Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“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
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“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
 

“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
 

“Coaltown Jesus” by Ron Koertge October 24, 2013

Filed under: Books,Christian,Fiction,Poetry,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:30 am
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Coaltown Jesus cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

128 pages; published October 2013

The Basics

Simply told in spare verse, this is the chuckle-worthy story of a boy who spends a few days with a wryly witty Jesus (who would have arrived sooner if not for some bad traffic on the I-55) after Walker prays for help for his grieving mother.

Review

Having howled my way through the darkly hilarious Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses, I simply had to invited Coaltown Jesus to come home with me. Because it is both a slim book and written in verse, it takes barely any time to read. Processing it fully, however, takes more time.

Walker is completely torn up inside after the untimely death of his beloved, but troubled brother. Living above the private nursing home owned by their mother, Walker wonders, “Didn’t God look downstairs? It’s a nursing home. Half my mom’s clients are ready to check out. But he picks a kid.” With his own grief pressing in, Walker prays that God will fix his mother, who is shattered by the loss.

Enter Jesus, a fast-talking, smart-mouth who shows up late and needing to check his email – “robe, sandals, beard – just like my action figure.” He doesn’t like being called The Anointed One (“Makes me feel greasy”) and admits that camels may have been a mistake born of a long day of creation (“You try creating a whole world without even a snack”). Who knew Jesus was such a card?

Between quips, however, Jesus finds his own way to attend to the business of healing and may indeed be the answer to Walker’s prayers.

Random Thoughts

I couldn’t decide if this book was irreverent or very reverent indeed. Because why couldn’t the King of kings have a sense of humor? In fact, don’t we have a lot of evidence that He must?

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • People who enjoy the unexpected
  • Anyone with a quirky sense of humor
  • Families who are grieving
  • Students who need to read a book – quick!
 

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

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

Images courtesy of Goodreads.com

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.

Booktalk

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.

 

“Lucid” by Adrienne Stoltz and Ron Bass March 5, 2013

Filed under: Fantasy,Fiction,Mystery,Realistic — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:47 am
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Lucid cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

343 pages; published October 2012

The Basics

Maggie and Sloane are two different girls from very different worlds. Maggie is an actress in New York City. Sloane is a small-town girl. But they are entwined by their dreams, each living the other’s life when it’s time to sleep.

Booktalk

Maggie is 16. A New York City actress. Sophisticated. Urbane. Fragmented family.  A loner. But when she goes to sleep each night, she lives a day in the life of Sloane. Sloane is a straight A high school student from a small town. Loving family. Close friends. When she closes her eyes at night, she is Maggie.

Two vividly drawn characters each live rich lives, full of family drama and the hopeful possibility of new love. Each enjoys the time spent in the other’s life. But both are plagued by the same worry – what is she is only a dream and someday I stop dreaming her? Worse – what if I’m a dream and someday she stops dreaming me?

Random Thoughts

I enjoyed each of these characters so much, it was devastating to think that one of them might turn out to not be real … until I had to slow down and realize that … neither one is real, really, right? It is, after all, a work of fiction. And a very enjoyable one.

 

“Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things” by Kathryn Burak December 29, 2012

Filed under: Chick Lit,Fiction,Mystery,Poetry,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:38 am
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Emily's Dress cover

Images courtes of GoodReads.com

The Facts

232 pages; published October 2012

The Basics

Claire’s father hopes that distance from Rhode Island and a new start in Amherst, Massachusetts will help Claire heal from two terrible losses – her mother and her best friend.

Booktalk

Claire has just moved to Amherst, Massachusetts and frankly, she’s going a little nuts. To say the last year was difficult is saying far too little. The loss of her mother to suicide has been compounded by the unsolved disappearance of her best friend – in which she was a suspect.

Now, she’s a year behind in school. Amherst is supposed to give her the chance to start in a new place, get her bearings, and figure out how to go on. Likable, smart and funny even in the depths of her grief, Claire  develops some connections – with a new friend at school, with a student teacher from her English class, and with long-dead poet Emily Dickinson. When she starts visiting Emily Dickinson’s home-turned-museum at night, she doesn’t even really mean to break in and she certainly doesn’t mean to – in a moment of surprised panic – steal Emily’s famous, historic dress.

Random Thoughts

This book is not just about a girl dealing with grief. It is also a mystery and a romance and a teaser for Emily Dickinson’s haunting poetry and funny and hopeful. It’s complicated in a good way and so, so enjoyable.