Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“The Sittin’ Up” by Shelia P. Moses May 31, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Historical Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:22 am
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Images courtesy of

The Facts

240 pages; published January 2014

The Basics

Mr. Bro. Wiley, the last man living in Low Meadows who was born into slavery, takes his last breath. Twelve-year-old Bean, who loves him just like everyone else in Low Meadows, looks on with his heart breaking. Then, it is time for the community to grieve and to prepare for the sittin’ up, the night they will spend together with Mr. Bro. Wiley’s body before the funeral.


Set in 1940, this quiet book explores a crucial pivot point in a community’s history. Mr. Bro. Wiley is a deeply beloved elder who was born a slave to the Wiley family. Freed by the Civil War, he has provided wisdom and leadership to the black community that transitioned from slaves on the Wiley plantation to sharecroppers for the Wiley family. When Mr. Bro. Wiley dies, 12-year-old Bean tells the story of a community that grieves, mixing in keen observation about the shifting dynamic between the black and white communities. He sees how the world is changing as two black families have settled into Rich Square in town and as Bean and his best friend, Pole, plan a future far away from sharecropping as a lawyer and a doctor. As the days march toward Mr. Bro. Wiley’s final homecoming, for the ritual of sittin’ up with the body at home on the final night before the funeral, a weather system is also moving in which will force the residents of Low Meadows and Rich Square together in a whole new way.

While there is not much action in The Sittin’ Up, Bean is quite a storyteller. His perspective on life and the changing racial dynamics in his community are riveting. It is a gentle middle grade introduction to what changed – and what didn’t – in the South in the post-Civil War era.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Many middle school classrooms during school visits
  • Middle grade teachers looking for diverse books to share with students
  • Younger teens interested in realistic or historical fiction

“Out of the Easy” by Ruta Sepetys January 22, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Historical Fiction,Mystery — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:54 am
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Out of the Easy cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

346 pages; published February 2013

The Basics

Josie Moraine is a survivor. Raised in New Orelans and the daughter of a prostitute, Josie has mapped a plan of escape to a different life when she is pulled into the aftermath of the murder of a charming gentleman visitor to the French Quarter.

The Booktalk

Smart, determined, highly ethical, and strangely innocent might not be what you’d expect from the daughter of a prostitute who grew up in the French Quarter of New Orleans – but it’s what you get from Ruta Sepetys’ “Out of the Easy.” Josie Moraine, having been failed in every possible way by her stupid harlot of a mother, has been raised by a harsh, but caring madam, a kindly taxi driver, and an eccentric bookstore owner. She has become a bright, resilient young woman determined to find her way out of the Big Easy and into a better life. But little tendrils of French Quarter scandal keep twisting around her and pulling her down – the murder of a visiting Southern gentleman, the seediness of the brothel, her mother’s gangster boyfriend, and the mysterious illness of her bookstore owning patron. The excitement begins on the first page and never lets up as Josie navigates an emotional roller coaster and tries to find her way “Out of the Easy.”

Random Thoughts

  • Given the French Quarter and brothel as primary settings, this is a surprisingly clean book.
  • There should be some kind of award for Truly Appalling Fictional Parents and Ruta Sepetys should win it this year for writing Josie’s awful, pathetic, shallow, mean, stupid harlot of a mother.

I’ll recommend this book to …

  • Readers looking for some slightly titillating excitement
  • Fans of mysteries
  • Anyone who likes a hard luck or horrible parents story

“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)

“Stolen Into Slavery: The True Story of Solomon Northup” by Judith and Dennis Fradin January 16, 2013

Filed under: History,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 4:00 pm
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Stolen into Slavery cover

Images courtesy of

The Facts

120 pages; published January 2012

The Basics

Solomon Northup was born a free black in New York and lived as a free black man for 33 years. In 1841, he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold to a slave trader. He survived 12 years of slavery in Louisiana before finding a way back to his wife and 3 children in New York state.


Humans of capable of doing terrible, terrible things. Solomon Northup was a husband, a father, and a free black man. In 1841, he was looking for work and made a connection to two white men who said they wanted to hire him to play his violin – an instrument he played with great skill – for a circus down the road. They traveled with him, ate with him, and gained his trust. They even helped him obtain papers proving he was a free man before the trio crossed into slave territory – Washington D.C. But the two men were just scheming. When they arrived in the nation’s capital, they carried out their real plan. They drugged Solomon and sold him to a slave trader for $650.

Solomon was not alone. Thousands of free blacks were stolen and illegally sold as slaves in the years before the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. There were laws against this, but as Solomon found, once he was in the hands of the slavers, he had no rights and no way of accessing the legal system. Solomon’s story – unlike the stories of many of these stolen lives – is known because after 12 years of living in slavery, he found a way to make contact and return to his home. In 1853, he published a book about his ordeal. That book is the basis for this story, which lays in out a simple narrative how it happened, how he survived, and all that Solomon had to endure.

It is the story of one man’s experience that increases understanding about the depth of the legacy of shame left by our nation’s slave past.


“I am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee” by Charles J. Shields October 9, 2011

Shields, Charles J. I am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008. 212 pp. ISBN: 0805083340

Cover image for "I am Scout"

Cover images courtesy of


Aside from knowing that she authored one of the most enduring American classics, To Kill a Mockingbird, few people know much about the life and times of Harper Lee. Charles Shields builds her story from extensive interviews from those who have known the reclusive author, shining a light on her childhood, life as a writer, and reasons for never publishing again after the meteoric success of her book.


Charles Shields has been much lauded for the careful research that drove a masterfully written biography of Harper Lee. Although most American young adults read To Kill a Mockingbird and many appreciate its finer qualities, it is assigned reading. This makes it difficult to believe that large numbers of them will become independently interested in the author who penned the words so long ago and want to read her biography. Those who do develop that interest are likely to be disappointed by Shields’ book when they discover that Harper Lee ultimately has led a fairly dull life – which is how she seems to have wanted it. There is only so much that can be made of the process of writing one book and then retreating from the public eye. He relies too much on her relationship with the more dramatic Truman Capote, perhaps forgetting that Capote is somewhat passé for today’s young adult readers.

As a reader, I felt a bit sheepish as Lee obviously wishes to be left alone and is unlikely to be pleased to see bits of gossip from her friends and neighbors spun into not one, but two biographies. Shields has re-worked material from Mockingbird, a biography of Lee aimed at adult audiences. It seems to me that his missed his goal of creating an engaging story for younger readers.

Awards/Honors (source:

  • 2009 American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults
  • Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year
  • Arizona Grand CanyonYoung Readers Master List