Books & More from the Teen Scene

Book reviews and other reflections from one of Oregon's young adult librarians

“The Last Great Getaway of the Water Balloon Boys” by Scott William Carter October 31, 2011

Carter, Scott William. The Last Great Getaway of the Water Balloon Boys. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. 202 pp. ISBN: 9791416971566

Last Great Getaway of the Water Balloon Boys cover

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Sucked in by an old friend, nerdy, under-the-radar Charlie Hill suddenly find himself on a wild road trip, trying to reconnect with his absent father and face his own worries about the future.


Charlie Hill is having an epically bad day. Somehow, he doesn’t even know how, he is being called out for inviting the prettiest girl in school to the prom – the prettiest girl who happens to be dating the nastiest bully around. Charlie Hill is a grade-A nerd with no hope of getting that date anyway and he knows it, but that won’t stop Leo Gonzalez from ripping his face off. Just as Leo catches him, just as Charlie realizes he is about to become “human pulp,” he is rescued by an old friend. Charlie hasn’t talked to Jake Tucker since they had a falling out over a broken Game Boy in the 4th grade. Yet, here he is, driving a fancy red Mustang recently stolen from the high school principal and offering Charlie a ride and a way out.

“There are moments when your life spins on a wheel, when the choices you make forever change the person you are and the person you will become. I could stay and get pulverized by Leo and his friends, or I could escape in the Mustang only to meet my certain doom later at the hands of Mr. Harkin. Leo’s fist now, or Harkin’s wrath later – which was worse? Looking back, it seems like there might have been other options available to me, but those were the only two roads I could see.

I got in the car.”

That’s how the Water Balloon Boys begin their last great getaway.

Charlie’s choice takes him father than he could ever have imagined – on a wild road trip from Oregon to Denver, face-to-face with his anger at the father who left him, his rejection of Jake, and his disgust with himself. When the road makes its final turn, Charlie is plunged terror, tragedy, and a terrible choice that makes all the difference – for everyone.

Random thought:

This would be a great book to recommend to Victoria, 13. Victoria looks for high-action books. Her favorite book recently was Max Cassidy: Escape from Shadow Island by Paul Adam, which was a really exciting book about a kid who is an escape artist. When his mother goes to jail because they think she killed his father, Max has to run away and follow up on some information he gets that his dad might really be alive. Victoria likes books to be realistic with a lot going on. “If the book is just going along and nothing is really happening, I just stop reading.” I bet she wouldn’t stop reading Scott William Carter’s high-action story!

Awards/Honors (source:

Winner, 2011 OregonBook Award for Young Adult Literature

Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2011


“I am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee” by Charles J. Shields October 9, 2011

Shields, Charles J. I am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008. 212 pp. ISBN: 0805083340

Cover image for "I am Scout"

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Aside from knowing that she authored one of the most enduring American classics, To Kill a Mockingbird, few people know much about the life and times of Harper Lee. Charles Shields builds her story from extensive interviews from those who have known the reclusive author, shining a light on her childhood, life as a writer, and reasons for never publishing again after the meteoric success of her book.


Charles Shields has been much lauded for the careful research that drove a masterfully written biography of Harper Lee. Although most American young adults read To Kill a Mockingbird and many appreciate its finer qualities, it is assigned reading. This makes it difficult to believe that large numbers of them will become independently interested in the author who penned the words so long ago and want to read her biography. Those who do develop that interest are likely to be disappointed by Shields’ book when they discover that Harper Lee ultimately has led a fairly dull life – which is how she seems to have wanted it. There is only so much that can be made of the process of writing one book and then retreating from the public eye. He relies too much on her relationship with the more dramatic Truman Capote, perhaps forgetting that Capote is somewhat passé for today’s young adult readers.

As a reader, I felt a bit sheepish as Lee obviously wishes to be left alone and is unlikely to be pleased to see bits of gossip from her friends and neighbors spun into not one, but two biographies. Shields has re-worked material from Mockingbird, a biography of Lee aimed at adult audiences. It seems to me that his missed his goal of creating an engaging story for younger readers.

Awards/Honors (source:

  • 2009 American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults
  • Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year
  • Arizona Grand CanyonYoung Readers Master List

“Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy” by Gary D. Schmidt October 2, 2011

Schmidt, Gary D. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. New York: Clarion Books, 2004. 217 pp. ISBN: 0616439293

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy cover

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Thirteen-year-old Turner Buckminster has found exactly one friend since moving to Phippsburg, Maine – Lizzie Bright Griffin, who lives in an impoverished community of former slaves on nearby Malaga Island. When the town elders decide they want the island to build a resort hotel for tourists, Turner and Lizzie are pushed to desperate action.


Illuminating a true and shameful episode in Maine history, Gary D. Schmidt has created a striking story about a boy who instinctively rebels against the strict rules that come with being a minister’s son, and his new town’s disdain for the small black community nearby. Turner Buckminster has made a friend in Lizzie Bright, a girl with a sharp tongue and some mad baseball skills who introduces him to her world and people on Malaga Island. He plunges into a naïve, but well-meaning struggle to save Lizzie Bright and her kinfolk from the town elders, and the town elders from themselves.

Told with a bit of humor and a strong feel for the groupthink and nosy nature of small-town life, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is fast-paced story about a boy who experiences the worst in others, yet learns what is the most beautiful and important in this world.

Awards/Honors (source:

  • 2005 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
  • Michael L. Printz Honor Book
  • Newbery Honor Book
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • ALA Notable Children’s Book
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
  • Kirkus Reviews Editor Choice Award

“Forever” by Judy Blume

Filed under: Classics,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:33 am
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Blume, Judy. Forever. New York: Simon Pulse, 1975. 192 pp. ISBN: 1416934006

Forever cover

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Katherine isn’t the kind of girl who has a boyfriend in high school, until she meets Michael and plunges into a special love she is sure will last forever. Michael is caring and sweet, and very much wants to take this relationship all the way.

This story is beautiful and timeless in its simplicity. A girl meets a boy and loves the boy. He fills her whole world and together, they enter into a sexual relationship. They promise each other that what they have found is forever. However, after some time apart, they both learn what so many have learned before them – forever is a very long time.

Blume’s writing flows easily. Part of the enduring appeal of the book is that Katherine’s first love is a good one. Aside from a few spats and misunderstandings, nothing goes wrong. She is sweet to Michael. He is good to her. It is an accurate portrayal of how love can wash over a person and carry them away. There is a life lesson in the flow of the story, but it is gently rolled out and does not take away from the joy the characters find in their plunge into romance.

Awards/Honors (source:

  • Margaret A. Edwards Award, 1996