Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“The Obsidian Blade” by Pete Hautman October 31, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,Science Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:23 am
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The Obsidian Blade

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The Facts

320 pages; published April 2012

The Basics

Tucker is just being raised by his preacher father and organ-playing mother in little Hopewell, Minnesota, until one day his dad steps into a blurry spot hovering above their roof and disappears. He returns an hour later, looking a few years older and trailed by a strange yellow-haired girl. He announces that he no longer believes in God, yet continues working and preaching at his church. Things spin out of control for Tucker’s mother. Then, both his parents disappear and Tucker is pulled bit by bit into his own close encounter with the blurry spots that hover over roofs until he is leaping and cavorting through a series of unpleasant and potentially deadly adventures that disregard the usual rules about time and space.


I’ll be honest. I’m not entirely sure I completely understand what just happened here.  The action focuses around a series of portals or “diskos” placed by a mysterious non-corporeal race called the Klaatu. Tucker is just a kid when his father gets sucked into a disko while trying to fix a loose shingle on their roof. Their close encounter with the Klaatu instruments costs Tucker’s father his faith in God and his mother her sanity. As Tucker begins to explore the world through the diskos, he discovers this adventure may cost him his life.

Along the way, Tucker must figure out how to handle some strange relationship – with Lalia, the girl who returned with his father from the diskos and seems to hold the key to many great secrets; and with his biker uncle, Kosh, who is consumed with fear after his own face-off with Klaatu technology.

It is intense and strange and really, really cool.

Still, I’m glad this is identified as Book 1, because Mr. Hautman still has a lot of explaining to do.

The Quote I Can’t Get Out of My Head

“Do you know what I miss about God?” the Reverend asked.

Tucker shook his head.

“I miss having someone to blame things on.”


“Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am” by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis October 30, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:36 pm
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Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am cover

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The Facts

160 pages; published February 2012

The Basics

Ben Bright is a stand-out kid. When he makes the unexpected decision to join the Army instead of going to college after high school, his family, best friend, and girlfriend try to be supportive. Their resolve is put to the ultimate test when Ben is injured in Iraq and returns stateside with a traumatic brain injury that shatters his memory and changes him on a fundamental level.


Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis explore in fairly simple terms how the people in Ben’s life are impacted by his decision to join the Army and the injury that follows. Aside from one vivid scene actually in Iraq, the story focuses on the folks at home – Ben’s parents who are nearly torn apart by the tragedy, Ben’s autistic brother who finds his own way to absorb the loss, the girlfriend who begins to question her commitment, and the best friend who finds himself burdened with heavy responsibilities. Everyone is allowed some very human moments where they do not behave well, but the situation is somewhat idealized. There is nothing really painful or violent about the story, making it perhaps a good choice for younger readers who may be fascinated by war without considering the possible downsides.


“Professor Gargoyle” by Charles Gilman October 22, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,Horror,Mystery,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:00 pm
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Professor Gargoyle changing cover

Image courtesy of Quirk Books

The Facts

168 pages; published September 2012

The Basics

All of Robert Arthur’s friends are still at the old middle school, but he’s been sent off to be one of the first students to attend Lovecraft Middle School. Things seem weird from the very beginning – when rats leap out of the new student lockers on the first day. Then there are strange rooms that appear and disappear. And a science teacher that couldn’t be more strange. Something isn’t at all right at Lovecraft Middle School and Robert means to be the one to find out what.


The slick cover creates the first appeal factor for Professor Gargoyle. It’s a lenticular portrait (yes, I had to look up what that was called) that shifts from the image of a slightly stern older man to a fairly frightening demon as you move from one side to the other. The effect alone should attract readers. (Click on the image to see the changing picture.)

Inside is a harmless, ultimately light-hearted adventure involving a new school with some hidden features inspired by the classic works of H.P. Lovecraft. While elements are creepy, the story is never truly scary, making it a safe choice for younger teen readers.

Wait! There’s More

Prominently featured on the cover is the news that this is the first in an intended series of adventures at Lovecraft Middle School. The second, The Slither Sisters (who I suspect we met in this first story), is due out January 15, 2013.


“October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard” by Lesléa Newman October 21, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,GLBTQ,Poetry,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:56 am
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October Mourning cover

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The Facts

128 pages; published September 2012

The Basics

On October 6, 1998, a 21-year-old gay University of Wyoming student named Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, robbed, and fatally beaten by two local men. After 18 hours tied to a fence, bleeding, Matthew Shepard was found and taken to a hospital where he remained in a coma and eventually died on October 12, 1998. The case set off a media frenzy and brought unprecedented attention to the threat of anti-gay violence. This slim volume of simple poems expresses the devastation felt by Lesléa Newman in the wake of the crime.


This book came to me hot on the heels of my first viewing of “The Laramie Project” in an excellent production staged by the local community theater and shortly after the 14th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death. So, my mind was already full of his story when I plunged into the series of 68 simple, direct poems as stripped down and barren as the Wyoming landscape in which Matthew Shepard was tortured and suffered and died for being who he was – a gay man.

This poem particularly echoed in my head:


This is just to say
I’m sorry
to deny
your request
to use
the gay panic defense

Forgive me
for pointing out
the obvious:
there was someone gay
and panicked that night
but that someone wasn’t you

Lesléa Newman carefully explains her connection to his story. As the author of the controversial and groundbreaking “Heather Has Two Mommies” and other books, Newman was the keynote speaker for the 1998 Gay Pride Week at the University of Wyoming (where Matthew was a student) which kicked off while he lay in a hate-driven beating induced coma, just one day before he died.

She is careful to explain that these are works of poetic imagination, not facts or real people’s words. This in no way diminishes their impact. The book is beautiful and sad.


“Sparks: The Epic, True Blue, (Almost) Holy Quest of Debbie” by S.J. Adams October 18, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,GLBTQ,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:45 am
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Sparks cover

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The Facts

256 pages; published November 2011

The Basics

Debbie is desperately in love with her best friend, which was working out OK as a secret until Lisa started dating and Debbie becomes tortured by her loss of status in Lisa’s life. Helped by a quirky pair of classmates, Debbie goes out to find Lisa and declare her feelings.


Debbie is in love. And she didn’t just fall in love. She has been loyal and true and in love with her best friend Lisa since the sixth grade. They’ve done everything together – spent Friday nights watching Full House re-runs, Sundays at church, and their off days at abstinence rallies. All while Debbie has nursed her secret crush.

Everything changed when Lisa started dating Norman, who is hopelessly boring and couldn’t possibly be what Lisa wants, right? Except that now it’s Friday and Lisa has cancelled the Full House marathon to go to a movie – and maybe all the way – with Norman.

Debbie doesn’t know what to do until she is offered a ray of hope by Emma and Tim, off-beat fellow students and founders of the Church of Blue who offer – for the bargain sum of $5 – to lead Debbie on an unpredictable quest to confess her love and stop Lisa before it’s too late.

Random Thoughts

Despite Debbie being the quite likable title character, the zany pair of Emma and Tim and their strangely charming home-grown religion are the lively and memorable element of this sweet, funny book.



“Ripper” by Stefan Petrucha October 12, 2012

Ripper coverThe Facts

427 pages; published March 2010

The Basics

After 14 years in an orphanage, Carver Young has been adopted and offered the chance to apprentice to Pinkerton Agency detective Albert Hawking. Tasked with finding his own father, Carver is drawn into a far larger mystery that may lead him into the path of a serial killer.


Jack the Ripper stalked and murdered at least 5 women in the East End of London between August and November of 1888. He was never caught. Yet, no later murders were proved to be linked to him. Where did he go? What did he do next?

Fourteen-year-old orphan Carver Young knows. Adopted by eccentric, brilliant detective Albert Hawking of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, Carver – who has always wanted to be a detective – become embroiled in the frantic search for a manic brutally murdering the wives of New York socialites. As Carver and the mysterious members of a shadowy agency called the New Pinkertons thread the clues together, the ties between these cases and 5 famous murders in the East End of London become unmistakable. As Carver digs even deeper, he discovers his own ties may go even deeper.

Random Thoughts

The author has some good fun using Theodore Roosevelt and his spirited daughter, Alice, as characters in the story. He even works in one of Alice’s most amusing and famous quotes – “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anyone, come sit here by me!”


“Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator” by Josh Berk October 9, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,Mystery,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:08 am
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Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator cover

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The Facts

240 pages; published March 2012

The Basics

Guy Langman is known for two things – being lazy and being funny. When he joins an after-school Forensics Club to get closer to a pretty girl, he has to deal with a whole mess of surprises – a real crime to solve, some uncomfortable truths about his recently dead father, and unexpected romantic opportunities.


While it may not be the most mysterious of mysteries, Guy Langman is fun to hang out with and he’s funny – laugh-out-loud funny sometimes. In a world where young adult literature tends more toward drama and darkness, humor and hijinks are a welcome surprise.

Basically, Guy just can’t be bothered with much. He’s unmotivated and clowny and has become even more casual about life and school since his father’s recent death. It’s no mystery that he has some things to process about grief and loss – as well as an unexpected gain in the form of learning that he has a long-lost brother. It’s a bit out of character that Guy even joins the new Forensics Club at his school, but then again, his friend convinces him that as a member of said Forensics Club, he may have a shot at the girl of his (current) dreams. When he stumbles across an actual dead body and some actual suspicious activity in his attic, Guy eases out of inaction and does a little highly improbably yet hilarious detecting.

Random Thought

The humor in the book depends heavily on people being amused by jokes about the male anatomy. People looking for more sophisticated wit will have to travel a different path.