Going Rogue (Also Known As #2) – Robin Benway

Action, Best "best friends", families, Female Leads, love, Middle Grade Romance, Safe Bets, Series, spies, Young Readers

In this second novel of the Also Known As series focused on the average family out the outside, super spies on the inside, we find 16-year-old Maggie in a good place.  She still loves living in New York, her best friend Roux, and her boyfriend Jesse.  She has great parents (spies) and a friend-uncle (also a spy) and her skills at opening safes are amazingly honed.

……. and of course that can’t last…….

Soon her parents are facing false accusations of stealing and Maggie must face her next challenge without them.  Don’t worry for our girl though, she’s a quick thinker and has a new team to help her.  This tale takes us to Paris, a new twist with the Collective, and also the typical high school challenges that Maggie, Roux, and Jesse face – as well as the secret world that awaits our favorite spy family.  Maggie is a little more experienced than the first novel and faces more grown up issues once she is on her own.  However, she is still a character with heart who puts the protection of her friends and family above her own.

It’s a safe series that keeps the reader’s attention.  Roux is, thankfully, a voice of realism and sarcasm and even she finds some happiness and acceptance in this sequel.  The intrigue continues not only throughout this book, but enough that I will continue with the series (as soon as there is word on Book #3, which there isn’t as of today).  It’s funny, smart, loyal, and adds adventure and mystery.


P.S. I Like You – Kasie West

families, love, Middle Grade Romance, music, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Lily wants to be a songwriter and her constant need to create lyrics eventually leads her to a secret pen-pal who can also talk about music.  For a girl who doesn’t feel she fits in at her high school other than with her best friend and no help to Cade, who singles her out whenever he can, she finally finds a person who she can be completely open with. It begins as a simple doodle and lyric on a desk in Chemistry class, but soon develops to a full note exchange between classes.  This is similar to You’ve Got Mail with pen-pals being school notes left in a desk.

Once Lily learns a few details about her pen-pal, she begins to look at most kids in her school with a curious thought: could he/she be the pen pal?  Juggling school, a music competition, and her overcrowded house with a sister and twin younger brothers, there’s not a lot of time for Lily to write.  Add to this, her best friend and her boyfriend trying to set her up with their friend Daniel.  Soon Lily wonders is her pen pal the cute boy she always sees listening to his headphones or should she stop hiding behind the secrecy of letter writing and focus on Daniel right in front of her?

She is a strong girl who doesn’t mind wearing the clothes she buys from thrift stores or being the odd girl who stands up to Cade.  Still, the mystery of a stranger who she can speak about music with is inciting and causes Lily to act similarly as any teenager with a crush.  It’s honest and real and any teen uninterested in dating or those that don’t mind developing crushes each week will enjoy.  Readers will find themselves in a little bit of Lily.  Characters can be independently strong, yet also susceptible to the actions of peers and the distractions of a first crush.



Holding Up the Universe – Jennifer Niven

diversity in YA, families, Favorites, gay characters

Jennifer Niven continues to bring together two unlikely people with the characters of Libby Strout (the fattest teen in America) and Jack Masselin, who cannot recognizes faces.  After years of Libby being home-bound (and losing hundreds of pounds) she reenters the world of public school, years after she had to be removed from her house by a crane.  Libby has overcome her mother’s death and faces high school bravely and with a fierce sense of humor.  Jack, always trying to fit in with those around him so that they don’t notice his moments of confusion at not recognizing his friends, remembers Libby from the night her house was taken apart so that an overweight girl could be lifted from it.

Now in high school, Jack gets caught up in a cruel game of ‘fat girl rodeo’ and he and Libby are linked together beginning with the prank and ending with group sessions and community service.  Libby is brave throughout the story, hardly letting teasing affect her.  She dances, has a quick wit, and knows people have seen the news story of her years ago, but doesn’t let it define her.  Soon she is also the only one Jack has confided into about his Prosopagnosia disorder.  An unlikely friendship for sure, but it is one with humor and support.

“We’re all weird and damaged in our own way. You’re not the only one.”

In the bravest move Libby could imagine, she proves to students – and herself – that she IS wanted, that everyone has insecurities, and that she is alive and present.  She encourages everyone to be proud of themselves and dance!  With a unique challenge/diagnosis pairing, the plot is original and really focuses on being true to yourself and loving what makes you – You!  There is a lot of cussing in this one though which is why I have it as 14 or over.

I kept thinking of the title and wondered if ‘holding up the universe’ was the weight on Libby’s shoulders, or thinking back to her substantial weight gain after her mother’s death, but finally I think it’s about how everyone is connected.  It’s a collective togetherness.

On a side note

– there is some backlash on the internet about Niven’s portrayal of obesity and the few moments Libby doubts her worth.  Instead of focusing on those fictional thoughts, the more significant portrayal of Libby is one who is fiercely strong, funny, kind, brave, and happy.  In the letter she writes to everyone/anyone, she gives worth to everyone, no matter their intelligence, size, race, or skill.  Some also think her portrayal of a cognitive disorder is romanticizing mental defects and focuses too severely on prosopagnosia.  Niven always researches for her books and writes in a respectful, profound, and delicate way.  I’m sure, like every disorder there is a range of severity, and she focused on Jack’s as severe.  As always though, this is fiction.  Enjoy fiction and know the overall tone is one of kindness, being true to yourself, and seeing past the labels of high school.

As always, I love Jennifer Niven and find her writing beautiful and that the story is always worth reading.

“Dear friend, You are not a freak. You are wanted. You are necessary. You are the only you there is. Don’t be afraid to leave the castle. It’s a great big world out there. Love, a fellow reader”

The Unwanteds – Lisa McMann

Fantasy, Favorites, Safe Bets, Series

The cover proudly quotes Kirkus Reviews describing the book as  “The Hunger Games Meets Harry Potter” and that is a pretty accurate statement.

Children, teens, and adults will all enjoy this 7 (about to be 8) book series where children are determined to be “Wanteds”, “Necessaries”, or “Unwanteds” based on intelligence vs. creativity.  For Alex, an Unwanted, he assumed he’d be executed after the Purge – as that is what has occurred for decades, but instead all of the Unwanteds are rescued each year and live peacefully hidden away in a magical part of the forest run by an elected official, who is supposed to execute the very children he protects.

In Artime, the children are encouraged and taught to express themselves and their creativity.  Those with talent for acting, writing, painting, and drawing being to hone their talents.  As they master basic levels, they then begin their magical training [see how Harry Potter-esque this is.]  After about 6 months, their skills have advanced, but Alex still misses his twin brother (a Wanted) and finds a way to communicate with him.  At the same time Mr. Today informs the student body, professors, and magical creatures and statues that he fears someday in the near future they will be found and will be forced to defend one another and Artime.

In a magical, hidden forest, where creativity is encouraged and slam poetry or splatter painting can be magical defenses, who wouldn’t find enjoyment in this story?

Very enjoyable both for the magic and the politics between Quill and Artime.  Only a few deaths in the battle at the end, but similarly as Harry Potter, I suspect it gets darker as the series continues.



Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins



I keep reading books that people ask if it’s believable…. so yeah, I read about meteor’s knocking the moon out of orbit; alien invasions; rich kids with a private island off the coast of the Hamptons and now a plot of a 17 year old going to a foreign school in Paris.  So, not so much my senior year of high school, but for the wanderlust folk who also like a bit of self-deprecation a ‘la Bridget Jones …… this is your book 🙂

Anna was suddenly told that her senior year would be abroad and without any say in the matter, she is packed up and living in a 10 x7 foot dorm room with walls as thin as band-aids.  Thankfully, she falls into a group of internationals quite fast and struggles mostly with beginner’s French and the occasional bout of homesickness.

This is a light, girly – yet funny, novel (series) after I read The 5th Wave, which is enjoyable, but one that I started mostly because I have the series in my library and I feel I should know all of my series before matching them to a young reader.

This is cute, a bit too cute with the perfect boy with the cute British accent who speaks way more maturely than any 18 year old and sees to fit every stereotype of a young European crush.  But if you can get over that dream guy who notices too much, apologizes for infringing on her bookshelf, and seems too-good-to-be-true….. then it’s a great story about studying abroad in Paris.  In other words, the preteens will love it (and him).

Totally fine for young readers – a brief drunken night between St. Clair and Josh, but the resulting hangovers certainly don’t put drinking in a good light.  Of course when Anna comes home for Winter Break she is surprised that her life moved on without her: friends, a crush, even her family.  She is surprised “home” is now Paris and not Atlanta.

This portrays both the homesickness and the excitement with living abroad accurately – when I did it, we were told to expect a “W” of highs and lows.  The group of friends is honest with fights, jealousy, annoyances, and inside jokes.  I actually liked the group dynamics the best.  In the end though, of course Anna gets the guy- but it doesn’t happen easily and she has to navigate through hurt feelings, insecurities, and teenage angst.

So yes, a perfect YA European romance.  There’s mention of sex, two occasions of drunkenness, bullying and rumors, and a sick parent.  But there is also realistic friendship and honest dialogue.  14 and over if you are worried about the drinking, but I think it’s fine for under 14’s for those already reading YA.

Series: Lola and the Boy Next Door, Isla and the Happily Ever After