Category: Teen


my true love gave to me

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins

Twelve bestselling young adult authors come together to create an amazing collection of holiday stories for teens.  Each story in this collection is a delectable treat, contrasting with the others yet each is just as romantic, snowy and filled with holiday spirit as the one before.  The twelve authors are Holly Black, Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, and Kiersten White.  Each brings their own unique voice to the collection, each celebrates the holidays with their own twist.  Some are pure holiday bliss, Christmas centered and lovely, while others are gorgeously twisted and wild yet also speak to the real spirit of the season.  You never quite know where the next story will take you, and that is a large part of this collection’s appeal.

Perkins has done an amazing job of creating a holiday collection with plenty of diversity.  There are Jewish characters, characters of different races, pagan characters, those who believe in holidays, those who are jaded as can be.  There is magic in some of the stories, tangible magic that you can feel and touch, while other stories have that indefinable magic of love and connection. 

You are guaranteed to have your favorites among the stories.  For me, one of them hit my heart so hard that I wept, but it may not be the one you’d expect it to be.  Each one connects deeply with the characters, making them real people even such a short span of pages.   Each one offers up the author’s voice with a clarity that is incredible.  One could pick many of the authors out even with the stories mixed up and unnamed. 

An outstanding collection of holiday stories, these stories focus on the new adult rather than teens in high school, which makes it even more rare and lovely.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

2015 Morris Award Finalists

YALSA has announced their picks for the finalists for the 2015 Morris Award.  The award is given to the year’s best books written for teens by a debut author.  Here are the five finalists:

The Carnival at Bray Gabi, a Girl in Pieces The Scar Boys

The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

The Story of Owen (Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, #1) The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

The shortlist for the 2015 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults have been announced.  The award honors the best nonfiction books for teens written between Nov 1, 2013 and October 31, 2014.  Here are the finalists:

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business--and Won! Laughing at My Nightmare

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business – and Won! by Emily Arnold McCully

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

love is the drug

Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The author of The Summer Prince returns with another wild ride of a book.   Emily attends a prestigious prep school in Washington, DC.  Her parents have raised her not to ask questions and to show respect at all times.  She has her entire life under control: she’s part of the top group of girls at school, she has the ideal boyfriend, and she’s headed for Stanford in the fall, one of the small ways in which she is defying her mother.  But when she meets Roosevelt, a government agent, at a party, her entire life changes.  She wakes up days later with missing memories of that night, knowing only that her boyfriend helped get her into a car, took her away from the party, and that another boy, Coffee, desperately tried to stop them.  Meanwhile, the entire United States is caught in a viral disaster with many people dying.  Even Emily’s parents are trapped on the other side of the quarantine.  Now Emily is left to put the pieces of her memory back together and figure out the truth of why the government is interested in a high school senior.

Johnson writes with an elegant looseness here, along for the ride of the story arc with the reader.  There is a lot going on here, from budding romances to breakups to government agents to worldwide plagues to harsh parenting.  Yet somehow, amazingly, it holds together into a book that is an astonishing pleasure to read.  Well suited to the world of teens caught in a viral outbreak, the free flowing nature of this novel allows those teens space to breath, moments to connect, and a fairly rule-free environment to explore.

This is not a mystery where the pieces click together at the end into a satisfying result.  Rather it is an exploration of a theme with one great protagonist at the center, a girl who struggles with female friendship, refuses to fall in love with the boy she clearly connects with, and who battles her mother’s control even from afar.  Emily reinvents herself in this new world she finds herself in, and that is the story and the point.  This is a refreshing read that defies the expectations of dystopian fiction and creates something new.

A dystopian fantasy with an African-American heroine, this teen novel will appeal greatly to some readers who enjoy a lively, loose and wild read.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

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.

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