Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“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

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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

“Seedfolks” by Paul Fleischman March 28, 2013

Filed under: Classics,Fiction,Multi-Cultural,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:08 am
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Seedfolks cover

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The Facts

112 pages; published March 1999

The Basics

A community garden takes root in a vacant lot on Gibb Street in Cleveland, Ohio, making friends and neighbors of the individuals who come together to cultivate it. Told in 14 distinct voices that reflect the diversity of the neighborhood, Seedfolks is as rich as it is brief.


A young Vietnamese girl named Kim, wishing to honor the memory of her father, sneaks into a vacant lot near her family’s apartment. Hiding behind a refrigerator so no one will now, she plants a handful of lima beans.

But when she is spotted, instead of being angry, the neighbors are interested. One by one, others in her community – remembering gardens and farms from Guatemala, Korea, India, Romania and other places of their youth – step into the lot and claim their own piece of earth. Even those who cannot tend a plot take an interest, fighting to have to lot cleared or helping solve the problem of irrigation.

Each of the seedfolks has their own reasons and a story to tell. In 14 small stories, they create a picture of a community and find common ground.

Random Thoughts

  • The audiobook – which is how I enjoyed this story – was extraordinary. The 14 stories are told by 14 different voice actors, each with an accent or dialect that fits their character. The diverse voices definitely enriched the experience.
  • This may be one of those books for young people that are even more enjoyable to older teens and adult readers, who have the life experience to read between some of the lines and drink in the full measure of the message.

“Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice” by Phillip Hoose March 1, 2013

Claudette Colvin cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

133 pages; published January 2009

The Basics

Before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin, a teenager in Montgomery, Alabama angry about the systematic mistreatment of blacks. One day, she just plain refused to give her up seat on a bus to a white passenger. She was arrested and hauled bodily off the bus, all the while screaming, “It’s my constitutional right!” Her actions sparked the flame that eventually led to Rosa Parks’ more famous bus stand-off and to the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott that rocketed Martin Luther King Jr. to a national civil rights platform.


Have you ever been so sure you’re right that you would be willing to be hurt – maybe even die – for an idea? Claudette Colvin was only 15 years old when she took a stand. You see, in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, if you were black and riding a bus, there was an expectation. That expectation was that you would never sit in any of the first 10 seats on the bus and that – if those 10 seats were already full of white people and another white person got on – well, you and all the other black people sitting in the row they wanted would have to give up your seats. That was how they did things under Jim Crow in the South, when they tried to keep black people separated from white people and give black people less at every turn.

So, there was Claudette Colvin – 15 years old – sure it was wrong. So, one day, a white lady got on her bus and Claudette didn’t give up her seat. It was a big deal. She was hauled off the bus, arrested, mistreated, called names, threatened – even some of the people in her own community were against her.

A while later, Rosa Parks did the same thing and got herself in trouble in order to spark the Bus Boycott that led to the Civil Rights Movement and changed a lot of things in the South. But there was Claudette Colvin again. In order to end that bus boycott, a lawyer filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people who had been arrested on Montgomery buses. Although she knew people might want to hurt – or even kill – her for it, Claudette Colvin put herself on the line again for what was right and agreed to testify.

Would you have the courage to do what she did?

Random Thoughts

Phillip Hoose does an excellent job of exploring Claudette Colvin’s story and placing in context for readers who may have little experience with bald racism and segregationist policies. Colvin is not a saintly or perfect subject. She had some rough times and awkward elements that had nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement, but he doesn’t pull punches and handles the material very well.

In Her Words …

“Back then, as a teenager, I kept thinking, Why don’t the adult around here just say something? Say it so they know we don’t accept segregation? I knew then and I know now that, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’ And I did.”

Awards and Honors (from

  • National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (2009)
  • Newbery Honor (2010)
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2009)
  • Cybils Award Nominee for Middle Grade/Young Adult Non-Fiction (2009)
  • Sibert Honor (2010)
  • An ALA Notable Children’s Book for Older Readers (2010)
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2011)
  • YALSA Award for Excellent in Nonfiction for Young Adults Nominee (2010)

Awesome Scene from “The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door” by Karen Finneyfrock February 27, 2013

Filed under: GLBTQ,Quotes — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:02 am
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Sometimes, when reading a book, I have the feeling that the author just really needed to say something so she has a character say it … even if it’s not strictly central or necessary to the plot. In this case, I was delighted to find the following passage because Celia Door says something so well – in just the words I’ve wished I had, but never seem to have at my command when they are needed.

From Page 152:

“Ugh, that movie was stupid,” the other girl said.

“I know, everything is zombies now. That movie was so gay,” said the salesgirl.

“What did you say?” I asked.

The girls looked surprised, as if I has just walked over to their private table in a restaurant and asked to sit down. “We’re just talking about the movie with the zombie aliens,” the salesgirl said dismissively.

“But what did you call it?” I asked. I could feel Drake shift uncomfortably next to me and take a small step away.

“I said it was stupid, don’t bother seeing it,” said the girl.

“But you didn’t say ‘stupid,'” I said, my voice getting a little louder. “You said it was ‘gay.'”

“Oh, yeah, whatever, I didn’t mean it literally.”

“No, you said ‘gay’ like that was another word for ‘stupid’ or ‘lame.'”

“A lot of people say that,” one of the other girls broke in, “she didn’t mean it in a mean way. She’s cool with gay people.”

“Well, if you’re cool with gay people, then why don’t you choose another word to use so you don’t offend anyone?”


Go, Celia!


“Zen and the Art of Faking It” by Jordan Sonnenblick January 5, 2013

Zen and the Art of Faking It cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

264 pages; published October 2007

The Basics

San Lee has been the “new kid” in school many times in his life. This move from Texas from Pennsylvania is the most difficult yet, because of what he left behind – his father and any money the family once had. Far from wanting to just be himself, San looks for an identity to hide behind and – through a series of strange circumstances – hits on Zen Master. Even he doesn’t think he can pull it off, but somehow everyone starts to buy into his adopted persona.


This excellent book was a recently selection for a library teen book club. One of the readers really nailed it when she said, “I thought it was interesting how he really is faking it, but he works so hard at faking it that by the time everyone else realizes he’s been lying, he’s kind of become what he was pretending to be.”

San Lee is completely charming as he tries to figure out how to cope with (a) moving to some tiny Pennsylvania town in winter with only sandals to wear as he slogs through the snow, (b) his father’s absence and his own anger about it, and (c) falling head over heels in love with Woody, his new school’s guitar-playing songstress and not having a clue how to act when she likes him back. A Chinese kid adopted by white parents, San trades on people’s prejudices and the fact that he’s a bit ahead of the curve when the class starts a unit on Zen Buddhism (he had a little introduction to Zen in a World History class last year in Texas). He manages to convince everyone that he really IS a Zen Master and finds himself teaching Zen free throws to the basketball team.

Jordan Sonnenblick has knack for writing humorous stories that also tug at the heart.




“What I Saw and How I Lied” by Judy Blundell November 29, 2012

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The Facts

284 pages; published November 2008

The Basics

After the post World War II of return of her officer step-father, Joe Spooner, Evie’s family takes off to Florida abruptly. Everybody seems to be hiding something, and things get even more complicated when they are joined by Peter, a handsome young GI who steals Evie’s heart and seems to hold a strange thrall over Joe.


It sucks to be a teenager with self-absorbed, self-indulgent parents who lack any sort of moral compass. So, Evie’s life sucks. Her slutty mom and overbearing step-father are really very unpleasant people, not directly to Evie, but really in general. But Evie’s kind of sweet. She’s got a lot of things figured out but misses some key points as a mystery starts to brew around her parents, who seem to be hiding from something after dashing the family off to Florida. Things get really complicated when a GI from her step-father’s unit runs into them down in Florida (or tracks them down?) and begins romancing Evie. I read this for a teen book discussion group and thought it was interesting that the main concern of every teen there was why on earth Evie was allowed (even encouraged?) to have a romantic relationship with a shady 25-year-old. I would refer back to the parental lack of moral compass.¬†As the mystery fully unfolds, I gained a new appreciation for Evie who becomes quite the interesting and multilayered character.

Random Thoughts

There is an interesting dimension in this book that explores the strong anti-Semitism on American shores during the era. Sad to consider that the same solider who helped free Jews from Nazi control could not tolerate to sit at the same table at Jews back home.


“Zom-B” by Darren Shan November 19, 2012

Zom-B cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

174 pages; published September 2012

The Basics

B is a street-wise bully being raised by a violent, white supremacist father in London. Amid growing reports of zombie attacks in a small Irish village, B is backed into several situations where it is called into question of how deep B’s personal racist sensibilities run. And then, the zombies attack.


This book was quite a surprise. Written by a master of young adult horror, it’s remarkably light on the spurting blood and the brain eating … until it’s not.

Although the zombies are milling around the edges from the beginning, but meat of the book is spent on B and B’s response (or lack thereof) to a father who spews disgusting racial hatred at every turn and beats on B and B’s mother if they mount the slightest challenge. B wanders between mirroring the father’s nastiness and being sheepish about it and wondering if – perhaps – dear old Dad isn’t pretty reprehensible. B’s thoughts get really stirred up after visiting a Holocaust exhibit and getting a talking-to from a respected teacher.

“I know Dad’s no saint but I’ever never thought of him as a monster. But if Burke’s right, and I take Dad’s side, the way I’ve gone along with him for all these years, won’t that make me a monster too?”

And speaking of monsters, the zombies continue to close in as Dad pooh-poohs the gruesome footage of an attack in Pallaskenry, Ireland until the zombies – as the reader knows they will – finally descend on B’s school and the nightmare-inducing grossology lesson begins.

While not at all likeable, B is an compelling character and “Zom-B” is an exciting set-up for a new series.