Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“The Swap” by Megan Shull November 2, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:16 pm
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The Swap

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

400 pages; published August 2014

The Basics

Ellie is a seventh grader slowly sliding off the bottom rung of the social ladder after her best friend turns mean girl over the summer. Jack is a boys boy in a family of boys boys obsessed with hockey, workouts and winning. Both battling some private demons and public humiliation, they end up in the nurse’s office on the first day of school, each feeling the other must have it so easy. A wish, a few words from the mysterious nurse, and BAM! They’ve switched lives just in time to go home for the weekend and find out.

Review

I was leery of this book because I’ve seen Freaky Friday a bunch of times and feared the story would be overly familiar. Granted, it is the same general idea, but so well done and entertaining. It was sort of Freaky Friday meets Strangers on a Train. The characters who swap lives and bodies don’t really know each other. They live in radically different households and occupy decidedly different rungs on the social ladder of their middle school. This story isn’t about understanding each other. It’s about Ellie and Jack each using their unique strengths to force change in the other’s life. It’s that great combination of funny and touching that I am a total sucker for. It’s good, clean fun for middle grade readers with enough substance to also appeal to the high school crowd.

Random Thoughts

  • I adored Jack’s three burly, boisterous brothers who – despite the boyish smells and odd fitness rituals – were truly good guys.
  • Sometimes, you get so fixated on trying to make the wrong person like you that you miss the fact that you have true, blue friends that are more worthwhile.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Boys and girls alike
  • Teens feeling like they want a time out from life
  • Fans of realistic fiction
  • Readers looking for a story for something light and clean
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“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

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

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
 

“When Audrey Met Alice” by Rebecca Behrens September 25, 2014

When Audrey Met Alice cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

304 pages; published February 2014

The Basics

The Audrey is question is the only child of the first female president of the United States. At 13, she is chafing under the many restrictions of being the First Daughter, looking on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave as more of a prison than an honor. She finds the 1902 diary of former First Daughter Alice Roosevelt and enters into a wonderful relationship with this spirited historic figure, taking inspiration from Alice’s antics during her days as a White House resident.

Booktalk

You would think being the daughter of a president and living in the White House would be glamorous and amazing. That’s not what Audrey Rhodes – daughter of American’s first female president – would tell you. With her mother busy running the country, Audrey is stuck alone this big old house that is definitely not home with a bunch of uptight staffers. She can’t even have friends over because they don’t have security clearance. And now she’s being left out of her class trip to New York because it’s too tricky for the Secret Service. When Audrey stumbles across a diary hidden under the floorboards by former First Daughter Alice Roosevelt, eldest daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, she discovers that someone understands what a pain it is to be trapped by presidential protocol and rigid expectations. Alice’s wild behavior while living in the White House was the stuff of many scandals in the early 1900s. Her stories get Audrey thinking that maybe she has been a little too easy to tame and she strikes out to put the fun back in being a First Daughter.

Random Thoughts

  • Both characters are delightful and the story is sweet. This is perfect middle grade girl fare.
  • I have a special spot in my heart for Alice Roosevelt. You just have to admire her spunk and creativity. When Teddy Roosevelt forbade her from smoking in the White House, for example, Alice took her cigarettes up to the roof. One of the best “real” quotes in the book comes from the day TR famously said, “I can either run the country or I can control Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Many middle schoolers and teachers as I booktalk during class visits
  • Teens who like light-hearted stories
  • Readers interested in fun approaches to exploring history
  • Fans of the Roosevelts
  • All girls named Alice
 

“Beyond the Door” by Maureen Doyle McQuerry May 24, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fantasy,Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:37 am
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Beyond the Door cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

384 pages; published March 2014

The Basics

Siblings Timothy and Sarah Maxwell and an unlikely ally are drawn into a new adventure spun from Celtic myth.

Booktalk

The night started as a dull evening home with the babysitter Timothy James doesn’t think he needs anymore. But Timothy’s life takes an unexpected turn when an open door lets in living, breathing characters from Celtic myth. As Timothy learns why he might be the target of the hunt for Herne and his hounds, he also learns there is more than he ever suspected to The Clapper, his middle-aged babysitter, and to Jessica, the bully who has been torturing him for years. Drawn first into a wild and dangerous adventure on the ritual night of Beltrane, and then into a magic Market in a mad quest to save his mother, Timothy finds himself at the apex of the struggle between Light and Dark.

Random Thoughts

  •  This enticing middle grade fantasy covers a lot of ground – mythology, danger, bullying, Scrabble, family loyalty, fate, and evil.
  • For more patient and persistent readers than I, this book offers a wonderful bonus – a coded message in Ogham running along the bottoms of the pages.

But Wait, There’s More!

Beyond the Door is the first in the Time Out of Time series that is to continue with The Telling Stone at a yet-to-be-named date.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Fans of Rick Riordan’s mythology-infused novels
  • Middle-grade readers eager for adventure
  • Parents looking for “appropriate” reading matter for their teens
  • Kids who hope they too might have a secret calling
 

“Small Medium at Large” by Joanne Levy January 27, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 11:38 am
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Small Medium at Large cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

195 pages; published July 2012

The Basics

After being hit by lightning at her mother’s wedding, Lilah wakes to discover she can hear ghosts. She finds herself surrounded by a well-meaning bunch of spirits, led by her practical, funny grandmother who is four years gone. Bubby Dora has a proposal for Lilah. She wants the two of them to team up to get Lilah’s love-lorn divorced father back in the dating game.

Booktalk

Lilah was having a pretty good day, really enjoying her mother’s wedding – until a freak storm rolled in and hit her with a bolt of lightning. Lilah wakes in a hospital to discover she’s basically fine – as long as “fine” includes being able to talk to ghosts. At first, it’s just her sweet, straight-talking grandmother Bubby Dora, but soon other ghosts line up looking for Lilah’s help in delivering messages. And all the while, Lilah is conspiring with her Bubby to encourage Lilah’s father to take his first, shaky steps back into the world of of dating.

Random Thoughts

  • What a thoroughly sweet book. Ghosts aside, it is a funny, well-drawn look at the life of a girl in the throes of growing up.
  • While not exactly a laugh-out-loud book, this is certainly a many-amused-smiles book.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Middle grade girls who like a bit of magic blended with their reality
  • Families looking for squeaky clean, age-appropriate books for middle schoolers
  • Readers who want something short and sweet
  • Those who believe in friendly ghosts
 

“Cameron and the Girls” by Edward Averett May 7, 2013

Filed under: Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:06 pm
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Cameron and the Girls cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

224 pages; published April 2013

The Basics

Cameron has schizophreniform disorder – which is why he loses touch with reality and hears voices in his head. This particular disorder could be short term only, but no one knows, least of all Cameron as he fights against the medication and the doctoring and the parental hovering that is meant to help, but only makes him more inclined to get to know his voices better.

Booktalk

You look at the cover of this book and you look at the title, Cameron and the Girls, and you get the idea that it’s going to be a story about a guy named Cameron who likes two girls or had two girls that like him. And you’d be right … in a way. But for Cameron, deciding between two girls is more complicated that it sounds. One of the girls is a person in his school who suffers from depression and can be kind of weird to be around. The other girl lives in Cameron’s head. She’s perfect in every way, but she’s just one of the voices he hears because he has a mental condition – schizophreniform disorder.

The complicated thing is Cameron knows he has a mental illness, but he likes some of the voices in his head – especially The Girl who understand him so perfectly and loves him so much. He kind of wants to stay in touch with the voices. Also, he hates being zoned out on medication.  So he stops taking it. Which upsets all the adults, but feels right to him. He can manage on his own. Can’t he?

Random Thoughts

Edward Averett puts the readers in a tough spot. He really pulls us into Cameron’s world and his feeling that he should be left to talk to his voices if he wants to. At the same time, it’s impossible not to understand why Cameron’s parents, sister, doctors, and teachers can’t just let him “be.”

 

“Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading” by Tommy Greenwald; illustrated by J.P. Coovert February 12, 2013

Filed under: Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:11 am
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Charlie Joe Jackson cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

219 pages; published July 2011

The Basics

Charlie Joe Jackson is determined not to break his perfect non-reading streak, but that’s going to be tough now that his good friend Timmy has decided not to read for him (in exchange for treats) anymore.

Booktalk

Charlie Joe Jackson knows a lot about books. He knows how to avoid them. He knows they make you blind … and fat. He know they’re not as good as sports. But most of all, he knows he doesn’t want to read one. Ever. Never. And Charlie Joe is willing to use all his creativity to scheme, bribe, manipulate, and cajole others into doing his reading for him – even it if costs a fortune in ice cream sandwiches. And let’s not even start on his girl troubles – in love with one that doesn’t love him back; can’t stand the one who loves him; and who knows what’s really up with his best friend.

Charlie Joe Jackson is a funny guy who’s putting it all on the line to make you laugh – and to pass along his best anti-reading tips. It’s a useful guide for anyone who wants to avoid reading. All you have to do is … read this book!

Wait! There’s More

#2 in the series – Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit – is also available; Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Summer Vacation is due out in May 2013.