FROGKISSER by Garth Nix

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When Princess Anna of Trallonia hears her older sister Morven scream, she isn’t sure whether it is a big deal or not.  After all, screaming is one of Morven’s favorite pastimes.  It turns out to be sort of a big deal.  Anna’s step-step-father, the Evil Duke Rikard, has turned Morven’s latest suitor into a frog.  After swearing an oath to change him back, Anna learns that the task may be more complicated than she thought, as it will require a magic lip balm with ingredients such as the blood of a retired druid and freshly plucked cockatrice feathers.  More troubling is the news that Duke Rikard plans to have her killed.  So Anna and Ardent, the royal dog, set off on their quest for the magic lip balm, collecting a gaggle of transformed creatures along the way.

Hilarious, quirky, yet grounded by relevant social commentary, this fairytale is delightful from beginning to end.  I highly recommend it to teen and tween fantasy readers!  

MIDNIGHT WITH OUT A MOON by Linda Williams Jackson 

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Rose is out picking cotton when she hears the news that Levi was shot and killed for registering to vote. She is grief stricken and can’t understand why her grandmother seems to think Levi deserved to die for trying to vote.  There are a lot of things Rose doesn’t understand about Ma Pearl.  Like why she lets Queen lie in bed all day while Rose and Fred Lee work in the field.  Is it really just because Queen’s skin is lighter than Rose’s?  When Rose’s Aunt Belle comes to visit from St. Louis and tells Rose about her work with the NAACP, Rose is torn between worry for her aunt and the others who are “stirring things up” and her dream of leaving Mississippi and starting a new life up North. But when a boy from Chicago is lynched in her town for whistling at a white woman, Rose must figure out for herself where she stands and how she can change her world.

This novel does not shy away from the brutal reality of Emmett Till’s murder. Rose’s authentic point of view invites readers to share in the fear, anger, and grief of living through that summer in Jim Crow Mississippi.  But the courage and sense of self-worth that Rose develops on the wake of the tragedy is inspiring.  I highly recommend this novel to middle grade and teen historical fiction fans who are mature enough to process the violence of the subject matter or who are reading with adult guidance.  

A GOOD IDEA by Cristina Moracho

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Fin had been excitedly awaiting the day she and her best friend, Betty, would graduate and reunite as college roommates.  Only seeing Betty in the summers when Fin visited her Dad was just not enough.  But then, Calder Miller killed her–drowned her in the cold Maine ocean–and now Fin will never see her friend again.  She attends her old high school’s graduation and is sickened that the principal doesn’t even mention Betty.  Worse still, Calder just accepts his diploma like nothing ever happened.  Released from jail on a technicality, thanks to his powerful father, and now his life is back to normal.  Everyone seems to have forgotten Betty except Serena, who loved her from afar.  Fin and Serena begin exacting revenge not just on Calder but the whole town, and in the process find themselves in a whirlwind investigation that plunges them into the underbelly of the small town’s drug trade and put themselves and their fledgling relationship in danger.  

A thrilling “rural-noir” mystery that mimics the style of Fin and Betty’s favorite classic films like Bunny Lake is Missing. The plot is gritty, and every character has both good and evil aspects.  This novel will be most engaging for older teens and twenty-somethings who like dark realistic fiction.

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!