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

Images courtesy of

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!

“Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson December 31, 2012

Filed under: Classics,Poetry — hilariouslibrarian @ 7:52 am
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Not surprisingly, the poetry of Emily Dickinson plays a role of its own in the story of Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things by Kathryn Burak. Lines from this poem appear early in the book and spark an important relationship for Claire.

Full text of "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" by Emily Dickinson

Text courtesy of; Image from Microsoft Clip Art


“Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things” by Kathryn Burak December 29, 2012

Filed under: Chick Lit,Fiction,Mystery,Poetry,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:38 am
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Emily's Dress cover

Images courtes of

The Facts

232 pages; published October 2012

The Basics

Claire’s father hopes that distance from Rhode Island and a new start in Amherst, Massachusetts will help Claire heal from two terrible losses – her mother and her best friend.


Claire has just moved to Amherst, Massachusetts and frankly, she’s going a little nuts. To say the last year was difficult is saying far too little. The loss of her mother to suicide has been compounded by the unsolved disappearance of her best friend – in which she was a suspect.

Now, she’s a year behind in school. Amherst is supposed to give her the chance to start in a new place, get her bearings, and figure out how to go on. Likable, smart and funny even in the depths of her grief, Claire  develops some connections – with a new friend at school, with a student teacher from her English class, and with long-dead poet Emily Dickinson. When she starts visiting Emily Dickinson’s home-turned-museum at night, she doesn’t even really mean to break in and she certainly doesn’t mean to – in a moment of surprised panic – steal Emily’s famous, historic dress.

Random Thoughts

This book is not just about a girl dealing with grief. It is also a mystery and a romance and a teaser for Emily Dickinson’s haunting poetry and funny and hopeful. It’s complicated in a good way and so, so enjoyable.


“Far From You” by Lisa Schroeder December 24, 2012

Filed under: Chick Lit,Fiction,Poetry,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 11:13 am
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Far From You cover

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The Facts

355 pages; published December 2008

The Basics

Alice misses her mom – who died of cancer a few years ago – and resents the heck out of her new stepmother, the father who has re-focused on his new wife, and now the baby they’ve decided to add to the family. All her emotional turmoil comes to a head when she gets trapped in a snowstorm with her stepmother and half-sister. Suddenly, survival is more important than anything.


Lisa Schroeder tells a riveting, emotion-packed story in simple, pared down concrete poetry. She explores the experience of Alice, who is feeling badly out of sorts. Despite having a new boyfriend, a best friend, and a loving (if distracted) father, she is almost completely overwhelmed by the loss of her mother. Then, things start to go really wrong. Her friend gets tired of her maudlin obsession. Her father and stepmother have a new baby, leaving her feeling like she doesn’t have a place in her own home. And then, on a road trip from California to Seattle, the unthinkable happens. She, her half-sister, and her step mother get stranded in a snow storm. Faced with a true life-or-death situation, Alice finds herself able to see her loved ones – living and dead – in a new way.

Random Thought

I’m not a poetry fan and tend to be leery of stories told in poetic form, but I found this concrete poetic narrative both engaging and memorable.


A Poem: “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” by Dylan Thomas November 23, 2012

Filed under: Classics,Poetry — hilariouslibrarian @ 3:03 pm
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Because this poem is central to the action in “Matched” by Ally Condie and because it is a rousing cry of the soul.

The Poem (source:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Want to hear the poet reading it?


“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

Images courtesy of

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.


“Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses” by Ron Koertge, illustrated by Andrew Dezso October 2, 2012

Filed under: Fantasy,Fiction,Poetry,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 11:29 am
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Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

87 pages; published July 2012

The Basics

What happens after the fairy tales? Is it really so easy to know which characters are good and which are bad? Wasn’t Goldilocks really just a brat? Ron Koertge reveals a different take on stories you thought you knew in short, witty, memorable verse.

The Booktalk

“Do you want to sleep? Find another storyteller. Do you want to think about the world in a new way” Come closer. Closer, please. I want to whisper in your ear.”

If the first page doesn’t get you, this new way of looking at our most revered fairy tale characters certainly will. Sexy, vengeful Cinderella sends birds to pluck out the eyes of her stepsisters. The mole spews bitter memories of Thumbelina. The former Beast longs for his animal days. Watch out for Hansel and Gretel – who love each other a little too much. And have you ever wondered what it would be like to be swallowed whole by a wolf? Red Riding Hood did and so, okay, now, she’s like ready to tell you all about it and about that weird woodcutter who was all like, “Maybe next time you’d like to see my ax.” Gross!

Random Thoughts

The stark, cut paper illustrations are amazing. And the stories are hilarious – in a really dark, wrong, hysterical way.