Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“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
 

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

Beyond Magenta cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

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
 

“Beyond the Door” by Maureen Doyle McQuerry May 24, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fantasy,Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:37 am
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Beyond the Door cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

384 pages; published March 2014

The Basics

Siblings Timothy and Sarah Maxwell and an unlikely ally are drawn into a new adventure spun from Celtic myth.

Booktalk

The night started as a dull evening home with the babysitter Timothy James doesn’t think he needs anymore. But Timothy’s life takes an unexpected turn when an open door lets in living, breathing characters from Celtic myth. As Timothy learns why he might be the target of the hunt for Herne and his hounds, he also learns there is more than he ever suspected to The Clapper, his middle-aged babysitter, and to Jessica, the bully who has been torturing him for years. Drawn first into a wild and dangerous adventure on the ritual night of Beltrane, and then into a magic Market in a mad quest to save his mother, Timothy finds himself at the apex of the struggle between Light and Dark.

Random Thoughts

  • ┬áThis enticing middle grade fantasy covers a lot of ground – mythology, danger, bullying, Scrabble, family loyalty, fate, and evil.
  • For more patient and persistent readers than I, this book offers a wonderful bonus – a coded message in Ogham running along the bottoms of the pages.

But Wait, There’s More!

Beyond the Door is the first in the Time Out of Time series that is to continue with The Telling Stone at a yet-to-be-named date.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Fans of Rick Riordan’s mythology-infused novels
  • Middle-grade readers eager for adventure
  • Parents looking for “appropriate” reading matter for their teens
  • Kids who hope they too might have a secret calling
 

“Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell November 21, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 11:00 am
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Eleanor & Park cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

328 pages; published February 2013

The Basics

Eleanor is a curvy red-headed girl with strange clothes and no place on the bus because she’s the new girl after weeks of school and the pecking order has already been established. Park is the mixed-race Korean American boy at the fringe of the social order who gives her a place to sit in a begrudging burst of profanity. From that awkward foundation, a breathtakingly beautiful, complex, frustrating, epic romance grows.

Review

I loved Park. I wish he could have been my boyfriend.
I loved Eleanor. I’m pretty sure I knew her in high school and I loved her then too.
I loved that the jerks at the back of the bus had layers to them and were more than just evil, although not much more.
I loved how slowly Eleanor and Park fell in love.
I loved it whenever they held hands.
I loved that they thought no one else would see.
I love, loved Park’s parents – that they were so loving and so flawed and so complex that for once, parents in a YA novel felt like genuine people.
I loved that Eleanor tried so hard to still be in spite of her horrid, horrid stepfather and awful father and broken mother.
I loved Mr. Stessman, the English teacher, because he was a hopeless, sweet dork who truly loved literature and admired Eleanor.
I loved Mrs. Dunn, the guidance counselor, because she tried.
I loved Denice and Bebe because they stuck up for and with Eleanor and because they were just fun characters.
I loved the attention to detail.
I loved the way it was written.
I loved the love story.
I loved the ending, however painful it was.
I loved that I got to read this story.

I Will Recommend This To …

  • Fans of John Green and David Levithan
  • Readers who like to be emotionally shattered and sobbing
  • Mature youth and adults looking for a mature love story
  • People who aren’t afraid of a little (or – OK – a lot of) profanity

Random Thoughts

  • I listened to Eleanor & Park on audiobook, which I highly recommend. The readers – Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra – are fantastic.
  • I resisted reading Eleanor & Park for a long time because I thought it would make me sad. I was right. It was devastating. I’m so glad I finally read it.
 

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

Filed under: GLBTQ,Quotes — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:02 am
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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
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The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

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.

Review

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:

HERSHEY HIGH AS BODY

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.

 

 

“If I Lie” by Corrine Jackson January 11, 2013

Filed under: Fiction,GLBTQ,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:04 am
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If I Lie cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

276 pages; published August 2012

The Basics

Everyone in town thinks Quinn cheated on her Marine boyfriend just as he deployed to Afghanistan. Only Quinn and Carey know the whole truth, but he’s gone and she’s not telling. Instead, she endures as she is shunned and bullied by everyone from her classmates to her own father. Now, Carey is MIA and Quinn looks worse than ever in her military town.

Booktalk

Here’s the truth, people. When Quinn’s best friend and boyfriend, Carey, came from on leave from the Marines, he broke up with her and broke her heart. Yes, she kissed another boy. Well, so did Carey. But Quinn got caught on camera and the picture ended up on Facebook and as far as anyone else knows, it’s a picture of girl cheating on an American hero. Why? Because Carey begged her not to tell his secret and Quinn agreed. So, even when the going gets tough, Quinn’s loyalty, honor, and love for her friend won’t allow her to reveal the truth.

Worse yet, everyone in town figures she’s just like her “slut” mother who did cheat on Quinn’s dad – and walked out on both of them while her husband was overseas. Quinn is in a miserable, no-win situation. All she has left to hang onto is her growing enthusiasm for photography and a grumpy old military photographer named George.

Random Thought

This was one of the most frustrating books I’ve ever read. Quinn is such a likable character that I wanted to be able to tell her how to fix everything. But the trap she was in was so complicated, even the truth was not going to ease her pain.