Book Corner: This Year’s Café Book Top Teen Picks

Every year, librarians from area middle schools team up with librarians from Central Rappahannock Regional Library to talk about books with seventh and eighth graders over the course of a semester. This special partnership, Café Book, has been going since 1996, even through COVID (when it had to go virtual for a while). Students read from a list of 16 titles selected by all the librarians, have lively book discussions over lunch, and, at the end of the semester, vote on their favorites. This year’s Café Book Top Teen Picks have the teen “stamp of approval.”

City Spies, opens a new window by James Ponti
Sarah Martinez, a 12-year-old computer whiz, is facing some serious consequences after hacking into New York City’s juvenile justice computer system to bring to light the truth about her foster parents’ offenses. When a stranger shows up and gets her released into his custody, Sarah has no idea what is happening. When the stranger offers her the opportunity to become part of a group of teenage spies, she figures it can’t be real. But the Secret Intelligence Service is real, made up of teens from around the world, specially trained and secretly brought together by MI5. Sarah’s life has been difficult, and she is wary of trusting anyone, but, as she trains with this group of smart and talented teens, some meaningful friendships begin to develop.

The Inheritance Games, opens a new window by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Avery is a high school junior, living out of her car and trying to figure out her future, when she learns that she has inherited billionaire Tobias Hawthorne’s estate. But Avery doesn’t know Tobias Hawthorne, so how could she be his heir? Everyone in Hawthorne’s family has the same question. In order to receive the inheritance, Avery must live with Hawthorne’s family in his mansion. Not an easy thing to do when everyone in the house treats her with feelings ranging from suspicion to hostility. As Avery gets to know more about Mr. Hawthorne and his penchant for games and riddles, she begins to wonder if she is simply part of a final puzzle for his family.

The Magic Fish, opens a new window by Trung Le Nguyen
Twelve-year-old Tiến and his mother, Helen, read fairytales aloud to each other as a way for his mother to practice her English. It is a bonding time that Tiến cherishes, as his mother works long hours, and sometimes Tiến struggles with how to talk with his mom about difficult subjects. Helen has had a difficult life as an immigrant, caught between her memories of home and her new life in the United States. Through sharing fairytales, they learn more about each other and share insights into their lives. This beautiful graphic novel conveys the love between parent and child, even when they don’t totally understand each other.

Millionaires for the Month, opens a new window by Stacy McAnulty
When seventh graders Felix and Benji find billionaire Laura Friendly’s wallet while on a school field trip, they take $20 for lunch, then return the wallet. Because they didn’t return Friendly’s wallet as they found it, she gives them a challenge: spend $5 million in one month, and she will give them millions in return. The challenge comes with restrictions, of course, which means the boys have to get creative on how to spend the money, and keep the challenge a secret. It leads to conflicts with their families and friends and threatens to change what the boys value.

When Stars Are Scattered, opens a new window by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, were separated from their mother as they fled violence in Somalia. They ended up alone in Dadaab, an enormous refugee camp in Kenya. There is never enough food, there isn’t much to do, and the days are incredibly long and dull. When Omar is given the chance to attend school, he aches to do so, but worries about being away from his special needs brother, whom he has taken care of since their escape from Somalia. With encouragement from friends in the camp and a realization that school might be the only way toward a life away from Dadaab, Omar begins attending school, which leads to changes in Omar’s and Hassan’s lives that they must deal with together. This graphic novel shows the sorrow, monotony, and occasional humor of the lives of these refugees, as they work to make the best of their lives when faced time and time again with circumstances that are out of their control.

Darcie Caswell is the Youth Services Coordinator at CRRL. This column originally appeared in The Free Lance-Star newspaper.