Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“The Story of Owen” by E.K. Johnston September 22, 2014

The Story of Owen cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

312 pages; published March 2014

The Basics

Siobhan is a gifted musician. Owen is the youngest in a line of famous Canadian dragon slayers. Siobhan enters his life as his algebra tutor, but soon finds she had really be recruited as his bard, charged with the task of helping change the way the small community of Trondheim and the world behind see the work of the dragon slayers who labor to save humanity from carbon-emission-and-people-eating dragons.


It’s not easy being a dragon slayer. Dragons are ruthless in their pursuit of carbon emissions and people are idiots about not only making the emissions, but about the dragon slayers during a battle. Lottie Thorskard–once the most famous dragon slayer in Canada and maybe the world–paid a terrible price for the shortcomings of others. Now, she is determined the things will be different for her nephew, Owen, dragon slayer-in-training and high school students struggling in algebra. Using algebra as a cover, Lottie arranges for Owen to take on a bard, Siobhan, with the idea that she will use her considerable musical talents to shine a positive light on the world of the dragon slayer. Siobhan, Owen, Lottie, and the entire community of Trondheim are in for more danger and excitement that any of them could have imagined.

Random Thoughts

  • This book is droll and clever, but not quite as action-filled as I thought it might be for a book about humans battling dragons. On the other hand, the characters are completely charming and the social commentary is pointed and biting. It is more of a thinking person’s action/adventure.
  • Owen’s aunts, Lottie and Hannah, may be my favorite literary couple this year so far. I simply adored them both.

But Wait, There’s More!

The Story of Owen is book 1 in The Dragon Slayer of Trondheim series. Prairie Fire is due out sometime in 2015.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Smart readers with sophisticated senses of humor
  • Teens who want a little climate change allegory mixed into their adventure stories
  • People who want a teen book with no romance, but a true mixed-gender friendship
  • Aspiring writers who want to read something deliciously crafted

“Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin September 17, 2014

Beyond Magenta cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

192 pages; published February 2014

The Basics

Six transgender teens tell their personal stories, covering their childhoods, their journey to understanding their transsexual identities, and their experiences living as transgender. Included photos also help tell the story.


These stories are simply fascinating. To some degree, this is because Kuklin is interviewing six articulate, self-aware people who have led complex, interesting lives and are willing to be brutally frank about their experiences. It is also a chance to think very carefully and slowly about a life situation with which most of us have no firsthand experience – the reality of being born with an outward gender identity that does not match ones sense of self. Transgender is a concept I can understand on an intellectual level, but I have to acknowledge that I also don’t “get it” at a gut level. It falls outside the bounds of my personal experience and it’s confusing. As each of these stories rolled out, I experienced very gratifying moments where I felt like a window opened up and I could finally see. I appreciated Kuklin’s approach, which allows us to hear the voices of the transgender teens. She pulled no punches and allows us to see the unpleasant, shallow, and ugly aspects of the subject’s personalities as well as the heartbreak they have endured and the strong self-advocates they have become.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Teens who identify as GLBTQ, particularly those who identify as transgender
  • Readers who like stories about difficult situations and people who struggle to find their place in this world
  • Families who know or suspect their child is transgender
  • Sysgendered teen and adult allies with a desire for insight into other life experiences

“Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan September 15, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,GLBTQ,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 6:51 am
Tags: , , , , ,
Two Boys Kissing cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

208 pages; published August 2013

The Basics

Reacting to the recent gay-bashing of a schoolmate, Craig and Harry set out to break the world record for the longest kiss. As they grow exhausted and the world watches via the Internet, the narrators take a fly-over of the current gay landscape, contemplating how the world has changed and is changing when it comes to the sight of two boys kissing.

The Review

A beautiful book, written in the omniscient voice of the generation of gay men who fell victim to the AIDS crisis of the 80s looking over, appreciating, commenting on, even envying the lives of the current generation of gay men. They introduce us to Craig and Harry who are endeavoring to make a statement by breaking the world record for the longest kiss; to Tariq, who has survived a recent gay-bashing incident; to Neil and Peter, a young couple a year into their dating life; to Avery and Ryan, who have just met and are exploring the possibilities; and Cooper, who trolls hook-up apps desperately looking for something to satisfy him. It is a fluid, chapterless narrative that is utterly riveting and deeply moving.

I’ll Recommend This Book To …

  • Readers of all ages interested in GBLTQ issues
  • Fans of realistic fiction looking for a memorable story
  • Anyone who likes to have a good cry when they read
  • Adults who survived and suffered the impact of AIDS in the 80s and 90s
  • Developing writers who want to explore unique narrative styles
  • The Oregon Young Adult Network (OYAN) for its 2014 Book Raves nomination list

“Rapture Practice” by Aaron Hartzler June 18, 2013

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

Images courtesy of

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.


“They Call Me a Hero: A Memoir of My Youth” by Daniel Hernandez with Susan Goldman-Rubin May 16, 2013

Filed under: Books,GLBTQ,Memoir/Biography,Multi-Cultural,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:50 am
Tags: , , ,
They Call Me a Hero cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

240 pages; published February 2013

The Basics

People call Daniel Hernandez a hero because in 2011, he was the first to reach Gabrielle Giffords, a congresswoman who was shot at a public event. He raised her head and stopped the bleeding and, by all accounts, saved her life. In this account of that morning and the life that led to it, Hernandez explains why he doesn’t consider himself a hero – just a guy who was doing what anyone should have done.


On January 8, 2011, a man shot Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in a Safeway parking lot where she was meeting with constituents. Six people died. Many others were injured. Daniel Hernandez, a 20-year-old intern in Giffords office, ran toward the gunfire to help Giffords. He is credited with saving her life by administering basic first aid mostly learned from health occupation classes in high school. That incident is why they’ve written a book about Hernandez. It’s what made him famous.

In a lot of ways, Hernandez is kind of an ordinary person. He’s pretty smart. He comes from a working class Latino family in Tuscon. He had some good teachers. He takes an interest in the world around him. He’s interested in politics. He’s openly gay. He has a heart for community service. Here’s what makes him extraordinary. Here’s what makes the book about him worth reading: Daniel Hernandez accomplishes things. Not “someday,” but all the time. He has grabbed every opportunity that goes by to learn new skills, to work hard, to get involved. He has campaigned for politicians he believed in. He has authored a bill that was approved by the Arizona legislature. He currently serves – at age 23 – on the school board for the district he attended.

I liked Daniel Hernandez’s story because he’s a person who takes the time and talent he’s been given and works hard to get things done and improve the world around him.

Random Thoughts

I find it hilarious that they have subtitled the autobiography of a 23-year-old “A Memoir of My Youth.”


Awesome Scene from “The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door” by Karen Finneyfrock February 27, 2013

Filed under: GLBTQ,Quotes — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:02 am
Tags: , ,

Sometimes, when reading a book, I have the feeling that the author just really needed to say something so she has a character say it … even if it’s not strictly central or necessary to the plot. In this case, I was delighted to find the following passage because Celia Door says something so well – in just the words I’ve wished I had, but never seem to have at my command when they are needed.

From Page 152:

“Ugh, that movie was stupid,” the other girl said.

“I know, everything is zombies now. That movie was so gay,” said the salesgirl.

“What did you say?” I asked.

The girls looked surprised, as if I has just walked over to their private table in a restaurant and asked to sit down. “We’re just talking about the movie with the zombie aliens,” the salesgirl said dismissively.

“But what did you call it?” I asked. I could feel Drake shift uncomfortably next to me and take a small step away.

“I said it was stupid, don’t bother seeing it,” said the girl.

“But you didn’t say ‘stupid,'” I said, my voice getting a little louder. “You said it was ‘gay.'”

“Oh, yeah, whatever, I didn’t mean it literally.”

“No, you said ‘gay’ like that was another word for ‘stupid’ or ‘lame.'”

“A lot of people say that,” one of the other girls broke in, “she didn’t mean it in a mean way. She’s cool with gay people.”

“Well, if you’re cool with gay people, then why don’t you choose another word to use so you don’t offend anyone?”


Go, Celia!


“The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door” by Karen Finneyfrock

Filed under: Fiction,GLBTQ,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:53 am
Tags: , , , ,
The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

272 pages; published February 2013

The Basics

It is the first day of ninth grade and Celia Door has just one thing on her mind – revenge. Over the summer, Celia has become Dark, an isolated tower of rage ready to mete out just dessert on the evil and popular Sandy Firestone for the truly awful thing she did to Celia in the eighth grade. The complication here is Drake, the interesting new boy who chooses Celia to be his friend, hear his confidences, and who may bring a dangerous measure of happiness to break up her Darkness.


I’m not sure what attracted me more to this book – the fact that the author’s last name was Finneyfrock (awesome); that the cover blurb was an enthusiastic endorsement by my beloved Sherman Alexie; or that I loved the cover shot of the combat boots and gingham dress.

Whatever it was, I’m glad I grabbed it. Celia Door and Drake are fun and funny together. Yet, they are really having troubles. Celia is being nastily bullied by the nasty popular girl and her best attempts to come up with a plan for revenge are just heartbreakingly ineffective. Celia’s parents are in the throes of a “trial separation” which she hates without understanding at all what happened. Drake has been sent to Hershey, Pennsylvania to start high school because he didn’t get into a good one at home in New York City. And although he is witty and urbane and handsome, he is hopelessly in love with his best friend back home who may or not be gay.

Freshman year is not starting off well.

Random Thoughts

Celia Door is also a writer, filling a poetry journal with Dark, quirky poetry alongside her charts of doomed revenge plots. Here’s one:


The classroom bell like a slow heartbeat
pumps students through the hallways of your veins.
Your cafeteria growls and your doors close
like eyelids at night when you sleep.
What do you dream about, high school?
Do you dream that you are a hospital,
keeping us alive with your textbook-heart monitors,
your basketball court, an emergency room?
When I fall down in the hallway,
my books spraying over the floor like vomit,
you wish you could pull your mortar arms
out of the earth and pick me up.
But you can’t help me. No one can.