Click here to see all of the current Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young
Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Publication Date: March 19, 2019
Mena is one of a select crop of elite girls chosen to be trained at Innovations Academy, the foreboding site of former Innovations Tech company. Girls are trained by male professors, Guardians, analysts and doctors to be beautiful, behave pleasantly and make themselves ready for graduation, when they will be turned over to a prospective buyer. Girls start going missing and secrets unravel, propelling Mena and her friends down a dark path to uncover the truth behind their lives.
It may be a little slow to start, but once the scene is set and the characters come to life, the sinister underbelly of this school will get under a young reader’s skin and leave them wanting to know more. The story is narrated in an easy-to-read first person account, and several climactic scenes help build a suspenseful storyline. For young adults who are drawn into dystopian worlds, this is a clever and easy choice. The novel ends on a semi-cliffhanger that positions it well for the follow-up and may entice reluctant readers to pick up the second book next year.
The horrifying male-dominated dystopian society explored in Girls With Sharp Sticks will appeal to fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Stepford Wives.
These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling
Razorbill / Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication Date: May 28, 2019
Ex-girlfriends Hannah and Veronica are determined to find the source of the dark magic that has targeted their Salem, Massachusetts, coven. Is there a new witch in town, or is a “Reg” (non-witch) simply playing with magic? The teens begin to question everything and everyone they know as they try to keep their human friends safe without revealing the coven’s secrets.
This suspenseful story immerses readers in a world of magical realism and paranormal drama. In addition to the overarching narrative of good versus evil, Sterling weaves many familiar themes into her narrative. The protagonists are eager to prove their mettle and practice their craft, despite being bound by the coven’s rules related to teen witches. Victoria and Hannah’s relationship is fraught with anger, jealousy, as well as emotional manipulation. Although this is the first book in the series, there is a satisfying conclusion to this particular mystery.
This is a good selection for readers who enjoyed the queer romance and paranormal mystery of Amy Rose Capetta’s The Lost Coast (2019) or Adriana Mather’s tale of the modern-day consequences of the Salem witch trials, How to Hang a Witch (2017).
Fans of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comics or Netflix series will find Sterling’s book a lighter take on the theme of witchcraft.
–Kathleen J. Barker