Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin September 17, 2014

Beyond Magenta cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

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
 

“How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial” by Darryl Cunningham June 12, 2014

How to Fake a Moon Landing cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

176 pages; published April 2013

The Basics

In a traditional, multi-panel graphic novel format, Darryl Cunningham is succint and direct as he refutes for the claims of science deniers, pseudoscientific theories, and claims of hoaxes. Sections cover the moon landing, homeopathy, chiropractic care, MMR vaccines, evolution, fracking, climate change, and science denial itself.

Review

Interesting and fast-paced, How to Fake a Moon Landing pulls no punches. Cunningham takes each of the eight science denial scenarios head-on, explaining the claims of the believers and then tearing them apart. Each section includes a rich amout of history and background on the topic, as well as the “claims vs facts.” I was impressed by how much information he packed in and his ability to simply and clearly address conversations which have generated a cacophony of debate. I have booktalked this in several classrooms now. I find it good to acknowledge that the book has a high potential to offend, but even more potential to inform and to encourage further independent research on the part of the reader.

Random Thoughts

  • I believe my favorite fact is that Daniel Palmer, the man who performed the first chiropractic adjustment, died a few weeks after a “strange incident in which his son ran over him with a car.” The next panel observes, “the official cause of death was typhoid, but being run over couldn’t have helped.”
  • How anyone ever came up with the practice of fracking is beyond me.

I Will Recommend This to …

  • Practically everyone – I just keep talking about it.
  • Kids who need to read a science-based book for this year’s Summer Reading Club.
  • Anyone interested in one of the eight topics covered.
  • Teachers looking for an engaging, yet informative book for their classroom libraries.
 

“Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year” by Ramsey Beyer September 26, 2013

Little Fish cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

272 pages; published September 2013

The Basics

Lists, journal entries, reflections, comic strips, and drawings are blended together to tell the sweet, sometimes funny story of a girl leaving a small, small town to be a little fish in the big pond of art school in Baltimore.

Booktalk

Ramsey Beyer was a shy girl who loved art and punk rock, growing up in Paw Paw, Michigan. Although she had a great family and good friends, she didn’t quite feel like Paw Paw was “her” place. If you’ve ever felt that way, you will relate to this book. Ramsey does the brave thing and heads out – 600 miles away to attend art school in Baltimore. She makes new friends, gets homesick, gets a crush, learns new things, has great adventures, gets sad sometimes, and changes her major. She tells it all in her own style, through reproducing lists and journal entries from when she was in college, as well as new drawings and comic strips. It is beautiful to look at and beautiful to read as you find out what it is like for this little fish to learn to swim in a new pond.

I’ll Recommend This Book To …

  • Readers who like realistic fiction
  • Seniors who are nervous about college
  • Graphic novel and art fans
  • Other people who make lists

A Page from Little Fish …

There are LOTS of lists. They are very interesting.

 

Image courtesy of zestbooks.net

 

“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.

 

“Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses” by Ron Koertge, illustrated by Andrew Dezso October 2, 2012

Filed under: Fantasy,Fiction,Poetry,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 11:29 am
Tags: , , , ,
Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses cover

Images courtesy of Goodreads.com

The Facts

87 pages; published July 2012

The Basics

What happens after the fairy tales? Is it really so easy to know which characters are good and which are bad? Wasn’t Goldilocks really just a brat? Ron Koertge reveals a different take on stories you thought you knew in short, witty, memorable verse.

The Booktalk

“Do you want to sleep? Find another storyteller. Do you want to think about the world in a new way” Come closer. Closer, please. I want to whisper in your ear.”

If the first page doesn’t get you, this new way of looking at our most revered fairy tale characters certainly will. Sexy, vengeful Cinderella sends birds to pluck out the eyes of her stepsisters. The mole spews bitter memories of Thumbelina. The former Beast longs for his animal days. Watch out for Hansel and Gretel – who love each other a little too much. And have you ever wondered what it would be like to be swallowed whole by a wolf? Red Riding Hood did and so, okay, now, she’s like ready to tell you all about it and about that weird woodcutter who was all like, “Maybe next time you’d like to see my ax.” Gross!

Random Thoughts

The stark, cut paper illustrations are amazing. And the stories are hilarious – in a really dark, wrong, hysterical way.

 

“Page by Paige” by Laura Lee Gulledge May 21, 2012

Page by Paige cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

192 pages; published May 2011

The Basics

Paige Turner has just moved from Virginia to New York. A bit lost and lonely, she pours her feelings and innermost thoughts into a new sketchbook, and ends up creating a record of her discovery of friendship, first love, and a new confidence in herself.

Booktalk

Paige Turner (hey – her parents are writers) spends a lot of time in her own head. It’s not easy for her to speak up or say what she really means or make new friends. After a move from Virginia to New York City, she’s pretty lost until she decides to take some advice left behind by her grandmother. Rule #1 is – “No more excuses! Buy a sketchbook and draw a few pages each week.” It’s not easy at first, but she draws – she draws how it feels to be surrounded by two-dimensional people in a new city, how the inside of her head is different that what people see, and how sometimes her head gets cluttered with thoughts and she feels like she needs to shake them out like a salt shaker. As she follows the other rules … “Draw what you know” … “Listen to what’s going on in your head” … “Let yourself fail” … “Figure out what scares you and do it” … she connects with new friends, finds love, and releases a bold, creative, playful side of herself for everyone to enjoy.

Random Thoughts

The drawings are absolutely striking and express so much emotion. The experience is really lovely. Here are some examples in the YouTube book trailer:

Awards/Honors

Cybils Award Nominee for Graphic Novels (Young Adult) (2011); ALA Teens’ Top Ten Nominee (2012); YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens (2012); Texas Maverick Graphic Novel Reading List for Grades 6-12 (2012); Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Nominee for Best Lettering (2012)

 

“Chopsticks” by Jessica Anthony, illustrated by Rodrigo Corral May 19, 2012

Filed under: Chick Lit,Fiction,Graphic Novel,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 7:25 am
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Chopsticks book cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

272 pages; published February 2012

The Basics

Told in the format of an extraordinarily detailed scrapbook, Chopsticks explores the mental deterioration of Glory, a teen-aged piano prodigy who has lost touch with her life and her gift in the wake of her mother’s death.

Booktalk

Glory is a piano prodigy, pushed relentlessly onto the world stage by her father. Glory is a grieving teen, missing her mother. Glory is in love, with Frank, the rebellious boy who moves in next door. Glory is lost in her mind, stuck in the repeating pattern of playing Chopsticks over and over and over. Now, Glory has disappeared.

This is a beautiful story and a beautiful book. Absent any traditional text, Glory’s story is laid out in photos, pictures, letters, news clippings, screen shots of texts, graffiti, postcards, grade reports, letters and more. The reader is pulled into the heart of the story, leafing through Glory’s family albums, reading her most heartfelt letters, viewing Frank’s dark, angry artwork. The experience is both lovely and sad.