Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“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
 

“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
 

“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
 

“I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister” by Amélie Sarn, translated by Y. Maudet October 4, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Multi-Cultural,Realistic — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:48 am
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I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

152 pages; published August 2014

The Basics

Devout Muslim Sohane struggles to deal with her grief and conflicting emotions about her more worldly sister, Djelila, who has been killed by religious extremists.

The Booktalk

Heart-shredding sadness abounds in this gorgeously written story of two French sisters of Algerian descent. Sohane is older. A devout Muslin, she has made the choice to wear a hijab (headscarf). Her family is baffled, the women in her community are indignant, and her school expels her. Her younger sister, Djelila, is on another path, rejecting their Algerian and Muslim heritage, wearing jeans and revealing clothing, and playing basketball at their French school. When her path crosses a gang of punky Muslim teens who want their women more traditional, the situation becomes deadly, leaving Sohane to struggle wit an almost unbearable burden of anger and grief.

Random Thoughts

  • The elegance and poetry of the writing is simply stunning.
  • This book is a deeply painful reflection on freedom and the many ways in which people interfere with each other.
  • There are insights into both expat Algerian and French culture that are both puzzling and worth thinking about.
  • The story has its roots in an actual crime in France, which makes it all the more tragic.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Sophisticated readers of realistic fiction
  • Teens with a keen interest in writing
  • Anyone who wants a story that expands their understanding of the world
  • People looking for stories guaranteed to make them cry
 

Great quotes from Alice Roosevelt September 25, 2014

Filed under: Quotes — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:28 pm
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Alice Roosevelt photo

Image from the Library of Congress

By all accounts, Alice Roosevelt was not an easy daughter to raise or person to know, but she has a sharp mind and a sharper tongue and left a legacy of some delightfully snarky quotes that make a person both smile and cringe a little.

If you can’t any something good about someone, sit right here by me.

I have a simple philosophy: Fill what’s empty. Empty what’s full. Scratch where it itches.

I’ve always believed the adage that the secret of eternal youth is arrested development.

My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding and the baby at every christening.

He [Calvin Coolidge] looks at though he’s been weaned on a pickle.

My specialty is detached malevolence.

You can’t make a souffle rise twice.

Source: The Almanac of Theodore Roosevelt – http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/

 

“When Audrey Met Alice” by Rebecca Behrens

When Audrey Met Alice cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

304 pages; published February 2014

The Basics

The Audrey is question is the only child of the first female president of the United States. At 13, she is chafing under the many restrictions of being the First Daughter, looking on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave as more of a prison than an honor. She finds the 1902 diary of former First Daughter Alice Roosevelt and enters into a wonderful relationship with this spirited historic figure, taking inspiration from Alice’s antics during her days as a White House resident.

Booktalk

You would think being the daughter of a president and living in the White House would be glamorous and amazing. That’s not what Audrey Rhodes – daughter of American’s first female president – would tell you. With her mother busy running the country, Audrey is stuck alone this big old house that is definitely not home with a bunch of uptight staffers. She can’t even have friends over because they don’t have security clearance. And now she’s being left out of her class trip to New York because it’s too tricky for the Secret Service. When Audrey stumbles across a diary hidden under the floorboards by former First Daughter Alice Roosevelt, eldest daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, she discovers that someone understands what a pain it is to be trapped by presidential protocol and rigid expectations. Alice’s wild behavior while living in the White House was the stuff of many scandals in the early 1900s. Her stories get Audrey thinking that maybe she has been a little too easy to tame and she strikes out to put the fun back in being a First Daughter.

Random Thoughts

  • Both characters are delightful and the story is sweet. This is perfect middle grade girl fare.
  • I have a special spot in my heart for Alice Roosevelt. You just have to admire her spunk and creativity. When Teddy Roosevelt forbade her from smoking in the White House, for example, Alice took her cigarettes up to the roof. One of the best “real” quotes in the book comes from the day TR famously said, “I can either run the country or I can control Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Many middle schoolers and teachers as I booktalk during class visits
  • Teens who like light-hearted stories
  • Readers interested in fun approaches to exploring history
  • Fans of the Roosevelts
  • All girls named Alice