When her father sends Molly off to the Castle Dethemere to by a scullery maid because he can no longer afford to feed her, her mother, who has seen visions for years, gives her a necklace made by her grandfather and warns Molly of danger to come. Things go well at the castle; the work is hard, but Molly quickly moves up to the position of silver polisher under the watchful eye of Thomas, and makes a good friend in another servant, Tobias.
All is not entirely well at the castle. Rumor has it that the family is suffering under a curse, and when Molly is polishing a silver bowl one day, she can see visions of horrors that will befall the royal family. These come to pass; the king and the eldest prince die, and the next son is attacked by mysterious silver wolves at his sister’s wedding. Alaric, the youngest son, manages to escape with Tobias and Molly, and they head off to the abbey where Molly’s brother works. Can Molly, with her alarming visions, manage to figure out the source of the curses and keep Alaric safe so that he can reclaim the kingdom from his cousin, Reynard?
Strengths: Stanley does an excellent job describing a medieval world of royalty, servants, and intrigue. That’s not always something I want to read, but her style makes it interesting. Bella at Midnight was the favorite of one of my students last year.
Weaknesses: I don’t have quite as many readers for medieval books, but they come in waves.
Galante, Cecilia. Willowood.
Life in the city is much different for life in the suburbs for Lily, especially since she has had to leave her best friend. Lily’s single mother works a lot, so Lily spends a lot of time with Mrs. Hiller, a neighbor who keeps an eye on her and introduces her to the Pet Palace, where she meets Bernard and his son Nate, who has Down Syndrome. School is difficult as well. Lily’s teacher is an unpleasantly demanding person who turns a blind eye to the exploits of the mean Amanda, who goes out of her way to make hurtful comments to Lily and another girl, Gina. Lily’s biggest problem, however, is that she doesn’t know why her father left right after she was born. Will things ever get better for Lily?
Strengths: Galante has made a good choice in all three of her books with characters who live in the city under difficult circumstances. Not all students are suburban and well-to-do. The daily struggles of Lily’s family will interest students.
Weaknesses: This was unrelentingly sad. While Lily had a good support system with Mrs. Hiller and Bernard, I just didn’t finish the book with the thought that Lily would ever be happy. There’s a little hope, but just not enough for me.
Library Note: And I have decided that the hoo ha over the Wall Street Journal article "Darkness Too Visible" is more than I can take. I just read 300 student surveys about the type of books students wanted; TWO wanted problem novels. Maybe YA readers do want really, really depressing books, but my students want mystery, action and adventure, spies, and books where things happen. Problem novels serve a very small subset of my population. My own daughter is one of them, and I've let her read a bunch of things, like Rainfield's Scars, but that's different: she's my daughter and I can have the needed discussions with her about upsetting topics. I'm not going to have books with sex and bad language and dismal situations that aren't somehow positively dealt with in the school library and hand them to students when I get an average of THREE MINUTES PER WEEK with each child.
Skateboarding books. Somebody write some of those. Keep the language clean, but throw in some domestic abuse, disordered eating, and dead parents if that's what it takes to satisfy your muse.