Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek” by Maya Van Wagenen October 5, 2014

Filed under: Books,Memoir/Biography,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:40 am
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Popular cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

272 pages; published April 2014

The Basics

At age 13, Maya Van Wagenen comes across Betty Cornell’s Teenage Popularity Guide from 1951 and decides to take on a secret project: follow the advice for a year and see how it affects her popularity as a modern middle school student in Brownsville, Texas. Her diary from that extraordinary and sometimes disastrous year has become an engaging memoir, peppered with her own memorably funny popularity tips for the next generation.

Review

Headed into her 8th grade year clinging to the bottom rung of the popularity ladder, Maya Van Wagenen makes possibly the strangest choice she could have. She decided to systematically, month-by-month, live according to the advice set out in a battered, found copy of of Betty Cornell’s Teenage Popularity Guide published in 1951. Yep. Sixty-year-old fashion and exercise tips for an awkward girl attending a high-poverty middle school where class is interrupted at times by things like two pregnant girls (7th and 8th grade) fighting in the hall or another visit from drug-sniffing dogs.

The thing is – it works … on many levels. Maya gets a lot of attention, negative and positive, but actually does become popular in a meaningful way. And it works as a story. Maya’s voice as the author is engaging and honest. She is not overly precocious or silly. She’s a smart, thoughtful girl looking with no small amount of humor at her own life.

Other teens should find it easy to relate to many aspects of her experience.

Random Thoughts

  • I loved that the family tracked down Betty Cornell about 3/4 of the way into the experiment and loved even more how gracious and supportive Betty was.
  • Maya’s family seems awesome. She talks about lacking and building confidence through her project, but it’s clear that she has a solid, loving foundation that gave her the basic guts to do any of this.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Any teen who thinks they’re alone in feeling like they don’t know how to make friends or otherwise navigate the mine-field that is a school social life
  • Readers interested in true, but entertaining stories
  • Fans of fiction authors like Rainbow Rowell, Deb Caletti, and Sarah Dessen
  • Parents interested in remembering what it’s like to be a teen
  • Anyone who remembers wearing pearls, a hat, and gloves to church on Sundays
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“Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin September 17, 2014

Beyond Magenta cover

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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.

Review

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
 

“Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year” by Ramsey Beyer September 26, 2013

Little Fish cover

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The Facts

272 pages; published September 2013

The Basics

Lists, journal entries, reflections, comic strips, and drawings are blended together to tell the sweet, sometimes funny story of a girl leaving a small, small town to be a little fish in the big pond of art school in Baltimore.

Booktalk

Ramsey Beyer was a shy girl who loved art and punk rock, growing up in Paw Paw, Michigan. Although she had a great family and good friends, she didn’t quite feel like Paw Paw was “her” place. If you’ve ever felt that way, you will relate to this book. Ramsey does the brave thing and heads out – 600 miles away to attend art school in Baltimore. She makes new friends, gets homesick, gets a crush, learns new things, has great adventures, gets sad sometimes, and changes her major. She tells it all in her own style, through reproducing lists and journal entries from when she was in college, as well as new drawings and comic strips. It is beautiful to look at and beautiful to read as you find out what it is like for this little fish to learn to swim in a new pond.

I’ll Recommend This Book To …

  • Readers who like realistic fiction
  • Seniors who are nervous about college
  • Graphic novel and art fans
  • Other people who make lists

A Page from Little Fish …

There are LOTS of lists. They are very interesting.

 

Image courtesy of zestbooks.net

 

“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.

Review

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
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They Call Me a Hero cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

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.

Booktalk

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.”

 

“Episodes: Scenes from Life, Love, and Autism” by Blaze Ginsberg January 27, 2013

Filed under: Memoir/Biography,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:51 am
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Episodes cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

304 pages; published November 2012 (although it should be noted that this is an update of a 2009 publication, Episodes: My Life as I See It.)

The Basics

This unusual memoir offers a glimpse inside the mind of an autistic teen as he progresses through high school obsessed with recycling trucks, buses, going to basketball games, and getting a girlfriend. He has organized his memories in a format similar to IMDB (the Internet Movie Database), summarizing the key events of each “episode,” and including sections for “notes,” “quotes,” “goofs,” and “soundtrack.”

Review

The truth is, I didn’t like reading this book. I felt frustrated and impatient because I didn’t really care about many of the topics the author cares very passionately about and talks about over and over and over and over. However, I would still call it a “good” book because it got into my head and left me feeling like I had better understanding of how Ginsberg’s autistic mind works differently than mine.

He writes with a bleak honesty and occasional humor that is compelling. His stories were interesting. Ginsberg attended a special needs high school. He wants very much to make friends and he wants a girlfriend badly, but many of his relationships clearly stress him out. Buses are also stressful, because if they have the wrong kind of number or are the wrong kind of bus, he doesn’t like to ride on them. Recycling trucks are soothing and enjoyable, unless they don’t show up on schedule or the wrong truck comes. Then, they are stressful too.

Ginsberg’s family is another major theme in his writing. He has a large, loving extended family. His mother, grandparents, aunts, and uncles all appear frequently in episodes. A special series is devoted to Ginsberg’s favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, which is a huge family celebration.

The overall effect is undeniably interesting.

Quote that, in All Honesty, I Relate to More than Any Other in the Book

Maya (aunt): Try not to act so crazy.

 

“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"

Cover images courtesy of GoodReads.com

Annotation:

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.

Review:

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: http://us.macmillan.com/iamscout/CharlesShields):

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