Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“In the Shadow of Blackbirds” by Cat Winters August 9, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Historical Fiction,Mystery,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:16 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,
In the Shadow of Blackbirds cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

387 pages; published April 2013

The Basics

In 1918, Americans were surrounded by death. With loved ones dying far away in World War I and stricken by the Spanish Flu right next door, nearly everyone was raw with grief and fear. So-called “spirit photographers” stepped in, offering to conjure the dead to be photographed with the living. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black’s aunt has fallen into the thrall of spirit photography, seances, and peculiar home remedies meant to protect a body from the influenza germs. A committed scientist and skeptic, Mary finds her own beliefs challenged when she is confronted by the confused, wretched spirit of her first love.


Here’s what you have to understand. Living in 1918 in the United States was terrifying. The Spanish Flu was killing thousands of people. At the same time, soldiers were dying in droves in Europe fighting in World War I. People were desperate – to do something that made them feel safer and to express their sadness about people they had lost. Mary Shelley Black is 16 years old, in the thick of the Spanish Flu outbreak and waiting for her first love who has gone off to war. She’s sensible, smart, and science-minded, but she’s scared too. Still, she knows something is off about her aunt’s obsession with having photos taken by an old family friend who has become a “spirit photographer,” someone who claims to be able to call up the dead to be photographed with the people they left behind.

The situation becomes even more puzzling when Mary Shelley learns that her own young soldier has died and – despite her skepticism – Mary is visited by his frightened and nearly incoherent ghost, drawing her deep into mysteries of the spirit world and questions about his death.

Random Thoughts

One of the many wonderful things about this book is the use of eerie historic photos of people in gauze masks (to protect them from the flu) and examples of spirit photography that are inserted as chapter headers.


“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
Tags: , , , , , ,
Episodes cover

Images courtesy of

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.”


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.


“Rot & Ruin” by Jonathan Maberry November 30, 2011

Maberry, Jonathan. Rot & Ruin. New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2010. 458 pages. ISBN: 9781442402324

Rot & Ruin cover

Images courtesy of


Unsuited for any other kind of work, Benny Imura reluctantly agrees to become apprenticed to his zombie hunter brother. For the first time in his life, Benny leaves the safety of his gated community and heads out into Rot & Ruin, coming face-to-face with the realities of this zombie-ridden, shattered shell of what was America.


Welcome to Mountainside, an exclusive gated community guarded 24/7 for the benefit of the elite population permitted inside. Benny Imura, almost 15, is one of these elite – one of the last humans surviving after a zombie virus swept across the United States, leaving a teeming mass of hungry undead behind.

Now that he’s turning 15, Benny will be expected to take a job and contribute in his small community, working for rations. But where? He’s a disaster as a fence tester, pit thrower, carpet coat salesman, and erosion artist. Finally, he is left with nowhere to turn except the brother he hates. Tom Imura is supposed to be some hotshot zombie hunter – he’s even on one of the Zombie Cards that the kids in the village collect and trade. But Benny knows better. Benny knows his brother is the same coward who ran when their father turned, leaving their mother to a terrible fate.

But because he has no choice, Benny attaches himself to Tom, following him for the first time into the Rot & Ruin beyond the village gates. What he finds there – what he learns about himself, his brother, his zombie hunting idols, and the zombies themselves – will turn his world upside down and test him seemingly beyond his own very human limits.

Wait! There’s more:

The next book in this series, Dust & Decay, was released in summer 2011. Flesh & Bone due out September 2012!

Awards/Honors (source:

  • 2010 Cybils Awards (Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  • 2010 Bram Stoker Award nominee (Superior Achievement in a Novel)

“Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow November 25, 2011

Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. New York: Tor, 2008. 365 pp. ISBN: 0765319853

Little Brother cover

Images courtesy of


Seventeen-year-old Marcus Yallow is accused, tortured, and targeted by the Department of Homeland Security after a terrorist attack rips throughSan Francisco. Innocent and angry, he finds his techno-geek hacker skills and personal convictions lead him into a showdown in the name of freedom he never could have imagined.


I have a question for you – what is the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

We all have moments when we’re brave, but I’m here to say that none of you has ever been as brave as Marcus Yallow is about to be.

Five days ago, Marcus’ city was attacked by terrorists. Thousands died. Marcus – a techno-geek hacker who was skipping school to play an Internet game – was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was arrested. He was tortured. Now, he has been returned home and they’re tracking his every move.

They’re tracking everyone’s every move. The Department of Homeland Security is tapping phones, filming, and listening in every way they can. They’re pulling people over. Shaking people down. Making some disappear. Marcus finds himself driven by the words of the Declaration of Independence.

“Government are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

A solemn vow drives Marcus to declare a war of his own – on invasion of privacy, on intimidation, and on threats to freedom. Ignoring his fears about being tortured again – or worse – Marcus tunes up his tech tools and takes action.

Can you imagine it? What would it be like to fight against your own government to save the country you love?

Awards/Honors (source:

  •  Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (2009)
  • Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (2008)
  • John W. Campbell Memorial Awards for Best Science Fiction Novel (2009)
  • Emperor Norton Award (2008)
  • Prometheus Award for Best Novel (2009)
  • Sakura Medal Nominee for High School Book (2010)
  • Florida Teen Read Nominee (2009)

“A Step from Heaven” by An Na November 14, 2011

Na, An. A Step from Heaven.Asheville, N.C.: Front Street., 2001. 156 pp. ISBN: 1886910588

A Step from Heaven cover

Images courtesy of


Young Ju does not really understand where she is going when her parents decide to emigrate from Korea to America when she is four. As life in America unfolds and proves deeply disappointing, it is clear that her parents also did not fully understand this decision or the depths of anger and despair it would cause in their family.


Imagine being four years old and leaving the world as you know it.

Were any of you born in another country? Do you speak one language at home and another at school?

Have you known anyone who doesn’t speak English well? What have you tried in order to communicate with them?

An Na’s book “A Step from Heaven” tells a story of one family who leaves Korea, full of hopes and dreams about a better life in America. Instead, it is very frustrating because they don’t always understand what is being said and what is expected. Young Ju goes to school and finds so many things confusing. Her parents work hard – taking two jobs each, but they are always poor and there is a lot of anger in the house.

The difficulties mount as Young Ju’s father begins drinking heavily and lashes out physically at his family. On the very worst night, Young Ju finally calls 9-1-1.

“Please,” I whisper and take a gulp of air. “Send help.”

“Tell me what is going on, miss.”

“My father is killing my mother.”

It is then she understands truly how far they have come from home – much farther than “A Step from Heaven.”

Awards/Honors (source:

  • 2001 National Book Award Finalist
  • 2002 Children’s Book Award in YA Fiction – International Reading Association
  • 2005 CaliforniaCollections Selection
  • 2005 Asian American Booklist, Grades 9 and Up, Read AcrossAmerica, National Education Association
  • 2001 – 2003 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, Text in Children and Young Adult Fiction – Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association
  • 2004 Reading List – Women’s Division Reading Program Committee, General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church
  • 2003 – 2004 Gateway Readers Award Nominee,MissouriAssociation of School Libraries
  • 2003 – 2004 William Allen White Children’s Book Award master list
  • 2002 Notable Books for a Global Society – International Reading Association
  • 2002 Notable Children’s Book – American Library Association
  • 2002 Best Book for Young Adults – American Library Association
  • 2002 Children’s Books of Distinction Award – Riverbank Review
  • 2002 Fanfare Book – The Horn Book Honor List
  • 2002 Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Award
  • 2002 CCBC Choices
  • 2002 Children’s Literature Choice List
  • 2002 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Master List
  • 2002 Amelia Bloomer Project List
  • 2002 White Ravens – International Youth Library ofMunich
  • 2002 Notable Books for the Language Arts – NCTE
  • 2002 Notable Books for a Global Society, Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest group of the IRA
  • 2001 Editor’s Choice – Booklist
  • 2001 New York Times Book Review Notable Book
  • 2001 Best Books – School Library Journal
  • 2001 Kiriyama Prize Notable Book Shortlist
  • 2001 Best Children’s Books – Publishers Weekly
  • 2001 Best Book –
  • 2001 Book Links Lasting Connections
  • 2001 Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children
  • 2001 Top 10 Youth First Novels – Booklist