Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“No Parking at the End Times” by Bryan Bliss May 28, 2015

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:41 am
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No Parking at the End Times cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

272 pages; published February 2015

The Basics

Abigail’s parents have gambled everything on one man, Brother John, leader of a doomsday cult based in San Francisco. The end of the world they were preparing for was yesterday. Now, they have no money, no home, and no idea what to do.

Booktalk

Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, have looked on in horror as their parents disintegrate. Joblessness leads to hopeless, then to new hope in the form of following Brother John, who has declared that the end of the world is near and called his faithful to him. The family sold their home and drove across the country to San Francisco, giving any money they had to Brother John in preparation for the glorious night when they would gather, pray, and await the end of the world together.

Now the date has come and gone. The world continues. The faithful are scattering. But Abigail’s family, living in their van, keep coming to the church every day. Each in their own way, Abigail and Aaron start to rebel and break away from their parents’ passivity and inaction until a final confrontation lays bare the full tragedy of the situation.

Random Thoughts

  • Something about the title and premise left with the impression this book might be a bit funny. It’s not. At all. It is a slow spiral of despair.
  • That said, it is very much worth the time spent with Abigail – interesting with a lot to think about later.
  • Sometimes parents really, really suck.
  • I did not actually set out to read two very different takes on doomsday cults in a row. That just sort of happened. But it has been interesting to compare and contrast.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Readers fascinated by cults, particularly quasi-Christian doomsday cults
  • Teens who look for deeply depressing realistic fiction
  • Anyone who likes books you keep thinking about later
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“Vivian Apple at the End of the World” by Katie Coyle May 26, 2015

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Science Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:40 am
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The Facts

Vivan Apple at the End of the World cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

262 pages; published January 2015

The Basics

Vivian Apple’s parents are gone, apparently taken up by the rapture predicted by the oddly powerful Church of America. Those left behind are facing an increasingly dysfunctional society and devastating natural disasters. But Vivian isn’t content to just wait for the end of the world. She sets out to do something about it.

The Booktalk

When an evangelical doomsday cult won the hearts and minds of her parents, neighbors, and most of America, Vivian Apple didn’t believe. When the Church of America declared the date on which the rapture would take place, Vivian Apple didn’t believe and went to a party instead. Now that her parents are gone, leaving behind only two holes in the roof, and all the non-Raptured are running scared as they await the apocalypse, Vivian Apple still isn’t buying it. With the thinnest of justifications – a strange late-night phone call, a feeling, and a rumor – she persuades her best friend and a complete stranger to join her on a wild road trip across what is left of America in search of the truth.

Random Thoughts …

  • I can’t say the book is funny, because the circumstances are really horrific, but it is amusing and weirdly light-hearted.
  • I dare you not to fall in love with Vivian and her friends, despite their many flaws.
  • The amusing romp is good cover for a lot of biting social commentary – about people’s gullibility, marketing, desperation, and hypocrisy. It would make an interesting teen book club selection.

But Wait, There’s More!

  • A sequel, Vivian Apple Needs a Miracle, will be released in the U.S. in September 2015. I will be first in line to enjoy it!

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Readers fascinated by cults, particularly quasi-Christian doomsday cults
  • Teens with sophisticated senses of humor
  • Fans of apocalyptic fiction
  • People who enjoy quirky characters and fast action
 

“Silent Alarm” by Jennifer Banash April 21, 2015

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 11:40 am
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Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

336 pages; published March 2015

The Basics

When the gunshots start down the hall, Alys doesn’t even understand what is happening at first. She understand even less when she finds herself in the school library, victims bleeding at her feet, and looking down the barrel of the shotgun into the eyes of her beloved brother. He greets her. Turns. And shoots the girl next to her. In the end, he also shoots himself – leaving Alys to face a world shattered by violence, hatred, and grief.

The Review

This book is terrible to read, yet impossible to put down. Banash has tapped into a fear plaguing anyone who is or has a child in school these days – that the next school shooting will happen in a hallway near you. Then, she reaches deeper and taps into a fear no one wants to admit to – that their friend, their child, or even themselves – could be “the one.”

We see it all through Alys’ eyes, from the moment she realizes that her brother has become a monster. Alys and her parents are ostracized in the aftermath of the shooting. Alys is torn apart, feeling guilty for grieving the brother she adored as a child, trying to understand what changed in him, and trying to endure the anger, taunts, and rejection of schoolmates and former friends. It is a story that leaves an ache in your heart and belly. Painful, but so well done.

Random Thoughts

  •  One strangely distracting element was Alys’ name. She makes a huge deal several times about people mispronouncing it like “Alice,” when it’s supposed to be “Aleese.” In the face of what has happened, I kept thinking, “Oh, who cares?

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • A room full of librarians at the Oregon Library Association’s Annual Conference (done)
  • Teens looking for something that makes them cry
  • Fans of intense realistic fiction
  • People who, like me, get chills when they hear about the book’s premise
 

“The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia” by Candace Fleming February 26, 2015

Filed under: Books,History,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:10 am
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The Family Romanov cover

Images courtesy of Goodreads.com

The Facts

304 pages; published July 2014

The Basics

The history of the fall of Tsarist Russia and how the stage was set for a Stalinist Communist take-over is told through an intimate look at the family of Russia’s final Tsar, Nicholas II, and through the stories of the beaten-down peasants and workers who toiled to survive under his cruel reign.

Review

In this excellently researched and written book, history is told in a style that combines informative with riveting and emotionally wrenching. The personal life of Tsar Nicholas II is laid bare. Pathetically unsuited for the task, the Tsar wanders between dangerous inaction and ill-advised, brutal crackdowns that fuel the flame of the Russian revolution. His family is insulated, spoiled, out-of-touch, and just weird. The misery of the Russian workers and peasants knows no bounds. Their stories are interwoven, told in stark terms in the words of those who manage to survive the horror. The arc of the Russian revolution and the mess that led to the country being passed from cruel royalty to vicious dictator becomes disturbingly clear. More fascinating that most novels, this history book should be an easy sell to teen and adult readers alike.

Random Thoughts

  • I cannot even get my mind around the numbing desperation of Russian peasant life. I don’t ever want to be a Russian peasant. Or deposed royalty for that matter.
  • Nicholas II was certainly prone to monstrous behavior, but this book also – to my great fascination – makes him quite the object of pity. It seems like he could have been a fairly decent, somewhat peculiar guy if he has been born a modern middle class American, allowed to have a little job and dote on his wife and family.

I’ll Recommend This to …

  • Readers with any amount of interest in history, World War II, or Russia
  • Anyone looking for a fast, high-interest read
  • People who like real, sad stories with lots of pictures of the real, sad people
  • Students who teachers allow them to explore the possibility that there is value to knowing history outside of American history
  • Fans of narrative non-fiction
 

“Like No Other” by Una Marche February 24, 2015

Like No Other cover

Images courtesy of Goodreads.com

The Facts

368 pages; published July 2014

The Basics

Devorah, an obedient member of the Hasidic Jewish community, steps onto the wrong elevator at the wrong time. A power outage thrusts her into forbidden conversation with Jaxon, the hard-working, nerdy son of West Caribbean immigrants. Unable to stop thinking about each other, Devorah and Jaxon risk everything for an ever-deepening romance.

The Review

I like the teen romance aspect of this book. Jaxon and Devorah were easy to enjoy as characters and easy to root for as a couple of Romeo and Juliet-style star-crossed lovers. The true fascination of the book, however, was Devorah’s questioning of her ability to live within the bounds of a strict religious community – in this case, Hasidic Judiasm. Devorah is a good girl who had always obeyed the many rules of her faith. After a perfect storm of events leaves her stuck in an elevator with Jaxon, a boy not only from different cultural roots but from a completely different lifestyle, she finds herself pulled to him. Something in her compels her to pursue a secret relationship that changes her view of her family, her faith, and her future. This book has great characters, fascinating cultural insights, and an ending that is, well, like no other.

Recognition and Honors (Source: Goodreads.com)

  • Publishers Weekly Best Book of Summer 2014
  • Indie Next List Pick, Summer 2014
  • 2014 Junior Library Guild Selection
  • Los Angeles Times Summer Reading Guide Selection
  • Entertainment Weekly YA Novel to Watch Out For

I’ll Recommend This to …

  • Fans of contemporary romance like Eleanor & Park
  • Readers with a flair for the dramatic
  • Anyone fascinated by the question of how youth respond to strict upbringing
 

“The Swap” by Megan Shull November 2, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:16 pm
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The Swap

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

400 pages; published August 2014

The Basics

Ellie is a seventh grader slowly sliding off the bottom rung of the social ladder after her best friend turns mean girl over the summer. Jack is a boys boy in a family of boys boys obsessed with hockey, workouts and winning. Both battling some private demons and public humiliation, they end up in the nurse’s office on the first day of school, each feeling the other must have it so easy. A wish, a few words from the mysterious nurse, and BAM! They’ve switched lives just in time to go home for the weekend and find out.

Review

I was leery of this book because I’ve seen Freaky Friday a bunch of times and feared the story would be overly familiar. Granted, it is the same general idea, but so well done and entertaining. It was sort of Freaky Friday meets Strangers on a Train. The characters who swap lives and bodies don’t really know each other. They live in radically different households and occupy decidedly different rungs on the social ladder of their middle school. This story isn’t about understanding each other. It’s about Ellie and Jack each using their unique strengths to force change in the other’s life. It’s that great combination of funny and touching that I am a total sucker for. It’s good, clean fun for middle grade readers with enough substance to also appeal to the high school crowd.

Random Thoughts

  • I adored Jack’s three burly, boisterous brothers who – despite the boyish smells and odd fitness rituals – were truly good guys.
  • Sometimes, you get so fixated on trying to make the wrong person like you that you miss the fact that you have true, blue friends that are more worthwhile.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Boys and girls alike
  • Teens feeling like they want a time out from life
  • Fans of realistic fiction
  • Readers looking for a story for something light and clean
 

“The Boundless” by Kenneth Oppel October 27, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Historical Fiction,Magical Realism,Thriller,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 6:14 pm
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The Boundless cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

320 pages; published April 2014

The Basics

After witnessing a murder while traveling on the maiden voyage of the most elaborate train ever conceived, Will Everett is on the run from a gang of scheming brakemen, jumping from car to car in the night. His only asset is his wit; his only allies, a gaggle of circus freaks; and his biggest challenge, the very real sasquatch and bog hag lying in wait along the way.

Booktalk

You would have thought Will Everett experienced enough excitement for a lifetime after a chance encounter led him to pound the final spike into the TransCanadian Railway and then survive the avalanche that followed.

But only a few years later, he launches into the adventure of a lifetime on The Boundless, a train of epic proportions making its first trip across the same TransCanadian Railway. A murder witnessed sends Will on the run, careening through the night across the top of the train, hiding out in a circus, and being pulled into a web of double-crossing intrigue. In a world where sasquatch and bog hags are real, an escape artist is his only true friend, and brakemen are out for blood, Will needs every ounce of his courage to survive his ride on The Boundless.

Random Thoughts

  • Kenneth Oppel has really outdone himself here, with quirky characters and madcap action that deliver high entertainment value all around.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Middle grade readers, especially boys
  • Fans of adventure
  • People who think trains are cool
  •  Kids who secretly (or not so secretly) believe Big Foot is real
  • Anyone who ever wanted to run away to join the circus