Book reviews by Newport High School Students


Bertie, Alex. Trans Mission: My Quest to a Beard. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 978-0316529037. 304p. Contains: glossary of terms, list of resources. Grades 8+.

This book is really good and would be helpful to middle and high school kids who would want to know more about transsexuality.  While I don’t think it will be popular outside of the LGBTQ crowd, it’s got a lot of hints on how to deal with everything from bullies to hormone treatments and surgery.  It helped me realize, as a trans, that we can make it out alive and healthy, even though the going is rough sometimes.   Every high school library should have this book!



Price, Planaria and Helen Reichmann West. Claiming my Place: Coming of Age in the Shadow of the Holocaust. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9780374305291. 250p. Gr. 8-12.

We are all familiar with biographies of Jews who went into hiding during the Holocaust, but this book is a bit different: it tells the story of a young Polish Jew who “became” Catholic to escape persecution.  It also brings to light the difficulties she faced as a displaced Polish Jew after the war.  It’s interesting, and the photos in the middle of the book help make it more real.



Pham, Tiffany. Girl Mogul: Dream it. Do It. Change the World. Macmillan Publishing Group, 2019. $19.99. ISBN 9781250298966.  219p. Gr 9-12.

I am interested in starting my own business, so snapped this book up to read, right away.  While I found it to be a fun read, I didn’t find it all that relatable or useful.  It’s about a girl who works hard and becomes a media mogul, but it’s hardly a rags-to-riches story, as she has a supportive family, goes to Yale and Harvard, and is gorgeous.  She gives some useful tips on how to present confidently and enlist support for goals, but it seems like she’s writing for Glamour, not for real girls.  She also plugs her website where others can view her (expensive) online courses.  I wish she would’ve talked more about her career in coding and how she navigated a largely male-dominated field, and less about skin care and beauty.




Lee, Fonda. Cross Fire. (Exo series, book 2). Scholastic Press, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781338139099. 376p.  Gr. 9+. 

I am glad I read the first one in this series (Exo) because I would’ve been lost if I hadn’t, there are just too many terms and settings that wouldn’t have made sense to me. It’s just complicated enough to be interesting, but it doesn’t get bogged down in detail and moves fast.  The book centers on Earth soldier Donovan, who has an exocell implant that makes him smarter and stronger than other humans.  There are a lot of ethical conundrums here, mostly centered on genetic manipulation, propaganda, immigration and enslavement.  There’s also a little love story going, just enough to spice things up and make the characters more “human.”




Mafi, Tahereh.  Defy Me. (Shatter Me series, book 5). HarperCollins, 2019.  ISBN 978-0062676399. 368p. Gr. 9-12. 

I didn’t understand this book at all, I think you have to read all the other ones in the series, it’s too confusing.  I tried to check out the first one but it’s really popular and there’s a waiting line for it, so I guess it’s good.  I just wish authors would do a little to explain things, but this one was just too complicated and told from too many different viewpoints and flashbacks.






Grainger, A.J. The Sisterhood. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. $18.99. ISBN 978-1481429061. 304p. Gr. 9-10. 

I liked this book. Even though it focuses on the supernatural, the characters deal with topics teens deal with often: abuse, abandonment, loss, and dysfunction.  The ironic twists in the story make it more interesting and almost funny, though at times the plot moves too slowly and the writing is awkward.





Wilson, Kip. White Rose. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781328594433. 368p. Gr. 9+.  

This historic novel, written entirely in free verse, tells a story of a young girl who actively protests the rise of Nazism, through the activities of the White Rose, a group she and her brother founded.  The book is easy and fast to read and it really gives you a sense of how brave these students were.  It’s important that other students understand this period of time and how we need to be aware of the rise of fascism; I think this is a book that should be in every library.





Bardugo, Leigh.  King of Scars. (Nikolai Duology, book 1). Imprint, 2019. $19.99.  ISBN 9781250142283. 527p. Gr. 9-12. 

I hadn’t read any of Bardugo’s earlier books, so I didn’t know what the Grishaverse was all about and it’s pretty complicated.  Despite that, I muddled through reading this and enjoyed it. I think it has a solid story line and is fast paced enough that the length of the book wouldn’t put kids off.  It reminded me a lot of Game of Thrones.  I do plan on going back and reading the rest of her books now!






Lochner, Caitlin. A Soldier and a Liar. Swoon Reads, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781250168252. 352p.  Gr. 9+.

This book has got everything: superheroes, science fiction, complicated characters, a little romance, and great dialog.  Even though the superheroes are amazing, they are so human and their character traits make them very relatable.  There is a lot of violence in the book, but not too much for high school students to handle.  There are also themes in the book (equality, freedom) that make this story more than just another dystopian fantasy.






Carter, T.E. All We Could Have Been. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. ISBN 9781250172969. 291p.  Gr. 9 – 12.  

Carter’s book talks about how we all judge each other, sometimes without knowing anything about what others may be going through.  The main character in this book is suffering from a very traumatic event and dealing with PTSD and severe depression.  She is judged unfairly by her shallow-minded classmates and has a hard time making any real friends.  No one is perfect in this book, and there’s no happy ending, though the main character does overcome a lot and finds someone who truly cares.  I think this book might be really helpful to students who are going through trauma.



November 2019 reviews by Newport High students and Liz Fox, Newport High School Library staff.

Book review: Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens, by Tanya Boteju

Boteju, Tanya. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens. Simon Pulse, 2019. $18.99. ISBN 9781534430655. 369 pages. Ages 13+.  P7 Q8

Nima has a crush on Ginny, but unfortunately, Ginny is straight and likes boys. Nima wants to declare her love to Ginny, but Ginny stops her and tells her she does not want anything to change the friendship they have. But what if that friendship is not enough for Nima? Nima attends a local festival and finds herself a “special guest” of a Drag queen, Deidre. Deidre takes her under her wing for a “night of gender-bending bliss” and opens her eyes to a whole new and exciting life. She has an instant connection with one of the Drag kings, Winnow. This starts an adventure, full of new experiences, self-discovery and fully realizing what she wants in life. The story is told in first person and includes Nima’s inner dialogue as she has self-doubt over her value, her actions and her desires. I learned a lot about the drag scene, including Drag kings. The text is cleverly written.

Verdict: Celebrating gender bending expression and teens as they explore their relationships, this LGBTQ+ novel will captivate and draw readers in. Readers will relate to Nima’s inner dialogue and realize that they are not the only ones who have insecurity. I highly recommend this book for high school and public libraries.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Without Refuge, by Jane Mitchell

Mitchell, Jane. Without Refuge. Carolrhoda Books, 2019. 282 pgs. Includes glossary. $16.99. ISBN: 978-1-5415-0050-1. Gr. 6+. P7 Q8

Ghalib and his family live in Syria, his life was once very much like boys in America. He loved playing video games and he loved soccer. His life changes once the civil war started. Now he dreams of the day it will all end. Life for his family is becoming more dangerous every day. When a bomb goes off near him and his cousin, who looses a leg, the family knows it is time to leave. It is done in the early morning so they can avoid the soldiers who patrol looking for those they could recruit. Ghalib and his older sister, Bushra, are just the right age. Airstrikes separate Ghalib from his family as they try to leave. He comes into contact with those who do not have families to help protect them.  Together again, his family flees into the desert, in an overcrowded truck, but when the truck breaks down, the family has to walk the rest of the way. The end of the story for me was so frustrating as Ghalib and his sister are rescued by a helicopter, leaving the reader hanging as to what happens next.

Verdict: This would be a great book to read aloud in a class. Discussion on war, immigration, social issues and current events are some of the topics that could be covered.

September 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: The Garden, by Meghan Ferrari

Ferrari, Meghan. The Garden. Red Deer Press, 2018. 119 pgs. $12.95. ISBN: 9780889955684. Gr. 7+.  P8 Q8

The Syrian civil war has had devastating results for that country and those who live there. Elias and his family have stayed in Syria so his father, a doctor, can take care of his patients. As the war worsens, the family decides it is time to leave and escape to Canada. The story is told in the present tense in alternating chapters, their current lives in Canada alternating with their escape from Syria. This gives a sense of immediacy–that everything is taking place now.

Verdict: Refugees are being displaced in many countries around the world and this story shows the struggles that many of the people are having–not only the dangers of fleeing from their countries but also adapting to the countries which take them in.

September 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: The Potter’s Boy, by Tony Mitton

Mitton, Tony. The Potter’s Boy. David Fickling Books, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781338285390. 246 pages. Ages 8-14+. P8 Q9

Have you ever had a moment that defined your future? Ryo, the potter’s son, had such a moment. While he was in his village, three brigands told the villagers to “bring them money or anything of value.” A quiet Stranger stood up for the villagers and said, “no.” He moved with grace, more like a dancer than a fighter. He told the brigands that the village was protected by the Hidden Ones. It was in that moment that Ryo knew instantly that he wanted to be a fighter like the Stranger. Ryo, with his dad’s blessing, leaves on an adventure to become like the Stranger. There are many lessons along the way. Unzen, the hermit who trains Ryo, teaches him to respond more than react. He also teaches him not to compare himself with others, but that “we each have your own center and your own being.” Unzen’s training style is similar to the training in The Karate Kid, but Ryo is teachable and knows that training will lead somewhere. As Ryo moves on to more training, other boys and girls are included, which provides balance or Yin and Yang. There are some unexpected events which made the adventure interesting and not predictable.

Verdict: I was engaged from the beginning all the way to the end. My son has 3 black belts in different martial arts, including a mixed martial arts black belt in the Marine Corp. He has studied martial arts for 18 years and I think he would enjoy the combination of defense, meditation, creativity, and mindfulness that this book intertwines. The picture on the front cover will draw readers of Harry Potter in, but while the story has nothing to do with magic, the reader will not be disappointed. I highly recommend this book.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: On Snowden Mountain, by Jeri Watts

Watts, Jeri. On Snowden Mountain. Candlewick Press, 2019. 193 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-0-7636-9744-0. Gr. 7+. P8 Q8

Ellen loves school–the books and the subjects–all of it. In school she doesn’t have a lot of friends, they think she draws attention to herself as she always has the answer to the questions the teacher asks. Set during World War II her father has volunteered for active duty at a time when her mother has gone into another of her deep, deep depressions. Ellen just can’t handle it and calls upon her Aunt Pearl for help. Aunt Pearl takes Ellen and her mother to her home on Snowden Mountain, a tiny city surrounded by trees and more trees. It is hard for Ellen to see the worth in this remote place. This well written book deals with mental illness, child abuse, friendship, acceptance, and self discovery. Ellen learns that it is okay to be a young girl, accepting help that comes in many ways.

Verdict: The author writes with compassion of mental illness with an understanding that the reader is able to connect to. The child abuse was hard to deal with but when he finally stands up for himself I cheered for him.

October 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Words on Fire, by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Nielsen, Jennifer A. Words on Fire. Scholastic Press, 2019. 322 pgs. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-338-27547-6. Gr. 6+. P7 Q8

Living in Lithuanian under the occupation of Russia and the Russian Cossack soliders is difficult. Audra is 12-years-old the year she learns what her mother’s and father’s secret missions entail. The Cossack soldiers break into Audra’s farm house and arrest her parents. She escapes with the secret package in a back pack. The package holds a book written the in Lithuanian language, a language banned by the Russian government. The Russians feel that banning these books the will erase the Lithuanian culture and language, making it easier for the Russians to assimulate them into their country. People like Audra’s parents have defied the Russians by smuggling books, in their language, to the people of Lithuania. They will do anything to get the books, even if it means your home will be burned and you imprisoned. This hurls Audra into a secret group who smuggle and hide books for the people of Lithuania.

Verdict: This book deals with many different topics, death of parents, the Cossacks, occupation by another country and the determination of a country to retain their language and culture. Nielsen melds these topics into a fast paced adventure that a portrays Audra as a courageous, heroic girl determined to fight the Cossacks at all costs.

October 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.