Round III, Bracket III: Sadie vs. Dread Nation

Sadie by Courtney Summers

A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Sadie is a complex, tense, powerful novel that doesn’t shy away from the very real darkness in our world, and I think it could appeal to a lot of readers and a lot of tastes.

One of the most unique and striking elements of the book is the dual narrative structure. I’m not a big podcast person, but I was impressed by how well the combination of the podcast format and Sadie’s perspective worked, especially with the time gap between the two. It helped keep tension and curiosity high, while also allowing for a broader look at not only Sadie’s life and family, but the town and culture she grew up in.

Speaking of the town and culture, while it would be easy to define this as a character-driven novel, it’s almost as much about the settings as anything else. Cold Creek, Wagner, Montgomery, and even The Bluebird reflect places and towns not often seen in young adult fiction, and they feel like their own characters nearly as much as the people in them. The people are also well-drawn – every side character, however small, clearly has their own inner life that Summers shows in as little as a few lines of dialogue or descriptions.

With a fascinating central character, rich world-building, and a taut plot, the biggest drawback to Sadie is that, to me at least, it read much more like an adult thriller than a young adult novel. The podcast sections focused heavily not only on the adults in Sadie’s life, but on adult host West McCray’s character and emotional journey. And although she’s only 19, I often forgot how young Sadie was and found myself thinking of her as someone a few years older than that. There is something powerful about her too-early adulthood, but since most of the novel was set after the years that thrust her into that role, it also meant that I frequently forgot I was reading a young adult novel. The true-to-life ending, which leaves a very big question unanswered, I likely to be frustrating for a lot of readers, though there are plenty who might like its realism.

Overall, this is an exciting, deep, and thought-provoking novel, perfect for fans of true crime, suspense, and character-driven books.

The obvious answer is sometimes the right one – a Podcast would be the perfect way to adapt this book. In fact, I’ve heard the audiobook is almost exactly that, and works very well. The time between episodes would not only add tension, but give listeners plenty of time to discuss their opinions and theories about the action.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Dread Nation is a phenomenal combination of horror, history, and very recognizable modern issues. A mash-up like that could easily fail, but author Justina Ireland delivers an action-packed, emotional journey. Ireland’s writing manages to evoke an earlier time without ever becoming archaic or unreadable, and her action sequences are breathtaking.

Although Dread Nation starts slowly, the world-building in the early part of the book is key. The reader slowly sees that while zombies have disrupted the Civil War and, in theory at least, brought a measure of freedom and opportunity to the formerly enslaved, the reality is much grimmer than that. And when the scene abruptly shifts to a much more openly racist and frightening Wild West-esque setting, the action picks up considerably.

One of the best parts of this book is the characters. Other reviewers have already commented on the refreshing depiction of asexuality and bisexuality, but in a largely romance-free book, it’s the friendships that shine. Jane and Katherine’s relationship in particular was a joy to read about from start to finish. The nuanced exploration of how their experiences in Summerland differ while still both being difficult helps cement their friendship, as well as expand the world-building in meaningful ways. Jane’s character development goes further, with the slow reveal of her backstory helping to shed light on her choices as the story goes on.

The biggest weakness of Dread Nation is the abrupt shift between the settings, a shift that almost makes this feel like two separate books. But both sides of the story are interesting, and the earlier part of the book informs the second, so it was easy to adjust and continue enjoying the book. Although the slow start might deter some readers, most will be intrigued enough by the mystery, compelling characters, and zombies to stay engaged.

I would hand this book to readers looking for strong central characters, plenty of action, a nuanced exploration of institutional racism and 19th century history. It would also, of course, be a great choice for readers looking for a new take on the popular zombie genre.
With its careful world-building, exciting action sequences, and varied settings, Dread Nation would serialize really well as a TV-show. I picture it as a one hour dramedy with excitingly choreographed battles, immersive historical settings and costumes, and of course, a kick-butt lead character.

The Winner: dread Nation by justina Ireland

Choosing a winner between these two books was hard. They’re both really wonderful, very different novels, although I found they had plenty in common as well. They both started slowly then built tension; they both did an excellent job combining excitement, suspense, and plot with some very solid world-building and character work; both features villains so stomach-churningly awful it makes the reader want to turn away from the fact that such real-world villains did and do exist, but never allows us to do so; and they both are ultimately about young women trying to claim the power they deserve in a world where most of that power is in the hands of white men.

While both of these novels are excellent, with only one or two drawbacks, and while both will find many avid readers, my final choice is Dread Nation, mainly because it feels more like a young adult novel while Sadie seemed to share more with adult suspense novels than other YA novels. But either would be a great choice for readers looking for an exciting, engaging book featuring strong central characters fighting against ingrained power structures, and both were great choices for a librarian looking for a good read!

Hannah Rapp is Head of Readers Advisory and Teen Services at the Berwyn Public Library. When she’s not working she’s usually listening to audiobooks, running or walking by Lake Michigan, or watching Park and Recreation while she cooks.

Previous Post

Next Post


April 11, 2019 Meeting

Location: Wheaton Public Library

YASF Board

  • New Board
    • Kylie – Social Media
    • Quinn – Tournament
    • Izabel – Member at Large
    • Cyndi – Liaison to Awards Committee
  • Proposed Meeting Schedule
    • January – Open board meeting
      • Prep for professional development, ILA brainstorming, tournament of books title selection
    • February – Professional Development & ILA brainstorming
    • April – Open board meeting
      • Evaluate professional development, start networking meetup & ILA planning, ToB status report, next manager/board
    • May – Professional Development – RA/Tournament of Books
    • August – Networking Meetup
    • September – Open board meeting
      • ILA final planning (session intros & live-tweeting, pub stroll) new manager & board selection, networking meetup eval
    • October – ILA annual conference
    • November – Open board meeting
      • ILA evals, new board/managers
  • Incoming Manager
    • Voting over summer
      • Interested persons will be identified on Google Form, must have attended 75% of meetings in last year
    • Decision by board in September, and notification of new incoming manager
    • Public announcement at ILA
    • ILA
      • Proposals
        • UnConference
        • So You Wanna Do a Job Fair?
        • Lizzy Appleby LGBTQ
        • Teen Alt-RA
        • Mentorship: Growing Next Gen Librarians
        • Dear Teen Librarian Panel
        • Unconventional Lit Program
        • New in Nonfiction for Teens
      • Post Presentation Evaluation Form
        • Change “How many staff members exclusively or primarily serve teens in your library?” to “What is your role?” or “Who do you serve?”  
        • “Which population in the library would this program apply to?”
        • Change “What YA-focused would you like to see covered in future programs?” to add “or changed, updated, repeated”
        • Add email address to Evaluation? To Google form?






      • YASF Meeting
        • At ILA after Unconference
    • Young Adult Librarian of the Year Award
    • C2E2 Recap
      • Graphic Novel Reorganization Rachael/Quinn/Lisa
      • Alt-RA Cyndi
      • Graphic Novel Roundtable: “Comic Convert” – Izabel
      • Graphic Memoirs Teachers Panel – Izabel
    • IYSI Recap
      • “So You Wanna Do a Job Fair?’ – Becky
    • Tournament of Books (Rachel/Quinn)
      • Living document that will change
      • One day we’ll know what we’re doing…one day.
      • Round 3 up
      • Last day to vote today (April 11)
      • Voting for 2019 on FB
      • Guidelines helpful
  • Updates
    • iRead (Kylie)
      • Editing 2020 resource guide
      • New YA Forum Liaison needed (2 year commitment on iREAD)  
    • Youth Services Forum
      • Partner for unconference
      • May 10th next meeting
      • Planning Story and Spirits/Author Breakfast for ILA
    • Social Media (Kylie)
      • Facebook 190 10 new
      • Twitter 78 followers
      • Google Group
      • Kylie trying to develop content guide
      • Let Kylie  know about any programs, successes, publications, or reviews
  • Future Professional Development
  • Networking Event – August
    • Combining with YALD, partner with game shop?
  • Open Discussion


Lisa, Evan, Cyndi H, Becky, Nicole, Courtney, Joe, Kylie, Quinn, Izabel, Abby, Annie, Rachael, Yvette, Megan, Cindy S

Upcoming Meeting Dates and Locations

  • September 12, 2019 – Wilmette Public Library
  • November 7, 2019 – Oak Lawn Public Library
  • January Open Board Meeting – Board decision TBD
  • February 13, 2020 – Schaumburg Township District Library
  • April 9, 2020 – Open Board Meeting TBD
  • May 2020 – Networking/RA LIt Focused – Tournament of Books unveiling

Round III, Bracket II: Dry vs. The Prince and the Dressmaker

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

When the California drought escalates to catastrophic proportions, one teen is forced to make life and death decisions for her family in this harrowing story of survival from New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman.

The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

Dry was a solid dystopian novel. So much in this genre are post-apocalyptic with a needle pointing toward the fantastic rather than the realistic. We forget there are very real and natural threats to our lives. And given the real-life droughts happening in California, the reality of this apocalyptic vision makes this story all the more horrific. Our five young leads are comprised of a protective older-sister, her perceptive younger brother, a doomsday prepper, a volatile but resourceful rogue, and a charming pathological liar. The drought a.k.a. tap-out really highlighted the ugliest parts of humanity, but you get the sense that everyone understands that they had to hit pause button on their humanity in order to survive.

While the tap-out happened right at the beginning, the pace of the story didn’t pick up until halfway through. I know several YA novels love the multiple first-person POV format, but I found it made the story choppy in this context. We shift from one character’s perspective to the next often in the same setting. The proper breaks in pacing happened in the Snapshots. These vignettes of other people living the drought pulled the lens of the story wider than I had expected. Each one felt a little darker the last and served to illustrate how much worse the drought would get over time.

I remember the first time I had ever been dehydrated. It was the summer after my freshman year of high school at a JROTC summer camp. We were doing our orienteering course that day but instead of ever properly learning what an azimuth was, I got a severe migraine and couldn’t hold down any water I took in. So the idea that an entire region of the United States could be suffering the same fate without a Gatorade and an IV to rescue them filled me with a sense of panic I don’t care to relive. I think far more people would have died than this story suggests. And certainly no one would rebound with energy with the smallest drink of water.

But for as many gruesome and harrowing moments Dry could depict, we’re rewarded with a happy ending and nothing to suggest we should hold on to a little bit of fear. There is cross-appeal for fans of dystopian fiction and realistic YA here. And I would give this book to anyone who wants to put humanity under a microscope and decide whether Dry really got it right. How would you behave if you were literally dying of thirst?

This would make for an awesome mini-series (I live for television mini-series). A movie couldn’t do the magnitude of this sort of crisis justice and an entire TV series would jump the shark before it hit its second season. But a mini-series would be exactly right. One episode for each day of the crisis and each of them cold opens to the “snapshots” that appear throughout the book. Bet we’ll catch it on Netflix this summer.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

The teens in my library’s LGBTQ+ group oscillate between discussing advocacy and a desire for the normalization of their being in their day-to-day lives. The reality for many of them is a tightrope they walk. In this story, I found a prince who was very much unashamed of his being. But the threat of the reality of the consequences of Prince Sebastian’s authentic self gave him no alternative but to keep it a secret. There is a nuance to the prince’s gender-fluidity that I don’t see in very many places. He was the prince and Lady Crystallia all at once. And the slow burn of Sebastian and Frances’s romance was a breath of fresh air. Because of course someone could love him for exactly who he is.

Frances’s character is inspiring in her own right. She has a vision and a dream and the grit to achieve it. She seizes every opportunity to bring her designs to life and develops a real friendship with her subject in the process. And when her friendship develops into something more, she has the resolve to achieve her life’s ambition when that friendship threatens to suppress credit for her work and her notoriety.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is an all-around beautifully illustrated graphic novel. Since the story is much too short to fully-flesh out the world behind it, the characters are truly where it shines. While you can’t really judge words on a page when a book is mostly illustrated, the characters still felt multidimensional and real. And the dressmaker’s designs are absolutely gorgeous.

I would suggest this book for anyone who wants a quick and lighthearted story that isn’t too heavy on the romance. And for any teen who struggles to find acceptance where they need it most. This book serves as a gentle reminder that living authentically will lead to a richer, fulfilling life and may even be wholly embraced by those you feared you may disappoint.

Adapted, this story would make for a stunning film in costuming alone. While the dresses are certainly beautiful on the page, their magic is expressed in Lady Crystallia’s confidence. It would be incredible to see them come to life. And I would definitely pay good money to see the king and his men strutting in Frances’s best designs at her fashion show in live action.

The Winner: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker gets to move on to the next round. I chose it because I know my teens would. Dystopian fiction had its day. Stories with a variety of diversity are what my teen patrons look for these days. And they especially look for stories that have themselves reflected in them. This story ended in Prince Sebastian’s complete acceptance by those who mattered most and with Frances receiving the recognition for her life’s work she so rightly deserved. Teens, like any of us, want to live authentically. We should give them stories that shows them that it’s possible.

Priscilla Resendiz works in Adult Reference and Young Adult services at the Waukegan Public Library. She’s attempting to expand her reading horizons beyond comedy and sci-fi and is open to every reading suggestion. In the spaces between odd library hours she volunteers with the local high school, goes to kendo practice (but not nearly enough), and watches way too much Star Trek.

Previous Post

Next Post

Round III, Bracket I: The Poet X vs. American Panda

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

Acevedo’s first page is a tough sell. The whole book is written in a beautiful narrative poetry without excessive flourish, but the first page is more flowery and offers a language barrier to an English-speaking reader. Throughout the book there are a lot of Spanish words, phrases, and sometimes whole pages. These are always explained, either with outright English translations or through context clues. The two languages flow smoothly through the story of a girl caught between cultures. But the Spanish on the first page isn’t explained and it made me dread reading the rest because I expected to stop frequently to Google the translation. My point: don’t let the first page scare you away.

Xiomara is a 15 year-old who is expected to fulfill her mother’s lost dreams. She is expected to complete Confirmation classes and fully accept the religion that is so important to her mother, but her “doubt has already been confirmed.” Xiomara’s story revolves around three relationships that are difficult in any teen’s life: her mother, her crush, and her body. Her struggles and pain are relatable no matter the reader’s background. This story is for anyone who needs to be heard.

Poetry is Xiomara’s outlet in the book, but readers could translate that aspect into anything that helps them express themselves. The book is not so focused on poetry that it is off-putting to us prose readers. I would recommend The Poet X to any teen. It would also be a good fit for the parents of teenage girls. It offers several topics that could make excellent conversation starters for teens and their parents. Xiomara isn’t given the information she needs on taboo topics such as menstruation, religion, and sex. She sees her body as a problem, her curves drawing too much attention, and her mother confirms this thought.

The poetic format makes the book go by quickly; it would definitely be a good choice for busy teens. There is an intensity to the story that makes you root for Xiomara and keep turning pages until her problems are resolved. However, the resolutions in her relationships came a little easily considering how difficult the problems felt. Questioning any aspect of her mother’s rules earns punishments that made me cringe. Xiomara ends up with a support network to help her move forward, but her physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her mother is not addressed. Wrapping everything up so quickly at the end disappointed me after the steady flow and heart wrenching scenes throughout the book. If The Poet X was adapted into something else, it would make a great play. There is something about seeing spoken word poetry live that makes a bigger impact than watching it on a screen. A stage adaptation would allow the heart and pain of the characters to come to life.

American Panda by Gloria Chao

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Mei’s parents were born in Taiwan and have extremely traditional beliefs that control every aspect of their and their children’s lives. Chao makes it clear that this is an extreme interpretation of a culture, not what would be seen in most Chinese-American families. Mei, a 17 year-old student at MIT, is caught between wanting to obey her parents and wanting to be happy. While the story delves frequently into cultural superstitions and rules, it is familiar to anyone who feels different from their parents, and who doesn’t, at 17?

Mei is expected to work hard at both beauty and academics, always falling short of her family’s expectations. The contradiction is evident in her struggles with poor eyesight; she can’t see across the room but isn’t allowed to wear glasses because because they’re ugly. Her life is summed up when she says “most things you did weren’t good enough and unconditional obedience was expected.” Anyone who has struggled to meet someone else’s standards will see themselves in Mei. Because of this relatability, the character’s strength in overcoming obstacles is even more impactful. She is able to push through the pain of her parents’ disapproval and actually turn the relationship around enough to help them. One strong part of the characterization is Mei’s love for her parents; despite her difficult relationship with their traditional views, she will not allow anyone to criticize them. Teens will relate to this emotional tug of war. The setting of American Panda is developed nicely, allowing readers to wander around MIT alongside the characters. It shows a glimpse of college life that isn’t often seen in YA. The story is realistic, heartbreaking, and humorous. The book moves fast and keeps your attention, making it a good choice for reluctant readers. I would definitely watch it as a movie; Mei performs cultural dances that would be beautiful on screen.  

The Winner: American Panda by Gloria Chao

There was a huge overlap in these two books despite being focused on completely different cultures. Neither protagonist received important medical or sexual information from her parents. Both were expected to fulfill their mothers’ unmet dreams. Both found a form of expression that allowed them to survive the strict rules and steep punishments. These stories will ring true with many teens no matter their background. I found both books to be well-written, immersive reads. There are two things that pushed my choice toward American Panda as the winner: the humor and resolution. The voicemails had me laughing out loud throughout the book, and there is even a stand up comedy routine. The humor added lightness and likeability to American Panda, whereas The Poet X was primarily dark and dramatic. Not every book needs a happy ending, but for teens who could so easily relate to these characters, allowing an abusive relationship to exist without resolution or explanation in The Poet X is problematic. I would be hesitant to hand the book to a teen dealing with abuse in their own life. In American Panda the conflicts are cleared up for a healthier conclusion. The author’s note at the end also reaches out to readers to let them know they’re not alone. It is a story of a strong female protagonist navigating two cultures to find her own happiness. American Panda wins my vote.

Rylie Roubal is the director, marketer, web designer, kid and teen collection development specialist, teen and adult programmer, and occasional cleaner of mysterious messes at the Hinckley Public Library District. She enjoys playing pool, drinking tea, and reading books in which at least one main character dies at the end.

Previous Post

Next Post

Round II, Bracket VIII: Children of Blood and Bone vs. The Belles

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy

Tagline: They thought they took our magic.

        They were wrong.

Review: Zelie Adebola is a Diviner, a feared and repressed people who once wielded the power of magic. Amari is Orisha’s princess, spurred to treasonous action after witnessing an act of violence. When their paths collide, their quest begins: bring back the magic that was stolen from the world. Told from multiple viewpoints, Children of Blood and Bone excels in both world-building and in character development. Orisha is a vibrant, living place; supporting characters are distinct and developed, and the mythology of Orisha is well cultivated. While this is the first book in a series, complete with a teaser for future volumes, it reads like a standalone without a substantial cliffhanger. The authors’ note at the end is impactful and underscores the allegory of the tale. Teens who enjoy action, romance, or fantasy will be ready to stand up and cheer by the end of this tale.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Tagline: Beauty is the real Beast.

Review: Camellia Beauregard is a Belle, a gorgeous human by birth – a rarity – and one who wields the magical power of beauty. The default appearance of the society is gray-skinned, red-eyed, and bad-haired, but Belles wield the ability to beautify people. The Belles are debuted in the capital, then assigned to their workspace, whether it be tea house or palace. They soon discover that their lives aren’t as glamorous as they’d anticipated. The Belles’ strength lies in Clayton’s descriptions – lavish buildings, dresses, and appearances abound. Character development isn’t quite as strong: with the exception of Camellia, Amber, and Edel, all the other Belles are pretty much interchangeable. A supporting character’s betrayal is not that surprising, while the villain, Princess Sophia, is cut from the same cloth as Game of Thrones’s Prince Joffrey. The Belles is very much an “opening” book, setting up the beginning of a series and ending on a cliffhanger. Never fear though, book two The Everlasting Rose will be released March 5th. Teens who enjoy lavish settings and royal intrigue will appreciate this title.

The Winner: Children of Blood and bone by Tomi Adeyemi

With superior world-building and character development, it’s a title that leaves you satisfied as you wait for the next installment.

Kate Kite is a Research & Instruction/ Teen Services Librarian for Six Mile Regional Library District. She has worked in libraries since 2002. When she’s not busy pretending to throw glitter, she enjoys giving high-fives.

Previous Post

Next Post

Round II, Bracket VII: The Cruel Prince vs. The Astonishing Color of After

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

“Just a Human Girl, Livin’ in a Dangerous Faerie World“

The book shines in its character-driven world, exploring relationships between siblings, stepparents, bullies, and figures of authority. Fantasy books are not without fun world-building and in this case we have castles, a hidden lair, faerie fruits that make humans pliable and under brain control, saddled-up giant frogs that are ridden like horses, and flowers that turn into flying horses. Jude, a human in a Faerie world, is a fighter and the reader will be rooting for her success, even in times when her actions are not exactly morally sound. Moments when Jude stands up for herself will have the reader cheering her on this journey in a foreign world.

I would hand this to a reader who I know has enjoyed strong fantasy series and is interested in finding a book that has a sequel. The ending leaves the reader hanging and eager to begin the next book (The Wicked King, out January 2019).

Some commitment to characters is required as there are many players in this game: princesses, princes, friends, knights, servants, and more, all with very unique names. Readers of this book must also be the type who do not mind blood and gore, and who enjoy a good swordfighting scene. There are some intense scenes of violence, including bullying violence. For the teens that ask for books with no sex, this fits the bill, though there is one kissing scene and off-scene references to heirs being sired. I would definitely classify this as a fantasy adventure book.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X R Pan

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

“Chasing Ghost Birds in Taiwan”

This is truly a uniquely written story, with breathtaking descriptions of emotion as color. For example: brown muddy guilt, pleased as linden green, and shame like Velcro. Leigh’s best friend Axel often asks her “What color?” instead of “How do you feel?”.

This book boasts 108 chapters, but it doesn’t feel like a daunting read because the chapters are short and have marks midway through at the ends of scenes. Not to mention, Pan’s writing is lyrical and fast moving with easy to understand scenes.

Readers who enjoy art and music but feel family pressure to pursue more economical careers may connect with Leigh’s passion for art. A central theme of the book is Leigh’s shared interest in art with her best friend Axel; one of their favorite activities is hanging out with sketchbooks for hours.

Readers who have experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide will find this book profoundly moving. The author experienced this and provides suicide resources at the back along with a touching author’s note. This can be a very emotional read at times and may fit the bill for teens who ask “I want a book that will make me cry.”

Readers who enjoy learning about new cultures will love digging into a new culture. This story takes place in Taiwan and the reader will find vivid descriptions of life there through Leigh’s eyes. Visiting the Taiwanese Night Market, Leigh tries deep fried squid tentacles, fish bowls, and buns filled with sesame paste. Leigh has to communicate with her grandparents through broken Chinese and she struggles to relearn the phrases to help her connect with them.

The Winner: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Both stories are excellent for readers who cope with feeling out of place in a different world.

Though Pan’s “Color” has a lyrical and breathtaking writing style, a magical realism storyline featuring suicide may not be for every teen. Meanwhile, The Cruel Prince has high fantasy, adventure, friendship, and will find a larger readership. This was a very difficult decision to make, but The Cruel Prince could easily be put in the hands of any teen looking for a good, fast-paced story to connect with, making it the clear winner.

Genna Mickey is the Assistant Director at the Sugar Grove Public Library, running both the Adult & Teen Departments. Her favorite books include dystopian thrillers, funny memoirs, graphic novels, nonfiction dealing with social justice issues, and YA fantasy/sci-fi. When she’s not reading, you can find her binge-watching The Office or Parks and Recreation with her husband and their 5 fur-children (3 cats and 2 dogs). J

Previous Post

Next Post

Round II, Bracket VI: Sadie vs. Monday’s Not Coming

Sadie by Courtney Summers

A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.


Sadie is a brutal, twisty mystery of a book that explores the ugliness that hides underneath our society, the girls that fall through the cracks into the ugliness, and how Sadie fights not just to climb out of the ugliness but to destroy those who put her there. The structure jumping back and forth between the podcast and Sadie’s point of view builds tensions as the mystery unfolds and you wonder if West will be able to find her in time – in time for what though? To stop her? To save her? Besides the structure, where Summers excels is in how she manages to breathe life into the side characters. With just small glimpses of Claire (Sadie’s mom) and May Beth (Sadie’s surrogate grandmother), Summers gives careful readers a glimpse of their fallibility as narrators – especially when you compare viewpoints among the three (Sadie, Claire and May Beth).  Fiercely feminist and deeply angry, Sadie will appeal to teens who are already angry about the way the world treats girls and women as well as to those who enjoy a bleak, twisty thriller. As a bonus, anyone who enjoys audiobooks should check this out – the production on the podcast sections is particularly great and mimics current crime podcasts eerily well.

Tagline: Sadie hunts for a killer as those she left behind try to find her before it’s too late in this thriller that’s part Serial, part Speak, and part Winter’s Bone.

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson

Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.

As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?

Tiffany D. Jackson is a master at writing main characters that are hiding things from not just their audience, but themselves. First in Allegedly, and now in Monday’s Not Coming Jackson slowly reveals the daily horrors that shape her characters’ worlds and lives sometimes ending with a warping of their very minds. I also appreciated the way Claudia saw the world and people through different colors since coloring is a way she copes with stress. The structure in Monday’s Not Coming is unique. Jackson tells the story over the course of the school year alternating among the Before, the After, and several different years Before the Before. It took me getting through a couple of the months to understand what was happening, so this would be best for persistent readers who don’t mind waiting awhile for a mystery to build before it begins to reveal itself.

Tagline: What would you do if your best friend went missing and nobody else seemed to notice or care?

The Winner: Sadie by Courtney Summers

“I can’t take another dead girl.” May Beth’s refrain could fit both of these books equally well and let me tell you, I love a good dark thriller, but once I finish the rest of my current reads the next book I pick up is going to be all sweetness and light (Phoebe and Her Unicorn here I come).

These two books are great read-alikes for each other. So many adjectives describe them both: bleak, twisty, brutal, angry – particularly at a world that allows girls over and over again to be forgotten, to die, to remain unavenged. Both the trailer park where Sadie’s family waits anxiously for her return and Jackson’s Washington D.C. neighborhoods, are fully realized settings. Both are tightly plotted with fully fleshed out characterizations.

So often I read judges in these competitions talking about comparing apples and oranges, or apples and mailboxes or something equally odd if they feel titles are really different, but I feel like I’m choosing from two really excellent, beautifully ripe and delicious apples. In the end, I’m picking Sadie. The way Summers sets up the podcast to comment on not just Sadie’s story, but on the way our society consumes crime stories often at the expense of all those dead girls that start the stories off, moves it from excellent to outstanding. But really, you can’t go wrong recommending either one to teens.

Jennifer Jazwinski is the Early Literacy Librarian at the Palatine Public Library District. This is her sixth, and probably final, year as a YASF Tournament of Books judge. She blogs about starred reviews and best book lists and book awards at Jen J’s Booksheets. You can also find her as Bkwrm7 on Litsy.

Previous Post

Next Post