Books & More from the Teen Scene

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

“The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia” by Candace Fleming February 26, 2015

Filed under: Books,History,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:10 am
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The Family Romanov cover

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The Facts

304 pages; published July 2014

The Basics

The history of the fall of Tsarist Russia and how the stage was set for a Stalinist Communist take-over is told through an intimate look at the family of Russia’s final Tsar, Nicholas II, and through the stories of the beaten-down peasants and workers who toiled to survive under his cruel reign.

Review

In this excellently researched and written book, history is told in a style that combines informative with riveting and emotionally wrenching. The personal life of Tsar Nicholas II is laid bare. Pathetically unsuited for the task, the Tsar wanders between dangerous inaction and ill-advised, brutal crackdowns that fuel the flame of the Russian revolution. His family is insulated, spoiled, out-of-touch, and just weird. The misery of the Russian workers and peasants knows no bounds. Their stories are interwoven, told in stark terms in the words of those who manage to survive the horror. The arc of the Russian revolution and the mess that led to the country being passed from cruel royalty to vicious dictator becomes disturbingly clear. More fascinating that most novels, this history book should be an easy sell to teen and adult readers alike.

Random Thoughts

  • I cannot even get my mind around the numbing desperation of Russian peasant life. I don’t ever want to be a Russian peasant. Or deposed royalty for that matter.
  • Nicholas II was certainly prone to monstrous behavior, but this book also – to my great fascination – makes him quite the object of pity. It seems like he could have been a fairly decent, somewhat peculiar guy if he has been born a modern middle class American, allowed to have a little job and dote on his wife and family.

I’ll Recommend This to …

  • Readers with any amount of interest in history, World War II, or Russia
  • Anyone looking for a fast, high-interest read
  • People who like real, sad stories with lots of pictures of the real, sad people
  • Students who teachers allow them to explore the possibility that there is value to knowing history outside of American history
  • Fans of narrative non-fiction
 

“The Impossible Knife of Memory” by Laurie Halse Anderson May 22, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 12:23 pm
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The Impossible Knife of Memory cover

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The Facts

391 pages; published January 2014

The Basics

Hayley Kincain and her Iraq War vet father, Andy, have decided to settle in his home town so Hayley can lead a “normal” life for her senior year. But there is no normalcy to be had with Andy in the throes of PTSD that leaves him depressed, unable to work, drinking, and worse. Bouyed by a couple of friends from school and her new love interest, Finn, Hayley struggles to keep herself and Andy from falling into the abyss.

Booktalk

For Hayley at age 17, home is anything but a safe haven. After spending years on road, trucking and home schooling with her father, they have returned to his childhood home. Her mother and grandmother have died. Her sort-of stepmother, who provided a bit of stability while Andy was away, has left. Andy is a mess, disintegrating under the weight of the PSTD and memories of the war.

Hayley, cynical about school, scornful of her classmates, and nearly shut down herself, is left with little beyond a couple of good friends and Finn, her amazing new boyfriend who just won’t be pushed away. She’s a survivor and smart, but the odds against her just keep stacking up.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • The many fans of Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Students ready to think about the ripple effects of war
  • People looking for a good cry
  • Fans of realistic, touching love stories
 

“In the Shadow of Blackbirds” by Cat Winters August 9, 2013

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Historical Fiction,Mystery,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:16 am
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In the Shadow of Blackbirds cover

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The Facts

387 pages; published April 2013

The Basics

In 1918, Americans were surrounded by death. With loved ones dying far away in World War I and stricken by the Spanish Flu right next door, nearly everyone was raw with grief and fear. So-called “spirit photographers” stepped in, offering to conjure the dead to be photographed with the living. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black’s aunt has fallen into the thrall of spirit photography, seances, and peculiar home remedies meant to protect a body from the influenza germs. A committed scientist and skeptic, Mary finds her own beliefs challenged when she is confronted by the confused, wretched spirit of her first love.

Booktalk

Here’s what you have to understand. Living in 1918 in the United States was terrifying. The Spanish Flu was killing thousands of people. At the same time, soldiers were dying in droves in Europe fighting in World War I. People were desperate – to do something that made them feel safer and to express their sadness about people they had lost. Mary Shelley Black is 16 years old, in the thick of the Spanish Flu outbreak and waiting for her first love who has gone off to war. She’s sensible, smart, and science-minded, but she’s scared too. Still, she knows something is off about her aunt’s obsession with having photos taken by an old family friend who has become a “spirit photographer,” someone who claims to be able to call up the dead to be photographed with the people they left behind.

The situation becomes even more puzzling when Mary Shelley learns that her own young soldier has died and – despite her skepticism – Mary is visited by his frightened and nearly incoherent ghost, drawing her deep into mysteries of the spirit world and questions about his death.

Random Thoughts

One of the many wonderful things about this book is the use of eerie historic photos of people in gauze masks (to protect them from the flu) and examples of spirit photography that are inserted as chapter headers.

 

“The False Prince” by Jennifer A. Nielsen December 5, 2012

Filed under: Fantasy,Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:42 pm
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The False Prince cover

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The Facts

342 pages; published April 2012

The Basics

Carthya is headed toward civil war. To try to prevent it, a nobleman named Conner proposes a bold plan – to collect four orphan boys, train them, and pass one of them off as the long-lost prince and heir to the throne.

Booktalk

I quickly started to think of The False Prince as a kind of mini-Hunger Games. Sage is an orphan who gets collected up – along with three other orphan boys – and used by a nasty nobleman named Conner as part of a plot to try to impersonate the country’s missing (and presumed dead) Prince Jaron and prevent civil war.  Pure villain, Conner nastily pits the four boys against one another during a rigorous training period, making it clear that one will earn the right to compete for the Carthyan throne … and for the others it will be the end.

The excitement begins on the first page and continues in a jumble of sweat, fear, flying blood, intrigue, horse riding, sword-fighting, plotting, and unexpected twists. Sage is a clever, unruly, seemingly fearless boy who has no desire to be crowned king based on a lie, but has crazy way of charming and annoying everyone he meets. Will he bend to Conner’s will? Or does Sage have the power to turn the game into something else entirely?

Wait, There More!

The False Prince is just the first in The Ascendance Trilogy. The second, The Runaway King, is due out in March 2013.

 

“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.

Review

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.

 

“Endangered” by Eliot Schrefer November 16, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,Multi-Cultural,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:47 am
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Endangered cover

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The Facts

272 pages; published October 2012

The Basics

When civil war breaks out in the Congo, 14-year-old Sophie is forced to go on the run and survive solo in the jungle in order to save herself and Otto – a young ape living in her mother’s bonobo sanctuary.

Booktalk

A survival story. A wild adventure. A brutal civil war. And an adorable bonobo (a lesser-known primate like a chimpanzee, only nicer). It’s all here.

Sophie begins the story in a bit of a funk, leaving her home in Florida to spend another summer with at her mother’s bonobo sanctuary in the Congo. She finds her purpose in adopting Otto, an abused baby bonobo that she unwisely rescues from a man on the side of the road. After a summer literally attached to Otto, things fall apart in the Congo. The president is killed. The country – and the bonobo sanctuary – are taken over by unruly bands of vicious soldiers.

Sophie flees into the jungle with Otto, using all his animal instincts and her ingenuity to try to survive and save them all.

Random Thoughts

In addition to the heart-pounding adventure, this book offers a rich perspective on political instability, child soldiers, animal trafficking, and the will to survive.

 

“Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am” by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis October 30, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,Realistic,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 10:36 pm
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Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am cover

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The Facts

160 pages; published February 2012

The Basics

Ben Bright is a stand-out kid. When he makes the unexpected decision to join the Army instead of going to college after high school, his family, best friend, and girlfriend try to be supportive. Their resolve is put to the ultimate test when Ben is injured in Iraq and returns stateside with a traumatic brain injury that shatters his memory and changes him on a fundamental level.

Review

Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis explore in fairly simple terms how the people in Ben’s life are impacted by his decision to join the Army and the injury that follows. Aside from one vivid scene actually in Iraq, the story focuses on the folks at home – Ben’s parents who are nearly torn apart by the tragedy, Ben’s autistic brother who finds his own way to absorb the loss, the girlfriend who begins to question her commitment, and the best friend who finds himself burdened with heavy responsibilities. Everyone is allowed some very human moments where they do not behave well, but the situation is somewhat idealized. There is nothing really painful or violent about the story, making it perhaps a good choice for younger readers who may be fascinated by war without considering the possible downsides.