Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“Divergent” by Veronica Roth June 16, 2012

Filed under: Dystopian,Fiction,Science Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 6:49 am
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Divergent book cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

487 pages; published May 2011

The Basics

In Beatrice Prior’s world, people live devoted to one of five factions, each hyper-focused on a particular trait (selflessness, bravery, honesty, peacefulness, intelligence.) In a society where it is demanded that you go “all in” for your faction, Beatrice is conflicted, demonstrating traits of multiple factions. Born to selfless Abnegation, she takes the only opportunity she will have in her lifetime to realign with Dauntless during her 16th year, throwing herself into rigorous training and constant risk as one of the brave. But those risks are nothing compared to what she will face if they learn what she really is – dangerous and Divergent.

The Booktalk

Beatrice Prior has been raised to be selfless, self-effacing, colorless, and quiet as a member of the Abnegation faction in her carefully divided society. But today – on Choosing Day – the only day in her life when she will be given the chance to leave her old life behind – she chose to become Dauntless and join the faction characterized by risky acts of bravery. Now, she is standing on a rooftop with the other Dauntless recruits. They’ve just been told the only way off the roof is to jump. As everyone shrinks back, Beatrice steps forward.

“This is a scare tactic. I will land safely at the bottom. That knowledge is the only thing that helps me step onto the ledge. My teeth chatter. I can’t back down now … I look at the hole again. Goose bumps rise on my pale arms, and my stomach lurches. If I don’t do it now, I won’t be able to do it at all. I swallow hard. I don’t think. I just bend my knees and jump.”

At the bottom, she chooses a new name – Tris – launching herself into a brutal training course, fighting to be one of the recruits eventually chosen to remain with the Dauntless. But unlike the other recruits, Tris is also fighting a silent battle of her own. Only she knows the truth. Her Testing didn’t identify her as Dauntless. Or even as Abnegation. Her Testing showed her to be what people fear, won’t explain, and will only repeat in a whisper – Tris is Divergent.

Random Thoughts

Of all the books suggested as read-alikes for the wildly popular Hunger Games trilogy, this is the best match. While wholly original and completely exciting, it shares many of the key appeal factors – unexpected bravery, a dedication to humanity in the face of cruelty, high tension and excitement, cross-gender appeal, and power-hungry villains to root against.

Wait, there’s more!

Book 2 – Insurgent – was released in May 2012 and is just as amazing as Book 1. There will be a third book, with an expected publication date late in 2013.

Awards/Honors (from

  • Goodreads Choice Award for Favorite Book of 2001 & for Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction (2011)
  • ALA Teens’ Top Ten #1 Pick for 2012
  • Children’s Choice Book Award Nominee for Teen Choice Book of the Year (2012)

“Berlin Boxing Club” by Robert Sharenow June 6, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,Historical Fiction,Multi-Cultural,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:36 am
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Berlin Boxing Club cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

399 pages; published April 2011

The Basics

As Nazi-led anti-Semitism grinds ever deeper into Berlin society in the late 1930s, Karl Stern’s family is slowly stripped of everything they hold dear. Although they are non-religious, they are targeted for bullying, loss of business, and eventually the loss of their home. Through his father’s friendship with German hero and boxer Max Schmeling, Karl finds himself training as boxer and gains new strength.


Coming from a non-practicing family, Karl Stern has never thought of himself as Jewish. But in Berlin in the late 1930s, he suddenly finds that a group of school bullies is all to aware of his Judiac heritage – and hates him for it. The beating he takes that day leads to a chance to train with the great German boxer Max Schmeling. Karl has never considered boxing before, but in the end, finds the strength he will need to face increasing Nazi oppression inside the walls of the Berlin Boxing Club.

Random Thoughts

This book is exciting and fast-moving. I got so involved that I read it in one day. Given it’s focus on the lead up to the Holocaust rather than the Holocaust itself, it is a slice of history that is less known and quite fascinating.


Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers (2012)