Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

Our protagonist, Ashley, is a wood lore enthusiast and, in particular, quite knowledgeable about her local area of the Smoky Mountains. We learn this en route to a site deep in the woods where she and her graduating classmates are having an overnight party. She thinks a bunch of teenagers drinking in the wilderness is a bad idea. Extraneous outsiders – including her boyfriend’s ex – make this bad idea worse.  Ashley drinks more than usual and goes to sleep feeling angry. During the night, she wakes, hears a familiar voice, and finds her boyfriend and his ex, together. Her first thought is to get away from him – and she runs – shoeless, into the darkness. She trips and takes a disorienting tumble. She decides to stay put before getting even more lost.

She wakes at noon, and realizes her foot is severely injured and that her friends have left. She imagines it could be two days before anyone notices she is missing. Her injury complicates her situation drastically, and Ashley eventually takes drastic action to survive. I was amazed by how varied and unpredictable her time in the woods was. She has some lapses, but mostly her resolve to survive and get out of the woods is calm and courageous. I think ANY reader will find this story fascinating.

Having read McGinnis’ books, The Female of the Species and Heroine, I started reading Be Not Far From Me with great anticipation. Happily, this is another outstanding, riveting book.

Young Adult Fiction Hardcover pr5181442

The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton

At a restaurant that mimics medieval times – medieval costumes, food and drinks, knights on horseback, jousting contests, etc. Kit Sweetly – a history geek - works waiting tables but she’s always wanted to be one of the knights. One evening, Kit secretly takes her brother’s place, and her friend films it. At the end – with a flourish - Kit pulls of her helmet. Her friend launches the footage on the internet and her views start climbing. Her friends start a website, sell stickers and other loot. Kit goes on local news and momentum keeps building. The problem is that the restaurant chain has a policy - only cisgender males can be knights. They support this discrimination with the argument that actual knights were men. Kit argues that they are living in the 21st century not – well – not medieval times.

This plotline of fighting discrimination is serious but not emotionally taxing, something readers might appreciate, in this COVID-19 spring season. The characters offer ethnic and gender diversity. It is a really fun, funny read and I was sad to finish the final page. I really miss Kit and her friends which suggests to me that it was skillfully written. 

Young Adult Fiction Hardcover pr5552491

Sara and the Search for Normal by Wesley King
Sometimes an author’s “acknowledgements” make for extremely valuable reading. In his acknowledgements for Sara and the Search for Normal, Wesley King talks about reasons he set out to write the book. First, kids seemed to want it. Sara was a more minor character in OCDaniel and many of his young readers asked questions about her. Also, Mr. King mentions that when he was younger, his challenges were not limited to having OCD. When he wrote OCDaniel he didn’t include content about his anxiety disorder, panic attacks or depression. Young readers' interest in Sara gave him a reason to write about those things.

Sara and the Search for Normal is an exploration of how she became the person she is in OCDaniel. Kids who are struggling the way Sara and Daniel are, will, I imagine, benefit greatly from seeing themselves in the pages of a book. I don’t really know, as I am fortunate to have not suffered those challenges. I can say that I also saw my younger self in Sara. I’m going to delete the sentence that launched into a philosophical tangent and just describe one of many of Sara’s experiences that resonated with me. Sara has two friends. One friend sees who she is – exactly – and cherishes her. Sara thinks that friend is kind of weird. The other friend tolerates Sara, but wants her to change. Sara thinks that friend is cool. Sara reaches a point where she understands that her first friend is awesome and her second friend, well, isn’t really HER friend, at all.

This book may discuss mental illness – and that will help kids’ with those challenges - but like most excellent literature, Sara’s experiences will also resonate with most readers for many reasons. 

Middle Grade Fiction Hardcover pr5577289

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