Category: Teen


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.

iron trial

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Two masters of the fantasy genre come together to create a strong new series for middle graders.  Call was raised by his father to fear the Magisterium and magic itself.  When he accidentally split the sidewalk wide open with his powers as a child, his father was not pleased.  So when Call is required to go through testing for entering the Magisterium, he makes a plan to fail.  But the tests are not what he expected at all and soon he is entering the dreaded Magisterium, a place where he believes people are imprisoned against their will and killed for the sake of magic.  As Call joins the students, he finds himself making friends for the first time in his life.  But all is not what it seems, even for the nightmares that Call has thought up.  It is the ultimate battle of good and evil, but not in the way you’d ever expect.

Black and Clare play with similarities with the Harry Potter series, since theirs is also set in a school for magic.  But the magic here is different, as is the school itself.  Call too is no Harry, being a prickly and unusual protagonist who is at times quite nicely unlikeable.  This book is also set during a magical war, one that is actively being waged.  There are tests that are literally as dull as dirt, others that have the students battling elementals, and then there is a student who tries to escape the school. 

Black and Clare have great pacing throughout the book.  They have also created a very strong setting with the book, the school has a feeling of eternity about it, though we also know that Call is somehow very special.  It is that specialness that makes the book’s twists work so well.  They are completely surprising, shocking even.  In a genre like this where readers will come to it with a certain jadedness, it is great to read a book with that kind of zapping electrical charge.

Fans of Harry Potter will enjoy both the differences and similarities here, though readers of Percy Jackson will also find themselves right at home.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Scholastic and NetGalley.

ruin and rising

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

The final book in the Grisha trilogy, this is an amazing ending to an incredible series.  After her failed battle with the Darkling, Alina has been hiding in the White Cathedral, slowing healing from the damage of the fight.  But Alina has lost much of her power and must rely on trickery to display the light of the Sun Summoner.  She is surrounded by those who believe her to be a saint, but also by those who would control her for their own means.  It is soon time for Alina to escape, but in her battered body and mind, planning such a thing is insurmountable.  Luckily, she still has some of her faithful friends around her, who are only too pleased to free her and themselves from the protection of the Cathedral.  Now Alina must figure out how to find the final amplifier that will allow her to complete the set and access her full power.  But the Darkling is still hunting her, and he will not stop until she is under his control.

This is one of those books that you read at breakneck pace, turning the pages quickly.  Bardugo has created such a rich world in this series that it is one that is hard to leave behind, and when you do it continues to call to you as a reader to finish the story.  Mixing Russian aspects into the story makes this very unique, but she also has a world that has its own rules, ones that make sense and hold true throughout the books. 

Rife with romance, the book also offers different choices in future lives to Alina.  There is the ever-steady Mal who is the only one who can track the final amplifier for Alina.  There is the prince who is charming and funny, giving Alina freedom but also making her a queen.  And of course, there is the choice of the Darkling himself, destructive and evil but so alluring.  Alina is a wondrous mix of delicacy and steel.  She is a stunning heroine.

Make sure to start this trilogy from the beginning, but also make sure to read it through to this riveting, dark and sun-streaked ending.  Pure bliss!  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

fire wish

The Fire Wish by Amber Lough

The war between the jinnis and the humans has been going on for years.  Najwa is a young jinni who is being specially trained in covert operations and visiting the human world.  Zayele is a human, selected to marry a  prince whom she’s never met.  When the two of them meet, Zayele makes a wish on Najwa and switches their places.  Now Zayele is the jinni, living among other jinnis in the crystal caves under the earth and Najwa is the human, heading for marriage to a prince.  The two must keep themselves secret, both knowing that they will be killed by the people around them if they are discovered.  But war and love make everything more complicated and the two discover secrets about themselves and their worlds that will change everything.

Lough’s debut novel is the first in a series.  It intelligently combines the author’s experience in the deserts of the Middle East with the fantasy elements of jinnis and wishes.  The setting is vividly depicted, both the crystal caverns of the jinnis with the lakes of dancing flame and the desert world of the humans are well drawn.  The differing cultures juxtapose clearly against one another, each with different freedoms and neither considered wrong or right.  There is a lot of respect for cultures in this novel.

The two main protagonists are also nicely different from one another.  While Najwa is a character who is very likeable and easily related to, Zayele serves as her foil.  Najwa worries more for her entire people while Zayele makes choices that focus more on herself and her situation.  Neither character would completely work without the other there too and both display nice and natural growth as the story progresses.  The book also has an element of romance to it, it too is handled with a natural pace and progression.

A strong debut book that is a tantalizing blend of romance, magic and wishes.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

beetle boy

Beetle Boy by Margaret Willey

Charlie Porter never expected to have a girlfriend who cared this much for him.  Enough to bring him into her home after he had surgery on his Achilles tendon and care for him while he could not walk.  But now Clara is starting to ask pointed questions about Charlie’s childhood and his family, questions that Charlie does not want to answer.  Clara knows that Charlie was once billed as the world’s youngest author and sold story books about beetles.  She also knows that he has nightmares every night that usually involve screaming.  She doesn’t know though that Charlie’s dreams are filled with huge black beetles or that the books he sold were not really his own stories.  She doesn’t know that his mother abandoned him, that his father forced him to sell books, that his brother hated him then and still does for abandoning him.  She knows so little, but can Charlie open up and let her see the truth about him without her leaving him entirely?

Willey paints a tragic and painful look at a young man continuing to wrestle with the demons of his childhood.  At 18-years-old, Charlie continues to dream about his past and to live as if it is his future as well.  The book shows how difficult dysfunctional and neglectful childhoods can be to escape, even after one has physically left if behind.  Willey manages to create a past for Charlie that does not become melodramatic.  She makes it painful enough but not too dramatically so. 

Charlie is a very interesting protagonist.  He is not a hero, because he is too damaged to be called that.  He is certainly a survivor, wrestling with things that will not let him go or let him progress.  He is frightened, shy, and can’t see a future for himself.  He is a tragic figure, one that readers will root for entirely, but also one that drips with anger, shame and sadness.  One of the best parts of the novel is the end, which does not end neatly or give a clear path for Charlie.  The ending has hope, but continues the complexity of the issues that Charlie faces.  Perfectly done.

A brilliant and powerful look at neglect and abuse and the long shadow it casts over a life.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Carolrhoda Books and Netgalley.

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