Monthly Archives: March 2016

Dreaming of Antigone 

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Dreaming of Antigone 

You can’t have a book that references Antigone without some dark family drama, and this book does rise to the challenge.  Dead sisters, men abusing power, and questions about fate and guilt surface in a contemporary take on the way we protect and destroy our families.

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Goodreads Summary

Every star has its own path…

“I can’t ever be the blazing star that Iris was. I’m still just a cold, dark satellite orbiting a star that went super nova.”
Andria’s twin sister, Iris, had adoring friends, a cool boyfriend, a wicked car, and a shelf full of soccer trophies. She had everything, in fact—including a drug problem. Six months after Iris’s death, Andria is trying to keep her grades, her friends, and her family from falling apart. But stargazing and books aren’t enough to ward off her guilt that she—the freak with the scary illness and all-black wardrobe—is still here when Iris isn’t. And then there’s Alex Hammond. The boy Andria blames for Iris’s death. The boy she’s unwittingly started swapping lines of poetry and secrets with, even as she tries to keep hating him.

Heartwrenching, smart, and bold, Dreaming of Antigone is a story about the jagged pieces that lie beneath the surface of the most seemingly perfect life…and how they can fit together to make something wholly unexpected.

My Thoughts

Readers will appreciate the honest depiction of the emotions and internal battles that are part of the aftermath of tragedy.  Andria, the narrator, is compelling both for her normalcy and for the events in her life that make her anything but normal.  Her conflicted attraction to the reformed bad boy she feels is responsible for her sister’s terrible spiral makes for an engaging set of complications as well.  I have to say, too, that the author took a set of dramatic circumstances and managed to keep them from taking over the story.  The focus here is really on the relationships, and I think that is why it worked so well.  Feelings and reactions didn’t feel exaggerated or overblown, and I think YA readers will respond to this tone because it feels believable.  Finally, you don’t gave to have any background knowledge to enjoy this book, but if you do, it adds another layer to the story.  I particularly enjoyed the way Andria’s perceptions of herself shift how she relates to the Greek tragedy she is studying in high school.  Overall, I think this book will be popular with my high school readers and I’m adding it to my high school classroom library wish list.  While the themes are mature, the approach makes this book appropriate for grades 9+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Wink, Poppy, Midnight is the most irritating YA I read this year

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Wink, Poppy, Midnight is the most irritating YA I read this year

The Amazon tag line for Wink, Poppy, Midnight reads,

The intrigue of The Raven Boys and the “supernatural or not” question of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer coalesce in this young adult mystery, where nothing is quite as it seems, no one is quite who you think, and everything can change on a dime.

My tag line for this book would read

This is nothing like The Raven Boys, and the only connection to The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is the fact that there are insane people in the book.  Based on your familiarity with the unreliable narrator, which has flooded the YA book market this past year, you will probably guess what is going on despite our best efforts to fool you with twists.

Two Stars

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Goodreads Summary

Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

What really happened?
Someone knows.
Someone is lying.

My Thoughts

I’m sure there are people who will enjoy this story.  Unfortunately I am not one of them.  It grated on my nerves because it felt too designed and false.  From the moment it opens with the Gillian Flynn knockoff of a Gone Girl narrator to the appearance of the next narrator, the manic pixie dream girl who will be her rival for the affection of a schmo of a broody emo boy (third narrator), I knew I wasn’t going to be happy. Intrigued. Confused. Not delighted.  The pretty prose does little to make up for what is essentially a game of a plot – a game that most readers will see coming from a mile away because the entire scenario makes readers suspicious of everyone.  I don’t think real teens act like this unless they are mentally ill.  Calculating, manipulative, and representing the worst of humanity – they don’t redeem themselves in any way.  Trendy and artsy fartsy, yes.  Insightful or meaningful?  No.  I don’t feel this is an appropriate read for humans with souls, but if you can’t resist, you should probably at least resist until you are in high school.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

This is Where it Ends is an intense and disturbing YA about the unthinkable tragedy of a school shooting

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This is Where it Ends is an intense and disturbing YA about the unthinkable tragedy of a school shooting

School shootings are not my favorite topic in YA literature, but I think it is important to look at the issue rather than to ignore it.  While I felt this book had good intentions, I found it more frightening than anything.

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Goodreads Summary

10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

My Thoughts

I have mixed feelings about this book because I was really engaged, but I was left feeling a little helpless.  This book covers a school shooting from the perspective of various intertwined high school characters.  Initially, the shift from character to character is confusing, and it did take a while for me to get everyone sorted out.  Even after I got the narrators straight, I still struggled with siblings and parents because it was such a vast cast.  The  tweets that were interspersed throughout the narrative were confusing and I couldn’t always identify the characters who were sending or receiving them (probably because I’m old).  Despite that difficulty, I found the book very compelling.  There are too many characters to list, but the shooter’s sister, her girlfriend, and the shooter’s ex girlfriend all contribute memories and impressions that form a picture of a disturbed boy who crosses a line into madness without clear warning.  I found myself drawn into this story for that picture.  The first and last question anyone has about a school shooting is always “Why?”  This book does a good job of answering that question, but it also left me feeling a little like there was no way to predict or prevent this incident and I was left wondering what the message was here.  The topic is given the appropriate gravity and handled with sensitivity while maintaining a nightmarish realism, but there just wasn’t anything I took away from the book other than the horror and shock of a terrible tragedy that probably couldn’t have been prevented or stopped.  I understand that some books are about character development, and this book has a lot of that – characters find their courage and have epiphanies about love, life and sacrifice that will change them forever, but I think this book has the potential to simply make readers afraid of their school more than anything else.  As a teacher who has been trained for an active shooter crisis, this got even my anxiety levels up, so I think the situations and violence make this most appropriate for mature high school readers.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

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Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

If you know me and my books at all, you know I cannot resist a time travel story, and there have been many of them to choose from this year.  While this wasn’t my favorite (that was Into the Dim if you were wondering), it was certainly the one that provoked the most thought.  Complex and thoughtful, I believe this book will have a wide appeal.

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Goodreads Summary

Passage, n.
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.

In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them—whether she wants to or not.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home… forever.

My Thoughts

This book has a slow start despite the action the protagonist finds herself thrown into within the first few chapters.  It gradually picks up steam, and readers who stick with it long enough will find a very compelling adventure full of love, betrayal, and time travel to far flung reaches.  Etta and Nicholas are the major players in this story, and their relationship is complicated by a variety of surprising elements that make for suspense and uncertainty right up until the final moments of the book.  While Etta is the protagonist, I actually think readers will find Nicholas the more complex and intriguing character – his backstory is heartbreaking and well developed.  He adds some needed diversity to the YA literary scene, and his situation will inspire some thoughtful consideration.  He will also allow this book to be one that my high school guys can enjoy as much as my high school girls.

Etta is a less well drawn character.  Her motivation in the book is  a little at odds with the initial image readers are given of her relationship to her mother.  She does, however, find a lot of growth as a result of her experiences and she has a determination and loyalty that will play well with the female YA demographic.  While I didn’t feel an intense connection with her, I think others will.

The plot is one that takes a bit of unravelling.  Readers will have to invest a bit of time to get the payoff, but I think it is worth the effort.  At times the romantic relationship took a frustrating amount of time, and that slowed the action, but it does create a more complex story and I think most YA readers will appreciate the time dedicated to developing this sub-plot.  I do think a bit more time could be spent explaining the time traveling concept, but it is clear enough for readers who can suspend disbelief and just roll with it.  My impression is that this is a purposeful lack of detail, one that will come into play as the series evolves.  I say that because the story does end with a clear arrow pointing towards more books. While it isn’t a terrible cliff-hanger of a “resolution,” it does leave the reader with unresolved conflicts, and that irritates some people beyond reason.  I wasn’t outraged, but I will be anticipating the next book starting today.

Overall, I think fans of all ages and both genders will find something to enjoy in this book.  I’m certainly adding it to my classroom library wish list and recommending it to fans of time travel and action reads.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 7+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Siren’s Song is exactly the conclusion readers want from Mary Weber’s Storm Siren trilogy

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Siren’s Song is exactly the conclusion readers want from Mary Weber’s Storm Siren trilogy

If you like Marie Lu’s The Young Elites, I think you will enjoy Mary Weber’s Storm Siren trilogy.  They have similar elements and similar feels, though they ultimately head in completely different directions.  The best part, though, is that Weber’s trilogy is finished (and each ebook only costs $5.99).  The final book, Siren’s Song, published this month, and I think it was the best of the three.  However, you have to read this series in order.  The first book is Storm Siren and the second is Siren’s Fury.   The third book, Siren’s Song, is exactly the ending that the Storm Siren trilogy needs.  If you have read the previous two books, it would be a big mistake to miss this resolution.

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Goodreads Summary

Nym and Draewulf prepare to face off in a battle destined to destroy more lives than it saves.

With the loss of Tulla still fresh in mind, Rasha’s fate unknown, and Lord Myles taken over by the dark ability, Nym and the few Bron soldiers rush to warn Cashlin’s queen. Only to discover it may already be too late for the monarch and her eerie kingdom. As the Luminescents are sifting through Nym’s past memories and the queen is reading into her future, Nym is given a choice of how to defeat Draewulf, but the cost may be more than she can bear. And even then there are no guarantees.

With that reality burrowing into her bones—along with the guilt of the lives she will sacrifice—Nym returns to her homeland of Faelen to raise an army of peasants through promises of freedom. But when the few friends she has left, along with the world and citizens she loves, are staring down the face of a monster and his undead army, will Nym summon every element her blood is capable of controlling . . . or surrender to a different strength—one of sacrifice?

Because in the end, death may be more merciful for them all.

My Thoughts

Fans of the series will be quite pleased with the mix of action, danger and thwarted romance.  Yes, I said thwarted romance – Bron is free of the Draewolf, but he could be a ticking time bomb, and Nym can’t really take the chance, especially since she is the final puzzle piece in the prophecy.  According to Bron, at least. Gah.  This is only one of many sacrifices Nym may be faced with making, and as the stakes get higher, it becomes apparent that she might have to sacrifice everything if she is going to give her people a chance at survival.  That threat is present and real all the way through this journey, and the suspense makes for a great read.   Seriously, the more questions the story answered, the more uncertain I became about the fate of Nym, her friends, and her world’s survival.  I enjoyed this series, and this final book is really the best of the three.  This series is engaging and the romance is compelling, but I love the fact that it doesn’t have any language or situations that compromise my ability to add it to my classroom library. It is appropriate for grades 7+, but adults will enjoy it as well.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Bookishly Ever After – the book version of that great guy that I just didn’t feel sparks with

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Bookishly Ever After – the book version of that great guy that I just didn’t feel sparks with

In high school, the nicest boy liked me, but some terrible part of me just couldn’t like him back.  I felt like I must be a bad person because how could I not want to just embrace this wonderful human and bask in his admiration?  I’m really glad I didn’t fight my instincts on that – chemistry matters.  I feel the same way about Bookishly Ever After.  It’s a book that I just know is perfect for someone like me, but not me.  Maybe I am that bad person – I mean, this should be my best read ever.  It is just not.  However, it might be your perfect book – it’s nice and sweet and loads of other people have crushes on it, so you might, too.

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Goodreads Summary

In a perfect world, sixteen-year-old Phoebe Martins’ life would be a book. Preferably a YA novel with magic and a hot paranormal love interest. Unfortunately, her life probably wouldn’t even qualify for a quiet contemporary.

But when Phoebe finds out that Dev, the hottest guy in the clarinet section, might actually have a crush on her, she turns to her favorite books for advice. Phoebe overhauls her personality to become as awesome as her favorite heroines and win Dev’s heart. But if her plan fails, can she go back to her happy world of fictional boys after falling for the real thing?

My Thoughts

Like I said, I wanted to adore this book, but I just didn’t.  That seems impossible because (1) it included short scenes from the books that Phoebe loved that I, too, would love!  (2)it allowed her to get as dorky as I ever wanted to be – I longed to dress up as my favorite book characters for Halloween, and Phoebe does it!  (3) there is a Bollywood dance scene  (4) Phoebe fan-girlz like nobody’s business . . . I could go on.  Phoebe’s life should have made an awesome read, but I was seriously bored.  Why?  I’m old.  I just can’t read about the minutia of every encounter Phoebe has with Dev then read a full analysis of the situation by another teen and stay interested.  It drove me crazy.   I do think that an actual young adult would enjoy the book a lot more than I did.  The main character is sweet and blind to what is really going on around her.  Much of the miscommunication that complicates the action is exactly like my experiences with real life, and I think that reality is going to make this book believable and easy to relate to for young adults.  But if you are an adult reader, I’m letting you know now that the crush encounter dissections go on for over 300 pages.  It is like Sex and the City but minus the shoes and sex plus some knitting and Mr. Big if he were Indian and a bit of a dork.  It exhausted me.  

Especially since I brought up S&tC, I want to point out that this is a clean read, and it would be appropriate for grades 8+.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Killing Jar by Jennifer Bosworth is bizarre but never bland

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The Killing Jar by Jennifer Bosworth is bizarre but never bland

This is one of the strangest books I’ve encountered in YA.  It was full on weird, and, yet . . . I still read it in a single sitting.  Maybe the breathtaking cover mesmerized me.  Maybe I just can’t resist a weird twist.  Whatever it was, I was compelled to read on.  Ultimately, it was a three star read for me, but I can’t say I don’t remember it months later.

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Goodreads Summary

“I try not to think about it, what I did to that boy.”

Seventeen-year-old Kenna Marsden has a secret.

She’s haunted by a violent tragedy she can’t explain. Kenna’s past has kept people—even her own mother—at a distance for years. Just when she finds a friend who loves her and life begins to improve, she’s plunged into a new nightmare. Her mom and twin sister are attacked, and the dark powers Kenna has struggled to suppress awaken with a vengeance.

On the heels of the assault, Kenna is exiled to a nearby commune, known as Eclipse, to live with a relative she never knew she had. There, she discovers an extraordinary new way of life as she learns who she really is, and the wonders she’s capable of. For the first time, she starts to feel like she belongs somewhere. That her terrible secret makes her beautiful and strong, not dangerous. But the longer she stays at Eclipse, the more she senses there is something malignant lurking underneath it all. And she begins to suspect that her new family has sinister plans for her… .

My Thoughts

Kenna is an engaging protagonist with complex feelings and the little bit of a dark side needed to make her feel like a real person more than a character.  The first person point of view gives readers plenty of insight into her inner workings, but it does leave the secondary characters feeling a little flat.  I don’t think that is necessarily a negative thing because it does leave readers guessing about everyone’s intentions and it plays into the ominous atmosphere.

The story is well paced to hold reader interest and develop Kenna’s internal conflicts.  It does seem move quickly when it comes to external conflict, especially at the end when it starts to slam readers with action.  I don’t think it will bother many readers because most of them will be left puzzling out the rather bizarre explanation behind Kenna’s abilities. It was certainly unique.  This is one of those books that drags out the mystery until the last possible moment. Readers are given clues that allow them to make some inferences, but, ultimately there is a lot of delay and “we can’t tell you anything too revealing just yet” going on.

I thought the book was definitely something I hadn’t seen before, but ultimately readers will be able to guess what it all comes down to because, well, cult.  I enjoyed the story and found it engaging.  It was creepy but not necessarily scary.  There was suspense galore, and I really wasn’t sure how the story would pan out – I just knew it wouldn’t be bland.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers (light sensuality, drug-like abuse of substances, and violence).

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sanctuary Bay – you think you know what is going to happen in this YA, but you really, really don’t

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Sanctuary Bay – you think you know what is going to happen in this YA, but you really, really don’t

Sanctuary Bay is a psychological thriller/mystery with a lot of elements I’d seen before, so I was very surprised at how unpredictable the plot turned out to be.  I really expected to see a bunch of rich mean girls demoralizing the poor kid with pluck, and I was quite happy that the story didn’t go in that direction.  And there is a secret society involved, so, of course I knew they were going to torture her in some horrible way.  Instead, Sarah is embraced in her new world, but her new world really feels too perfect to be true (so, of course, it is).

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Goodreads Summary

Will Sarah Merson’s shiny new prep school change her life forever or bring it to a dark and sinister end?

When Sarah Merson receives the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the most elite prep school in the country-Sanctuary Bay Academy-it seems almost too good to be true. But, after years of bouncing from foster home to foster home, escaping to its tranquil setting, nestled deep in Swans Island, couldn’t sound more appealing. Swiftly thrown into a world of privilege and secrets, Sarah quickly realizes finding herself noticed by class charmer, Nate, as well as her roommate’s dangerously attentive boyfriend, Ethan, are the least of her worries. When her roommate suddenly goes missing, she finds herself in a race against time, not only to find her, but to save herself and discover the dark truth behind Sanctuary Bay’s glossy reputation.

My Thoughts

Sarah is a narrative voice that most readers will relate to, and she has some pretty insightful revelations about judging others and embracing opportunity.  I was pretty pleased with that extra depth in a story of this genre.  The secondary characters in this story were also surprisingly dimensional, and that is kind of a rarity in a YA were secondary characters are often archetypes who offer little beyond a posse for the protagonist to hang out with.  These were unique individuals, and they each served to move the plot further along.

As far as plot goes, I don’t want to ruin the fun, so I won’t talk much about it other than to say I really wanted to know how this mystery would play out, so much so that I read it in a single sitting.  It was a pretty action packed ride, and it was not as predictable as I really thought it would be.  That isn’t to say that it wasn’t logical, because it is, but the author chose to twist situations in ways I didn’t anticipate.  I’m not going to lie. This is still a pretty surface read that is more about entertainment than improving your mind, but I enjoyed it.

The real stars in this book are the atmosphere and the setting.  There was a juxtaposition of a beautiful facade with something rather terrible running underneath.  I thought the unease the author managed to convey to readers was well done.  I, like Sarah, knew there was something wrong with Sanctuary Bay, but as soon as I got really worked up about it, something totally normal would convince me I was just being paranoid.  I’ll admit it was a bit of front loading to have an island cut off from the real world that had once been home to an insane asylum as well as a Nazi prisoner of war camp, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the show.

Overall, I found this book compelling and engaging.  I think my high school readers will enjoy unraveling this mystery, especially those who enjoy a creepy atmosphere.  I’m adding it to my classroom library wish list.  There is a little horror element to the story that I thought was surprisingly intense and there is some drug/alcohol use as well as some light sensuality, so this is most appropriate for high school readers.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Who says love is the strongest emotion? My Second Life by Faye Bird – a darker vision of reincarnation.

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Who says love is the strongest emotion?  My Second Life by Faye Bird – a darker vision of reincarnation.

Finally – a YA book about reincarnation that doesn’t focus on everlasting love. This book focuses on everlasting guilt, and that makes this compact read a little darker than I expected, but also very compelling.  The plot is, at times, improbable (reincarnation, people), and the feelings are raw, but I just couldn’t put this book down until I had the answers. This is a fast moving book, and it felt shorter than the 250+ pages. I read it in a single sitting, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find others will as well.

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Goodreads Summary

A pacy page-turner that asks: Can you be held responsible now for something you did in a previous life?

Fifteen-year-old Ana has a good life–she has friends and a boy she likes and a kind mother–but still, she’s haunted by her past; she knows that she lived once before as a girl named Emma, and she still misses her old family. When, by chance in her life now, Ana meets a woman she knew in her previous life, a terrifying memory flashes through her mind of a young girl drowning. Was Emma responsible? And should Ana pay the price? Consumed by guilt, Ana sets out to find out as much as possible about the person she was before and what she had done, only to discover that the family she misses so deeply had dark secrets of its own. To come to terms with her life now, Ana must figure out how to let go of the past.

My Thoughts

I can’t resist a book about reincarnation, and this time I’m glad I didn’t try.  I enjoyed this moody mystery a lot.  I did feel like the ending was a little anti-climatic for all the build up; it was a resolution that did give me answers, but it left me a little unsettled.  I think that is a good word for the feelings this book evoked – it was unsettling.  Part of this is the situation itself, but part of it is the way Ana feels so disconnected from her present and so connected to her past.  I think the lesson here is about clinging to a past that leaves you with no future, and that is a valid life lesson that many of us need to be reminded of when thoughts about mistakes start consuming us.  I think my high school readers will find the premise intriguing, so this is definitely going on my classroom library wish list.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange beg for an honest review.