It’s the summer before senior year and Jude has a job at the local beach. It sounds like a pretty sweet deal, but flipping burgers can be pretty tedious no matter the locale. Apart from working at the beach, Jude doesn’t do much else. His mother is still extremely depressed over the loss of his little sister, Lily, who drowned in the family swimming pool seven years ago, and trying to deal with his own grief while walking on eggshells around his mom is practically full-time work. Jude has some friends with whom he sometimes hangs out, and he occasionally plays guitar, but he usually finds escape in running. Unlike his father, who has gadgets to help him precisely track his running, Jude likes to run barefoot and without a plan. Running away from it all seems to be the only way he can find happiness… That is, until he meets Becka.
The grief in this book is so biting and real that I actually found myself flashing back to when I lost people I loved and cared about. Aside from simply being a really well-written story, I think this book would work well as bibliotherapy for teens who are dealing with grief of their own or trying to understand someone else who is grieving.
Adam Strand can die; he’s killed himself plenty of times, and in plenty of different ways… He just can’t manage to stay dead. Doctors can’t figure it out, and the people in his town have actually gotten so used to Adam trying to kill himself that it seems to register as more of a nuisance than a shock when someone finds him dead. People basically throw him in the back of their car or truck, schlep him home, and leave him in the care of his parents until he wakes up alive again. The thing I found most interesting is that Adam wasn’t necessarily depressed so much as he just didn’t care enough to think life was worth the bother. It’s pretty impressive that Galloway managed to write such a philosophical story without coming off as pretentious. If you’re into dark humor and books that make you think, you should definitely acquaint yourself to Adam Strand.
I usually love David Levithan’s books. And I definitely started off loving this book, too. It was great to see an author who would help teens empathize with the people around them by creating a character who lived inside a different body every day and got to experience life from so many different angles. That is, until I got to the day where “A.” woke up as a fat person. I was horrified that Levithan showed so much more compassion for a heroin addict than for someone who weighed “at least 300 pounds.” I mean, I just don’t understand Levithan could insinuate that readers should be more accepting of all the complications that arose from A. living in bodies of people from different ethnicities, socioeconomic classes, and sexual orientations and then be so downright cruel in his descriptions when A. woke up in a fat body. If a person is addicted to food, which this kid Finn very well could have been, just imagine how much harder it could be for him to exist anywhere in society. A heroin addict can always go to rehab and then move away from the area where s/he is likely to run in to his/her old drug dealer and druggie friends… But a fat person can never get away from food — it’s necessary to eat if you want to live! Don’t understand how I can be so livid? Take this paragraph for instance:
When I finally take a look around and take a look inside, I’m not very excited about what I see. Finn Taylor has retreated from most of the world; his size comes from negligence and laziness, a carelessness that would be pathological if it had any meticulousness to it. While I am sure if I access deep enough I will find some well of humanity, all I can see on the surface is the emotional equivalent of a burp.
Sure, Finn could be lazy. But it’s also likely that there is *something* that caused him to “[retreat] from most of the world” and let himself go. I’m sure some people probably love this story and aren’t very upset by this chapter, but I am completely pissed at David Levithan right now.
P.S. I decided to do a quick search to see if anyone else out there had similar feelings about this book, and I was happy to find this review —
— in which Christie Gibrich reacted with just as much indignation as me. So, yay that someone agrees with me, but boo that this is even an issue! /sigh
Since I heard last night that Rhode Island legalized gay marriage, I thought a review of a book focused on GLBTQ issues was in order this morning!
Liz was born female, but has always felt male. Being Liz in public and being Gabe inside was very difficult, but Liz started to make the transition to Gabe in 12th grade. Having an understanding best friend helped a lot, but having a family that still used female pronouns and refused to use the name “Gabe” was pretty hard. When the next door neighbor, a fellow music nut named John, found Liz a radio show on a local community radio station, it presented an excellent opportunity for Gabe to come out… But, it also meant that Liz would have to find a way to tell John about Gabe sooner rather than later.
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children was not just a radio show. It was Gabe’s chance to introduce himself to the world and to work through his feelings with music. Before long, Gabe had fans — the Ugly Children’s Brigade — who would perform random acts of crazy art in honor of his show. It gave him quite a confidence boost to know that people liked the “real” him. Unfortunately, a casual date with a member of the UCB threatened to ruin everything when the girl recognized Gabe as Liz and spread the word on the UCB fan page. I won’t ruin the ending by telling you exactly how things played out, but I am sure you can guess [based on real life] that Gabe’s life got pretty tough after that.
I loved the realistic portrayal of Liz/Gabe’s struggle, the supportive best friend, and the fantastic “soundtrack” throughout. As a former college radio DJ, I especially appreciated the authentic setting of the run-down community radio station and Gabe’s trials and tribulations while he got used to being on air. I had more than a couple of “been there, done that” moments as I read this book.
Period 8 is a class like no other. Regardless of how they get along outside of class, everyone is equal in Period 8. The teacher, Mr. Logsdon [a.k.a. Logs], has a lot to do with that. His only rules are that everyone has to be honest and that nothing leaves the room. Students are encouraged to share or discuss anything they wish, but they are also allowed to just listen to the others if they don’t wish to talk. When one of the Period 8 students — Mary “Virgin Mary” Wells — goes missing, everyone is worried. She never misses school, and her dad is known for being insanely strict, so the fact that she went missing AND that her dad waited three days to report her missing has people feeling very unsettled. Paulie Baum [a.k.a "Paulie Bomb"] is acting strangely too. And even though Paulie is known for ALWAYS telling the truth, Logs can tell he is holding something back. Could Paulie know something about Mary’s disappearance? And, if he does, why wouldn’t he say?
If you’re looking for a story that relates to teens’ lives without talking down to them and seamlessly combines everyday situations with a mystery/thriller scenario — while appealing to guys and girls alike, no less! — look no further. This book was everything fans of Chris Crutcher have come to expect with a little extra thrown in — fast paced, lots of action, and so many twists and turns that I honestly couldn’t guess them all before the story’s conclusion.
August “Auggie” Pullman was homeschooled for all of elementary school. And, although it was technically due to his being born with major facial deformities, it wasn’t because his parents worried about him being teased. It was actually because his many doctors appointments and surgeries would have caused him to be absent so often that it wasn’t worth enrolling him. Even though his mother wasn’t a certified teacher, she did so well with homeschooling that he was not only at grade level but excelled in most subjects. When it came time for Auggie to start middle school [in 5th grade], his mother felt that he would benefit from attending school with his peers and convinced Auggie [and his dad] that he should give it a shot. Knowing how cruel 10- and 11-year-old kids can be, I cringed to think what could happen… and was sad to listen as it sometimes played out as expected. Luckily, this story was about much more than the negativity Auggie dealt with; it was about his zest for life and how contagious it could be to those around him!
Side note: I sometimes get frustrated and/or confused when a story is told by more than two narrators, so I can understand if that aspect of this story has you worried. Let me reassure you that Palacio’s writing [and the multiple audiobook narrators!] gave each of the characters a unique enough voice that it worked. In fact, I think it was very helpful to be able to experience this story from multiple perspectives — including Auggie, his teen sister, her boyfriend, and one of his friends from school. While there were certainly points in the story where I found things to be depressing, there was plenty of hope and joy to balance it out.
P.S. When I was looking for an image of the book cover, I came across an awesome story about a girl named Michelle who is similar to Auggie in both her medical issues and her amazing attitude —
… Check it out!
Laurel Daneau’s mother and grandmother were killed in Hurricane Katrina and, no matter how “good” her life might have looked to outsiders, she was haunted by their deaths. Her relationships with her best friend and boyfriend weren’t enough to ease the pain, so she took to drinking and using drugs. Before long, she went from popular cheerleader to shunned meth-head. And though Laurel’s downward spiral was evident to many people who knew her, her own father ignored the signs until it was far too late…
This book is unique in that it’s both a cautionary tale for non-users and a beacon of hope for those already struggling with addiction. I highly recommend this book for all parents, tweens, and teens.
American military personnel found Parvana in a bombed-out school building, so they brought her back to their base as a suspected terrorist. Because she refused to speak, the interrogations continued day after day. During that time, Parvana escaped into her memories — her flashbacks serving to provide readers with further information about her past. With the information gleaned through those flashbacks, it was easy to see why Parvana didn’t feel comfortable talking to the soldiers who were interrogating her. Between her experiences under the oppressive Taliban regime and the further struggles her family faced in the time after the Taliban was ousted, she learned that people in power didn’t always tell the truth and that speaking freely often made things worse. Definitely an eye-opening book about what it means to grow up female in the Afghanistan and how the American military presence has both helped and hindered Afghanistan’s progress.
I thought this would be a good book to review on Valentine’s Day, since it had a lot to do with love. Sadly, though, it was mostly about how love was off limits for Cameron Post. Why? Because of the strict Evangelical Christian views of her family [and the majority of people in small-town Miles City, Montana]. This belief system was so apparent that, even before she truly understood what homosexuality was, Cameron knew her feelings for other girls were unacceptable to the people around her. So much, in fact, that her first reaction to hearing her parents had died in a car crash was relief. Why relief? Because her parents’ sudden death meant they would never find out she had kissed her best friend, Irene, earlier that day. Cameron tried to lie to herself and was able to pass for “normal” for a while, but she finally admitted to herself that she was a lesbian because of a friendship/fling with an out-and-proud Seattle girl she met through swim team.
While it was interesting to read about how Cameron discovered and came to grips with her sexuality, it was devastating to read about her stay at God’s Promise — a church camp that was supposed “cure” Cameron of her homosexuality. Although this story is fictional, it is based on a reality too many young people face. I look forward to a day when all people can feel free to love whomever they love, regardless of gender, but I fear this will not be for a long time yet. In the meantime, at least GLBTQ teens have stories like these to help them through the hard times they are sure to face.
Happy Reading… and Happy Valentine’s Day!
I couldn’t possibly do any better than the publisher’s book description, so I am copying it verbatim: Regine’s blog about living with Leukemia gained a huge following, and eventually became this book. She writes openly about emotional and physical aspects of her 15-month struggle to recover, and explains how her disease impacts her life. In the course of her illness, Regine has photography exhibits, goes to concerts, enjoys her friends & family, and advocates for registering as a blood and bone marrow donor. She was a typical teenager with an amazing will to live; and the lessons she learned have relevance for all of us. She died at home on December 3, 2009 with her family and cat by her side. This book actually reminded me quite a bit of Jenny Downham’s book Before I Die, aside from the sad fact, of course, that Regine’s story wasn’t fiction.
Reading this book has helped me to better understand what many cancer patients go through, and it has also helped me to put some annoying bits of my own life into perspective. Is is the end of the world if I get stuck in traffic on the way to work? No one will die if I get to the library five minutes late. Is it the end of the world if I forget a coupon and accidentally pay an extra dollar or two for my groceries? Hardly. Poor Regine really did get some “end of the world” news — as a teenager, no less — and still managed to stay extremely positive. Even after reading her blog/book, I can’t wrap my brain around how she was able to muster up the will to carry on and to hope for a cure when every indication was that her condition was beyond hope. Though her life was short, she lived as fully as possible and gave her life purpose. She did a lot to raise money and awareness for cancer treatments like bone marrow transplants — and she inspired me to go to marrow.org to add myself to the national bone marrow registry. (You can register yourself, too, if you’re a healthy adult between the ages 0f 18 & 44!)