Category: Teen


glory obriens history of the future

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King

Glory can’t see a future for herself.  She has no plans once she graduates from high school, not applying to any colleges.  Perhaps she is just like her dead mother, who committed suicide four years ago.  It’s the reason that Glory has only eaten microwaved food years, since her father won’t replace the oven her mother used to kill herself.  Glory can’t even seem to get along with her best friend who lives across the road in a commune.  It was there that they found the desiccated bat that they mixed with water and drank.  It was a decision that changed Glory’s life because now when she looks at other people she can see their future, and it’s a future that is filled with civil war, hate of women, and horror.  As Glory sees everyone’s future but her own, she starts to slowly explore the family secrets that surround her and even her own way forward.

King is amazing.  While the cover may compare her to John Green, she is has a voice that is entirely unique and her own.  King has created here a book that mixes photography with philosophy.  Glory speaks the language of film, pre-digital and more physical and tangible.  She uses light meters and ties the numbers she uses directly to her life:  “By shooting the darkest areas three zones lighter, you turned a black, lifeless max black zone 0 into a zone 3.  I think, in life, most of us did this all the time.”  King also embraces a fierce and beautiful feminism in this book.  It’s the feminism that we all viscerally crave, one that speaks to the power of girls and women, a feminism that can save us from ovens.

Glory is such a strong character.  I love that she is cool and real, and yet she feels that she is the most awkward, unsexy and unreal person in the world.  That is such a teen feeling, a feeling of hiding and being masked and fake.  King captures it beautifully.  Glory grows throughout the book, emerging from behind all of the barriers that she has set up for others before they can meet who she really is.  The problem is that she is also hiding from herself. 

Strong, beautiful, feminist and fierce, this book is one inspiring read for all of us who hide and need to be found by ourselves.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

in real life

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, illustrated by Jen Wang

After a woman gamer comes to present information on gaming and computer science to her class, Anda starts to play Coarsegold.  She starts to spend most of her time away from school playing the online multiplayer game.  Online she meets another player who encourages her to start killing gold farmers for real life money.  So Anda refocuses her battles online specifically on gold farmers, killing them even though they don’t fight back.  But something feels wrong about what she is doing and then Anda gets to know one of the gold farmers who has started to learn English.  He is a poor Chinese kid who is just trying to survive and loves playing Coarsegold even though he does it for hours as a gold farmer.  Anda soon finds herself questioning the morals of killing gold farmers and what is wrong and right in real life and in the game world. 

As a gamer girl myself, I applaud Doctorow for choosing to have a female lead in his book about online gaming.  It adds another dimension to a book that wrestles with tough questions about gaming and gold farming.  Gold farmers are people, usually from poorer countries, who are paid to play the online game, gather materials, and then sell them for real money, something that is against the rules of the games.  So the book gets to the heart of people from wealthy countries using those from poorer countries, it looks at working conditions in gold farming companies, and questions the real ethics of the situation, beyond the superficial ones. 

Wang’s illustrations are dynamite.  She shows Anda as a girl who is built like a real person.  She is rounded, comfortable in her clothes, and wonderfully not on a diet!  Wang creates an online character for Anda who is powerful but not busty and half naked.  It’s a great choice artistically. 

Gaming books that actually get the game worlds right are few and far between.  Gamers of any MMO will recognize the economy, the style and the play here while non-gamers will find themselves understanding gaming and game economies too.  Appropriate for ages 12-16.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

belzhar

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Jam has been taken by her family to The Wood Barn, a boarding school in Vermont for fragile teens.  After losing her British boyfriend, Reeve, Jam has been unable to function at all.  She just wants to be left alone with her grief and loss.  Jam spends her days sleeping and thinking about Reeve and how in only a few weeks their relationship grew into love only to have him die suddenly.  At her new school, Jam finds herself selected for a small and exclusive English class where they will read one author for the entire semester.  They are also given journals to record their feelings and ideas, old books that look ancient and valuable.  As Jam starts to write in hers for the first time, she is transported to a world where Reeve is still alive, where they can spend a brief time together, and where they can relive their experiences with one another.  All of the students in the class are having this experience and together they decide to only write in the journals twice a week to make them last, because no one knows what happens to this strange world of the journal when the pages run out.  By the end of their experiences in the place they call Belzhar, Jam must face the truths of her loss and her grief.

Wolitzer has earned acclaim as the author of adult literary novels and her short works of fiction.  Those skills really show here as she turns what could have been a novel about teenage love and loss into a beautiful and compelling work of magical realism.  When I started the novel, I had not expected the journals to be anything more than paper, so that inclusion of a fantasy element thoroughly changed the novel for me.  It made it richer, more of an allegory, and lifted it to another level. 

Jam, the protagonist, is a girl who does not open up readily.  The book is told in her voice and yet readers will not know her thoroughly until the end of the book.  It is because of Wolitzer’s skill as a writer that readers may not even realize until the twist comes that the book has even more to reveal.  Jam is also not particularly likeable, and I appreciate that.  Instead she is lonely, prickly, eager to please and complex.  That is what makes the novel work.

This is a particularly deep and unique novel for teens that reveals itself slowly and wondrously on the page.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Dutton.

mortal heart

Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers

Released November 4, 2014.

The third in the His Fair Assassin trilogy, this book follows a third sister from the convent of Mortain.  Annith has been kept at the convent longer than her two friends and has never been sent on assignment.  Now she has excelled at all of her training to such an extent that she has surpassed the skills of many of her teachers.  With their Seeress very ill, Annith is proposed to be the next Seeress for the convent, but that would mean that she would never leave, be stuck in stuffy rooms all the rest of her life, and would never put her skills to use.  So Annith works to make sure that the existing Seeress survives her illness, spending long hours nursing her back to health.  When she discovers that even then she will not be sent into the field, she begins to question whether the convent and the Abbess are truly doing the work of Mortain.  So Annith escapes, heading out to see what Mortain has planned for her and her life.  Soon Annith is caught up in the perils of traveling across a war-torn country, fighting for her and her country’s freedom, and falling in love.

LaFevers ends her trilogy on a high note with this book about Annith.  Her trilogy has focused on a different daughter of Mortain in each book, offering a strong cohesion across the series but also a unique perspective and voice with each new protagonist.  Each of the girls is quite different from the other, yet all of them have their demons to face and problems to overcome.  Placed against a backdrop of war and political intrigue, the books ride that wave of ferocity, honor and strategy to great effect.

Annith herself is a very intriguing character.  While the other two books in the series showed her as friendly but rather aloof, this book delves deeply into her motivations and how she came to be the person she is.  As each layer is revealed, her complex personality makes sense and as she begins to leverage it to create the life she wants and deserves, she becomes all the more passionate and powerful.  LaFevers writing is so readable, it gallops along at a fast pace but also is clearly trained and focused. 

A fitting end to a grand trilogy, I can’t wait to see what LaFevers has for us next!  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from HMH Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

lies we tell ourselves

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

In 1959, desegregation of schools had become law and could no longer be delayed but that does not mean that it was welcomed.  Sarah Dunbar and her younger sister are two of the first black students to attend Jefferson High School.  She walks a gauntlet the first day of school just to enter the building where adults and students alike spit on her, scream racist remarks, and throw things.  It doesn’t get much better inside with the abusive language continuing, no one willing to sit near the black students in class, and the teachers doing nothing to stop it.  Linda Hairston is one of the white students that attends Jefferson High.  She is also the daughter of the owner of the local newspaper, a man who is fiercely critical of the attempts at desegregation.  Linda has been taught all of her life to fear her father and to keep separate from black people.  Forced to work together on a school project, Linda and Sarah spend more time together and learn about each other.  To make things more complicated, they are also attracted to one another, something that neither of their communities could understand much less embrace.  This is a powerful story about two girls caught in a city at war about desegregation where their own secrets could get them killed.

Talley has created one of the most powerful fictional books about desegregation I have seen.  Using the worst of racist terms that flow like water across the page, again and again, yet never becoming numbing, the language alone is shocking and jarring for modern readers.  Add in the physical and emotional abuse that the black students suffered and you begin to realize the pressure that they were under not only to survive day to day but to excel and prove that they are worthy to be in the school.  The gradual transformation of the attitudes of both Sarah and Linda are done believably and honestly.  Nicely, Linda is not the only one who grows and changes in the process.

Adding in the LGBT element was a brave choice.  While the book is about desegregation as much of the story, the attraction and relationship of the two girls is an equally powerful part of the book.  Modern readers will understand their need for secrecy and somehow the hatred of gay people allows readers to better understand the hatred of African-Americans depicted on the page.  It is clear by the end that bigotry is bigotry and love is love, no matter the color or the sex.  Talley beautifully ties the two issues together in a way that strengthens them both.

Powerful, wrenching and brutal, this book has heroines of unrivaled strength and principles that readers will fear for and cheer for.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Harlequin Teen and Edelweiss.

ill give you the sun

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Jude and Noah are twins and they are so close.  Both of them are artists and Noah in particular sees the world as constant inspiration for his artwork.  Noah is withdrawn from others his age and bullied by other boys.  Jude though is being noticed by the same boys who bully her brother and as they turn thirteen, the two of them may be different but they are still close.  Jude is wearing lipstick and diving from cliffs.  Noah is starting to fall for the boy across the street.  Three years later though, the two of them are completely estranged from one another.  They barely speak.  Jude is the artist now and Noah no longer paints.  Jude has discovered a mentor for her art and a boy who is just as damaged as she is.  Noah is a normal straight teen who hangs out with those who once bullied him and now dives from cliffs himself.  How did two teens change so much in such a short period of time?  That’s the story here, and it involves grief, loss, betrayal, lies, love and truth.

Nelson tells the early part of the twins’ story in Noah’s voice.  We get to experience the joy he feels about art and the beauty of his emerging sexuality combined with his fear of being discovered.  Jude tells the story after their relationship is fractured.  Her story is one of passions and change.  They are both stories of trying to hide what you are, trying to become something new.  They are stories that veer swiftly, change often and shout with emotion and pain. 

Nelson writes with exquisite emotion on the page.  She shows the passion, the fear, the grief, the love vividly and with such heart.  It is her emotional honesty on the page that avoids sentimentality at all.  Rather this book is raw and aching in every way, from the new relationships that are filled with lust and longing to the destroyed sibling relationship that is one lost and hurt betrayal after another.  She also manages to somehow capture art and inspiration on the page, the power of art to express, the emotions that it creates and acknowledges, the joy of creation and the agony of being unable to make it. 

Powerful storytelling that is beautifully written and tells the story of two siblings and their journey through being teenagers.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

100 sideways miles

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Finn is epileptic with seizures that he can’t control.  He’s actually not sure he’d want to anyway, because his seizures are beautiful experiences, even though he pees himself during them.  Finn also has eyes that are different colors.  But those are not the wildest things about Finn.  Finn’s mother was killed in the same freak accident that left him with epilepsy, a dead horse fell from a knackery truck passing on a bridge overhead and struck them both.  Perhaps even wilder though is Finn’s best friend Cade, who is almost certainly insane but also staggeringly funny.  Finn has a theory about his life.  His father wrote a book that has a character with many of the same characteristics as Finn who happened to be a murdering alien.  Perhaps Finn is caught in that book, or maybe the entire world is just a knackery truck.  Then Julia enters Finn’s life and he is suddenly shown that there is much more to life or the knackery than he had ever realized. 

Smith has written several acclaimed novels and this one is by far my favorite.  He writes with a solid honesty, with teen characters who swear, who have sex, who talk about sex, who love and lust.  The book is filled with humor, even the scene where Finn and Cade are accidental heroes is filled with slapstick moments mixed with profound courage.  That is the way this book plays, it is humorous but also exceptionally though provoking.

Finn is a deeply flawed character who sees the world in a unique and strange way.  He measures time in terms of distance, something that is unsettling at first but then becomes almost a natural way to view time by the end of the book.  There is also something wonderfully darkly humorous about a character in a book worrying that he is a character in another book.  The novel has layers upon layers and invites readers to look deeply into the story and to find their own way through the knackery of life.

A great teen novel, one of the best of the year, get this into the hands of teens who will enjoy the humor, understand the depth and not be offended by the strong language.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

unfinished life of addison stone

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin

A unique and blazing novel of the life and death of a young artist, this novel for teens brilliantly captures the rise and fall of a legend.  Even as a little girl, Addison was a gifted artist who impressed teachers and won contests.  As she grew into a teenager, her family life grew more complicated and her mental health more fragile.  Addison began to hear voices, particularly a young woman named Ida who was a ghost in her grandparent’s home.  But Ida would not let go of Addison, even when she returned home and Addison was eventually hospitalized and treated for schizophrenia.  Through it all though, Addison created art, art good enough to get her noticed in a city like New York where she moved after high school.  Addison had “it” that combination of charisma and talent that quickly got her noticed.  It got her an agent, rich boyfriends, friends in the art world, and moved her further into chaos.  But in the end, the question is what killed her?  Which of her boyfriends took her life as she created a final work of art? 

This piece of fiction is stupendous.  It reads so realistically that one might even begin to search Addison’s name of Google to see more of her work or watch the video of her swinging on the chandelier.  The use of photographs is brilliant.  Weaving Addison firmly into the story through art and photos.  The art is also a fascinating component.  Meant to be worthy of attention from the biggest galleries in the world, the art is luminous on the page, and bravely done.  It forms a short lifetime of work, showing in a way that words could not the talent that was lost.

Griffin uses a structure of interviews with those who knew Addison.  This includes her parents, her friends from high school, boy friends, art critics, and many more.  Done any other way, this book would not have worked.  Written with such skill, the interviews are elegantly done, never taking a straight look at Addison, but instead a wonderful wandering one that is typical of documentaries.  It also works because we get to see Addison through other characters’ eyes, through the lenses of love, envy, desire.  In the end the different voices create a death chorus for Addison, sung in a beautiful harmony.

Wow, just wow.  This is an incredible work of fiction where the author captures just the right tone and format to take fiction to a new level and create reality fiction in a new and amazing way.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

wildlife

Wildlife by Fiona Wood

Set in Australia, this teen novel features the first person voices of two sixteen-year-old girls experiencing a semester in a school wilderness camp.  Sib has been in this school for a long time, so it surprises everyone, including herself, when she is selected as a model for a billboard and modeling campaign.  Suddenly instead of ignoring her, everyone is paying attention to her.  That includes Ben Capaldi, the cutest and most popular boy in school.  Sib has no idea how to deal with this new interest, but her best friend is very willing to guide her, perhaps too willing.  Lou is a new girl in school and is recovering from the loss of her boyfriend in an accident a year ago.  She has no interest in joining into school life or making new friends.  Instead she wants to be left alone, connect with her old friends, grieve and try to figure a way out of her extra counseling sessions.  But even as she walls herself away from the others at school, she finds herself getting drawn into the drama and life happening around her.  This story of two very different and equally compelling young women dives deep into romance, sexuality and friendship.

Wood has made recent news through her frank depiction of teen female sexuality.  This book stands out clearly with its positive but also nuanced and honest look at one girl’s first sexual experience.  With moments of humor throughout, the sex is shown with lots of heat, tons of desire, and then reality as well.  In the end, the character decides what is right for her, not what is right for all teens, but there is no shaming, no despair, no regret, just decisions going forward.  This is sex as teen girls experience it, done with intelligence and care.

The reason the sex in the book works so well is that Wood has created two main characters who are themselves intelligent, caring and fascinating.  Sib is dealing with suddenly breaking the role that she had been cast in, and being thrust into popularity for something that she sees no value in, modeling.  It’s a deft combination of feminism and pop culture.  She also has a manipulative best friend, a character who is beautifully drawn and one that readers will adore to dislike.  Lou too is a complex character with her grief but also her growing interest in those around her.  Her internal voice is wonderfully wry and funny, showing a spirit and intensity well before she reveals it to the world around her. 

Set in a clever parent-free wilderness setting, this book is smart, funny and just what fans of Rainbow Rowell are looking for.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

poisoned apples

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann

Released September 23, 2014.

Filled with the stark, violent and frightening truths behind the fairy tales you loved as a child, this book of 50 poems is designed for teens ready to see beyond the beauty of a princess dress.  The poems bring the fairy tales into the modern day, introducing us to the dirty side of the entire princess and beauty myth.  Here are girls who are trapped in the stories society has sold them, girls who cannot eat, girls with no hope, girls who do as they are told, until they don’t.  You will find all of the princesses on the pages here, by they are not who you think they are.  There are poems told in their voices and others that are based on rhymes.  They are all caustic, brave and vary from tragic to hilarious.  I dare you to try to put this one down.

Brilliant.  I read the first poem in this book and knew that I had found something entirely unique and amazing.  Heppermann skewers the princess trope, firmly demanding that girls realize what is happening to them.  That they recognize that it is built on them not for them, that they are all beautiful no matter what the ads say, and that if you listen too much your life becomes a mockery or a tragedy.  This is satire at its very best, paying tribute to the fairy tales but savagely tearing them apart to form a new garment and march onward.

Get this one for your teen collections, hand it directly to girls who don’t like poetry because this will change their minds forever.  This book will speak to every girl, because we have all been sold the same stories.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.

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