under a painted sky January 03


The 2015 Nerdies: Young Adult Fiction Winners Announced by Nerdy Nation (Part Two)

This post takes up where yesterday’s post left off–celebrating this year’s Nerdy Award winners for Young Adult Fiction. Thanks to Teri Lesesne, Jillian Heise, Lea Kelley, Kathy M. Burnette, Katherine Sokolowski, Colleen Graves, Beth Shaum, Paul W. Hankins, Sarah Gross, Pernille Ripp, Cindy Minnich, Brian Wyzlic, David Macginnis Gill, Jennifer Fountain, and Karin Perry for contributing reading responses and reviews for our 2015 Nerdy Awards for Young Adult Fiction posts.

Congratulations to our second wave of Nerdy Book Club Award best young adult fiction award winners!


all the bright places


All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Theodore and Violet meet under extreme circumstances at the top of the their school’s clock tower – six stories above the ground. Both are there for the same reason, but very different things brought them there. Theodore Finch constantly thinks about death and thinks about ways to take his own life, but every time something good, no matter how small, stops him. Violet Markey has been struggling with depression and guilt ever since her sister died in a car crash on the way home from a party they attended.

When Finch discovers he’s not alone on the tower, he attempts to strike up a conversation with Violet and tries to get her to change her mind about jumping. Fear causes her to freeze and the commotion draws the attention from the students on the ground. Because Finch is seen as a weirdo, people assume it’s Violet who saves him from jumping and both of them let the assumption stand.

When Finch and Violet are paired for a school project, Finch makes it his mission to bring Violet back to the world of the living, but she doesn’t make it easy. It takes a while for Violet to open up and trust Finch, but when she does she realizes that he is exactly what she needs. The problem is, the darkness still calls to Finch and while Violet attempts to keep him in the light, she might not be enough.

All the Bright Places is a heart-wrenching story of love and loss. Be sure to have plenty of tissue handy when you crack open this book. –Karin Perry


ember in the ashes


An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Sabaa Tahir has created a stunning debut in a fantasy world that is steeped in magic and lore and intrigue, with engaging writing that kept me turning pages late into the night. Filled with hope and bravery, from characters who want a better future, but will have to fight to get it, the action and cunning never ends from the first page to the last. No question An Ember in the Ashes makes it on my all time favorites list and should be a must buy for all YA fantasy fans. The world building, the characters, the suspense, the emotions, the story left me hoping there would be more. An Ember in the Ashes is perfect for readers who like Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, Marie Rutkowski’s The Winner’s Curse series, and Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series. Which can also be a reading list while anxiously awaiting Ember’s sequel, A Torch Against the Night, coming in August. –Jillian Heise


bone gap


Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Finn and Sean O’Sullivan live in Bone Gap, a curious town that hides passages to other worlds. Its residents have learned not to see, but Finn can’t forget what he saw—Roza, the beautiful girl who captured Sean’s heart (and Finn’s, too) was taken by an evil man, but no one believes Finn’s account of what happened. Roza can take care of herself, but her captor possesses abilities that warp space and time. Bone Gap was one of the last books I read in 2014 and I have spent most of 2015 encouraging other people to read and share this incredible book. I have raved about the cover (and the smell of the paper) and fan-girled over this book on social media. Named a 2015 National Book Award Finalist, and earning starred reviews from Booklist, Krikus, VOYA, I read hundreds of books a year and enjoy most of them, but Bone Gap is something special. I read and reread individual sentences and phrases, in awe of Laura Ruby’s writing and the magic of this twisted tale. I wouldn’t live in Bone Gap, but I recommend a visit. –Donalyn Miller


i crawl through it


I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

Everything about this book is at once incredibly real and completely impossible. Gustav’s invisible red helicopter. Stanzi’s morbid snowglobe collection and insular lab coat. China’s ironically exposed internal organs and poetry. Lansdale’s beautiful lies that grow unceasingly. These characters exist with the backdrop of the absurd world our students are familiar with because they don’t know a world without them – fears of school violence, pressures of standardized testing, the potential for sexual violence. This novel doesn’t read like anything else I have ever read, but it may be one of the books I read this year that I suspect will stick with me the longest. –Cindy Minnich


orbiting jupiter


Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Twelve-year-old Jack tells the story of when fourteen-year-old Joseph comes to live with his family as a foster child. Joseph had a tough time in prison and finds it very hard to trust. His only thought is find his daughter, Jupiter, whom he’s never even seen. You’ll easily fall in love with Joseph and his foster family. If only all foster kids could be so lucky to get a family like this. And Jack! I can’t say enough about him. He immediately goes to bat for Joseph, but when demons from his past find him, he is forced to make a tough decision to ensure the safety of his new family.

Orbiting Jupiter is absolutely gut wrenching! Prepare yourself for sobbing and a lot of ugly crying. –Karin Perry


read between the lines


Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles

In Read Between the Lines, Knowles’ second Nerdy Award winner, we are treated to a different type of storytelling than we usually get in contemporary YA fiction: interwoven vignettes. We see one day in the life of the town from ten players: the popular, the unpopular, and everything in between. With this diverse cast of characters, there’s something for everyone to connect to. Knowles’ literary skills are on display as these characters weave in and out of each other’s stories, coming together to help us see that every story has more than just one side, and each person – not just those we may identify with – is important in his or her own way. And the thing that binds their stories together? Well, just look at that cover. What’s not to love? –Brian Wyzlic





Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Sierra Santiago plans to spend her summer hanging out with friends and painting her first mural in the junklot. When Sierra sees murals weeping real tears and painted images fading away, she uncovers a secret society of artists, the shadowshapers, who can embue paintings with magic. Who are the shadowshapers? How is Sierra’s family connected to them? Most important, who is trying to kill them? Rich with imagination and energy, Shadowshaper invites readers into Sierra’s community where magic lives close to the surface, families keep secrets, and love can save us all. –Donalyn Miller


simon vs the homo sapiens agenda


Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon is a normal, sarcastic, geeky, 16 year old boy who is “not so openly gay” and has an online relationship with an unknown boy name “Blue.” His secret is discovered by another schoolmate who blackmails Simon into friendship.

My favorite thing about this story is that it is accessible for any teenager and the fact that the main storyline is about two gay characters is beside the point. Sure, it’s a good read for LGTBQ teens, but really it’s just a good book for ANY teen that is sure of themselves but afraid to be who they are, or has ever felt bullied or harassed by others. (Which names every teen ever!)

Really, the best thing about this book is that Simon could be anybody and Blue could be anybody. The normalcy of their romance is one of the best things about the book. With teens as obsessed with first love and relationships as they are, this YA novel is relatable for any teen. Plus, anyone who has ever fallen in love, will enjoy reading Simon and Blue’s email correspondence! Adorable! –Colleen Graves


boy in the black suit


The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Matthew Miller is still reeling from the loss of his mother, but now he must deal with his father who is drinking to numb his feelings. To help pay the bills, Mr. Willie Ray, a friend of the family, gives Matt a job at his funeral home. Matt finds working there and attending strangers’ funerals oddly comforting as he continues to navigate his own grief alone. One day, while working a funeral, Matt meets Lovey, a girl with a strange name, but who appears mature and composed despite the death of the grandmother who raised her. As the two become closer, Matt finds himself both smitten and confounded, confident and insecure. One thing is for sure though, as Matt grieves over not just the physical loss of his mother, but the emotional loss of his father, he sees what a special connection he shares with Lovey, one that they will eventually discover goes back to their childhood. Anyone who has ever had to grieve the loss of a loved one will find comfort in Matthew Miller’s story. Jason Reynolds’ sophomore novel further solidifies that his star is on the rise. He displays a heart and sensitivity for the people and places he writes about that I’ve yet to see from any young adult author writing today. –Beth Shaum


game of love and death


The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

A few weeks ago I booktalked The Game of Love and Death and it was quickly snatched up by one of my 9th graders. She finished it within just a few days but stopped me at the end of class one day. “Mrs. Gross, I’m sorry that I haven’t brought the book back yet, but my dad asked to read it because it looked so good,” she told me. Right before winter break, The Game of Love and Death made its way back to my classroom library. And that student’s father? He loved it, almost as much as she did. I’m tempted to end my review here, because is there anything else I can say?

But just in case that’s not enough- this is a grand, beautiful, heartbreaking love story. It will make you smile and make you cry. You will be furious and uplifted. Love and Death have been placing bets for all of eternity. They choose the players, set the rules, and then they promise not to interfere. But of course they do. Their current players are different, though. Flora is an African-American girl who dreams of being the next Amelia Earhart. In the meantime, she sings at her family’s jazz club. On the other side of the tracks is Henry, a white boy with money. A lot of money. His future is pre-planned, with college and great job promised to him. Does their epic love story stand a chance when Love and Death are angling for them both? Or will they defy the fates and create their own ending? –Sarah Mulhern Gross


the hired girl


The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

As a ninth grade English teacher I’m always on the lookout for those elusive books that are perfect for new YA readers who aren’t quite ready for upper-YA but don’t want to be caught reading middle grade books. For me, that hole has always been filled by Anne (of Green Gables), Emily (of New Moon), and Jo (of Little Women). While I will always share these classics with students I am thrilled when I can add a new book to the canon. The Hired Girl is that book; it’s the one I will hand to readers who have read LM Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott and want a similar book. They want a strong heroine on the threshold of adolescence, with all of its flotsam and jetsam, and Joan is that heroine.

Fourteen-year old Joan runs away from home after her father pulled her out of school and burned her beloved books. A country girl who doesn’t know the first thing about living in the city, she has a lot to learn. She has no idea how to get a room and ends up sleeping in a park on her first night. But then she is rescued by the Rosenbachs, a well-to-do Jewish family in need of a hired girl. Catholic Joan has many questions about Judaism and her lack of knowledge sometimes results in offensive behavior. But the Rosenbachs are tolerant and help Joan understand that religion is about beliefs, and that different beliefs can and should co-exist. Schlitz does a realistic job of balancing Joan’s questions about religion with her overzealous need to understand and even control the world around her. –Sarah Mulhern Gross


under a painted sky


Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Lee takes the Western and brings it to a new generation. Two females are on the run and join up with three cowboys on their way west. As we follow them from St. Joe, Missouri to California there are not only many trials to overcome traveling across the wilderness but th stakes are increased when you add in that they are women, Chinese and African American, and it’s the 1800s! “Sam and Andy” both need to escape horrific situations and decide to try their luck as men. They each have one person they hope to find – if the law doesn’t find them first! Racism and sexism are dealt with sensitively throughout the book. The friendship between Sam and Andy as well as the camaraderie among all five “cowboys” was well-constructed and believable. Yes, we had a hint of romance – and Cal was a real hound dog when it came to the ladies – but it wasn’t the main story. My only issue was Andy’s random use of the word “you’s”. The inconsistent and mostly unnecessary use of the would throw me out of the story. Aside from the that – Under the Painted Sky was compelling and engaging. I couldn’t put it down. –Kathy Burnette



Dr. Karin Perry is an Assistant Professor at Sam Houston State University in the Library Science Department. Prior to working at the university level, she worked as a school librarian in both the elementary and middle school settings. She spends most of her time reading and listening to young adult literature and reviewing books for her blog at http://www.karinsbooknook.com. She is the author of an audio book review column titled AudioTalk that is featured in VOYA. Her book, Sci Fi on the Fly: A Reader’s Guide to Science Fiction for Young Adults was published in July 2015.

Kathy M Burnette (aka The Brain Lair) is a K-8 teacher-librarian at a small, independent school in South Bend, Indiana where she, along with her students, will help define the library’s next steps as they try to incorporate design thinking and tinkering into a renovated space. Find Kathy on twitter @thebrainlair and send lots of hugs and coffee. Kidding about the hugs, she just wants the coffee.

Beth Shaum learns alongside her 8th grade readers and writers in Allen Park, Michigan and is also the social media coordinator for NCTE. She is a voracious reader of everything from picture books to young adult literature and her students are helping her become more of a voracious writer. You can find her on Twitter @BethShaum or on one of her two blogs: A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust and Use Your Outside Voice.

Brian Wyzlic teaches high school English, math, and physics in Marine City, Michigan, and tweets regularly at @brianwyzlic. He can probably be found trying to get a head start on his reading challenge for 2016!

Sarah Mulhern Gross is a National Board Certified English teacher who lives in New Jersey with her husband, two Australian Shepherds, and cat. She was born a member of the Nerdy Book Club. She has been teaching Freshman World Literature and English IV at a STEM high school in NJ since 2010. She previously taught sixth grade Language Arts in New Jersey. Sarah can be found on Twitter @thereadingzone. You’ll find her tweeting about books, science, and dogs when she isn’t working on her MAT in Biology.

Jillian Heise, NBCT, is the 7th & 8th grade language arts teacher at Indian Community School of Milwaukee. Her book blog is Heise Reads & Recommends, and she can often be found on twitter @heisereads sharing book recommendations.

Colleen Graves is a teacher Librarian @ryan_library, a Google educator and Google Certified trainer, an SLJ School Librarian of the year Finalist, and a Makerspace obsessed blogger.http://colleengraves.org/

Cindy Minnich is lucky enough to live the charmed life of a high school English teacher, mom to one future librarian, wife to a fellow reader, and daughter to David Walthour. She can be found on Twitter as @cbethm, on web at http://www.chartingbythestars.com, and in real life on her princess chair enjoying a book and a cup of coffee.

Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy Book Club co-founder, Colby Sharp) and the Best Practices Roots (#bproots) chat with Teri Lesesne. Donalyn launched the annual Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.