THE SNOW FELL THREE GRAVES DEEP: VOICES FROM THE DONNER PARTY by Allan Wolf

As many times as I’ve heard the words “Donner Party“, I really didn’t know much about the its history. All I knew was Donner Party = Cannibals. I was very intrigued by the fantastic reviews I read of The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep by Allan Wolf, and so I picked it up a few days ago. At first I had a hard time getting into it, but then I really couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to know how things turned out for all the people I was reading about. It’s made pretty clear from the get go, that many of the men, women, and children migrating from the Midwest to California die of hunger (one of the narrators of the story is Hunger), sickness, and cold. That didn’t stop me from wanting to know exactly what happened, how people can be driven to become cannibals. The story is told from the points of view of several of the pioneers and Miwok Indian guides, and really makes you understand how they all must have felt that terrible winter. It was a sad and at times, brutal, story, but I’m very glad that I read it. I would give this to any teen, grades 8 and up, interested in history or historical fiction, that would like to learn more about the Donner Party.

Amazon.com: The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party  (9780763663247): Wolf, Allan: Books

THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon

I loved Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, and really enjoyed The Sun is Also a Star the first time I read it a couple of years ago. I was so excited to see a bunch of available copies on Libby, so I chose this book for my Not-So-Young Adult Book Club, my adult book club that reads YA. I honestly think I liked it even more this time around. Even though it’s a couple of years old, it’s more relevant than ever, its main characters are Natasha, an undocumented immigrant from Jamaica, and Daniel, a first generation Korean immigrant. Natasha is trying a last ditch effort to stop her family from being deported, and Daniel is on his way to a Yale interview he is not the least bit interested in.  They meet cute in a music store, and spend an intense few hours hitting up different spots in NYC, falling in love and figuring out life in the process. This book is a great realistic fiction book , with just the right amount of corny romance. I still need to see the movie version! I would recommend this book to any teen that likes those genres, 8th grade and up. 

Amazon.com: The Sun Is Also a Star (Yoon, Nicola) (9780553496680): Yoon,  Nicola: Books

2020 Wrap Up

This has been a really tough year for everyone. We have all had to settle for a new normal, along with being stressed about COVID and the changes that has brought to all of our lives. However, there has been one big positive that I have gotten from this year, and that has been the time to read. I have always been a big reader, but as I’ve gotten older, and especially after I had my kids, I’ve had less and less time to read. Finding myself home most of the time, has given me back that chance to read more, 128 YA and Adult books (not including the oodles of picture books) to be exact. And wow, so many of them have been amazing. Since I haven’t been able to write about all of them, I am going to list some of my favorite YA books that I’ve read this year, below:

  1. The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious #3) by Maureen Johnson
  2. Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour
  3. When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson
  4. Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi
  5. Three Things I Know are True by Betty Culley
  6. Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder
  7. What I Carry by Jennifer Longo
  8. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
  9. Frankly in Love by David Yoon
  10. They Went Left by Monica Hesse

All of these great books are available to be checked out here, and many are available as eBooks and/or eAudiobooks on Libby or Hoopla.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading!

The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, #3) by Maureen Johnson

A GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO MURDER by Holly Jackson

I’ve been intrigued by this book a few times this year, it was recommended to me by Kelli, has been compared to one of my favorite books I read this year, Truly Devious, but it wasn’t until it was voted second place in the YA fiction category on the Goodreads Choice awards that I decided to give it a try. It had a slow start for me, but I’m so glad I forged ahead, because this was a great mystery! It very much reminded me of the Serial podcast.

Pip is doing an independent project for her senior year of high school, and she decides to try to solve a local murder/suicide, one that the police and public think have already been solved. Pip doesn’t believe that Sal Singh murdered his girlfriend (who was never found), and then committed suicide, and so reopens the case to try to find the truth. She interviews people related to the case, pores over social media, and befriends Sal’s brother, Ravi, which leads her on a dangerous path, but one that ultimately proves to be different and more fruitful than the investigation led by the police. The twists and turns were nail biting, and I was very satisfied with the ending.

This is a great murder mystery book for any high school student that likes the genre.

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson: 9781984896391 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

DISPLACEMENT by Kiku Hughes

Today, for the first time ever, I am going to have a guest reviewer on this blog, and share my wonderful co-worker Kelli’s review of Displacement by Kiku Hughes.

“So much of our history had been obscured by silence.” (129)

This is such a heart-wrenching and moving story about not just the impact of the Japanese internment camps on one American family but the lasting impacts of the camps on Japanese-Americans, Japanese diaspora, and on American society as a whole. Actions and behaviors and the memories of both hold power. These actions have consequences that ripple across time and space. This kind of trauma leaves a lasting wound, a scar. Scars represent both hurting and healing — a complexity that I think this story tackles very well. This story challenges readers to hear how loud silence can be, especially in regards to injustices.

I was deeply moved by this story and the approach that Hughes took — telling this story as a kind of generational memory, triggered by current events that seem to be invoking the same injustices and prejudices. It connects the past to the present and conveys that nothing happens in a vacuum. There is a long history of injustice perpetrated against POC in this country. It is important to remember that. As a descendant of white settlers in America, it’s very important that I remember these legacies of oppression and respect these voices calling out oppression now.

I think this is a very important story and I highly recommend it. I think it will especially open doors for younger readers, inviting them to think more critically about this country and about systemic oppression. 

Amazon.com: Displacement (9781250193537): Hughes, Kiku: Books

HEARTSTOPPER VOLS. 1 & 2 by Alice Oseman

I love a good graphic novel, and Alice Oseman has two of them – Heartstopper Volumes 1 & 2. This sweet and beautifully illustrated teenage romance story between Charlie, a previously bullied gay teen boy in Year 10 (he attends an English all boys school), and his popular jock best friend in Grade 11, Nick, is one of the best of the year. It can be really mushy and gushy, a little even corny at times, but who doesn’t love that once in awhile? Especially with characters as likable as Charlie and Nick. There isn’t too much conflict, except for some of Nick’s friends being homophobic, but he deals with them pretty swiftly. There is some discussion of Nick thinking about his sexuality and what it means for him to like Charlie, but in a very real, very mature way. Both volumes are equally great, and should be read by anyone that enjoy teen that enjoys light romance stories and graphic novels.

Recap: 'Heartstopper' Vol 1 + 2 by Alice Oseman | The Nerd Daily

POISONED by Jennifer Donnelly

I love a good fairy retelling, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. And there have been so many great ones in the last few years, Red Hood and Damsel by Elana K. Arnold being some of my favorites, but also Jennifer Donnelly‘s Stepsister, which came out last year. So I was so excited to hear that she had another one being released this month, Poisoned. Poisoned, as you may be able to tell by the name, is a Snow White retelling. Sophie is a very kind and beloved princess, with a very cruel and iron fisted stepmother. When a scary guy in the mirror tells her stepmother that Sophie will be her downfall, she has her killed by the Huntsman. He succeeds in removing her heart, but she is saved by seven brothers that live in the woods – one is able to use machinery in its place. Sophie’s stepmother, and the creepy man in the mirror (who is actually lying to her), try and fail several times to kill her. It’s a sometimes brutal story, but there are some very cool fantasy elements (the seven brothers have a huge spider as a chef in their house), and Sophie is just a super likeable character, that really comes into her own as a leader. Also, the question of who the man in the mirror is makes for a good mystery. A great fairy retelling for anyone that is into them, or fantasy in general. 

Amazon.com: Poisoned (9781338268492): Donnelly, Jennifer: Books

BEAUTY MARK by Carole Boston Weatherford

I guess I just can’t get enough of all of the amazing novels-in-verse that have come out this year. In the last week I’ve read Swing by Kwame Alexander, which was amazing, and also Beauty Mark: a verse novel of Marilyn Monroe by Carole Boston Weatherford, also fantastic. This really is the year of novels-in-verse! No complaints here, I’m happy for them to keep ’em coming. Beauty Mark told the story of Marilyn Monroe‘s life, which a lot of people, especially teens, might not know about her very rough childhood, and hardships she dealt with, even while being one of the most famous stars in America.

I read this book in one sitting, it was that well done. I sort of knew a little bit of what Marilyn Monroe had gone through, that she was typecast as a dumb blonde, struggled with drugs, and had married and divorced several times, but I didn’t know about her very traumatic and rough childhood. She was passed from foster home to family friend to relative all throughout her young life, and suffered a lot because of it. Marilyn Monroe was a lot more than a beautiful face and an entertaining actress, and this book really gave the reader a much more thorough picture of her.

I thought it was a great read, for anyone high schooler or adult interested in biographies, novels in verse, or history.

Amazon.com: Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe (9781536206296):  Weatherford, Carole Boston: Books

THE MAGIC FISH by Trung Le Nguyen

I love a good graphic novel. One of the newest ones to come in, and also one of the best reviewed of the year, is The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen. I was immediately intrigued by the promise of fairy tales, because I have always loved them, but this book was so much more. 


Tié̂n communicates with his mom using a Vietnamese/English mix. And he likes to read fairy tales with his mom to help her improve her English, but also just to spend time with her. These are beautiful fairy tales, different but also familiar stories – Nguyen is influenced by fairy tale retellings from European and Asian cultures. And the stories are interspersed with what’s going on in Tié̂n’s and his mother’s lives. He is struggling with telling his mom about his sexuality, made harder by his conservative Midwest school. His mother is missing her own mother, who lives in Vietnam and hasn’t seen in many years, her old life and the people she left behind. It is a beautiful book, both in illustrations and also in its different stories. 

This book is both appropriate and would be enjoyed by middle schoolers all the way through adults. Anyone that wants to read more about the immigrant and refugee experience, and the relationship between first-generation and second-generation immigrant family members, should definitely read this book. 

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen: 9780593125298 | PenguinRandomHouse.com:  Books

PUNCHING THE AIR by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Last week I went on a novel in verse tear, in 7 days I read 4 – The Black Flamingo, Every Body Looking, Solo, and Punching the Air. I think once I read Black Flamingo, I just couldn’t get enough of them, and also they’re just so quick to read (and beautiful). The best one that I read last week, was Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam.

Yusef Salaam is one of the Exonerated Five, the group of boys that were falsely arrested and imprisoned for years for the Central Park jogger case, and were only exonerated after their full sentence. He brings his unique experience to this fictional novel about a boy, Amal, who was involved in a fight because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Someone got badly hurt, and even though he wasn’t the one that did the damage, he was still found Guilty and sent to a juvenile prison. The injustice of not just what happened to Amal at the trial, and continued to happen to him in prison, but the implicit bias and racism that Amal and other black teens have to suffer is highlighted so well throughout.

This book was so well done, I would recommend this to any high school student or adult that enjoys novels in verse. I think it’s an important read, that would also appeal to most readers, even reluctant ones.

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi