns out that Skink is the former Governor of Florida, and that he faked his own death years ago, before becoming a vigilante for endangered turtles, among other things.   When Richard gets a cryptic phone call from his cousin that seems to indicate that she is in danger, he and Skink take matters into their own hands and travel into the wild waterways of Florida to rescue Malley.

An exciting teen thriller that is difficult to put down, this novel will not disappoint readers who are looking for an engaging plot, well-developed characters, thematic depth, and plenty of surprises.   I highly recommend it!

GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

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Cat is not happy about having to move from beautiful, sunny Southern California to cold,  rainy, miserable Bahia de la Luna.  But the weather will be better for her little sister Maya’s health.  Despite her illness and difficulty breathing, Maya is always cheerful and doesn’t seem to mind leaving all her friends behind.  In fact, she almost immediately makes a new friend: a boy Cat’s age who just happens to lead the town ghost tours.  Cat is less than thrilled.  She hates ghost stories.  But things get far worse when the ghosts turn out to be real.  Spirits of the dead hang around in Bahia de la Luna awaiting the Day of the Dead festival, and their presence will force Cat to confront her sister’s mortality.

With an infusion of folk fantasy, this graphic novel tackles the topic of a terminally ill sibling with a realistic range of emotions–from resentment to fear to sadness.  This novel will appeal more to realistic fiction fans than ghost story aficionados, though it has elements of both genres.

BECAUSE OF THE SUN by Jenny Torres Sanchez 

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Dani never had a good relationship  with her mother. In fact, it seemed like Dani was just a burden to her mother, an obstacle that prevented her from doing whatever she wanted to do.  Her mom certainly did a lot of what she wanted, though, and with enough different men that she doesn’t know who Dani’s father is.   So when her mother is mauled by a bear in their backyard, Dani thinks she has no one.  She might end up living with the neighbor she barely knows.  But then an aunt she never knew existed whisks her away from the suburbs of Florida to the middle of nowhere New Mexico.  Through a blossoming friendship and the uncovering of her mother’s past, Dani begins to overcome her numbness and build the courage to face the bear that haunts her dreams.  

Well-written, thought-provoking, and engaging, this novel will appeal to teen readers of literary and realistic fiction.  It may also be suitable as a companion to Camus’ The Stranger in a high school curriculum, although profanity may be a concern for some.  

THE BOOK JUMPER by Mechthild Glaser 

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Amy Lennox has lived in Germany her whole life.  She’s never even visited the small Scottish island where her mother grew up.  But after a tumultuous year, returning to Scotland for the summer seems like the right thing to do–even if it is a bit impulsive.   After a harrowing boat ride, Amy and her mother arrive at the home of the grandmother who she’s never met (and who her mother hasn’t seen since running away as a pregnant teenager).  But more intriguing than her long-lost relatives is her family’s magical secret: the Lennox family and their neighbors the Macalisters can jump into books and interact with the characters.   It is an ancient practice and the source of an ancient feud.  Despite her mother’s objections, Amy is eager to try it out.  But when she uncovers a dreadful plot to steal the central ideas of classic literature, no one believes her.  No one except Will Macalister.  And family feuds aside, the Lennox and Macalister families will have to work together to avert a disastrous future.

Originally published in German, this novel will resonate with every avid reader who has dreamed of entering their favorite stories.  The idea is not new, and this novel is not as gripping as Funke’s Inkheart, but it is a fantasy mystery that many teens will certainly enjoy.