Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“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
 

“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
 

“We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart June 16, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Thriller,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:39 am
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We Were Liars cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

227 pages; published May 2014

The Basics

Cadence returns to the private island hideaway where her wealthy family spends their summers, but things are different this year – her 17th summer. Two years ago, she was hurt on this island. Her injuries still plague her. The details of her accident still elude her. This summer, she is here to heal and to try to remember.

Booktalk

Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat are the Liars – four teens tied to a beautiful, wealthy family that summers on a private island near Martha’s Vinyard. The setting is idyllic, but the family is flawed. There is rivalry, angry, and a dark, dark mystery. The mystery surrounds Candence, who is terribly ill, suffering crippling headache, general fragility, and an inability to remember the terrible accident she had on the island two years previously. Slowly, Cadence unknots the threads and weaves the story back together. But who knows if what she remembers and what she says is true? After all, Cadence and her friends are Liars.

Random Thoughts

  • This book is beautifully written, with prose that drifts into lyrical, trailing ends, reinforcing the sense that the narrator is finding reality to be a bit slippery.
  • The blurbs urge readers who are asked how the book ends to lie. I would add – don’t peek at the final pages. The twist at the end is huge and far more effective if it comes as it should – as a complete surprise.

I’ll Recommend This Book to …

  • Fans of realistic fiction
  • Teens who like puzzles and books with twists
  • Readers fascinated by the lifestyles of the wealthy
  • People who like gut-wrenching romances and books that make them cry
 

“Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year” by Ramsey Beyer September 26, 2013

Little Fish cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

272 pages; published September 2013

The Basics

Lists, journal entries, reflections, comic strips, and drawings are blended together to tell the sweet, sometimes funny story of a girl leaving a small, small town to be a little fish in the big pond of art school in Baltimore.

Booktalk

Ramsey Beyer was a shy girl who loved art and punk rock, growing up in Paw Paw, Michigan. Although she had a great family and good friends, she didn’t quite feel like Paw Paw was “her” place. If you’ve ever felt that way, you will relate to this book. Ramsey does the brave thing and heads out – 600 miles away to attend art school in Baltimore. She makes new friends, gets homesick, gets a crush, learns new things, has great adventures, gets sad sometimes, and changes her major. She tells it all in her own style, through reproducing lists and journal entries from when she was in college, as well as new drawings and comic strips. It is beautiful to look at and beautiful to read as you find out what it is like for this little fish to learn to swim in a new pond.

I’ll Recommend This Book To …

  • Readers who like realistic fiction
  • Seniors who are nervous about college
  • Graphic novel and art fans
  • Other people who make lists

A Page from Little Fish …

There are LOTS of lists. They are very interesting.

 

Image courtesy of zestbooks.net

 

“Nine Days” by Fred Hiatt September 22, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Multi-Cultural,Thriller,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 7:45 am
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Nine Days cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

256 pages; published April 2013

The Basics

Ethan – a high school student with a lively interest in Chinese culture and politics – befriends Ti-Anna, a fellow student and daughter of a prominent expatriate Chinese dissident. When Ti-Anna’s father first travels to Hong Kong and then goes missing, Ethan and Ti-Anna make the wild decision to run away to Hong Kong to find him.

Booktalk

What would you do if your father was missing? How far would you go to save him?

Ti-Anna, whose father is famous for speaking out against the Chinese government, already has a lot to worry about. She confides in her best friend, Ethan, that she knows the Chinese are watching her father, even though he has moved to the United States. As they become close friends, Ethan’s interest in China and in Ti-Anna grows. Despondent one day, Ti-Anna reveals that her father is missing. He traveled to Hong Kong hoping to advance his anti-government cause and never returned. The family’s few contacts in Hong Kong will not talk by phone or e-mail. The only way to help, Ti-Anna says, would be to go to Hong Kong.

Ethan latches onto her desperation and hatches a plan that takes them halfway around the world and into a situation far more frightening and complex than either is ready for.

Random Thoughts

I very much appreciated that Fred Hiatt doesn’t rely on silly devices like teen characters with near super-powers or access to fantastic resources. The only extraordinary powers Ethan and Ti-Anna have are determination and devotion.

I’ll Recommend This Book To …

  • Adventure and action seekers
  • Youth interested in China and other Asian cultures
  • Parents who are worried about sex and language; this one is squeaky clean
 

“Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan September 15, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,GLBTQ,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 6:51 am
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Two Boys Kissing cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

208 pages; published August 2013

The Basics

Reacting to the recent gay-bashing of a schoolmate, Craig and Harry set out to break the world record for the longest kiss. As they grow exhausted and the world watches via the Internet, the narrators take a fly-over of the current gay landscape, contemplating how the world has changed and is changing when it comes to the sight of two boys kissing.

The Review

A beautiful book, written in the omniscient voice of the generation of gay men who fell victim to the AIDS crisis of the 80s looking over, appreciating, commenting on, even envying the lives of the current generation of gay men. They introduce us to Craig and Harry who are endeavoring to make a statement by breaking the world record for the longest kiss; to Tariq, who has survived a recent gay-bashing incident; to Neil and Peter, a young couple a year into their dating life; to Avery and Ryan, who have just met and are exploring the possibilities; and Cooper, who trolls hook-up apps desperately looking for something to satisfy him. It is a fluid, chapterless narrative that is utterly riveting and deeply moving.

I’ll Recommend This Book To …

  • Readers of all ages interested in GBLTQ issues
  • Fans of realistic fiction looking for a memorable story
  • Anyone who likes to have a good cry when they read
  • Adults who survived and suffered the impact of AIDS in the 80s and 90s
  • Developing writers who want to explore unique narrative styles
  • The Oregon Young Adult Network (OYAN) for its 2014 Book Raves nomination list
 

“The Symptoms of My Insanity” by Mindy Raf June 27, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:23 am
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The Symptoms of My Insanity cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

374 pages; published April 2013

The Basics

Izzy has a lot to worry about – her boobs that are growing at a wild pace (and unevenly?), her mother who says she’s fine but still seems very ill, the deadline for her art portfolio, and Blake Hangry’s unexpected and inexplicable interest in maybe dating her. Add in Izzy’s near-addiction to cataloging her own possible diseases on Symptomaniac.com and a best-friendship that just got weirdly complicated, and you’ve got “The Symptoms of My Insanity.”

Review

Izzy is hilarious. Her wry sense of humor is front and center whether she is suffering through three loud Russian women fighting over her bra size (“Nyet! Nyet! A D, a D. They a DD.”) or awkwardly, but successfully flirting with the guy who just poured a sports drink on her head (“Holy Mother of Gatorade, I just made him laugh.”).  She’s going to need that sense of humor, because she’s got a lot coming at her. Her mom is keeping up appearances, but not actually recovering properly from her stomach cancer surgery last summer. She may be getting worse.

Izzy needs to finish her art portfolio for a bit competition, but instead of being inspired, is obsessively running symptoms – her own (maybe imagined?) and her mother’s (all too real) – through Symptomaniac.com. And just when she needs a friend, her best friend is furious with her for no reason Izzy can understand and her former best friend seems to want her again – well, as cover so she can go to a lame frat party. Izzy certainly has plenty of reasons for starting to feel a little insane, but she’s happy to take you along, laughing (and maybe crying a little) all the way.