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Staff Picks: Books

The Last Boy and Girl in the World

The town of Aberdeen is pretty much drowning as the local river waters rise. Residents are caught trying to decide whether to stay and tough it out or stay and leave their home and break up their community. Keely and her friends decide to make the most of what will likely be their last days together in Aberdeen. In the end, The Last Boy in the and Girl in the World is another great teen novel, telling a compelling story and asking questions about the deeper things in life at the same time.

Girl Mans Up

Girl Mans Up is a teen book by M-E Girard about Pen, a girl who just doesn't fit in the way people want her to. She has to navigate the normal challenges of high school, which include supporting a new friend through an accidental pregnancy, figuring out her changing relationships with her guy friends, and dating for the first time. In addition, she is living the truth of her gender identity and sexuality, while fighting the intense disapproval of her traditional Portuguese parents and others at school and in public. Pen's honest, funny, and thoughtful perspective drew me into this novel, and the other characters were just as interesting. Pick Pen for your new favorite LGBTQ/teen protagonist.

Don't Miss Out!

 In case you didn’t know, right now in theatres there is a brilliant movie called the Queen of Katwe. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, and David Oyelowo, it follows the journey of a young girl named Phiona living in the slums of Uganda who learns the game of chess and quickly skyrockets through the ranks to be a national champion, even competing in international competitions for the rank of Grandmaster. In the process, she is able to improve life conditions for herself, her family, and uplift the community as a whole. 


Right after the credits rolled, I headed straight to the bookshelves to find out more about this incredible individual. The biographythe movie is based on, by Tim Crothers, fleshes out the inspirational tale a bit more to  include the political climate of the country at the time, and gives more details about some of the great challenges Phiona Mutesi was able to overcome.  Don’t miss out on this great story of true life triumph! 

Ask Me How I Got Here

Written in verse, Ask Me How I Got Here, gives us a quick glimpse of life for a pregnant teenager. Addie is a good student, star runner who attends a Catholic school for girls. With the support of her parents and boyfriend, she gets an abortion. The poems that follow as Addie struggles through morality class, pep assemblies and quitting the cross country team are short but powerful. Addie gives poetic thought to religion, women’s rights, choice and her own story of self discovery. The book ends with a list of community and national resources to help ensure that no one ever has to face an unplanned pregnancy alone.

The Serpent King

Jeff Zentner's The Serpent King is that rarest of young adult books; one about normal teens in a small town wasteland, quietly struggling with sadness and pain and the realization that darkness is part of many of us, hidden just below the surface. It's a book that doesn't sugarcoat the problems the characters face, but also doesn't exploit them- you can understand the quiet desperation and the need to make a change, if only you could just figure out how.

Lydia, Dillard and Travis are three friends united by their outsider statuses- Lydia for her outrageous fashion sense and smarts(not an easy thing in rural Tennessee, apparently), Travis by his love of a Game of Thrones-type fantasy world, Internet girlfriend, and ever-present wood staff, and Dill by his preacher father's horrific fall from grace and his family's long, dark past. The three form an unlikely triangle, with each holding up the others as they navigate the end of high school and the difficulties of rural life. Religion and faith play a large part in The Serpent King, but it's never trivialized or ridiculed, and it's a testament to first-time author Zentner's skills that he writes Dill's faith with sensitivity even in the face of powerful external forces.

The Serpent King is a powerful debut novel, and I can't wait to see where Mr. Zentner goes from here.

Banned Books Week --This One Summer

 Banned Books Week isn’t over yet, so here’s one more interesting, if controversial book to add to our blog discussion.


It’s no secret that I am a fan of graphic novels, and teen books, so it’s no surprise that I gravitated towards This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by her cousin Jillian Tamaki. This beautiful book was initially very well received, winning the 2015 Printz Honor Award for best teen book, based on literary merit, and the Caldecott award for its stunning illustrations.

However, earlier this year the book was banned at parents’ request in libraries in Minnesota and Florida for its profanity and mature themes. Honestly, most of the upset was probably due to misunderstanding. Because the book is a Caldecott winner, an honor usually bestowed upon children’s books, people probably read it, and took offense that the subject matter wasn’t suitable for let’s say their eight year old child.

The book follows two twelve year old girls spending the summer in a beach town. Standing right on the brink of adulthood, they encounter and discuss subjects that are happening in their life, and the lives around them. That includes puberty, crushes, sex, marital problems, miscarriage, and unwanted pregnancy.

It’s a shame that this book was banned, because it really is a lovely book, and the graphic novel format really amplifies the work with the idyllic setting being inked in shades of blue. It’s a great novel, and I hope you take the time to check it out.  

The Seventh Wish

A banned book just makes me want to check it out. Earlier this year, a Vermont school uninvited beloved children's book author, Kate Messner, from a planned visit due to the content in her latest book, The Seventh Wish . Honestly, I might have missed this gem of a story, had it not been in the news for this reason. But I'm so glad I didn't because it's an important story and a good read. 

The Seventh Wish is about so many things, including Irish dancing, ice fishing, middle school friendships, and the love of a close-knit family. It's also about opiod addiction. In the story, the main character's older sister struggles with drug use and eventually leaves college to go to rehab for her addiction. In the midst of the rest of the main character's life, the effects of addiction on each member of the family are explored. This was, of course, this part of the book that caused it to be censored earlier this year. You can read some of the author's thoughts and details on this summer's events here

Boy Meets Boy Meets Bans?!?

One of the proudest moments in my career happened when we invited author David Levithan to Kalamazoo. The program was not only going to feature the future Margaret A. Edwards Award winning author, but KPL was also going to give out books to teens featuring LGBTQ characters. The excitement for Levithan's visit soon turned sour when we learned that some people in the community were not happy with the program. The primary objection was that the main character in Levithan's novel Bot Meets Boy, expressed that he knew he was gay in kindergarten. Paul's ability to self-identify at an early age was not something you read about too often in books for teens in 2003. In fact when first published, Boy Meets Boy sparked a revolution in LGBTQ literature for teens. Here was a book that at its core is love story featuring two teens, dealing with teen problems, who happen to be gay. Levithan does address one character's battle with his super conservative parents and how people react to the school's transgendered quarterback/Homecoming Queen, but in the end Boy Meets Boy is about love

As the day of David's visit got closer, we learned of a protest outside of the library. The local news stations started to call asking for interviews. The staff planned for every possible response from the public that day. When it was time for Levithan's talk to begin, I was proud to see a full house (with people even in the hall) of excited advocates and lovers of literature. Outside I found less than ten protesting. Love won and prevented fear from keeping the message of Boy Meets Boy away from those who need it the most. Celebrate Banned Books Week by reading anything by David Levithan, one of the most challenged and banned authors in the past 13 years. 

A Different Kind of Graphic Novel

Let’s talk about Here, a fascinating book by Richard McGuire. Classified as a graphic novel, it’s less of a comic book, and more of a subject study as the entire book never leaves the living room of McGuire’s childhood home. The book travels backward and forward in time, exposing ordinary events that happened in that very spot, almost like players wandering on and off the stage.

Things get interesting however, when little windows start to appear on the page. A woman in 1957 stops to try and remember why she walked into the room while a cat from the year 1999 saunters through. A baseball that crashes through the window in 1983 has no impact on the man trying to tie his shoe in 1991. The room begins to get crowded as people from the distant past, present, and future all begin to appear in these trans-temporal windows. As if something about the ordinary-seeming space has unraveled the space time continuum.

It’s a fun, and thought provoking book. After reading it, you can’t help but think about the people who stood where you are years before, and who will be here years after you’re gone.

Teens’ Top 10

There are so many wonderful titles on YALSA’s Teens’ Top 10 2016 List. My personal favorite is Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and there are so many other great titles on the list. We have all of these titles at every library location. You can vote for your favorite at this link until the end of October’s Teen Read Week. 

Every year, teens across the country nominate titles after reviewing and discussing them in their book groups. The annotated, nomination list is announced each spring. Voting begins to choose the “Top 10” in August 15 and continues through Teen Read Week in October. 

KPL is working to establish a teen book group that would receive and write reviews to participate in this initiative. If you are, or know, a teen who would be interested in joining us, please check out our info page and contact me. An interest meeting will be held in early September.