Rummanah Aasi
Description: Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.
   One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule--but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her--even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.


Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon has been on my reading pile ever since it received numerous starred reviews. After it won the Newbery Award, I knew I had to move it up in my reading schedule and I so happy that I finally got a chance to read this spectacular book. The book deserves all the accolade and hype it received and I highly recommend it.
   Every year, the people of the Protectorate brace themselves for the Day of Sacrifice, when the elders take the city’s youngest baby and leave it in the woods to appease the witch -- a witch no one has seen, but whose reputation is cruel and bloodthirsty. The elders approve of the Day of Sacrifice as it becomes a means to control the their community. The real witch of the forest is the benevolent Xan who safely rescues the babies and finds home for them. In fact she breaks her own rule and adopts a magical baby she dubs Luna, whom she brings home to live with her own family that already includes a beloved bog monster who loves poetry named Glerk and an adorable youthful dragon named Fyrian. 
  We watch as Luna grows into a young teen with a big mission to accomplish. She learns how to use her magic while being aware of its costs. In separate plot-lines we discover Luna's real mother, the sorrowful and guilt stricken Protectorate rebel who wants to end Sacrifice Day for his community, and finally discover the true and malevolent Witch of Sacrifice Day, who is hiding behind the identity of a respected person in the city. The book has a steady pace as it builds its multiple layers, however, the danger and suspense builds to a climax as our heroes battle the great villain. There are many plot-lines in this book, but I never felt lost and each added a necessary layer to the story. I loved that the characters are nuanced and three dimensional. Even the villains are flawed but real characters.
 With lyrical writing, Barnhill weaves a mesmerizing, multi-layered original fairy tale where love in all its different facets (familial, maternal, filial, and friendly) truly conquerors all. The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a must read and I would not be surprised if the book's rights have been purchased in Hollywood as it would be a fantastic movie to watch.


Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and themes. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.

If you like this book try:
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Michael likes to hang out with his friends and play with the latest graphic design software. His parents drag him to rallies held by their anti-immigrant group, which rails against the tide of refugees flooding the country. And it all makes sense to Michael.
 Until Mina, a beautiful girl from the other side of the protest lines, shows up at his school, and turns out to be funny, smart—and a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan. Suddenly, his parents’ politics seem much more complicated.
 Mina has had a long and dangerous journey fleeing her besieged home in Afghanistan, and now faces a frigid reception at her new prep school, where she is on scholarship. As tensions rise, lines are drawn. Michael has to decide where he stands. Mina has to protect herself and her family. Both have to choose what they want their world to look like.


Review: I have been a fan of Randa Abdel-Fattah ever since I read and loved Does My Head Look Big in This?, her YA novel. Her books feature Muslim teen protagonists that face current issues. Her latest book, The Lines We Cross, is another timely read on Islamophobia and xenophobia. Though the book's setting is in Australia, where the author lives, its themes (unfortunately) are easily transferred to many nations today including the U.S.
  The Lines We Cross is told from dual points of view of Mina and Michael. Mina is an Afghani-Australian teen who came to Australia in a boat as a war refugee seeking shelter from her war torn nation. Michael is an Australian natural born citizen whose family fervently opposes Muslim refugees and immigrants from entering Australia. The two characters meet and clash as they both attend a prestigious private school and share classes together. 
  I really enjoyed and felt a close kinship with Mina. She is incredibly smart, sharp, stands up for what she believes in, and no matter what she does she can't help but feel like an outsider. Her mother and stepfather have moved their business and home across Sydney in order for her to attend Victoria College. Though labeled as a "scholarship student", Mina is determined to excel there, despite the culture shock of privilege shocks her constantly. As you can imagine I had a hard time reading Michael's point of view mainly because his activist family espouses a political viewpoint that, though they insist it is merely pragmatic, is unquestionably Islamophobic. It is through getting to know Mina and her backstory of the horrors of living in Afghanistan that begin to open Michael's mind and start questioning his family and his own beliefs. 
 The author tackles the hard topics head-on and explores them fully and with nuance. Though I personally didn't care for the developing romance between Mina and Michael, which felt a bit insta-lovey and unlikely, I did enjoy their interaction which cultivated empathy and understanding. It also helped lighten the tension in the book. True-to-life dialogue and realistic teen social dynamics especially with Michael's best friend, both deepen the tension and provide levity. While the book does tie up in a nice bow in the end, it will hopefully allow readers to come away with a clearer understanding of how bias permeates the lives of those targeted by it.


Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some mild language in the book including an Australian racial slur. There are also scenes of underage drinking, drug use, and vandalism. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Rummanah Aasi
Description: The Five Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there's more to themselves and more to their worlds than meets the eye.
  The clumsiest student at the Sand Dancer Academy, Oona Lee is a fighter with a destiny bigger than she could ever imagine. A boy from the poorest slums, An Tzu has a surprising gift and a knack for getting out of sticky situations. Star athlete Jax Amboy is beloved by an entire galaxy, but what good is that when he has no real friends? When these three kids are forced to team up on an epic quest, it will take not one, not two, but 5 WORLDS to contain all the magic and adventure!


Review: 5 Worlds is a new exciting  middle grade graphic novel series that is full of action, adventure that will easily appease any science fiction, fantasy, or graphic novel reader of any age. With gorgeous, colorful artwork, the graphic novel is able to tackle today's contemporary issues such as race, class, and privilege as we explore the graphic novel's fleshed out multi-planet system.
Oona is very fortunate to have grown up in the affluent Sand Dancer Academy. She is constantly reminded and remains in her sister's shadow. Oona is clumsy and the last person anyone would expect to have any special powers. An Tzu ekes out a meager life as a thief in the slums surrounding the academy and suffers from a rare disease that will only get worse if he doesn't find a cure fast enough. Jax Amboy is a star athlete who is also hiding a big secret. 
  All three characters find themselves in a dangerous situation when Toki rebels from one of the moons making up the five worlds attack the main power station. Oona believes her sister, the true Sand Warrior, can conjure her magic to stop the attack but she needs An and Jax's help to find her. The three characters despite their differences learn to trust one another and form friendships that will only grow stronger as the graphic novel series begins to develop. Meanwhile the Toki forces are curiously insistent on capturing Oona, and try to make sense of some enigmatic clues they discover along the way. 
 At first I was a little lost when I started 5 Worlds because the creators just drops the reader right into the middle of the story, but after reading a few pages it was easy to navigate in this expansive world. I really appreciated the diversity of the story. The characters appear in a wide variety of sizes, shape, and skin tone. Though I was able to figure out the plot twists early in the story, I still found the graphic novel to be an enjoyable, quick  read and I look forward to picking up the next volume in this series.

Rating: 4 stars


Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: Kazu Kibuishi, and Naruto manga series by
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship.

Review: The Burning Girl examines the tumultuous friendship among young girls into their teenage years. Messud's book is beautifully written and dense. Purely character driven, the author takes her time in exploring the various aspects of her character's lives.
Since their nursery school years, Julia and Cassie Burnes have been more like sisters than friends. They have shared adventures and dreams, but as they cross the pivotal threshold also known as middle school where friendship, loyalty, and peer pressure can either make the friendship stronger or break it into tiny fragments, Julia starts to feel a separation with Cassie. To the reader, the splint between Julia and Cassie is inevitable especially as the two girls begin to take to different interests,  Cassie is drawn to boys, alcohol, and drugs while Julia hasn't reached puberty yet.
 There is a clear distinction between the two girls. Julia comes from a stable household where her parents take an interest in her, but Cassie's unreliable mother transfers her affection to a controlling lover who destroys Cassie's sense of security. Desperately unhappy, Cassie discovers her "dead father" who was put on a heroic pedestal may actually not be dead and sets out to find him, which begins a spiral of self-destruction that Julia, now no longer Cassie's intimate friend, must hear about from the boy they both love.
  There are beautiful and biting passages that perfectly captures the wild roller coaster of puberty and coming of age that settles on being a girl from the biological changes that are thrust upon you to the scary realization of female vulnerability where "being a girl is about learning to be afraid". Ultimately, Julia notes that everyone has a mysterious story and that parts of those stories are composed of myths that we create. Though I enjoyed the writing of the story quite a bit, I was hoping for more of originality to the plot. I feel like this story has been written before. I found myself reading it in bits and pieces because it wouldn't hold my attention. If you are a fan of quiet, character-driven novels I would recommend picking it up.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: There are strong language, underage drinking and drug use in the book. Though the book features teen characters, the slow plot may not hold many teen readers' attention and therefore might be more suitable for adults.

If you like this book try: Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Rummanah Aasi
Description: For some kids summer is a sun-soaked season of fun. But for Steve, it’s just another season of worries. Worries about his sick newborn baby brother who is fighting to survive, worries about his parents who are struggling to cope, even worries about the wasp’s nest looming ominously from the eaves. So when a mysterious wasp queen invades his dreams, offering to “fix” the baby, Steve thinks his prayers have been answered. All he has to do is say “Yes.” But “yes” is a powerful word. It is also a dangerous one. And once it is uttered, can it be taken back?

Review: Kenneth Oppel's The Nest is a creepy, subtle horror read that is perfect for the Halloween season. Steve has always been a worrier, but since his baby brother was born with a rare congenital disorder he's become even more anxious. After a curious gray and white wasp from the hive above their house stings Steve, he develops the ability to speak to the hive's queen, who promises to replace the ailing baby with a new one. Agreeing to the queen's offer, Steve confronts a dangerous traveling knife sharpener, his parents' concerns over his mental health, and strange phone calls from Mr. Nobody, a family legend turned real, it seems. As Theodore's health deteriorates, Steve must decide what is best for his brother and what he will do to save him. The more he learns about the wasps' plan to "fix" the baby's congenital condition, the more he's conflicted. The tension and unease grow as Steve begins to wonder if the wasps are real or imagined.
 The Nest is not blatantly dark but quiet yet emotionally haunting. The book is exclusively written in Steve's perspective so the sense of safety and anxiety in particular are heightened in the story. The book comes to a climactic end that is cathartic and comforting while also showing the beauty of imperfection. I also like the sneaky way of including scientific information on the life cycle, anatomy, and behaviors of wasps is woven into the story. Readers who enjoyed being frightened by reading Coraline by Neil Gaiman will really enjoy this book.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images in the book that might be too much for younger readers. Recommended for strong Grade 5 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Coraline by Neil Gaiman, The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
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