Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“Strange Sweet Song” by Adi Rule September 21, 2014

Strange Sweet Song cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

336 pages; published March 2014

The Basics

Promising soprano Sing de Navelli follows the footsteps of her famous parents to the remote Dunhammond Conservatory and finds herself nearly undone by the gothic atmosphere and dark mysteries that surround her.

Booktalk

For soprano Sing da Navelli, every corner of Dunhammond Conservatory contains a challenge: the legacy of her famous dead mother; the demands of her famous live father; the fury of her rival; and the mystery of her dark and moody vocal coach. Overshadowing all is the legend of the Felix, a great cat-like beast lurking in the woods beyond the conservatory ready to alternately tear out the throat or grant the deepest wish of any who approach. Doubting her own talent and struggling to find her place in the musical landscape, Sing is pulled ever deeper into timeless secrets.

Random Thoughts

  • This is a quite odd mixture of contemporary fiction blended with gothic, magical, and paranormal elements. The result is unusual, but so enjoyable.
  • It is always unwise to compete with your own dead mother.

I’ll Recommend This to …

  • Fans of fantasy and paranormal stories who want more than just a romance
  • Teen writers who are looking for examples of beautiful prose
  • Readers who are also musicians
 

“We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart June 16, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Thriller,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:39 am
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We Were Liars cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

227 pages; published May 2014

The Basics

Cadence returns to the private island hideaway where her wealthy family spends their summers, but things are different this year – her 17th summer. Two years ago, she was hurt on this island. Her injuries still plague her. The details of her accident still elude her. This summer, she is here to heal and to try to remember.

Booktalk

Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat are the Liars – four teens tied to a beautiful, wealthy family that summers on a private island near Martha’s Vinyard. The setting is idyllic, but the family is flawed. There is rivalry, angry, and a dark, dark mystery. The mystery surrounds Candence, who is terribly ill, suffering crippling headache, general fragility, and an inability to remember the terrible accident she had on the island two years previously. Slowly, Cadence unknots the threads and weaves the story back together. But who knows if what she remembers and what she says is true? After all, Cadence and her friends are Liars.

Random Thoughts

  • This book is beautifully written, with prose that drifts into lyrical, trailing ends, reinforcing the sense that the narrator is finding reality to be a bit slippery.
  • The blurbs urge readers who are asked how the book ends to lie. I would add – don’t peek at the final pages. The twist at the end is huge and far more effective if it comes as it should – as a complete surprise.

I’ll Recommend This Book to …

  • Fans of realistic fiction
  • Teens who like puzzles and books with twists
  • Readers fascinated by the lifestyles of the wealthy
  • People who like gut-wrenching romances and books that make them cry
 

“Fake ID” by Lamar Giles February 10, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Mystery,Realistic,Thriller,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 2:45 pm
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Fake ID cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

320 pages; published January 2014

The Basics

Nick Pearson is thrown into a tailspin when Eli Cruz, his only friend in his new town of Stepton, Virginia, is killed just as he is about to break the story of a huge community scandal. Nick’s search for truth is complicated by his need to keep more than a few secrets of his own.

Booktalk

Nick Pearson isn’t feeling at all like himself – with good reason. In the four year since his family joined the Witness Protection program, he’s had five identities, five made-up backstories, and five new homes. Now, he’s arrived in Stepton, Virginia and the wheels are really coming off. Nick’s formerly mob-connected father is acting more suspicious than ever. His mother is cracking under the pressure. And his new friend, Eli Cruz, is convinced that something about Stepton is rotten to the core. When Eli turns up dead, Nick has to face facts. Eli was right. And since it looks like the mayor and the police are in on whatever diabolical scheme has been cooked up, it will be up to Nick and Eli’s stunningly beautiful sister to sort fact from fiction.

Random Thoughts

  • How many people are there – really – in the Witness Protection program? Like attending boarding schools, I suspect this is one of those things that happens more in literature than in real life. Then again, how would I know?
  • To be honest, this won’t rate as the book of highest literary quality published in 2014, but it was fast-paced, well-written, and definitely entertaining.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Boys who have a hard time finding something to read
  • Mystery fans
  • Readers interested in a new voice in young adult fiction

 

 

“If You Find Me” by Emily Murdoch November 19, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:47 am
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If You Fine Me cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

256 pages; published March 2013

The Basics

Carey and Janessa are sisters living in the base circumstances – shivering, hungry, and abused in a broken-down trailer hidden deep in the woods by a neglectful, meth-addled mother. When they are found and taken back the world, the transition is harrowing, despite many good intentions, as the girls struggle to adjust to the unfamiliar and to clutch onto the most terrible secrets about their former life.

The Booktalk

Imagine being 14 and the most responsible person in your family. Carey’s mother is strung out on meth, willing to do anything (anything) for a fix. Carey’s sister is only six and doesn’t speak, hasn’t spoken since the worst night – the night of the white stars. Imagine being stolen by your own mother when you were just four years old and hidden in a trailer deep in the woods with no electricity, not enough food, not enough clothing, no bed, no toilet – nothing but fear and hiding – for 10 years. Imagine raising your own sister because your mother won’t.  Then imagine being found and taken to a house with a bed and a shower and toilet and plenty of warmth and clothes and food.  Wonderful, yes, but strange too. Then add school and other children and television and cell phones and all the things you don’t know anything about because you’ve been held captive in the woods. And then imagine that on top of it all, you have a terrible, terrible secret.

It’s all pressing down on Carey – her old bad fortune, her new good fortune – and the weight of all might be too much.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Fans of realistic fiction
  • Readers curious about psychology, PTSD, mental illness, and the impact of drug use
  • People with large boxes of tissues to wipe their tears
 

“All the Truth That’s In Me” by Julie Berry October 22, 2013

All the Truth That's in Me cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

274 pages; published September 2013

The Basics

A tiny town has been shattered by the murder of one of its girls and the kidnapping and mutilation of another. Judith is the one who returns, but finds no place in her family or the town horrified and confused by the discovery that her tongue has been cut out. Unable to speak the truth, she watches and contemplates.

The Booktalk

One small Puritan town. Two girls disappear in the same week. One is found floating, naked in the river. The other returns after two unsettling years. Her tongue is cut out. She is wrapped in silence and secrets.

Reviled by the community as “damaged,” now-mute Judith drifts ghostlike along the edges of her society, watching and listening. Most closely, she watched Lucas, a boy she has loved since childhood. He is the only source of kindness she still has.

When the tiny village comes under attack, but Lucas and Judith respond in the only ways they can think of – saving the village but shattering the uneasy balance of their lives. Loyalties shift.  Questions are asked. But no one is ready for what happens when Judith reveals All the Truth That’s In Me.

Random Thoughts

  • The dreamy style of this book is captivating. The story burbles out in small snippets, organized into chapterlets as small as a single line, and flows like water through a rocky creekbed until it trickles down to the riveting conclusion.
  • Although set in Puritan America, the book has some unmistakably contemporary sensibilities. Still, the setting somehow works in the end and the book becomes a memorable ride through the scandalous side of Puritanical life.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Readers asking for creepy mystery stories
  • Girls who like love stories
  • People interested in unique writing styles
 

“Revolver” by Marcus Sedgwick August 21, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Historical Fiction,Thriller,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 7:59 am
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Revolver cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

224 pages; published July 2009

The Basics

A boy sits in a remote cabin with the frozen body of his dead father, waiting for help to arrive. What arrives instead is his worst nightmare – a huge murderous man who steps out of his father’s past.

Booktalk

Sig Andersson is stuck alone in a cabin north of the Arctic Circle. His only company? His father’s dead, frozen body slowly melting on the kitchen table. Sig waits, hoping his sister and step-mother will bring help from the nearby town. Instead, danger arrives in the form of a mountainous man who insists he is owed part of the bounty stolen by Sig’s father 10 years before in the goldfields of Nome, Alaska. Seeing as Sig’s father is unavailable, the man says, he figures now it is Sig who owes him.

With no idea about stolen gold, but sure the man would not hesitate to use the gun on his hip, Sig is desperate to get his hands on the family treasure he does know about – a revolver hidden in the pantry.

I’ll Recommend this to …

  • Students (particularly boys) who have been assigned to or want to read historical fiction
  • Readers asking for mysteries,  thrillers, or realistic fiction
  • Anyone who wants a story that gets your attention right away

Awards/Honors (source: GoodReads.com):

  • Printz Honor Book (2011)
  • YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (2011)
  • ALA’s Top Ten Best books for Young Adults (2011)
  • Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of the Year for Fiction (2010)

 

 

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

Zen and the Art of Faking It cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

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.

Review

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.