The first one is called "Salt to the Sea" by Ruta Septys. She has already written a couple of terrific pieces of historical fiction, one called "Between Shades of Gray", which is about a Lithuanian family trying to survive during the Russian occupation. The second is called "Out of the Easy" which is set in New Orleans in the 1950s. I was really lucky to get to hear her speak at a reading convention and was completely impressed with her research skills and the way she tells a story. This book is an excellent example of her storytelling prowess. It's told from the perspective of four different people, which is a bit confusing at first. One is a German sailor, one is German art restorer, one is a Lithuanian nurse, and one is a young Polish girl. Each of them have a story to tell and each of them has suffered terrible losses. The sailor mainly tells his story in letters home to his girlfriend. The art restorer is hiding a secret that could destroy them all. The Polish girl believes she's going to die soon and the Lithuanian nurse wants to help people. It's suspenseful and emotional and will make a great addition to a unit on World War 2 but it would also be amazing to read it and think about the refugees today that are lining up on the shores of Europe, desperate to escape the war in their own countries.
And here's a little video about Ruta Septys talking about the real story behind "Shades of Gray" which tiptoes into "Salt to the Sea".
The second one is a modern story called "The Thing About Jellyfish" by Ali Benjamin. This is her first novel and she has such a strong and interesting voice I can't wait to read her next book. This one is a terrific beginning. "The Thing about Jellyfish" is about a girl named Suzy. She's starting middle school and is struggling to find her place in the world. She's had some pretty difficult times. Her mom and dad divorced, her big brother moved out (and into an apartment with his boyfriend), and she and her best friend have a big falling out before summer vacation. On top of that, the best friend dies in a swimming accident (before the book starts). Suzy's first plan is to stop talking. The second plan is to figure out how her friend (who has been a strong swimmer the entire time they were friends) could have drowned. She comes up with a hypothesis and then decides to get some expert advice in Australia. This one has some big themes of dealing with loss, family structure, friendship as well as the scientific process. It would be great connected to a book like "Counting by 7s" by Holly Goldberg Sloan.
The last one is also modern fiction but because of it's rural setting, has a bit of an old fashioned feel. It's called "Orbiting Jupiter" by Gary Schmidt. It's about a family, mom, dad and son Jack that are welcoming a foster son. Joseph has had a hard time. He tried to kill a teacher and at 14, he's a dad and is desperate to connect to his daughter. The story comes out a little at a time and it is so very hard to put down. It's really hard not to completely fall in love with all the characters in this story (except maybe for Joseph's real dad) and to wish that they were a part of your own community. It has big themes of love and redemption and doing the right thing. I loved this one.
Here's a video with a conversation with the author about the book.