John Clark: I read 153 books in 2013, possibly the most in one year since I devoured the library in Union along with Sister Kate when we were kids. (Caution: Frankness alert ahead). Looking back on how I felt as a kid—uncomfortable, not fitting in, really unsure of myself, I started thinking about what teens had to read when I was 14 years old (1962). Did Nancy Drew have periods? Did Frank Hardy ever get an erection? To be blunt, teens in my era had zip in literature to help them sort out the craziness of growing up. Granted things were somewhat simpler, no HIV, no strange people building IEDs and detonating them under the Union Bandstand during the Memorial Day speeches, but we still had to deal with LIFE and all the insecurities of growing up. Unfortunately, most of the books I read last year couldn’t have been published in the 1960s, given contemporary morality in those days.
What amazed me about so many of those I read last year was the way they handled serious issued teens deal with all the time. When I worked at the Augusta Mental Health Institute, my predecessor in the library, Joe Craig, used to offer bibliotherapy, a program where people dealing with mental illness could read certain books or passages, reflect on how the words addressed issues they were having, and hopefully figure out better ways to deal with them. It wasn’t something I thought much about at the time, but after reflecting on some of the books I read last year, I’m seriously considering creating the Teen Librarian’s Bibliotherapy Toolkit. Kids who can read have the resources to figure out that they’re not alone or find a healing pathway without expensive therapy and without having to wait for self-absorbed parents to get a clue. Remembering my own teen misery, I know that a huge part of being in crisis and feeling miserable is that overwhelming sense that nobody could possibly understand how you feel and what you’re going through. I found a very strong parallel in recovery from alcoholism. If you ever want an eye opener, read the Big Book of AA, particularly the stories in the back. Time and again, you realize how isolated and alone this disease makes people feel. Once you realize you’ve been in the grips of what we call ‘terminal uniqueness’, you start to identify instead of comparing. Well, teen readers have an awesome arsenal to help them figure out things on their own
I’m going to save the toolkit for later this year, because I want to do a proper and thorough job. However, here are some suggested books to give you an idea of what’s out there. Most of them are great reads as well
*-Homosexuality/secrets/Ostracism online: If I lie / Corrine Jackson.
*-Transgender teens: Almost Perfect /Brian Kacher (Should be required reading for anyone working with teens) Jumpstart the world / Catherine Ryan Hyde, Beautiful music for ugly children / Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Crossing lines / by Paul Volponi, Parrotfish / Ellen Wittlinger, I am J / by Cris Beam, Luna : a novel / by Julie Anne Peters
*-Parental kidnapping: Chasing the bear : a young Spenser novel / Robert B. Parker, Dizzy : a novel / Cathy Cassidy, How do you spell abducted? / Cherylyn Stacey, Somebody / Nancy Springer, Where the stars still shine / Trish Doller, If you find me / Emily Murdoch (best of the lot)
*-Bullying (Hard to pick the best because the number has exploded in recent years.): Season of the witch / Mariah Fredericks (Just read this and it’s amazing), Dead ends / Erin Jade Lange (has the added plus that one character has Down’s Syndrome), Eleanor & Park / Rainbow Rowell (with a neat love story at the heart of the plot), Until it hurts to stop / Jennifer R. Hubbard (just borrowed this so Ican read it), Cooper and Packrat : mystery on Pine Lake / by Tamra Wight ; illustrations by Carl DiRocco (set in Maine by a Maine author), My side / Norah McClintock (edgy easy read from Orca), The Saturday boy / David Fleming (also deals with an absent parent in the military) Note: There are 330 entries in MaineCat under Bullying-Juvenile Fiction.
*-Abusive Parents: The visionist / Rachel Urquhart, Reason to breathe, Out of breath, Barely breathing / Rebecca Donovan (new trilogy for older teens that’s getting rave reviews on Amazon), Everyone leaves / Wendy Guerra ; translated by Achy Obejas.
*-Teens with a mental illness or family/friends with one: Freaks like us / Susan Vaught, The white bicycle / Beverley Brenna, True colors / Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, Fighting for Dontae / by Mike Castan, My Louisiana sky / Kimberly Willis Holt, Desperate measures / Laura Summers, Owning it : stories about teens with disabilities / edited by Donald R. Gallo, The year of my miraculous reappearance / Catherine Ryan Hyde (also one of the best books ever about a teen alcoholic), The silent boy / Lois Lowry, Border crossing / Jessica Lee Anderson, Charm & strange / Stephanie Kuehn, Shattered by Kathi Baron, The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. This just came out this week and deals with a girl whose dad, an Iraqi war veteran who self-medicates his PTSD with drugs.
*-Teens with alcoholism or affected by alcoholism: The midnight dress / Karen Foxlee, Smashed / Lisa Luedeke (Maine setting), Where it began / Ann Redisch Stampler, Dreamsleeves / Coleen Murtagh Paratore, Moon pie / Simon Mason, Burnout / Adrienne Maria Vrettos (really, really scary), Forbidden / Tabitha Suzuma (also deals with sibling incest), Recovery Road / Blake Nelson, Inconvenient / Margie Gelbwasser, Love you hate you miss you / Elizabeth Scott (Incredible story from the standpoint of a teen who can’t learn to forgive herself), Rosie and Skate / Beth Ann Bauman, Before, after, and somebody in between / Jeannine Garsee, The waiting sky / Lara Zielin (Also an awesome adventure/love story involving tornado chasers).
*-Gay teens: The culling / Steven Dos Santos (Imagine a gay version of the Hunger Games), When love comes to town / Tom Lennon ; [foreword by James Klise], Two boys kissing / David Levithan, Openly straight / Bill Konigsberg, See you at Harry’s / Jo Knowles, Two, two, lily-white boys : a novel / Geoffrey Clark, Gone, gone, gone / Hannah Moskowitz, Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe / Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Will Grayson, Will Grayson / John Green & David Levithan, Stick / Andrew Smith, Way to go / Tom Ryan, Money boy / Paul Yee, Gemini bites / Patrick Ryan, Trevor / text and illustrations by James Lecesne
*-Lesbian Teens: If you could be mine / by Sara Farizan, Keeping You a Secret, She loves you, she loves you not– : a novel, It’s our prom (so deal with it) : a novel / Julie Ann Peters (Pretty much anything she writes is worth reading), Empress of the world & The rules for hearts : a family drama / Sara Ryan, Down to the bone / Mayra Lazara Dole, Map of Ireland : a novel / Stephanie Grant, My mixed-up berry blue summer / by Jennifer Gennari (Good for younger teens dealing with lesbian parents), Say the word / Jeannine Garsee, The sky always hears me : and the hills don’t mind / Kirstin Cronn-Mills (Loved the title, loved the book even more), Ask the passengers : a novel / by A.S. King, The difference between you and me / Madeleine George, Tessa Masterson will go to prom / Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin, Starting from here / Lisa Jenn Bigelow, The miseducation of Cameron Post / Emily M. Danforth (Deals with being forced into a sexual orientation conversion program), Between Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott.
*-Incest and sexual abuse (victim or perpetrator): Live through this / Mindi Scott, Survivor / Paul Langan, Pretty Girl-13 / Liz Coley, Illyria : a novel / by Elizabeth Hand, Nobel genes / Rune Michaels (also deals with parental mental illness), Chasing tail lights / Patrick Jones, The night my sister went missing / Carol Plum-Ucci, Swagger / Carl Deuker, Going underground / Susan Vaught (deals with the aftereffects of sexting), Hush / Eishes Chayil (deals with the religious sanction against admitting abuse happens), Glimpse / Carol Lynch Williams, Such a pretty girl / Laura Wiess, Lessons from a dead girl / Jo Knowles, Boy toy / by Barry Lyga
*-Grief and loss: Formerly shark girl / Kelly Bingham, Serendipity and me / by Judith L. Roth, Paper valentine / Brenna Yovanoff (doubles as a paranormal mystery), Pieces / Chris Lynch (also deals with organ donation), When the butterflies came / Kimberley Griffiths Little, Nantucket blue / Leila Howland, When you were here / Daisy Whitney, After Iris : a novel / by Natasha Farrant (Helps with death of a sibling), What I came to tell you / Tommy Hays, Only ever always / Penni Russon (Surrealistic, good for grieving teens who think differently), Everything breaks / Vicki Grove. Between Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott. (Terrific book for teens who are stuck in the shadow of a sick or deceased sibling). Crash Into You by Katie McGarry (This is an instance where the cover does the book a disservice. The story is a heck of a good one with one of the best plot moments in a long time near the end of the book)
*-Death: The new normal / Ashley Little, Chasing shadows / Swati Avasthi ; with graphics by Craig Phillips, Meet me at the river / Nina de Gramont, Sacred & Splendor by Elana K. Arnold (This is a terrific YA author and one to watch in the future), Brother, brother / Clay Carmichael, The summer of the gypsy moths / Sara Pennypacker, Hysteria / Megan Miranda (what happens when you’re the killer?), Lula Bell on geekdom, freakdom + the challenges of bad hair / C.C. Payne, After Eli / Rebecca Rupp, A certain October / Angela Johnson, Waiting / Carol Lynch Williams (this one can break your heart if you’re not careful) The Fault in Our Stars / John Green (I defy you to read it and not tear up), Wish by Alexandra Bullen (Has one of the neatest ‘hit you in the heart’ endings ever).
*-Teen Pregnancy: Living with Jackie Chan and Jumping off swings / Johanna Knowles (Great because they look at the issue from the boy’s perspective), Me, him, them, and it / Caela Carter, How to love : a novel / Katie Cotugno, The test / Peggy Kern, Brianna on the Brink-Nicole McInnes (Amazing story of a girl who hooked up once with a man who dies during sex and what happens when she ends up living with his widow), Mothership / Martin Leicht and Isla Neal (Pregnant teens in space? Sounds crazy, but it works very well and is funny. I just ordered the sequel, A Stranger Thing), Thumped / by Megan McCafferty, How to save a life / Sara Zarr (deals with grief and adoption as well), Holding on to Zoe / George Ella Lyon, Tell me a secret / Holly Cupala (I wish Holly would write more, she’s an amazing author).
*-Relationship issues: Reality Boy : a novel / by A.S. King, Fml / Shaun David Hutchinson, Can you say catastrophe? : the mostly miserable life of April Sinclair / Laurie Friedman, Don’t breathe a word / Holly Cupala, Wild cards / Simone Elkeles (Also a great book about girls who want to play guy sports), Dairy Queen, The Off Season, Front and Center and Heaven is Paved with Oreos / Catherine Murdock (Not only terrific stories about girls with self-esteem and boyfriend issues, but DJ and Sarah are just about the most likable girls ever. Even better in audio because the narrator nails the Minnesota accent), TMI / Patty Blount, Just for now / Abbi Glines, A Little Wanting Song / Cath Crowley, The distance between us / Kasie West, Dear Cassie : a novel / by Lisa Burstein (More F-bombs than any book you’ll read all year, but they fit and I defy you not to like Cassie), The infinite moment of us / by Lauren Myracle, How my summer went up in flames / Jennifer Salvato Doktorski (Find out what happens when you torch your ex-boyfriend’s car, the one he loves more than you), Playing hurt / Holly Schindler, (Loved the romantic tension in this. It also deals well with grief and loss), A song for Bijou / Josh Farrar (Covers multicultural dating as well), Counting back from nine / Valerie Sherrard (in free verse which is very popular these days), Wild awake / Hilary T. Smith (also deals with mental illness).
*-Guilt: After the river the sun / Dia Calhoun, Being Henry David / Cal Armistead, Ketchup clouds : a novel / by Annabel Pitcher, The opposite of hallelujah / Anna Jarzab, Circle of secrets / Kimberley Griffiths Little, Exposed / Kimberly Marcus (Very good example of a situation where nobody wins), You against me / Jenny Downham (also deals with rape), Without Tess / Marcella Pixley (also deals with mental illness and death of a sibling), The end of the line / Angela Cerrito, Cracked up to be / Courtney Summers, Moonglass / Jessi Kirby.
I was telling my older daughter, Sara about this and she reminded me that I’d omitted eating disorders, so here they are.
*-Eating disorders: The stone girl / Alyssa B. Sheinmel, Butter / Erin Jade Lange, The boy who ate fear street / [written by Stephen Roos], Hunger / Jackie Morse Kessler, A perfect ten / Tabitha Suzuma, Nothing / Robin Friedman (From a boy’s perspective), Skin / Adrienne Maria Vrettos, Skinny / Ibi Kaslik, Clean / Amy Reed (Also addiction issues), Girls under pressure / Jacqueline Wilson, Jersey tomatoes are the best / Maria Padian, Leaving Jetty Road / Rebecca Burton, Wintergirls / Laurie Halse Anderson, Target / Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson (also male rape victims), Massive / Julia Bell, New York debut / by Melody Carlson, Mercy, unbound / Kim Antieau, A trick of the light / Lois Metzger (Another book about a male teen with an eating disorder).
Putting this list together was fun, albeit a bit hazardous to my wallet. I discovered several sequels to books I read and really liked that resulted in three book orders while developing the list. I also added at lease 20 titles to my ‘borrow in 2014’ list. I hope you find it useful.