Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

Maya Van Wagenen’s Popularity Tips – A Selection October 7, 2014

Filed under: Quotes — hilariouslibrarian @ 11:24 am
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Betty Cornell's Teenage Popularity Guide cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

One of the elements I most enjoyed from Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen was the periodic insertion of “Maya’s Popularity Tips,” which ranged from tongue-in-cheek to hilariously specific to perfectly serious. They certainly could not be confused with the prim and proper tone of the 1951 advice she is following from author Betty Cornell.

Here are a few favorites:

Never throw up in class. It’s better just to run out of the room and retch in the hallway. Even if you make it to the trash can in the corner, if anyone sees you puke, you will be tormented forever. During elementary school I hurled in a wastebasket. When we moved away five years later, the last thing one boy said to me was, “You’re that girl who barfed in kindergarten.” It’s impossible to live some things down.

When you’re wearing an embarrassing hairstyle and people have started to notice, it’s always safest to have a sudden, urgent, need to pee.

Make your yearbook pictures memorable because, as my science teacher says, “Your grandkids have to laugh a something.”

Bite your tongue off before nerd-talking about Lord of the Rings to the boy you like. Unless he himself is from Middle Earth.

Don’t question your wardrobe choices based on someone else’s religious intolerance.

Laugh at your friends’ painful situations only after they give you permission to do so … or when no one else is around.

Maya’s Final Popularity Tip

Popularity is more than looks. It’s not clothes, hair, or even possessions. When we let go of these labels, we see how flimsy and relative they actually are. Real popularity is kindness and acceptance. It is about who you are, and how you treat others.

P.S. Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide has now been republished and is available in bookstores and libraries for readers who want to enjoy the text that inspired Maya to live and write Popular!

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“The Story of Owen” by E.K. Johnston September 22, 2014

The Story of Owen cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

312 pages; published March 2014

The Basics

Siobhan is a gifted musician. Owen is the youngest in a line of famous Canadian dragon slayers. Siobhan enters his life as his algebra tutor, but soon finds she had really be recruited as his bard, charged with the task of helping change the way the small community of Trondheim and the world behind see the work of the dragon slayers who labor to save humanity from carbon-emission-and-people-eating dragons.

Booktalk

It’s not easy being a dragon slayer. Dragons are ruthless in their pursuit of carbon emissions and people are idiots about not only making the emissions, but about the dragon slayers during a battle. Lottie Thorskard–once the most famous dragon slayer in Canada and maybe the world–paid a terrible price for the shortcomings of others. Now, she is determined the things will be different for her nephew, Owen, dragon slayer-in-training and high school students struggling in algebra. Using algebra as a cover, Lottie arranges for Owen to take on a bard, Siobhan, with the idea that she will use her considerable musical talents to shine a positive light on the world of the dragon slayer. Siobhan, Owen, Lottie, and the entire community of Trondheim are in for more danger and excitement that any of them could have imagined.

Random Thoughts

  • This book is droll and clever, but not quite as action-filled as I thought it might be for a book about humans battling dragons. On the other hand, the characters are completely charming and the social commentary is pointed and biting. It is more of a thinking person’s action/adventure.
  • Owen’s aunts, Lottie and Hannah, may be my favorite literary couple this year so far. I simply adored them both.

But Wait, There’s More!

The Story of Owen is book 1 in The Dragon Slayer of Trondheim series. Prairie Fire is due out sometime in 2015.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Smart readers with sophisticated senses of humor
  • Teens who want a little climate change allegory mixed into their adventure stories
  • People who want a teen book with no romance, but a true mixed-gender friendship
  • Aspiring writers who want to read something deliciously crafted
 

“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!
 

“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.

 

“Rapture Practice” by Aaron Hartzler June 18, 2013

Filed under: Books,Christian,GLBTQ,Memoir/Biography,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:18 pm
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Rapture Practice cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

400 pages; published April 2013

The Basics

Aaron Hartzler was brought up in a Baptist family so strict that other Baptists seemed radically permissive by comparison. Wishing to be obedient, but desperate to be true to himself, Aaron struggles to keep his place in his family while spreading his wings.

Review

What made this book striking to read was that throughout the stories of Aaron’s wayward youth, he clearly loves and even admires his family and their singular devotion to religion. However, he doesn’t share it. He chafes painfully under the oppressive rules of his unusually strict household. He can’t see movies. There’s no TV. No listening to any station other than 88.5 KLJC, Kansas City’s home for “beautiful, sacred music.” It’s a religious view that forgives serial killers, as long as they confess their sins and open their hearts to Jesus, but condemns the two  men holding hands while they watch a gay pride parade – two men who kind of look like Aaron.

He never expresses hatred for his family, but he does talk about plenty of confusion and frustration. He constantly disappoints his parents because all the rules, all the restrictions just plain don’t make any sense to him. He just cannot live inside the box they’ve created.

So, he challenges the rules and sneaks out of bounds again and again. The stories as he tells them are equal parts hilarious and heart-rending.

Random Thoughts

This story will intrigue some people because it is so different from their own families. It will move others because it reminds them so much of theirs.

 

“Bad Taste in Boys” by Carrie Harris May 4, 2013

The Facts

201 pages; published July 2011

Bad Taste in Boys cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Basics

Kate Grable is a science nerd and volunteer medic for the tragically bad high school football team. When the desperate Coach starts injecting the players with a new kind of steroid, instead of improving their win record, he turns them into flesh-loving zombies. Kate is either going to save the day or have her lips chewed off.

The Booktalk

I think the really important lesson of Bad Taste in Boys is that it’s very stupid to inject yourself or others with something when you don’t really know what the something will do.

Here’s the truth of the matter. This is a very silly book. But it is also just plain funny. And it has zombies.

The zombies are created right under the nose of Kate Grable, a wannabe doctor who manages the Ace bandages and EpiPens for the totally awful football team at her high school. The job also gives her important proximity to Aaron, the untalented the totally adorable quarterback. After Kate says heck no to injecting players with some mysterious vials of liquid, the Coach does it himself and – boom – zombie football players.

The change comes on kind of gradually and in some cases, it’s hard to notice. Until fingers come loose and feet start flying. Oh, and until the newly minted zombies start supping on human flesh. But Kate does notice and – having lost part of a lip to a linebacker – she plunges in to unravel the medical mystery and try to save the day.

Random Thoughts

This is far more of a campy, fun read than a hard-hitting, award-winning novel. However, I absolutely give it my personal award for Awesome Cover Art on a YA Book. I mean come on, look at those lips!

 

“Poison” by Bridget Zinn April 2, 2013

Filed under: Fantasy,Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 11:41 am
Tags: , , , , ,
Poison

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

288 pages; published March 2013

The Basics

Kyra is on the run after a failed attempt to assassinate her best friend and the future queen of Mohr. As a Master Potioner and weapons expert who never, never misses, Kyra knows the attempt on her friend’s life should not have failed. And she knows – as only she can know – that Mohr will be destroyed if she doesn’t find the princess and finish the job. If only her life weren’t being complicated by the entire kings guard, one awfully cute little pig, and one distractingly handsome traveler named Fred who keeps wandering into her path.

Booktalk

Kyra is really just like any other 16-year-old girl. Except that she’s a super-clever and resourceful potions master. And a weapons expert that never misses (well, there was that one time …) Oh, and the best friend of the princess of the Kingdom of Mohr who Kyra recently tried to kill for very good reasons that no one else knows about.

But she missed (how did that happen, again?), which turned Kyra into a fugitive, on the run from the king’s army and just about everyone else. Her only companion is her weapons, her wit, her potioner’s bag, and a seeker pig that just couldn’t be cuter. Also, there is the matter of the devastatingly handsome Fred and his dog Langley who keep appearing out of nowhere and hanging around.

In fact, Kyra isn’t much like any other girl or anyone you’ve ever met or read about. Which is why readers – especially those looking for good, clean fantasy – should rush to get their hands on the non-stop action, witty fun, and wild twists and turns of Poison.

Random Thoughts

  • The sad part of this very enjoyable book is that the author died at the age of just 31 and did not live to see its publication. Her friends and fellow authors have championed her legacy in an amazing and touching way. I offer my thanks to Inara Scott – author The Talents and The Marked – for recommending it.
  • If I had better aim, I can think of times when I would love to have some of Kyra’s throwing needles dipped in Doze.