Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“No Parking at the End Times” by Bryan Bliss May 28, 2015

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:41 am
Tags: , , , , ,
No Parking at the End Times cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

272 pages; published February 2015

The Basics

Abigail’s parents have gambled everything on one man, Brother John, leader of a doomsday cult based in San Francisco. The end of the world they were preparing for was yesterday. Now, they have no money, no home, and no idea what to do.

Booktalk

Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, have looked on in horror as their parents disintegrate. Joblessness leads to hopeless, then to new hope in the form of following Brother John, who has declared that the end of the world is near and called his faithful to him. The family sold their home and drove across the country to San Francisco, giving any money they had to Brother John in preparation for the glorious night when they would gather, pray, and await the end of the world together.

Now the date has come and gone. The world continues. The faithful are scattering. But Abigail’s family, living in their van, keep coming to the church every day. Each in their own way, Abigail and Aaron start to rebel and break away from their parents’ passivity and inaction until a final confrontation lays bare the full tragedy of the situation.

Random Thoughts

  • Something about the title and premise left with the impression this book might be a bit funny. It’s not. At all. It is a slow spiral of despair.
  • That said, it is very much worth the time spent with Abigail – interesting with a lot to think about later.
  • Sometimes parents really, really suck.
  • I did not actually set out to read two very different takes on doomsday cults in a row. That just sort of happened. But it has been interesting to compare and contrast.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Readers fascinated by cults, particularly quasi-Christian doomsday cults
  • Teens who look for deeply depressing realistic fiction
  • Anyone who likes books you keep thinking about later
Advertisements
 

“The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia” by Candace Fleming February 26, 2015

Filed under: Books,History,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:10 am
Tags: , , , , ,
The Family Romanov cover

Images courtesy of Goodreads.com

The Facts

304 pages; published July 2014

The Basics

The history of the fall of Tsarist Russia and how the stage was set for a Stalinist Communist take-over is told through an intimate look at the family of Russia’s final Tsar, Nicholas II, and through the stories of the beaten-down peasants and workers who toiled to survive under his cruel reign.

Review

In this excellently researched and written book, history is told in a style that combines informative with riveting and emotionally wrenching. The personal life of Tsar Nicholas II is laid bare. Pathetically unsuited for the task, the Tsar wanders between dangerous inaction and ill-advised, brutal crackdowns that fuel the flame of the Russian revolution. His family is insulated, spoiled, out-of-touch, and just weird. The misery of the Russian workers and peasants knows no bounds. Their stories are interwoven, told in stark terms in the words of those who manage to survive the horror. The arc of the Russian revolution and the mess that led to the country being passed from cruel royalty to vicious dictator becomes disturbingly clear. More fascinating that most novels, this history book should be an easy sell to teen and adult readers alike.

Random Thoughts

  • I cannot even get my mind around the numbing desperation of Russian peasant life. I don’t ever want to be a Russian peasant. Or deposed royalty for that matter.
  • Nicholas II was certainly prone to monstrous behavior, but this book also – to my great fascination – makes him quite the object of pity. It seems like he could have been a fairly decent, somewhat peculiar guy if he has been born a modern middle class American, allowed to have a little job and dote on his wife and family.

I’ll Recommend This to …

  • Readers with any amount of interest in history, World War II, or Russia
  • Anyone looking for a fast, high-interest read
  • People who like real, sad stories with lots of pictures of the real, sad people
  • Students who teachers allow them to explore the possibility that there is value to knowing history outside of American history
  • Fans of narrative non-fiction
 

“Strange Sweet Song” by Adi Rule September 21, 2014

Strange Sweet Song cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

336 pages; published March 2014

The Basics

Promising soprano Sing de Navelli follows the footsteps of her famous parents to the remote Dunhammond Conservatory and finds herself nearly undone by the gothic atmosphere and dark mysteries that surround her.

Booktalk

For soprano Sing da Navelli, every corner of Dunhammond Conservatory contains a challenge: the legacy of her famous dead mother; the demands of her famous live father; the fury of her rival; and the mystery of her dark and moody vocal coach. Overshadowing all is the legend of the Felix, a great cat-like beast lurking in the woods beyond the conservatory ready to alternately tear out the throat or grant the deepest wish of any who approach. Doubting her own talent and struggling to find her place in the musical landscape, Sing is pulled ever deeper into timeless secrets.

Random Thoughts

  • This is a quite odd mixture of contemporary fiction blended with gothic, magical, and paranormal elements. The result is unusual, but so enjoyable.
  • It is always unwise to compete with your own dead mother.

I’ll Recommend This to …

  • Fans of fantasy and paranormal stories who want more than just a romance
  • Teen writers who are looking for examples of beautiful prose
  • Readers who are also musicians
 

“Out of the Easy” by Ruta Sepetys January 22, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Historical Fiction,Mystery — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:54 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Out of the Easy cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

346 pages; published February 2013

The Basics

Josie Moraine is a survivor. Raised in New Orelans and the daughter of a prostitute, Josie has mapped a plan of escape to a different life when she is pulled into the aftermath of the murder of a charming gentleman visitor to the French Quarter.

The Booktalk

Smart, determined, highly ethical, and strangely innocent might not be what you’d expect from the daughter of a prostitute who grew up in the French Quarter of New Orleans – but it’s what you get from Ruta Sepetys’ “Out of the Easy.” Josie Moraine, having been failed in every possible way by her stupid harlot of a mother, has been raised by a harsh, but caring madam, a kindly taxi driver, and an eccentric bookstore owner. She has become a bright, resilient young woman determined to find her way out of the Big Easy and into a better life. But little tendrils of French Quarter scandal keep twisting around her and pulling her down – the murder of a visiting Southern gentleman, the seediness of the brothel, her mother’s gangster boyfriend, and the mysterious illness of her bookstore owning patron. The excitement begins on the first page and never lets up as Josie navigates an emotional roller coaster and tries to find her way “Out of the Easy.”

Random Thoughts

  • Given the French Quarter and brothel as primary settings, this is a surprisingly clean book.
  • There should be some kind of award for Truly Appalling Fictional Parents and Ruta Sepetys should win it this year for writing Josie’s awful, pathetic, shallow, mean, stupid harlot of a mother.

I’ll recommend this book to …

  • Readers looking for some slightly titillating excitement
  • Fans of mysteries
  • Anyone who likes a hard luck or horrible parents story
 

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

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 11:00 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,
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.
 

“If You Find Me” by Emily Murdoch November 19, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:47 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,
If You Fine Me cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

256 pages; published March 2013

The Basics

Carey and Janessa are sisters living in the base circumstances – shivering, hungry, and abused in a broken-down trailer hidden deep in the woods by a neglectful, meth-addled mother. When they are found and taken back the world, the transition is harrowing, despite many good intentions, as the girls struggle to adjust to the unfamiliar and to clutch onto the most terrible secrets about their former life.

The Booktalk

Imagine being 14 and the most responsible person in your family. Carey’s mother is strung out on meth, willing to do anything (anything) for a fix. Carey’s sister is only six and doesn’t speak, hasn’t spoken since the worst night – the night of the white stars. Imagine being stolen by your own mother when you were just four years old and hidden in a trailer deep in the woods with no electricity, not enough food, not enough clothing, no bed, no toilet – nothing but fear and hiding – for 10 years. Imagine raising your own sister because your mother won’t.  Then imagine being found and taken to a house with a bed and a shower and toilet and plenty of warmth and clothes and food.  Wonderful, yes, but strange too. Then add school and other children and television and cell phones and all the things you don’t know anything about because you’ve been held captive in the woods. And then imagine that on top of it all, you have a terrible, terrible secret.

It’s all pressing down on Carey – her old bad fortune, her new good fortune – and the weight of all might be too much.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Fans of realistic fiction
  • Readers curious about psychology, PTSD, mental illness, and the impact of drug use
  • People with large boxes of tissues to wipe their tears
 

“Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock” by Matthew Quick October 31, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 11:27 am
Tags: , , , , , ,
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

273 pages; published August 2013

The Basics

Leonard Peacock gets up on his 18th birthday. He fills his backpack. He is ready to go. He will visit the four people who mean anything to him. He will give each of them a gift. Then, he will pull out the gun at the bottom of the pack and kill his former best friend. Then, he will kill himself. And, he thinks, this is a fitting celebration – going out 18 years after the day he came into this world.

Booktalk

Leonard Peacock is having a birthday. But this is no ordinary celebration. Leonard has carefully wrapped four gifts – one for each of the people who are important to him. After he sees these four people and gives these four gifts, he will do the thing he most deeply want to do: he will shoot and kill Asher Beal. Then Leonard will shoot and kill himself.

Leonard wonders if this will make him famous for a while. He wonders how people will remember his final visits and conversations. He wonders if people will be frankly relieved to learn he is dead.

He thinks about his 18 years of life and the events that have led him to this. His story, riddled with elaborate footnotes and flashes of memory, reveal this: Leonard Peacock is smart. He is weird. He is depressed. And he is determined to die.

Random Thoughts

  • This is the same Matthew Quick that wrote Silver Linings Playbook. What an amazing storyteller.
  • I found myself deeply anxious as I consider all the children I see each day and what I don’t know about them.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Fans of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why
  • Young people ready to think in complex ways about serious topics
  • Adults who work with teens
  • People prepared to spend the last 50 pages of a book crying quietly but steadily