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Staff Picks: Books

The Boy in the Black Suit

Last year I read a first novel by Jason Reynolds called When I Was the Greatest.  Written for teens, it is a memorable story.  Now the author has written a second teen novel: The Boy in the Black Suit; this is now the first book on my Best of 2015 list!  Matt tells his story of grieving his mom’s death, finding an unexpected job, and accepting the support and love that is around him.  Author Jason Reynolds will be one of the speakers at our annual Youth Literature Seminar in November . . . don’t miss this one!



FatKid Rules the World, by K. L. Going

Fat Kid Rules the World, by K. L. Going (Kelly)

I really liked this story. It has substance, believability and great character development.

Troy Billings is a 300 lb. high school senior who lives in New York City with his retired ex-Marine father and Dayle, his freshman jock brother. Troy’s mom died when he was nine years old. The story begins with Troy standing treacherously close to the subway tracks, contemplating whether or not to jump when he is suddenly and purposely interrupted by Curt MacCrae. Curt attends the same high school as Troy and Curt is a guitarist extraordinaire. Curt is filthy, skinny, and he’s a junkie. Curt and Troy form a friendship; Curt nicknames Troy “Big T” and he likes that moniker. Curt recruits Troy to be a drummer in his punk rock band, he knows that Troy has what it takes to pound the drums for the sounds he craves.

Troy thinks of himself as a loser; he overeats and he has no friends. Curt really helps Troy move beyond himself. Curt is sweet, unpredictable, and caring, but he’s a victim of abuse and neglect. His father is gone and his mom is married to an abusive alcoholic. Curt pops any prescription pills he can steal to self-medicate.

Troy only played drums in junior high. Curt takes Troy to a music club where they practice playing their music. Troy meets two other musicians and takes a few lessons from the drummer. Troy goes to a punk rock concert with Curt and he has a blast. By now Curt has visited Troy’s house and met Dayle and his dad who is very direct with Curt. He is glad that Troy has a friend, he buys him a drum set. Troy buys drumming books. He practices. Then he doesn’t. When he finally does play on stage for the first time, he is humiliated. Troy is disgusted with himself and he ignores Curt’s phone calls. Soon, however, Troy discovers that Curt is deathly sick and he takes him to ER where Curt is diagnosed with pneumonia and he’s in the hospital for several days. While hospitalized Curt steals prescription drugs and hides them in a planter. Some critical decisions arise: Where will Curt stay upon release from the hospital? What about his addiction? Will Troy force an ultimatum on Curt?

Fat Kid Rules the World is a Printz Honor Award winner for literary excellence for young adult literature. K. L. Going acknowledges Curt Cobain in the writing of this book which has been made into a movie.

The Shadow Hero

Gene Yang is already a superhero in the graphic novel world thanks to the award-winning American Born Chinese, The Eternal Smile, Level Up, and the recently-released two-volume historical fiction Boxers and Saints. With his new book The Shadow Hero, however, Yang sets out to revisit an actual superhero. The Shadow Hero is based on real, long-forgotten Golden Age comic series The Green Turtle, whose titular hero solved crimes and fought injustice just like any other comics hero of the era. However, behind his cape and mask was a larger secret: The Green Turtle was the world's first Asian-American superhero! In this revision of the Green Turtle story, Yang sets out to give the character a real origin story and new adventures. Filled with amazing artwork by Sonny Liew, a fantastic, serious and funny story, and great characters, The Shadow Hero is a triumph of comics storytelling.

If I Ever Get Out of Here

It's 1975 and Beatles-obsessed Lewis Blake is entering 7th grade, expecting it to be mostly the same as last year—invisible to his classmates, even though he's the only Native American in a class of white kids. His life begins to improve when he meets George Haddonfield, a student from an Air Force family, who's equally enthusiastic about the Beatles. George takes a quick interest in Lewis, and invites him to his family's home on base. But Lewis doesn't want to return the invitation—his family lives in stark poverty on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, and he's afraid that if George witnesses these circumstances he'll end their friendship. Author Eric Gansworth skillfully renders how it feels to be a young person on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, with little hope of moving up. But Lewis' isn't a story of despair. If I Ever Get Out of Here follows the progression of Lewis and George's friendship, showing how the friendship expands their understanding of the world and themselves.

Fans of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will find much to appreciate in If I Ever Get Out of Here. In addition to a similar plot and setting, Gansworth imbues his novel with a comparable sense of warmth and humor. If you're looking for more stories about characters finding their place in the world, try Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña or Luna by Julie Anne Peters.   



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.

We Were Liars

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! 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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

The Boy on the Wooden Box

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

Prepare for fall movie releases with summer reading...

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


Gone Girl


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