Last time I wrote about author Andrew Smith, it was to rave about how great his book Grasshopper Jungle was. Well, I'm here to tell you that his follow-up, Winger, is just as good, if not better. Winger is set in a boarding school and follows the misadventures of fourteen year-old Ryan Dean West. Our hero Ryan is a perfectly realized teen dork, all hormones and insecurity, and like Austin, the protagonist of Grasshopper Jungle, Ryan Dean has only a few things on his mind: in this case, sex, rugby, and avoiding trouble .
I'll say right now: this book destroyed me. I've yet to read another author who so completely, utterly understands what being a teenaged boy is actually like. The raging hormones? The desire for acceptance? The confusion, the attitude, the joy? It's all there, so perfectly realized. That would be enough, but then there's the other half of the book, the part that really hits hard. Suffice to say, Mr. Smith does not pull any literary punches. Where other YA authors might have softened the blow, Winger maintains an unfortunate degree of realism in how it depicts violence and also in the reactions of the main characters to that violence. Also like Grasshopper Jungle, this is not a book for everyone unless you enjoy copious swearing, raging teen boy hormones, drinking, fighting, and cartoons. But it's a book everyone should read, if only for a perfect glimpse into the mind of this 14 year-old boy.
I can't stop thinking about We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. I don't want to give anything away so there's not much I can say except that this book is thrilling, heartbreaking, and easily one of the best teen books I will ever read. And there are great themes for deeper thought and discussion. If you like teen books, pick this one up and get started. I bet you won't be able to put it down and you just might start over immediately after turning the last page!
A co-worker read and recommended the Teen title Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, and his description sounded intriguing. What sets the story apart and adds to the book’s mystique are old photographs that are interspersed with the text.
Sixteen year old Jacob has had to endure the sudden death of his grandfather, which occurred under decidedly odd circumstances. Jacob ventures to a remote island in Wales with his father, to try and unravel the mystery. Miss Peregrine’s orphanage does indeed contain a host of children with peculiar talents. Time travel, strange and rather horrific beings, and a strong sense of place make this fantasy hard to put down.
There is a 2014 sequel as well, titled Hollow City, which continues the adventures and which I certainly intend to read.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Leon Leyson was number 289, the youngest on the list. The list that would eventually mean life for more than a thousand Jews. Leon was Number 289 on Schindler's list. His powerful memoir, The Boy on the Wooden Box tells his story to the young people of today what it was like surviving the Holocaust. The reader sees this horrific time through the eyes of a child. His youthful perspective brings a powerful message of survival and humanity. Leon was only a boy during WWII, spending most of his years from 10-19 in Jewish ghettos, work, concentration and displaced persons camps. The hunger, loss, pain and suffering are real. Separated for months at a time from his family, Leon found the will to survive inside of him. If you are a reader at 40 or a child at 10 reading this book, you will feel the struggle. You will hold your breath as the family is forced to separate. You will wonder how evil can exist. You will wonder if Leon ever sees the faces again of his brothers. Share this book with your children or students.
I think the dedication page is its own recommendation for reading this book: "To my brothers, Tsalig and Hershel, and to all the sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, parents and grandparents who perished in the Holocaust. And to Oskar Schindler, whose noble actions did indeed save a "world entire." - Leon Leyson
The Boy on the Wooden Box
Film adaptations of three recent novels and one middle school classic are scheduled for release this fall. Why not take advantage of summer reading season to read, or perhaps re-read, the books that have inspired these upcoming movies:
The Giver by Lois Lowry - August 15 release
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - October 3 release
The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks - October 17 release
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - November 21 release
Time. So many clichés about time. Time goes so fast….if I only had more time….time heals….time flies….time is running out. Seriously friends....NOW is the TIME! Read The Fault in Our Stars! The movie comes out this June, and you need to connect with the characters before seeing it on the big screen. As a Teen Services staff member when a book comes out by John Green, it instantly becomes the top slot on my To Read list. TFIOS fills all of my expectations from this author. The story takes us along when Hazel, a teenager with terminal cancer, meets Augustus at a cancer support group for kids. The typical coming-of-age story, but with a terminal twist. You are instantly vested in the characters from the beginning. I read this book quickly, trying to get myself to the happy ending I was sure was coming. I laughed when they laughed and cried when they cried. Take time to read it for yourself.
Are you already a John Green fan? Perhaps you've already read this book. It is not new, it was published in 2012. If you're a teen, tell your parents why they should read it. If you're an adult, find a teenager to recommend it to. Then join us at the Central Library on Tuesday, June 3 at 6:30 to celebrate An Abundance of John Green. You'll have the chance to record your own video about why someone else should read any of John Green's books! Check out the event page for more info, a Nerdfighter video and the TFIOS movie trailer!
The Fault in our Stars
The arresting photo on the cover of this book caught my eye and I was quickly drawn into the quirky world of George Ohs, who called himself The Mad Potter.
Born in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1871, George Ohs was a largely self-taught potter, making items like no one had ever seen before. It wasn’t until long after his death that the art world came to appreciate what he called his “mud babies.”
The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius tells his fascinating story and is illustrated with intriguing historic photographs.
The Mad Potter
Once in a while a book comes along and completely destroys everything you thought you knew about everything. Andrew Smith's latest book for older teens, Grasshopper Jungle, is exactly that book. Set in desolate small-town Iowa, Grasshopper Jungle is sixteen-year-old Austin's first-hand account of both the end of the world and also his teenage sexual confusion, although not exactly in that order. Where in most teenage giant monster stories the giant monsters function as a metaphor for teen angst, in Grasshopper Jungle these tropes are completely reversed to amazing effect. As Freud might say, sometimes a giant maneating mutant insect is just a giant maneating mutant insect. Grasshopper Jungle is totally dark, funny, crass, creepy, weird and awesome. It's definitely not for those with aversions to copious amounts of sex, violence, swearing, or GIANT MANEATING UNSTOPPABLE BUGS but aside from all that, Grasshopper Jungle is seriously amazing writing. My favorite book of the year so far, and one that's going to be really hard to top.
This is a high-school love story with a subplot about protesting arts funding cuts at their high school. The chapters bounce back and forth between Omar “T-Diddy” Smalls and Claudia Clarke, newspaper editor. They are both seniors at West Charleston High School in South Carolina. T-Diddy was born in the Bronx, but was sent to live with his uncle Albert two years ago to avoid trouble with the law. T-Diddy is the star quarterback of the Panthers and he is pumped by the defeat of their Powerhouse rivals: Bayside Tornadoes.
Although Claudia is turned-off by playas like T-Diddy, she soon realizes his clout with his social media skills at bringing classmates together to protest Arts cuts. T-Diddy is dedicated to restoring arts funding to their school and so is Claudia. They realize the power of collaboration. Their Principal, Dr. Brenda Jackson, aka Cruella, supports the cuts made by the school board, including the drama guild, the poetry club, the choir, and the marching band, library closure three days a week, and several teachers and staff lay-offs. However, these cuts become unacceptable to T-Diddy, Claudia, and the rest of the student body.
As Omar and Claudia spend more time together, their young love blossoms. Omar’s Uncle Albert supports their protests and provides knowledge he gained during the Civil Rights Movement.
This is definitely a worthwhile read for all teens and reinforces the power and strength of togetherness.
He Said, She Said
Isn't that a great title? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson's latest teen novel and it is incredible as usual! I think this statement about Anderson from a New York Times review by Jo Knowles says it better than I ever could:
“Beginning with the publication of her award-winning young adult novel Speak in 1999, Laurie Halse Anderson has written with honesty and grit, bravely shedding light on such once-taboo topics as rape, eating disorders, suicide and addiction. In doing so, she has helped build the current landscape of contemporary young adult literature. Anderson writes the hard truth, stirring debate and discussion among both fans and objectors, and ultimately creating long overdue conversations about the real issues teenagers face every day.”
Kids and teens need to see themselves and their stories reflected in literature, even the hard stories. And they need to see the stories they may never personally experience portrayed in literature as well. In The Impossible Knife of Memory, Anderson writes with depth and authenticity about the sometimes devastating effects of war and PTSD and about the raw, reality of loving a parent who struggles with addiction. This book will change lives in that wonderful way that literature can. I am honored to have read it and I don't regret for a moment sobbing my way through it.
The Impossible Knife of Memory
I like teen books. They’re clever, easy to read, and they usually end well, even if the story gets messy in the middle. Here’s what I liked, especially, about Notes from the Blender:
It’s told in two different voices: a boy and a girl (unrelated) whose single parents have hooked up and gotten pregnant. Suddenly Declan finds he’s going to be step-brother to his biggest crush. Popular, beautiful Neilly, whose parents divorced when her father came out, now finds herself estranged from her mother, yet oddly open to making friends with Declan, one of the least cool kids in school.
There are four positive gay characters in the story, including Neilly’s father and his fiancé. Neilly likes her new stepdad-to-be, and she proudly defends her father’s sexual orientation.
Declan’s lesbian aunt is minister at the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church he attends. The way the adults in the church are portrayed is pretty realistic of UU communities. Unitarian Universalism doesn’t get much press in our culture, but teens who are UU’s deserve to have their church show up positively in novels. He has a close relationship with his aunt and her partner, which deepened after his mother died.
Declan’s dad gets to be a real man with feelings, grief and awkwardness, who generally communicates well with Declan (even though he botched the chance to tell Declan about his new love, before there was a baby on the way.)
Authors Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin also paired up for A Really Awesome Mess in 2013.
Notes from the Blender