Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“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.

 

“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.

 

“After Ever After” by Jordan Sonnenblick April 3, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:39 am
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After Ever After cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

272 pages; published February 2010; sequel to Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie

The Basics

Jeffrey is a cancer survivor who will need all his reserves to now survive what middle school is about to toss his way. Along with his best friend, also a cancer survivor, he has to figure out how to get along now that his older brother has gone off to Africa to learn drumming, what to do about the girl he like who kind of might also like him, and how to deal with the new high-stakes test that make might it impossible for him to get past 8th grade.

Book Talk

Middle school sucks. It sucks more when you’re a pudgy cancer survivor with a limp. And you just found out that the brother you worship basically resents you – so much that he went to Africa to get away from you. And you can’t figure out how to behave around a cute girl (who can?). And your best friend is also a cancer survivor who is surly and weird and stuck in a wheelchair. Then school administration wants to give you a really hard test that makes the difference between passing 8th grade and not passing 8th grade, and math doesn’t make sense anymore because of something that changed in your brain during chemotherapy, so you know you’ll fail the test. And now everyone is just acting weird and you don’t know what to do.

Random Thought

Given the premise, I wouldn’t have thought this would be a funny book, but it’s really funny. Jeffrey tells his story in first person and knows how to find macabre humor in his situation. I was completely charmed.

 

 

“A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd, illustrated by Jim Kay March 23, 2012

Filed under: Fantasy,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:32 pm
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A Monster Calls cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

215 pages; published September 2011

The Basics

As Conor struggles to deal with his mother’s illness, the yew tree in his back yard wakes and come walking – walking into Conor’s room wanting to share with him three strories of Truth. As payment, the Monster demands Conor’s Truth and uncovers more than the boy himself ever knew.

Book Talk

Conor’s mom is so, so sick. His father is absent – gone to America with his new wife. He’s being bullied at school. His Grandmother is unpleasant and unwelcoming. Conor has no where turn until he wakes at 7 minutes after midnight to find a yew tree, come to life in monstrous form and standing at his window. The yew tree keeps coming back, coming in, telling stories it calls Truth and pushing at Conor to tell his own Truth until Conor boils over and A Monster Calls.

Random Thought

The simple black line drawings for this book are stunning, dark, angry, and luminescent. They don’t just complement the story, they help tell it and pull the reader in to Conor’s turmoil. Also, the back story of Siobhan Dowd, who conceived this story but died of breast cancer before she could write it, is fascinating.

Fair Warning

By the time I reached the end of this books, I was crying so hard I couldn’t hardly see the words. Keep tissues nearby.