Twenty years ago, a youth services librarian from Central Rappahannock Regional Library and the school librarian at Walker-Grant Middle School came up with a unique idea: a partnership between the public library and the school library to encourage middle school students to read, with book discussions among 7th and 8th students while they gather for lunch during the school day. Thus was born Café Book. Since 1998, the Café Book program has grown to include 15 middle schools in Stafford County, Spotsylvania County, and the City of Fredericksburg, with hundreds of students participating each year. The students read from the same list of titles at all the schools, then vote on their favorite books at the end, resulting in a Café Book Top Picks list highlighting the favorites from across the schools. This year’s most popular titles include horror, fantasy, science fiction, and real-life drama.
How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat
Vicky is so terrified of talking to people that she does everything she can to be invisible and escape notice. When her only friend moves away, Vicky starts to acutely feel the pressure of her social anxiety. As it goes on, she grows tired of the person she is and starts a social media page under a pseudonym where she creates a character who dresses in crazy outfits and (thanks to photo editing) appears to constantly be at interesting locations and events. When that character, Vicurious, acknowledges feeling alone, followers respond that they do, too. As more and more people follow Vicurious, they build a community of support for Vicky and everyone who feels alone.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
When Will's older brother, Shawn, is shot dead, Will knows he needs to seek revenge. He goes into Shawn's dresser drawer and grabs what he was sure he would find there: a gun. Riding the elevator down to go after the man who killed his brother, Will is shocked when the elevator stops and his brother’s best friend, Buck, gets on. It’s shocking because Buck is dead. As Will progresses down in the elevator, more ghosts from his past get on, all of them victims of gun violence, all of them dead before their time: a female friend from his childhood, his uncle, his father, a young man from the neighborhood, and finally, Will's brother. These ghosts question what Will is doing, causing him to question himself.
Ruin of Stars by Linsey Miller
Sal, a thief, is determined to become The Opal, an assassin for the queen. As The Opal, Sal would have access to the nobility and could get revenge on those who have destroyed the lives of so many innocent people. Becoming The Opal is simple: kill the others in the competition and be the last one standing. A fitting trial for a would-be assassin, and it leads to an action-packed, intrigue-filled story that really begins when the trial ends.
Nyxia by Scott Reintgen
When Emmett Atwater is given the opportunity to work for Babel, traveling through space to Eden, a habitable planet Babel has discovered, he doesn’t ask too many questions. His family needs money, and Babel is offering enough to get his mom the medical treatment she needs for the rest of her life. But being recruited by Babel is one thing. Passing the tests and making the cut to earn a place to go to Eden is another thing entirely. The other recruits seem willing to do anything necessary to earn the payout from Babel, but for Emmett, it’s not so easy to choose between saving his mom’s life and being the person his parents have raised him to be.
Thornhill by Pam Smy
When Ella moves into a house with a view of the abandoned Thornhill Institute, her interest is piqued by the history of the dilapidated old place. When she sees a girl on the grounds, her curiosity cannot be contained. The stories of Mary, the mysterious girl, and Ella progress in parallel storylines involving death, ghosts, and creepy dolls. Mary’s storyline becomes more and more tragic and eventually converges with Ella’s in a sad and spooky twist.
Warcross by Marie Lu
Like the millions around the world who watch and play Warcross, the game is an escape for Em, a way to forget her problems, most of which involve being broke. When she hacks into the game anonymously to try to make some quick money, she gets caught in a big way. Instead of getting in trouble, though, the creator of the game hires her to go undercover as a player to look for an infiltrator set on destroying the game from the inside. Em finds herself on a Warcross team, trying to play the game well enough to keep her team winning while hunting a hacker at the same time.
Darcie Caswell is Youth Services Coordinator for Central Rappahannock Regional Library.
This column was first published in The Free Lance-Star newspaper and is reprinted here with their permission.