We’ve just wrapped up another successful year of Café Book, the partnership between school librarians and librarians from Central Rappahannock Regional Library that brings engaging books and book-related discussion into Fredericksburg-area middle schools. Seventh and eighth graders at seventeen area schools met during their lunch period to discuss books from a list of fourteen titles, then voted on which were their favorites. Of the fourteen titles on this year’s list, there were three that were far and away the clear favorites.
The Golden Hour, opens a new window by Niki Smith
This beautiful graphic novel follows a student named Manuel after he witnesses an attack on his art teacher. The story is about him dealing with the trauma left after experiencing gun violence at school, but it’s also a sweet story about new friendships. Manuel’s life is often lonely until he starts working on a school project with two fellow students. These new friendships lead him to join the ag club as a photographer to help take photos of the calf his friend Sebastian is raising and the very fancy chickens his friend Caysha cares for. With the help of his new friends, his love of photography, coping strategies for his PTSD, and some very cute baby farm animals, Manuel starts to break out of his shell to move forward and find happiness again.
Squire, opens a new window by Nadia Shammas and Sarah Alfageeh
This action-packed graphic novel starts out with a bit of a Mulan-esque premise: 14-year-old Aiza dreams of becoming a knight, so when her parents finally relent and allow her to leave home to join the squire training program, she’s thrilled, even if it means hiding part of her identity to avoid prejudice and fit in with the other recruits. At first, she throws herself into the training wholeheartedly, making friends with fellow recruits and working extra hard to make up for her lack of experience and small size, but the deeper into the military she gets, the more she begins to realize that knighthood isn’t quite what she thought it was. This book has some gorgeous art, and the author and illustrator cite fantasy classics, such as Lord of the Rings, and shonen manga, such as Fullmetal Alchemist, as influences for this story, and, while this is more of an alternative history than a fantasy, the influence definitely shows.
A Forgery of Roses, opens a new window by Jessica S. Olson
It’s been one year since Myra’s parents vanished without a trace and she was left alone to take care of her ailing younger sister. Myra struggles to make ends meet as a painter’s apprentice, and she and her sister are barely hanging on. Myra’s artistic talents hold a big secret that she must keep hidden: she can use her painting to change and heal the bodies of the humans she paints. As a Prodigy, Myra and her magical abilities are an aberration, and she would be in danger if anyone knew. When the governor’s wife discovers her secret and blackmails Myra to bring her recently deceased son back to life, Myra has no choice but to agree. Working frantically to get the painting completed before the son’s body rots, Myra soon discovers that his death wasn’t an accident, and she might be the killer’s next target.
Darcie Caswell is the Youth Services Coordinator at CRRL. This column originally appeared in The Free Lance-Star newspaper.