One for Sorrow

A month from today, Mary Downing Hahn’s newest spooky story, One for Sorrow, hits the shelves. It’s pretty well-known that I’m a wuss, so I figured this book would likely freak me out. I didn’t, however, expect it to scare the crap out of me–so much so that I couldn’t read it when it was dark outside. I don’t know how most young readers will respond to the book (the target audience is 4th-6th grade according to Booklist), but I found it to be absolutely terrifying. That’s probably all I need to say to make sure it flies off my library shelves (if I make the decision to purchase it).

The year is 1918. America is involved in a world war, and an influenza epidemic has gripped many communities. Annie Browne and her family have just moved to town. She is the new girl at school, and she’s nervous about making friends.

Someone claims Annie as a best friend almost immediately, but Annie’s not so sure she truly wants to be friends with Elsie, a strange, violent, and manipulative girl who won’t let Annie play or befriend the other girls at school. Annie’s a bit scared of Elsie, and she’s not sure how to free herself from her “friend’s” clutches.

Eventually, when Elsie’s out of school for a couple of days, Annie gets her chance to befriend some other girls and escape Elsie’s influence. Annie even joins her new friends in mocking Elsie. She feels a little guilty about making Elsie miserable, but she doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize her friendship with the other girls. Besides, Elsie brings a lot of this negative attention on herself.

While Annie and her new friends are tormenting Elsie, the horrible Spanish Influenza has hit their town. Dozens of people are dying each day. Schools and businesses close, and people are taking all the precautions they can to keep from getting sick.

One of Annie’s friends, Rosie, gets the bright idea to take advantage of the situation. She comes up with a plan to visit all the homes with black wreaths on the door, pretend to know the deceased, and load up on all of the cookies, candy, and cakes left for the mourners to eat. As for Annie, she does not want to see any dead bodies, but she goes along with Rosie’s morbid plan. (It’s hard to say no to Rosie.) Things are going okay with this whole scheme…until they recognize a girl lying in a coffin. It’s Elsie, Annie’s former “best friend” and the target of the girls’ relentless teasing.

Annie feels horrible about Elsie’s death, and she wonders if she and her friends may have had something to do with it. Annie’s feelings only intensify when she realizes that Elsie hasn’t gone very far. Her ghost has returned and is determined to make Annie her eternal best friend…or else.

Annie doesn’t know where to turn. Elsie, the very definition of a vengeful spirit, is turning everyone against Annie, making her say and do things she would never normally do, and convincing her friends, her teachers, and even her parents that Annie is going crazy. If Elsie doesn’t cross over soon, Annie’s entire world will be upended.

Is there any way for Annie to rid herself of Elsie for good, or will she forever be the focus of Elsie’s rage? Read One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn to find out!


One for Sorrow is a great fit for middle grade readers. I’m on the fence right now about recommending it to upper elementary readers. I’ll do a bit more research and read other reviews before I decide whether or not to place it in my elementary school library. If you’d like to weigh in on this, please let me know what you think in the comments.

In addition to being an excellent scary story, One for Sorrow teaches readers about the horrors of the flu epidemic of 1918 as well as providing a cautionary tale about bullying. Now, I’m not saying bullies will be haunted by the ghosts of those they tormented or anything, but it’s clear that there was bad behavior on all sides here. Elsie was horrible to Annie and the other girls in school, but did that mean the other girls should have been equally horrible? No, it did not. I think the lesson here is that you never know what someone else is going through, and a little kindness goes a long way.

If you’d like to read this gripping novel for yourself, One for Sorrow will be available on July 18th. It’s definitely a page-turner that will be hard to put down. For more information on this book and others by Mary Downing Hahn, visit the author’s website.

Now I Rise

Notice: You MUST read And I Darken, the first book in Kiersten White’s Conqueror’s Saga, before proceeding with this post. You’ve been warned.

If it’s not readily apparent, I recently finished reading Now I Rise, the sequel to And I Darken. This series focuses on Lada and Radu Dracul, the children of Vlad Dracul, the inspiration for Dracula. Like I mentioned in the post on book one, this series presents an alternate history of this family. Vlad is not the brutal leader of legend here…but his daughter is.

In And I Darken, Lada and Radu were dealing with their complicated feelings for each other, their circumstances, and the new sultan, Mehmed. In Now I Rise, the complications continue. Lada has left Mehmed’s side to reclaim the throne of Wallachia. Radu, on the other hand, has stayed with Mehmed, and that presents its own set of difficulties.

Lada Dracul is determined to be Prince of Wallachia. It does not matter that she is a woman. She’s the rightful ruler, and she will take what’s hers, by force if necessary. And it looks like force–and lots of it–are necessary. In her quest to rule, she strikes down anyone who gets in her way. She forges alliances that make her sick. She betrays those close to her. All of this to get her closer to the Wallachian throne. Yet even as she is on the cusp of achieving her goal, she misses her brother, Radu, and even Mehmed.

Lada knows that Radu’s silver tongue and gift of diplomacy would get her closer to the throne. As for Mehmed, her feelings for him are a bit more complex. She misses how he makes her feel, but, at the same time, she refuses to place her future in a man’s hands. Also, she doesn’t fully trust Mehmed. He has seemingly thwarted her grab for power, and Lada knows he will do anything–including betray her–to further his own ends. She both loathes and respects that about him. After all, has she not done the same?

As for Radu, he remains completely loyal to Mehmed and the sultan’s desire to conquer Constantinople. Radu does whatever he can to further the Ottoman cause, and, when Mehmed asks Radu to become a spy within Constantinople’s walls, he reluctantly agrees. While Radu does not wish to be parted from Mehmed, he will do as Mehmed asks even as he ignores his sister’s plea for help in her endeavors. Radu knows his feelings for Mehmed will likely never be returned, but he will continue to prove his love and loyalty to Mehmed…no matter what it costs.

While in Constantinople, Radu becomes more and more conflicted. Even as he’s relaying information to the Ottomans, he’s growing closer to those fighting for Emperor Constantine. How can he betray these people who have taken him in, shown him kindness, and trusted him? But how can he turn his back on Mehmed, who he loves more than all others? He’s given up nearly everything for Mehmed, but is he willing to give up his very soul so that Mehmed can conquer a city that seems to be dying anyway?

Both Radu and Lada Dracul are wrestling with questions of loyalty, love, faith, and sacrifice. What are each of them willing to do to achieve their goals? What will they find themselves capable of? Betrayal? Murder? And what will be lost along the way?


Everything I said about And I Darken also applies to Now I Rise. I don’t feel like writing all that again, so read the end of my post on And I Darken to get my full take on both of these books. In short, though, these books raise all sorts of questions on what a person is willing to do to serve their own ends, how love makes a person both strong and weak, what it means to be feminine, and how women who do not subscribe to societal expectations are viewed. And that barely even touches on the religious and historical aspects of the book. It’s a lot to take in, and all of this stuff makes both And I Darken and Now I Rise as sumptuous as two decadent pieces of dark chocolate.

So…how does Now I Rise differ from And I Darken? Well, we get to know both Lada and Radu a bit more. These two characters get more complex with each page, and I’m sure that will continue in the next book. The biggest difference, though, is the elevated brutality. Radu is in the middle of a war zone, and he both witnesses and commits atrocities true to what is happening around him. Lada, in her quest for power, cuts down anyone in her path and leaves a trail of bodies behind her. There’s nothing pretty, delicate, or civilized about her path to the Wallachian throne. She’s vicious, brutal, and without mercy. She has to demonstrate to all that she is no pushover, and she’s not shy about shedding blood to prove her point.

In case you’re wondering, I would recommend both And I Darken and Now I Rise to a mature teen or adult audience. I doubt most middle grade readers are developmentally ready for books like these. They deal with political maneuvering, sexuality, betrayal, and the horrors of war, and I think reading and discussing these issues require a certain level of maturity. You may have a different take, but I urge you to read the books yourself before you make that determination.

Now I Rise will be released on June 27th. The third book in The Conqueror’s Saga should be out next summer. To learn more about And I Darken and Now I Rise, visit the series’ official website.

Roller Girl

This evening, I bring you one more of the 2017-18 South Carolina Book Award nominees. For the second year in a row, the SCCBA committee has chosen to place a graphic novel on the nominee list, a trend I desperately hope continues. This year, the lone graphic novel on the list is Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. (By the way, this book is also a 17-18 SC Junior Book Award nominee. Bonus.)

Roller Girl has been on my radar for a while, and I finally made time to read it last night. I found it to be thoroughly relatable, and I think fans of Cece Bell’s El Deafo, Shannon Hale’s Real Friends, and anything by Raina Telgemeier will devour this book, a book that is essentially about being a good friend and embracing one’s own unique gifts. It could also encourage many young readers to search out a sport that may be unfamiliar to them–roller derby.

Astrid and her best friend, Nicole, do everything together, and Astrid assumes that will always be the case. She’s about to learn, however, that things have a way of changing.

After attending an exciting roller derby bout, Astrid signs up to attend a summer roller derby camp. She assumes that Nicole will join her, but Nicole has other plans in mind. She wants to attend ballet camp. Not only that, but she’ll be at ballet camp with Astrid’s sworn enemy, the vile Rachel. (Rachel is responsible for giving Astrid a particularly terrible nickname.) Astrid is not happy about the situation, but she really wants to go to roller derby camp. Maybe she’ll make some new friends there, friends who will make the growing distance with Nicole a little less painful.

Pain, as it turns out, is something Astrid is about to become very familiar with. Roller derby isn’t exactly all sunshine and roses. It hurts. It hurts even more when one doesn’t really know how to skate. Astrid goes home each day battered and bruised, and she barely has enough energy to fall into bed. Becoming a star roller girl is a lot harder than Astrid thought it would be.

Even though roller derby is more difficult than Astrid ever imagined, she is getting better slowly. She’s also making new friends. She’s growing closer to one girl in particular, Zoey. She and Zoey practice together, hang out, and Zoey even dyes Astrid’s hair blue–something her mother is not exactly happy about.

Things seem to be going okay for Astrid. She’s determined to be the best roller girl possible, and she’s putting in the work to make that happen. But what happens when she comes face-to-face with Nicole (and Rachel) again? What happens when Zoey, her new friend, gets the position Astrid desperately wants for their upcoming bout? What happens when Astrid is forced to face the consequences of everything she’s done this summer?

Will Astrid become the person–the roller girl–she knows she can be? And will she form–and keep–the friendships she so desperately desires?


Roller Girl is a wonderfully engaging book about the importance of perseverance, being a good friend, and being part of a team. It also introduces readers to roller derby, a sport that may be unfamiliar to them. I confess that I knew very little about roller derby before reading this book, but I now want to see if there are any teams in my area. (I have no desire or ability to play, but I bet it would be a ton of fun to watch.)

There is only one thing about Roller Girl that gives me pause. That’s the unfortunate nickname that Rachel saddled Astrid with. As I’m sure you know, kids can be cruel, and Astrid’s name lends itself to an especially rotten nickname–“ass-turd.” (I tell you this now so you’ll know what to expect.) Yes, this is a horrible term and some readers–mainly adults–could have a problem with it, but it emphasizes the dynamic between Astrid and Rachel and helps to explain why Astrid is so hurt that Nicole is friends with a girl who could come up with something so mean. Is this one term going to keep me from promoting this book to my upper elementary students? Nope, but I do believe in being prepared (with collection policies, reviews, Library Bill of Rights, intellectual freedom information, etc.) should anything be called into question. I urge anyone else to do the same.

With all of that being said, I do highly recommend Roller Girl to upper elementary and middle grade audiences. It’s a quick, entertaining read that emphasizes both individuality and teamwork. You’ll have a hard time keeping enough copies in your libraries. (I know I can’t keep it on my shelves.)

For more information on Roller Girl, visit author Victoria Jamieson’s website. Enjoy!

Emmy & Oliver

Do you ever come across a book that looks like one thing but is really something more than you were expecting? Well, that’s definitely the case with Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway. That whole “don’t judge a book by its cover” thing is sometimes accurate, as it turns out. Take a look at the cover below:

I know there’s not a whole lot to it, but based on what I see alone, I think I’m getting a cute love story set near water. To a certain degree, that is true, but this book is so much more than a love story (not that there’s anything in the world wrong with romance). This book is about relationships–between romantic interests, friends, and families–and how they change (or stay stagnant) as circumstances change.


From the moment they were born, Emmy and Oliver were together. They shared the same birthday, they lived next door to each other, and they were the best of friends. In an instant, though, everything changed. One minute, Emmy was watching Oliver leave school for the day; the next minute, his dad had taken him and disappeared. That was ten years ago, when Emmy and Oliver were just seven years old.

Emmy is now seventeen and a senior in high school. She hasn’t seen Oliver in ten years–has no idea where he went or what happened to him–but his disappearance continues to color her world. Since that day long ago, her parents have watched her every move. Her curfew is ridiculously early, she has to hide her love of surfing, and even applying for college is a no-no. They don’t want to let Emmy out of their sight because they know that the worst can most definitely happen.

After so long, most people have moved on from Oliver’s kidnapping. There are no more search parties. Every once in a while, his story is featured on the news, but that doesn’t really have much of an impact. Oliver is still gone, and his whereabouts remain a mystery. Until now.

One day, seemingly out of the blue, Oliver comes home. He’s been gone for ten years, but some people–his mother included–seem to expect him to pick up where he left off. But things are different now. Oliver’s a different person and so are those around him. Oliver’s had ten pretty good years with his dad, and now he’s expected to view the man who raised him as a villain. He’s coming into a whole new family as well. While he was gone, his mom remarried and had twin girls. How does he fit into his own family now? And does he even want to?

As for Emmy, she wants to get to know her friend again, but she has no illusions that they can pick up where they left off. She wants to know who Oliver is now. Emmy is one of the only people who Oliver feels comfortable talking to…and vice versa. Oliver tells Emmy about his life with his dad, how he feels about being back, and his frustrations with being the center of attention. Emmy confides in Oliver about her love of surfing and her plans for the future–plans she hasn’t revealed to her parents or either of her closest friends.

Day by day, Emmy and Oliver grow closer. Their parents still have eagle eyes on them, though, and it’s putting a strain on things. Neither of them feel free to truly be themselves. For Oliver, that means adapting to his new circumstances, coming to terms with what happened, and his feelings for his father. For Emmy, that means hiding her true self and what she really wants to do with her life.

Emmy and Oliver can’t go on holding everything in, and all of their complicated feelings, fears, and frustrations will soon come out, whether they like it or not. How will this change their relationships with their friends, their parents, and each other? What could it mean for their futures? Do Emmy and Oliver even have a future when so much of their lives is governed by the past? Answer these questions and many more when you read Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway.


In case you were wondering, I really liked Emmy & Oliver. It was a quick, moving, often funny read that kept me interested. Both Emmy and Oliver are snarky and funny, even in the midst of difficult circumstances, but they are also sensitive, loving, loyal, and totally real. The same goes for their friends. I also thought the parents in this story behaved in a fairly realistic way. I imagine that something as horrific as a child being kidnapped would make some parents hold on tighter to their own children, whether those children are seven or seventeen.

If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that it’s solely from Emmy’s point of view. I would have loved to read Oliver’s side of things. Granted, we see a lot of his story in his conversations with Emmy, but I think the book would have been stronger if we’d viewed at least some of the drama through Oliver’s eyes.

Emmy & Oliver is a nominee for the 17-18 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award. Will it win? I have no idea. No matter what, though, it is a good story, and it gives the reader so much more than the cover implies.

For more information on Emmy & Oliver, visit author Robin Benway’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Real Friends

Thanks to NetGalley, I have come across a book that is a must-purchase for my school library. As a matter of fact, I think this book will probably be a welcome addition to most elementary, middle school, and public libraries. I wish it had been around when I was growing up. The book is Real Friends, a graphic memoir written by Shannon Hale and wonderfully illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

To say that I related to young Shannon in Real Friends would be a drastic understatement. Make her a chubby girl in a small town in South Carolina, and parts of this book could have been my own story. I’m sure that anyone who ever had trouble making friends as a child (or even as an adult) will be able to see themselves in this book.

Shannon met Adrienne on the first day of school, and they became best friends. For Shannon, Adrienne was her only friend. Adrienne, on the other hand, had lots of friends. It was sometimes hard for Shannon to share her best friend with others, but she tried. She even made a new friend when Adrienne moved away, but she was always waiting for Adrienne to return and things to go back to normal.

Well, Adrienne did return, but things didn’t exactly go back to the way they were. Shannon and Adrienne were still friends, but Adrienne was also part of The Group, some of the most popular girls in school. Shannon didn’t always fit in with The Group, but she hung around with them anyway to stay friends with Adrienne.

One of the girls, Jenny, seemed to really dislike Shannon, and she made it pretty clear that she wanted Shannon out of The Group. Shannon took this really hard and spent a lot of time crying in the bushes. (This was something she did at home, too. Her older sister wasn’t exactly nice to her a lot of the time.) Shannon didn’t know what she’d done to make Jenny so mean to her, but she was growing a little tired of it all. Maybe she didn’t want to be part of The Group after all if this is what she had to deal with.

Eventually, after she and The Group ended up in different fifth grade classes and Adrienne transferred to a different school, Shannon made a couple of new friends. These friends were popular as well, but they were popular because they were nice…unlike Jenny. They seemed to like Shannon just as she was, but could it last? These girls were in the sixth grade and would be going to junior high next year. What would Shannon do then?

Join Shannon as she navigates the ups and downs of friendship (and even sisterhood). It’s not always an easy path, but putting in the effort to find real friends–and to find peace within–is always worth it.


Let me reiterate this one more time: Real Friends should be added to every library that serves elementary or middle grade children. Young readers will love the graphic novel format, and they’ll stick around for the thoroughly relatable story. Market it with Cece Bell’s El Deafo and Jennifer Holm’s Sunny Side Up, and it will surely fly off the shelves.

Look for Real Friends when it’s released on May 2nd. Your library patrons will thank you.

Vigilante

For those of you who’ve read and binge-watched Thirteen Reasons Why and are looking for something similar, I suggest you give Vigilante by Kady Cross a try. This book, which was released a couple of weeks ago, made me so mad that I could scream, but it also made me want to fight back against a society that shames victims while excusing their attackers. I’m not advocating taking things to the extremes that the main character in this book did, but I can certainly understand the appeal. When you feel like nothing is being done, sometimes the only thing to do is to take the situation into your own hands.

Everything changed after the party. The party where Hadley and her best friend, Magda, went their separate ways. The party where Magda was drugged and raped by four “good boys,” and the shameful act was posted to social media. Months after that party, despite all of the physical and video evidence, those “good boys” remained free, and Magda had to live with what had been done to her.

Hadley tried to be there for her friend, but Magda was slipping farther and farther away.  Soon, she would be completely out of Hadley’s reach. The pain and humiliation became too much for Magda, and she ended her life. Now, Hadley is starting her senior year of high school without her best friend, and she has to sit in the same classes with the boys who destroyed her world.

Numb since her friend’s death, Hadley finally begins to feel something again when she gets the chance for a little revenge. At a party, one of Magda’s attackers is left passed out and alone. Hadley takes that as her cue. She writes “rapist” on him in Magda’s lipstick and posts a photo of the guy–using his own phone–to every site she can. Her classmates take care of the rest.

After the photo goes viral, Hadley decides to take things a step farther. Donning a pink ski mask and using her martial arts training, Hadley begins to go after the other guys who raped her friend. Along the way, she encounters (and stops) more attempted sexual assaults. Finally, after so long feeling like she failed her friend, Hadley is doing something that makes a difference…something even the cops can’t seem to manage.

But things are getting far more complicated than Hadley ever envisioned. Taking punches is becoming all too commonplace for her. People are starting to suspect that she is the person the media has dubbed “Pink Vigilante.” And the very guys she’s targeting are putting their own target on Hadley. She knows what they did to Magda. What more would they try to do to her?

Even as her quest for revenge threatens to overtake her world, Hadley simply can’t stop. No, she won’t stop…not until every one of Magda’s attackers has paid for what they’ve done. She’ll deal with the consequences of her actions when she’s finished, but she has to see this through.

Will Hadley find justice? Or will her desire for vengeance lead to her own destruction? Find out when you read Vigilante.


As I sort of mentioned at the beginning of this post, I do not advocate violence or taking the law into your own hands. That being said, I couldn’t help but cheer for Hadley as she put a hurt on the horrible guys she encountered. She refused to accept that she and the other women around her simply had to be victims, so she did something about it. Yes, many of her actions were questionable (and illegal), but others were inspirational, like getting involved in self-defense classes, finding a group of girls to watch each others’ backs at parties, and calling people out–even her own mother–for victim-blaming.

Aside from Hadley, one of the characters in Vigilante that I particularly liked was Detective Davies. This woman was involved in Magda’s case and was disgusted by how it turned out. She taught Hadley’s self-defense class and encouraged all who attended to band together. She told them how to fight, and, at a school assembly, she gave the single most important way to stop sexual assault and rape. Don’t sexually assault or rape anybody. Full stop. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if a girl (or guy) is drunk, wearing revealing clothing, or strutting around naked. She’s not asking for it. No excuses, fame, or family money should be enough to erase sexual assault. (I’m thinking of quite a few public figures as I type this.)

I do think Vigilante is suited to a mature teen audience, but many of its themes need to be discussed with girls–and boys–as early as middle school. While this book may not be the best fit for middle grades, I urge you to seek out others that may be more age-appropriate.

If Vigilante sounds like the book for you, I also urge you to read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (obviously), Some Boys by Patty Blount, All the Rage by Courtney Summers, and The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney.

For more information on author Kady Cross, visit her website.

Finally, if you or anyone you know has experienced sexual assault and you need help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE. You can also go to RAINN.org for more information.

Ruby on the Outside

Last night, I finished yet another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. This book, Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin, was a quick but powerful read, and it handled a difficult subject with a great deal of sensitivity.

What is life like for kids whose parents are in prison? Well, Ruby Danes can tell you that it’s not easy. She doesn’t want to tell anyone the truth of her mom’s situation and risk becoming an outcast. That makes forming real friendships very difficult. But Ruby is getting ready to begin middle school, and what she wants more than almost anything is her very own best friend to face the future with her.

As it turns out, Ruby may just get what she wants. A new girl, Margalit, has moved in nearby, and she and Ruby hit it off almost instantly. They spend most of their summer days together, and Ruby thinks she’s finally found the best friend she’s been looking for. Can she trust Margalit with her secret, though? Would Margalit judge Ruby for her mother’s crimes?

When Ruby begins to piece together what led to her mother’s incarceration, she doubts that Margalit could ever want to be best friends. It seems that Margalit’s family may be closely tied to the crime that landed Ruby’s mom in prison. This devastates Ruby, and it forces her to finally deal with some deep feelings that she has toward her mother.

Will Ruby be able to forgive her mother for the decisions she made in the past? Will she be able to reveal her secret to Margalit and find the friend she needs? Find out when you read Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin.


Ruby on the Outside is an important book to add to upper elementary and middle school library collections. It addresses a situation that is often overlooked, but, like it or not, that situation is all-too-real for many children, even those in our own spheres of influence.

This book is not preachy, overly optimistic, or terribly gritty, but it does offer a simple, realistic, and touching look at the life of one girl dealing with her mom’s imprisonment. That one thing colors nearly everything in Ruby’s life, and it’s interesting to see how she looks at things that most of us may take for granted. Something as simple as “Have your mom sign this permission form,” for example.

Ruby on the Outside is a powerful little book with many big lessons. I hope many students and teachers in my school–and many others–will give this book a chance and use it to foster discussions about empathy, forgiveness, and friendship.

To learn more about Ruby on the Outside and other works by Nora Raleigh Baskin, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. You can also hear more about this book from the author herself in the video below. Enjoy!