Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“Coaltown Jesus” by Ron Koertge October 24, 2013

Filed under: Books,Christian,Fiction,Poetry,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:30 am
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Coaltown Jesus cover

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The Facts

128 pages; published October 2013

The Basics

Simply told in spare verse, this is the chuckle-worthy story of a boy who spends a few days with a wryly witty Jesus (who would have arrived sooner if not for some bad traffic on the I-55) after Walker prays for help for his grieving mother.


Having howled my way through the darkly hilarious Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses, I simply had to invited Coaltown Jesus to come home with me. Because it is both a slim book and written in verse, it takes barely any time to read. Processing it fully, however, takes more time.

Walker is completely torn up inside after the untimely death of his beloved, but troubled brother. Living above the private nursing home owned by their mother, Walker wonders, “Didn’t God look downstairs? It’s a nursing home. Half my mom’s clients are ready to check out. But he picks a kid.” With his own grief pressing in, Walker prays that God will fix his mother, who is shattered by the loss.

Enter Jesus, a fast-talking, smart-mouth who shows up late and needing to check his email – “robe, sandals, beard – just like my action figure.” He doesn’t like being called The Anointed One (“Makes me feel greasy”) and admits that camels may have been a mistake born of a long day of creation (“You try creating a whole world without even a snack”). Who knew Jesus was such a card?

Between quips, however, Jesus finds his own way to attend to the business of healing and may indeed be the answer to Walker’s prayers.

Random Thoughts

I couldn’t decide if this book was irreverent or very reverent indeed. Because why couldn’t the King of kings have a sense of humor? In fact, don’t we have a lot of evidence that He must?

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • People who enjoy the unexpected
  • Anyone with a quirky sense of humor
  • Families who are grieving
  • Students who need to read a book – quick!

“Rapture Practice” by Aaron Hartzler June 18, 2013

Filed under: Books,Christian,GLBTQ,Memoir/Biography,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:18 pm
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Rapture Practice cover

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The Facts

400 pages; published April 2013

The Basics

Aaron Hartzler was brought up in a Baptist family so strict that other Baptists seemed radically permissive by comparison. Wishing to be obedient, but desperate to be true to himself, Aaron struggles to keep his place in his family while spreading his wings.


What made this book striking to read was that throughout the stories of Aaron’s wayward youth, he clearly loves and even admires his family and their singular devotion to religion. However, he doesn’t share it. He chafes painfully under the oppressive rules of his unusually strict household. He can’t see movies. There’s no TV. No listening to any station other than 88.5 KLJC, Kansas City’s home for “beautiful, sacred music.” It’s a religious view that forgives serial killers, as long as they confess their sins and open their hearts to Jesus, but condemns the two  men holding hands while they watch a gay pride parade – two men who kind of look like Aaron.

He never expresses hatred for his family, but he does talk about plenty of confusion and frustration. He constantly disappoints his parents because all the rules, all the restrictions just plain don’t make any sense to him. He just cannot live inside the box they’ve created.

So, he challenges the rules and sneaks out of bounds again and again. The stories as he tells them are equal parts hilarious and heart-rending.

Random Thoughts

This story will intrigue some people because it is so different from their own families. It will move others because it reminds them so much of theirs.


“Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words” by Rachel Coker March 31, 2012

Interrupted cover

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The Facts:

320 pages; published February 2012

The Basics:

Alcyone (Allie) Everly’s world revolves around her mother and the quiet life they share, gardening, housekeeping, and reading Emily Dickinson. When her mother’s memory and health disintegrates, Allie finds herself alone and shipped off to Maine to be adopted by a kindly widow. Determined to stay loyal to her mother’s memory, Allie turns inward, rejecting the care and love offered in her new home.

Book Talk:

Can you imagine how scary it would be – at age 10 – to have your mother’s memory start to come and go? Can you image how sad it would feel – at age 14 – to find yourself alone in the world and shipped off to be adopted by a total stranger? Alcyone Everly doesn’t want a new mother or a new home. She wants to go back to protecting and helping the mother she loved. She hides within the pages of the journal she still writes to her mother and pushes everyone away, even the neighbor boy who has loved her and been loyal to her all her life. Her adoptive mother continues to pray that with God’s help she can soften Allie’s heart. Will it be possible to restart this life that was Interrupted?

Random Thought:

This is a sweet, gentle story that holds no real surprises, but the writing is solid and it’s a enjoyable first effort from a 16-year-old debut author.


“The God Box” by Alex Sanchez November 7, 2011

Sanchez, Alex. The God Box. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. 248 pp. ISBN: 1416908994


Paul is already struggling to resolve his growing passion for men with the anti-homosexual teachings of his church. When Manuel moves to town and enrolls in the local high school, Paul is confronted head-on with the idea of someone who is openly gay and a committed Christian.

(Original Animoto created by Sonja Somerville using photos from Microsoft Office.)

The God Box cover

Cover images courtesy of


Paul keeps a God Box on his desk. On the lid is the Serenity Prayer. Inside, he places his most fervent prayers, giving his problems over to the Lord.

“Please help me pass my math test tomorrow.”

“Give me strength for my cross-country race today.”

“Help my Abuelita as she goes into gallstone surgery. Don’t take her from me like you took my Mama.”

“Help my father’s sliced tendon heal. He needs to work and be strong so he won’t back to drinking.”

“Please find a job for my girlfriend’s father close to home. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

But the prayer he has made most often – the prayer that God has never answered – begs God to take away his attraction to boys, to allow his real love for Angie to grow until it includes the kind of passion Paul feels when he kisses a boy in his dreams.

Enter Manuel, new to school in their senior year. He’s a devoted Christian. He’s a nice guy. And handsome. And openly, comfortably, joyfully gay.

Paul knows being gay is wrong. His church has taught him it is unnatural and a guarantee of an eternity in hell. Yet, he can’t stay away from Manuel. Through long talks about the same Bible verses that have always told Paul to run from his feelings, he become more and more confused about what may and may not fit inside “The God Box.”

Awards/Honors (source:

  • New York Public Library 2008 “Book for the Teen Age”