Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“Like No Other” by Una Marche February 24, 2015

Like No Other cover

Images courtesy of Goodreads.com

The Facts

368 pages; published July 2014

The Basics

Devorah, an obedient member of the Hasidic Jewish community, steps onto the wrong elevator at the wrong time. A power outage thrusts her into forbidden conversation with Jaxon, the hard-working, nerdy son of West Caribbean immigrants. Unable to stop thinking about each other, Devorah and Jaxon risk everything for an ever-deepening romance.

The Review

I like the teen romance aspect of this book. Jaxon and Devorah were easy to enjoy as characters and easy to root for as a couple of Romeo and Juliet-style star-crossed lovers. The true fascination of the book, however, was Devorah’s questioning of her ability to live within the bounds of a strict religious community – in this case, Hasidic Judiasm. Devorah is a good girl who had always obeyed the many rules of her faith. After a perfect storm of events leaves her stuck in an elevator with Jaxon, a boy not only from different cultural roots but from a completely different lifestyle, she finds herself pulled to him. Something in her compels her to pursue a secret relationship that changes her view of her family, her faith, and her future. This book has great characters, fascinating cultural insights, and an ending that is, well, like no other.

Recognition and Honors (Source: Goodreads.com)

  • Publishers Weekly Best Book of Summer 2014
  • Indie Next List Pick, Summer 2014
  • 2014 Junior Library Guild Selection
  • Los Angeles Times Summer Reading Guide Selection
  • Entertainment Weekly YA Novel to Watch Out For

I’ll Recommend This to …

  • Fans of contemporary romance like Eleanor & Park
  • Readers with a flair for the dramatic
  • Anyone fascinated by the question of how youth respond to strict upbringing
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“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
 

“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.
 

“Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell November 21, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 11:00 am
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Eleanor & Park cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

328 pages; published February 2013

The Basics

Eleanor is a curvy red-headed girl with strange clothes and no place on the bus because she’s the new girl after weeks of school and the pecking order has already been established. Park is the mixed-race Korean American boy at the fringe of the social order who gives her a place to sit in a begrudging burst of profanity. From that awkward foundation, a breathtakingly beautiful, complex, frustrating, epic romance grows.

Review

I loved Park. I wish he could have been my boyfriend.
I loved Eleanor. I’m pretty sure I knew her in high school and I loved her then too.
I loved that the jerks at the back of the bus had layers to them and were more than just evil, although not much more.
I loved how slowly Eleanor and Park fell in love.
I loved it whenever they held hands.
I loved that they thought no one else would see.
I love, loved Park’s parents – that they were so loving and so flawed and so complex that for once, parents in a YA novel felt like genuine people.
I loved that Eleanor tried so hard to still be in spite of her horrid, horrid stepfather and awful father and broken mother.
I loved Mr. Stessman, the English teacher, because he was a hopeless, sweet dork who truly loved literature and admired Eleanor.
I loved Mrs. Dunn, the guidance counselor, because she tried.
I loved Denice and Bebe because they stuck up for and with Eleanor and because they were just fun characters.
I loved the attention to detail.
I loved the way it was written.
I loved the love story.
I loved the ending, however painful it was.
I loved that I got to read this story.

I Will Recommend This To …

  • Fans of John Green and David Levithan
  • Readers who like to be emotionally shattered and sobbing
  • Mature youth and adults looking for a mature love story
  • People who aren’t afraid of a little (or – OK – a lot of) profanity

Random Thoughts

  • I listened to Eleanor & Park on audiobook, which I highly recommend. The readers – Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra – are fantastic.
  • I resisted reading Eleanor & Park for a long time because I thought it would make me sad. I was right. It was devastating. I’m so glad I finally read it.
 

“Coaltown Jesus” by Ron Koertge October 24, 2013

Filed under: Books,Christian,Fiction,Poetry,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:30 am
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Coaltown Jesus cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

128 pages; published October 2013

The Basics

Simply told in spare verse, this is the chuckle-worthy story of a boy who spends a few days with a wryly witty Jesus (who would have arrived sooner if not for some bad traffic on the I-55) after Walker prays for help for his grieving mother.

Review

Having howled my way through the darkly hilarious Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses, I simply had to invited Coaltown Jesus to come home with me. Because it is both a slim book and written in verse, it takes barely any time to read. Processing it fully, however, takes more time.

Walker is completely torn up inside after the untimely death of his beloved, but troubled brother. Living above the private nursing home owned by their mother, Walker wonders, “Didn’t God look downstairs? It’s a nursing home. Half my mom’s clients are ready to check out. But he picks a kid.” With his own grief pressing in, Walker prays that God will fix his mother, who is shattered by the loss.

Enter Jesus, a fast-talking, smart-mouth who shows up late and needing to check his email – “robe, sandals, beard – just like my action figure.” He doesn’t like being called The Anointed One (“Makes me feel greasy”) and admits that camels may have been a mistake born of a long day of creation (“You try creating a whole world without even a snack”). Who knew Jesus was such a card?

Between quips, however, Jesus finds his own way to attend to the business of healing and may indeed be the answer to Walker’s prayers.

Random Thoughts

I couldn’t decide if this book was irreverent or very reverent indeed. Because why couldn’t the King of kings have a sense of humor? In fact, don’t we have a lot of evidence that He must?

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • People who enjoy the unexpected
  • Anyone with a quirky sense of humor
  • Families who are grieving
  • Students who need to read a book – quick!
 

“Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan September 15, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,GLBTQ,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 6:51 am
Tags: , , , , ,
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