Gossip Trap

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu shows the impact rumors and gossip can have on all involved.

Chapters alternate among various teen characters’ points of view. There is the popular one, the popular friend who used to be an outcast at her former school, the nerd and the jock. And then there’s Alice. Alice had friends and was doing fine until a terrible rumor began that she slept with two guys. It gets even worse when she is blamed for one of their deaths.

The aftermath brings us into the mind of each character. We come to understand their thoughts and actions. Alice endures terrible treatment, but has the support of one new friend.

There is a strong lesson about the toxicity of gossip and the value of kindness.

Small Town Feeling

Beartown by Fredrik Backman is the first of a trilogy that I hope to continue reading. I finished this first book a couple weeks ago, so names are fuzzy.

Beartown is very good at one thing: hockey. Events build toward a huge championship game. We meet several important characters, including various townspeople, team coaches, the club manager and his family along with many of the players. Each has their own important part to play.

When the club manager’s daughter accuses the star player of rape, the entire town seems to turn against her and her family. Events unfold leading to the court’s decision. The town may not ever be completely the same.

I couldn’t help but connect certain parts of Beartown to my own small town, and I am compelled to find out what awaits each character.

Hive Mind

The Honeys by Ryan La Sala is a sci fi murder mystery.

I was pulled in by the dramatic start. Mars’s twin sister violently accosts him in the middle of the night before they take a deadly plunge over a stair railing. The fall kills Caroline, and leaves Mars wanting to figure out what could’ve driven her to such drastic behavior.

He knows it has something to do with the exclusive camp that she attended every summer and the untouchable girl group there- the Honeys. Mars decides to attend again even though he had a terrible experience there years earlier as a gender fluid camper.

The camp, known as The Aspens, is full of secrets. Mars is able to discover more about his sister, and in doing so, finds out way more than he could ever have imagined about his family and himself.

Crime Creeps Closer

This will be a two book, one post entry since I finished the final two books of Holly Jackson’s trilogy: Good Girl, Bad Blood and As Good As Dead.

Good Girl, Bad Blood follows Pip on the case of another mystery. This time her friend Connor’s brother Jamie has gone missing. Pip works the case with the same tireless devotion and eye for detail as she did with the Andie Bell case. She finds out that Jamie was being catfished by someone with a huge agenda. It all comes crashing down with a murder that profoundly changes Pip.

As Good As Dead is my favorite of the three books. Pip is horribly traumatized after witnessing Stanley Forbes’s murder in book two. Added to this are the mysterious threats against her. It is these very threats that pull her into her final case. The case starts as an attempt to exonerate a man wrongfully accused as a serial killer. Meanwhile, the real killer has set his sights on Pip. This case almost kills her while also making her part of the case. Pip is forced to use all her true crime knowledge to outsmart the system. Making a mistake can cost her everything. Everything comes full circle in this final book which makes it a satisfying finish to the series.

Seeking Truth

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson is first in a trilogy.

Pippa decides that her senior year capstone project will investigate a murder case from five years earlier. She feels that the alleged murderer, Sal Singh, was too kind to ever commit murder. He also took his own life amidst the investigation. His family have been outcasts in their town ever since. Pip suspects foul play.

Readers are drawn into her investigation. She befriends Sal’s brother Ravi and they work to solve the case together. The suspect list includes friends, a drug dealer, police and a news reporter. Pippa carefully documents her interviews and observations. She knows she is getting close when she starts receiving threats. She builds an incredible case until eventually discerning the actual story.

This book will greatly appeal to any mystery fans. Pippa is a strong, intelligent character who you can’t help but root for along the way.

Move to the Light

Me Moth by Amber McBride is a story written in narrative verse following the terrible accident that killed Moth’s parents and brother. Moth is the sole survivor.

Moth lives a solitary existence with her aunt. She is basically unseen and she prefers it that way until meeting newcomer Sani. Sani and Moth connect and run away together. Their interests in music and the arts (Moth was a dancer) bond them. The writing exudes this artistic ethereal feeling as readers travel along with Sani and Moth.

There is a blending of Moth’s Hoodoo upbringing by her grandfather and Sani’s Native American culture. All comes to a startling conclusion when Moth realizes her truth and more about Sani’s special gift. His gift was also his illness, until meeting Moth.

This book stands out because of its unique approach and meaningful word choice.

Keep Guessing

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is my final 2023 high school Nutmeg nominee!

Avery was down on her luck and living in her car when a handsome guest summons her at school. She is asked to partake in billionaire Tobias Hawthorne’s will reading. It turns out that she is is his primary heir which shocks his two daughters and four grandsons.

She now owns his massive estate and possessions including his nonprofit organization. Avery gets close to a couple of the brothers as they attempt to decipher clues left in Tobias’s letter to each brother. They hope the clues will lead to Tobias’s reason for choosing someone he never met as his heir. Throughout this mystery are challenges that Avery must face as an overnight billionaire.

Keep Fighting

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam is another 2023 Nutmeg high school nominee.

This book is written in narrative verse which is fitting for main character Amal’s artistic and poetic nature. The story details Amal’s conviction and sentence to a juvenile detention facility following a racially charged fight which landed a white boy, Jeremy Mathis, in a coma. While Amal admits to throwing the first punch, he was not the cause of Jeremy’s hospitalization.

Amal uses lyrics and art to process his feelings of anger, sadness and love as he encounters people who either support or tear him down. The author’s note provides insight and parallels to the “Central Park jogger” case, in which coauthor Salaam was wrongfully convicted and charged along with four of his friends.

This story has a profound message of maintaining hope and strength in the midst of adversity.

Renaissance Man

More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood is another 2023 high school Nutmeg nominee.

Danyal may be extremely handsome, but he has several struggles to overcome. Danyal is known for being a low-achieving student, so it is a major problem when he is chosen to represent his history class for the upcoming Renaissance Man competition. In this competition he will need to present a final essay on his teacher’s topic of choice- Winston Churchill. He must decide whether to tell the truth about Churchill’s part in the Bengal Famine. Doing so may jeopardize whether he passes the class, and also will prevent his lifelong crush, Kaval, from seeing him as a marriage match.

Another conflict is his choice to go against his Muslim upbringing by getting friendly with a marriage prospect who was involved in a sex tape. There is also Danyal’s love of cooking, which is considered a poor future prospect by both his dad and his crush, Kaval.

Danyal is able to navigate all these troubles with support from very different friendships, and with his own heart and mind’s guidance. East Indian religion, history and culture are important parts of this story. It also includes topics such as being true to oneself, forgiveness and standing up for what is right.

Being American

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee is an amazingly well-written compilation of fourteen Japanese American teenagers’ experiences during WW2. The story is historical fiction beginning right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, progressing through their imprisonment in camps, service in war (for some), and release to an uncertain future three years later.

The characters are all from Japantown, San Francisco, and they all connect as either family or friends. Each character’s personality is so different, yet each imparts the horrifying hostility during this time and its impact on families.

I appreciated how the story began and ended from the same character’s point of view along with one of his drawings at the end which tied so much together. There are other significant touches too, such as the inclusion of news clippings and artifacts of the time period, and the lyrical style showing one character’s conflict between claiming loyalty to Japan or America.

The sign of a well-written story is when you can’t stop yourself from thinking about all of its elements, even down to the author’s note at the end. This story definitely accomplished this for me, and is one that I will not forget.