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

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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

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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
 

“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
 

“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.

 

“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

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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.

 

“The False Prince” by Jennifer A. Nielsen December 5, 2012

Filed under: Fantasy,Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:42 pm
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The False Prince cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

342 pages; published April 2012

The Basics

Carthya is headed toward civil war. To try to prevent it, a nobleman named Conner proposes a bold plan – to collect four orphan boys, train them, and pass one of them off as the long-lost prince and heir to the throne.

Booktalk

I quickly started to think of The False Prince as a kind of mini-Hunger Games. Sage is an orphan who gets collected up – along with three other orphan boys – and used by a nasty nobleman named Conner as part of a plot to try to impersonate the country’s missing (and presumed dead) Prince Jaron and prevent civil war.  Pure villain, Conner nastily pits the four boys against one another during a rigorous training period, making it clear that one will earn the right to compete for the Carthyan throne … and for the others it will be the end.

The excitement begins on the first page and continues in a jumble of sweat, fear, flying blood, intrigue, horse riding, sword-fighting, plotting, and unexpected twists. Sage is a clever, unruly, seemingly fearless boy who has no desire to be crowned king based on a lie, but has crazy way of charming and annoying everyone he meets. Will he bend to Conner’s will? Or does Sage have the power to turn the game into something else entirely?

Wait, There More!

The False Prince is just the first in The Ascendance Trilogy. The second, The Runaway King, is due out in March 2013.

 

“Jepp, Who Defied the Stars” by Katherine Marsh December 1, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,Historical Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:34 pm
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Jeep Who Defied the Stars cover

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The Facts

369 pages; published October 2012

The Basics

Jepp, a dwarf born in the 1500s in Astraveld, strikes out to seek his fortune on the promise of a stranger. Sold as an amusement to the Infanta, ruler of the Spanish Netherlands,  and later sent away again and sold into the service of an eccentric Danish astronomer, Jepp sturdily continues to believe in his value as a man and in his right to determine his own destiny.

Review

Jepp is just so charming, he makes this book almost irresistible. Life is not easy for this 16th century dwarf. He is tempted away from the hearth of his loving mother to become one of a troupe of dwarfs who entertain the Infanta, ruler of the Spanish Netherlands. Things get complicated and after many sad events, Jepp is on the road again, this time headed to the home of another historic figure – the rather strange Danish astronomer Tycho Brache. Tycho and his jumble of family and young scholars live on an island given to Tycho by the Danish crown. They carry on at all hours, at times mapping the stars with tremendous mathematical skill, and at times roaring with laughter at the drunken antics of Tycho’s pet moose who has developed a taste for ale, all the while struggling to keep Tycho’s copper prosthetic nose affixed to his face. Through it all is Jepp, earnest and smart and resilient as he manages to elevate himself, sort out the mysteries of his paternity, and maintain his faith in true love.

The big question explored throughout the book is one of destiny vs free will – whether a man (no matter how tall) might be ruled by the stars or whether he himself is the most powerful force in the course of his own life.

Blurb from the Cover So Awesome I Wish I Had Written It

“This highly unusual story about a highly unusual hero will also feel like your story. Few of us are imprisoned dwarfs, but all of us want to guide our own lives. ” — Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close