This is my TBR pile, minus four books that arrived in today’s mail as a result of swaps made on Bookmooch.com. I’ve read 88 books this year and the pile continues to grow, aided by trading sites and a growing interest in my young adult book reviews.The sense of loss I felt when Tami Brady’s book review site closed has been more than offset by my opportunity to share new and exciting teen reads here, on the Hartland Library blog and on a new site, http://www.teenliteraturenetwork.org/.
I have to confess that my own writing has lagged as a result of the temptations created by endless intriguing story lines, but that’s not necessarily as bad as it might seem. I’ve discovered that I’m reading YA fiction with a fresh eye these days and when I go back to look at some of the things in process, I’m noticing weaknesses I never caught before. In the long run this can only help me as a writer. For now, however, there’s something deliciously decadent about opening a new book at ten in the evening, reading until well after midnight and then finishing the book over a couple cups of coffee before heading to open the library the following morning. Having said that, here are a few reviews of books worth reading or suggesting to teen friends and family members.
Teen pregnancy is the topic in two completely different stories. In Brianna on the Brink (written by Nicole McInnes published by Holiday House, 2013 ISBN 9780823427413) , Brianna has never had much of a home life or family. Her mother is completely self-absorbed and more interested in the latest ‘love’ in her life than either of her daughters. As for her father, all she knows is that her mother dismisses him by describing him as an empty-headed sperm donor without revealing his name. That leaves her older sister Keisha, who protected Brianna when they were younger, but now barely tolerates her, allowing her to live in her cramped laundry room. Bree has found a way to fit in at school by becoming a cheerleader and faking fitting in with the hot girls. When they go clubbing illegally one night, she sort of steals Derek, an older guy, from Juliana, the girl-pack leader. They end up having sex in her cramped bedroom. Derek has a heart attack and all hell breaks loose: paramedics, cops, and an instant bad reputation. Derek’s dead, and even worse, he was married to Bree’s English teacher.
Bree finds herself homeless and friendless. After a stint at a shelter, the oddest thing happens; Jane, Derek’s widow, takes her in and an amazing relationship begins to evolve that includes Earl, Jane’s dad, in the early stages of dementia. When Bree discovers she’s pregnant, everyone has to navigate uncharted waters. How she gets through her pregnancy, what she chooses to do, and how she discovers who her true friends are, will pull readers along very nicely. Teens who have been bullied or ostracized in school will really relate to some of the events that happen after Brianna’s pregnancy is no longer a secret.
This is an excellent first novel that combines a mix of improbable elements with those we probably see daily and creates a sometimes sad, often sweet story that teens (and teen fiction-loving adults) will enjoy and set down with more than a bit of reluctance once they reach the end.
Mothership (written by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal published by Simon & Schuster, 2012
ISBN 9781442429604) is Book #1 of the Ever-Expanding Universe series. Elvie Nara’s biggest regret is never having known her mother, who died during childbirth. Her second biggest regret is telling uber-hot hunk Cole that she got pregnant the one and only time they had sex. Now she feels doubly abandoned. Her dad, a nerdy sort who has done his best to raise her (she’s probably the best mechanic in town, among other things), reacts in a completely unexpected way when she gives him the news. He races to find the file on teen pregnancy. It’s one of hundreds he’s created over the years for help when parenting emergencies arise. Shortly after, Elvie finds herself part of the first class on a low-gravity spaceship that houses an experimental school called the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers. Among the other girls is Britta McVicker, Cole’s girlfriend, also impregnated by the absent stud. That makes for some really dicey interactions.
When Elvie sneaks off to the upper area of the ship for some quiet time and a snack, she discovers that a group of armed men is attacking the students and teachers by the swimming pool several floors below her. Unsure who they are, she’s about to jump in and save her fellow students when she realizes her teachers are trying to drown some of the other students. Just exactly what is going on? Who are the good guys and who are the baddies? By the time Elvie sorts this out, she’s had several surprises, not the least of which is who one of the surviving attackers turns out to be, why the teachers went rogue, and why every one of the pregnant girls happened to be chosen for this school. When it looks like the ship is toast and there’s no way to get back to Earth safely, Elvie steps up big time, using skills her dad and best friend and video game addict, Ducky, taught her. Heads up: people, including some students, get killed, but that makes the situation they’re in seem extremely real.
Snarky and funny in the best of ways, there’s a heck of a lot more to this book than I expected. I like how every so often Elvie goes back in time to explain things that really flesh out the story. She’s a very unique and interesting protagonist. Teens who like an offbeat and smart girl hero will enjoy this book and the gotcha at the end is really a good one.
Looking for a teen mystery? Try Sketchy, the Bea Catcher Chronicles: Book 1 by Olivia Samms. Amazon Childrens Publishing ISBN 9781477816509 2013. We haven’t had a good YA mystery series (IMHO) since Peter Abrahams Echo Falls series. Too bad because it’s a part of the YA genre that has plenty of readers waiting to be fed a good teen sleuth and some teen-relevant plot twists. I think the wait may be over. Sketchy is edgy, grabbing and pretty real, especially in terms of the addiction/recovery aspect.
Bea Washington is a mess on her way to getting life in some semblance of order. Kicked out of an elite private school after a spectacular drug and alcohol-fueled crash and burn night that landed her in rehab, she’s in what we call the white knuckle stage of recovery where every day, sometimes every minute is like sitting on razor blades coated with jalapeno sauce. Her parents, who have their own secrets and issues, don’t trust her, her best friend from the private school doesn’t either because being in recovery scares the crap out of your old druggie friends.
Recovering people in the early stages (heck off and on forever, for that matter) aren’t pretty. They’re profane emotional basket cases and edgy as hell. After all, they’re facing something that’s cunning, baffling and powerful and has infinite patience. Olivia Simms gets Bea perfectly in terms of these early recover dynamics. She’s defiant and scared, wanting comfort, but not trusting anyone, hopeful the program works, but cynical while listening to other people share. In short, she’s the real deal and a character that teens who are struggling with substance abuse, or have friends who are, will easily relate to.
Her new and only friend, Chris, is out at school, but not at home. He’s the perfect foil for Bea, someone who shares her artistic flair and is ostracized at school. The way their friendship develops and the dialogue between them is cool, funny and will remind teens of the kids they instinctively trust.
Girls are getting raped and a couple have been killed. Bea has developed an uncanny ability to sketch what others are thinking, seeing, feeling when she’s near them and that pulls her into the hunt to find the person who attacked uber-popular Willa. Bea shows Willa the sketch she did that’s uncannily close to her attacker, but Willa wants nothing to do with Bea because admitting that the sketch is accurate will mean she’ll risk exposing her own secrets and that’s too high a price for her to pay, at least until things start careening toward a wild climax.
Add in one of the more interesting and unusual romantic possibilities between Bea and the detective investigating the crimes and you have something very promising and interesting for subsequent books.
This is as much about the struggle with honesty and guilt as it is about who-dunnit and that, plus a cast of very interesting players, makes this a very good first book. Frankly, it has Edgar nominee written all over it.
Finally here’s one I just finished last night from an author who read the Sketchy review and really liked it, so much so that she asked if I’d read her new book. As you’ll see from the review, I’m very happy she sent me a copy. Permanent Record by Leslie Stella. ISBN 9781477816394 $17.99 Amazon Reads, 2013.
Adolescence is tough and is getting tougher each generation it would seem. When you’re dealing with additional external, unprovoked and unpleasant factors, coupled with a brain that doesn’t process things the way everyone else’s mind does, you’re facing a severely stacked deck. Meet Badi Hessamizadeh, age 16, a 2nd generation Iranian living in America post 9/11. He’s about to start at a private Catholic high school after experiencing some major problems at his public school last year. Those included an exploding toilet, unmercifal bullying and a serious suicide attempt. His parents are pretty lacking in understanding, more interested in trying to keep their heads down and fit in while pursuing the American dream. Badi’s only family ally is his older brother Dariush who’s just slightly better able to cope with the world than his younger brother. He’s unemployed, smokes marijuana every day and is on the verge of being kicked out of the family apartment complex, but he really understands what Badi’s going through. Unfortunately, he’s also decided that life in America for the likes of him and his brother pretty much sucks, not a very reassuring picture of the future, thinks Badi.
Before he starts at Magnificat Academy, he’s hit with another emotional jolt. His dad has gone to court and changed Badi”s name, thinking a shorter, Americanized one will help hide the connection to the disasters at his former school. Badi is now Bud Hess. This is the sort of thing Badi/Bud has been dealing with all his life without a parental ear to hear how difficult things like this are. Bud suffers from depression and panic attacks which are exacerbated not only by things like the bullying, but by his constant stream of consciousness which is not only incredibly insecure, but tends to jump to conclusions (generally wrong, usually framing the situation in the worst possible light.)
As much as he wants to start at Magnificat with a clean slate, his mind betrays him almost from the git-go. He’s been stockpiling the medications his psychiatrist prescribed following his suicide attempt because they make him feel even less in touch with reality. As much as he wants to be honest with other people, his thought process and bad experiences pretty much prevent him from doing so. When he meets Nikki, who is as funky in some ways as he, his hopes rise as he thinks he might have found a friend and maybe more. He has much the same feeling when chess whiz Reggie also befriends him, but his locked-in thoughts make letting go and trusting them next to impossible. Badi/Bud is a perfect example of the AA adage ‘my mind is a dangerous neighborhood, I should never go there alone.’
When he joins the school newspaper staff, his first article creates waves. He was supposed to write a puff piece on the annual junior class candy bar sale. If the students meet their fund raising goal, they get a day off. This strikes Bud as absurd. Why not simply skip if you want a day off. Although his piece is rewritten, it sparks something in an anonymous person as letters to the editor that resemble his way of thinking mysteriously appear in three separate editions, even though the final copy has supposedly been vetted by the principal. They cause an uproar and despite his protests to the contrary, many students believe Badi/Bud is the letter writer.
This sadly familiar type of stress and the bullying behavior it triggers, coupled with deteriorating things at home, send Bud down a very similar road to the one which ended up in his leaving public school and trying to end his life. Who wrote the letters, how his relationships with Nikki and Reggie shake out, who the letter writer really is, coupled with what he does at the Homecoming dance will keep readers glued to the pages, turning them until they reach what is a very decent wrap-up.
Having grown up with some of the same feelings of not belonging and unable to decipher social settings myself, plus 27 years working in the mental health field made me really appreciate this book. Badi/Bud is pretty well constructed as are his difficulties in processing and deciphering his immediate world. This is as much a mystery as it is a story about how devastating bullying can be, especially when heaped on top of things like panic attacks and depression. Teens and parents would do well to read this book and then reflect on teens they know who don’t quite fit in. It’s an excellent choice for any library where selecting intelligent and intriguing books for teens is important.