Category Archives: you think you’ve got problems?

Rumble by Ellen Hopkins

RUMBLEPeople sometimes make the mistake of asking my what my favorite book is.  As in, “What’s your favorite book of all time?”  Seriously?  I don’t think I could pick a single favorite book from the books I have read so far this year, let alone all of the books I have read in my lifetime!  Maybe there are some people out there who could name their favorite book.  Some could probably do it without any hesitation, but I am most definitely not one of those people!  I can’t even pick one favorite book from a single author.  Case in point — a teen asked me the other day which of Ellen Hopkins’ books was “the best,” and I just stared back at her with a tilted head and squinty look of confusion.  As a matter of fact, I probably looked a lot like this dog:

confused-dog

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Ironman by Chris Crutcher

IronmanChris Crutcher is most definitely one of my all-time favorite YA authors.  Not only is he not afraid to tell it like it is in his books, but he also tells it like it is in the “real world” via Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, Stotan Unplugged.  No matter how controversial a topic may be, he doesn’t feel the need to censor himself.  He believes (and I fervently agree) that teens should not be sheltered from the harsh realities of the world.  If teens have the potential to *live* something, who are we to tell them they shouldn’t *read* about it?  Sadly, I don’t have a review for the first Chris Crutcher book I read — Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes — because I read it before I started this blog.  But, I have reviews for several other books that I’ve read since then [Angry Management, Deadline, King of the Mild Frontier, Period 8] if you are not familiar with his books and would like a little primer.  I have no idea how I managed to work nearly 10 years as a Tween & Teen librarian before reading Ironman (and without yet reading Whale Talk and Stotan!), but I suppose I just need to pace myself and I will get there.

Ironman is the story of a seventeen-year-old guy named Beauregard Brewster (a.k.a. Bo) who is training for a triathlon.  Balancing home life, school work, and training would be challenging enough for most teens, but Bo also has to deal with a father who constantly belittles him and even schemes to try and make him lose that race.  Many times, teens who experience problems at home find that school is a safe haven, but Bo has issues with his English teacher and former football coach, Coach Redmond, as well.  Fortunately, he has a couple of adults in his life who actually have his best interests in mind — Mr. Serbousek, who teaches Bo’s journalism class and also coaches him in swimming, and Mr. Nakatani (aka Mr. Nak), who runs the anger management group Bo has to attend in order to avoid a suspension over an argument with Coach Redmond.  While it can be depressing to read about the [based-on-reality] terrible parents that some kids have to deal with, books like this also serve as a beacon of hope for teens who are living through similarly terrible situations.  Whether it’s just realizing that their situation is not unique or finding hope that the situation can actually get better, albeit with lots of time and plenty of work, books like this definitely matter to teens.  Here’s to hoping you only need this book to make you aware of other people’s problems…

Happy Teen Read Week!

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

countdownIn October of 1962, my mom and dad were 7 and 13, respectively.  They’ve told me stories of the old “duck and cover” drills they had to do in school and how frightened they were about the potential onset of a nuclear war, but I don’t think I truly appreciated what they went through until I listened to this audiobook.  Experiencing the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis vicariously through a character in a book, even knowing how the entire thing ended, was enough to make me anxious.  I can’t imagine I would have fared well if I actually had to live it.  (I probably would have had panic attacks all day, every day!)  Such is the power of this extremely well-written book and it’s wonderfully produced audiobook.  I was curious how the scrapbook pages would translate in an audiobook, and I was very pleased with the way sound bites were interjected into the story and sometimes woven together.  (It actually reminded me quite a bit of the commercials in MT Anderson’s Feed.)

More striking than the anxiety this story induced, nevertheless, was the hope that it inspired.  One quote, in particular, made such an impression that I pulled over during my evening commute to write them down.  (Because my OCD self was concerned about accuracy, nevertheless, I found a print copy of the book.)

There are always scary things happening in the world.
There are always wonderful things happening.
And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going
to approach the world…
how you’re going to live in it, and
what you’re going to do
.”

Though Franny’s sister, Jo Ellen, was responding to Franny’s fear over the Cuban Missile Crisis, her words can truly be applied to any person’s response to any terrible situation.  And, especially since this book goes beyond the facts of the Cuban Missile Crisis to explore Franny’s relationships with her family and friends, I think this book has a much broader appeal than just fans of historical fiction.

Happy Reading!

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

everybody-sees-the-antsLucky Linderman’s father patently refuses to acknowledge the problems in his life.  It doesn’t matter whether the problem is growing up fatherless (his father was a POW/MIA soldier in Vietnam), his failing marriage, or his son’s troubles with a bully named Nader McMillan.  He pretty much walks away and tunes out from life when things start to get uncomfortable — often retreating to his job at what Lucky refers to as “Le Fancy-Schmancy Cafe.”  Lucky’s mom is just as bad.  She, too, refuses to acknowledge that her marriage is falling apart and ignores the bullying situation.  (She just doesn’t have as hefty an excuse as her husband.)  Even after Nader takes things too far and hurts Lucky pretty badly, his parents still choose to avoid confrontation and merely plan for Lucky and his mom to go away for the summer.  Staying with relatives in Arizona doesn’t do anything for fixing the marriage or bullying problems, but Lucky does end up making some friends while he’s there.  He also starts working out, under the tutelage of his uncle, and gains a little confidence in the process.  The only question is whether that will do him any good when he returns home.

Though most of this story is fairly standard for YA contemporary realistic fiction, there’s one thing that pushes this book pretty far into the realm of magical realism.  Lucky visits his [POW/MIA] grandfather in his dreams.  For real.  As in, he comes out of his dreams with physical tokens of where he has been.  (It actually reminds me a bit of The Dream Thieves, which is the second book of The Raven Cycle.)  Though I am sure none of the teens who read this book are actually traveling to visit long-lost relatives in their dreams, I am sure a great many of them can relate to the generalized family issues and bullying Lucky experiences.  I only hope that Lucky’s realizations and growth will inspire readers to be more proactive in response to their own problems.

Happy Reading!

 

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

two-boys-kissingIt wouldn’t be Banned Books Week without a review of a GLBT book, since so many would-be censors take umbrage with the fact that GLBT novels even exist.  So, I am taking this opportunity to finally review a book one of my teens suggested I read during GLBT Pride Month.  The basic premise of this story was that two [gay] boys were attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss.  The strangest thing, though, was that they were not boyfriends.  They were, in fact, ex-boyfriends.  But, Harry and Craig were not kissing merely for the fun of kissing or even just to break the existing world record.  In fact, kissing for 32 hours was a rather grueling experience, both physically and emotionally.  But their 32-hour-long kiss was worth all of the difficulties it presented because it was a statement of support for their mutual friend, Tariq, who was the victim of a hate crime.  Although the “Greek chorus” of narrators — men who had died of AIDS — seemed a bit clunky at times, I think that narration ultimately worked as a means by which to educate younger readers about [late 20th century] GLBT history, the progress the GLBT community has made thus far, and how far we still have to go.  I really enjoyed this story, though I have to admit to shedding a tear or two.  I highly recommend this for fans of other David Levithan books (like Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Every Day) and suspect that it will likely end up on many YA literature syllabi as required GLBT reading.

Happy Banned Books Week!

The Sin-Eater’s Confession by Ilsa J. Bick

sin eaters confessionAfter Del died in a car accident, Ben started helping out on Del’s family’s farm.  While working on the farm, Ben started to look out for and became friends with Del’s younger brother, Jimmy, in a capacity much like an older brother.  After Jimmy was murdered, Ben felt guilty and escaped his home town by enlisting in the armed forces and heading to Afghanistan.  This story is told from Ben’s perspective, in a diary-style letter to someone back home, as he reflects back over the series of events that lead to Jimmy’s death and explains why he feels responsible.  The graphic description of Jimmy’s violent death definitely makes this a book for more mature readers, and I am sure some people would ultimately like to see this book banned.  I think, nevertheless, that this suspense-filled story is a great way to draw in readers who might not otherwise think they’d enjoy a story that explores such heavy themes as homophobia and hate crimes.  A definite departure from the apocalyptic world of Ashes, but equally well written.

Happy Banned Books Week!

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

leonard peacockAlthough I read this book back in January, I never remembered to post a review.  Maybe it’s because I typically read more books per month than I review and some titles just slip through the cracks… but I prefer to think my subconscious was just saving this review for Banned Books Week!

I think this book is a likely target for would-be censors for a couple of reasons.  Not only are there the typical objectionable language and sexual situations that many people cite when challenging a book, but there is also the fact that the entire story revolves around Leonard Peacock’s plans to carry out a murder-suicide.  I understand that some people worry about teens being impressionable and mimicking the behavior of a character in a book, but I take umbrage with that reasoning.  After all, studies have shown that fiction can actually teach kids empathy.

While I agree, in theory, that it would be nice to be able to shield children from all of the terrible things that exist in our world, I recognize that it’s impossible.  Instead, I feel that it’s important to be open and honest so that my kids and the kids/teens I work with at my library feel comfortable enough to come to me if and when they find themselves in a troubling situation.  Rather than keeping this book out of the hands of teens for fear that a troubled teen who reads this book will decide to plan his/her own murder-suicide, I believe it is extremely important to make this book available.  Why?  Because I believe in the power of biliotherapy and think it is much more likely that teens who are struggling will learn from Leonard’s various mistakes, including his mistaken belief that he should end his life rather than seeking help.  Readers who enjoyed 13 Reasons Why should definitely check this one out.

Happy Banned Books Week!