Category Archives: you think you’ve got problems?

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

persepolisI am always frustrated when people try to ban books that speak about the harsh realities of human history.  I can sort of understand wanting to shield children from those atrocities, but to what end?  Especially when those books are being challenged at the high school level, at a time in their academic careers when students are supposed to study the events of global history.  I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t remember much of what we learned about Iran from the lectures of my global history class, but I am fairly certain I won’t ever forget Satrapi’s story.  Not only does this graphic novel provide an accurate timeline, but it also illustrates, with both words and images, how the Iranian people were affected by the Islamic Revolution.  Sure, I found some of the stories/images to be upsetting — particularly the scenes in which men recalled the ways in which they were tortured — but no more so than stories and images from my studies of the Holocaust.  The way I see it, we owe it to our children to be real with them so they can fully appreciate the current situation in Iran.

Experiencing this revolution through the eyes of a child helped me to understand, on a very basic level, both the scope of what happened and the complexities of Iranian history that are glossed over in a classroom.  Things are not nearly as “black and white” as many people would like to believe.  I won’t soon forget the mix of sadness and fascination Marjane experienced, for example, when she listened to her Uncle Anoosh’s stories about his life in exile and then when he was captured and put in prison; nor her anguish when he was sent back to prison and she could be his only visitor.  History textbooks don’t usually appeal to me, but narratives like this are hard to put down!  I was very impressed to see how seamlessly Satrapi included names and dates vital to learning about the revolution within the context of such a compelling story.

I think that a first person account, such as this, makes it much easier for readers to understand how some people could have been manipulated to accept the extreme changes that were made — like the re-writing of textbooks, moving away from bilingual and coed schools, and making women and girls wear veils in public.  (FYI, in case you didn’t already know, fear is an amazingly effective motivational tool.)  Yet, I found that my disgust at the tactics used against these people was outweighed by hope.  It was inspirational to learn about people who found the strength to stand up for what they believed in and to revolt against what they knew to be wrong, despite all they stood to lose.  I can only pray that this message of hope is what young people take away from this story and that future generations turn that hope into actions that will bring about peace.

Happy Banned Books Week!

Need by Joelle Charbonneau

Oh. My. Goodness!  Y’all have GOT to read this book when it comes out!  Sadly, people who are not members of a site like NetGalley might have to wait until the November 3rd release date to get their hands on Need — but, even then, it will be worth the wait.  I’d especially recommend this book to fans of thrillers like Lauren Oliver’s Panic.  I also think this would be a good book to present to your child when s/he asks for permission to start a Facebook (or other social media site) account.  Even though it’s a bit hyperbolic, this story does an excellent job showing just how easily social media brings out the worst in people and could be a great conversation starter about both bullying and personal accountability.

With the anonymity available through some sites, and the simple fact that confrontations aren’t happening face-to-face, cyberbullying has become a huge  problem.  Teens are known for being impulsive and self-centered; those traits are part and parcel of the whole adolescent experience.  So, imagine how easy it would be to convince teens to complete simple tasks in exchange for rewards.  Especially if they were able to name the rewards they wanted AND were able to complete those tasks anonymously.  Let alone the fact that they often had little-to-no information about how their task fit into the big picture.  I kept thinking to myself, “OMG!  Something like this could totally happen!”  Everything started out so simply and innocently but then quickly escalated to get completely out of hand — a bit like Janne Teller’s Nothing.  Do yourself a favor and don’t pick this book up until you have a few hours to read it uninterrupted.  Trust me!  ;-)

Happy Reading!

Reality Boy by A.S. King

reality-boyGerald Faust has a touch more than your typical teen angst.  He has to deal with the fact that his one sister, Lisi, has left home [most likely never to return again] because his other sister, Tasha, is a complete sociopath and constantly tries to kill her siblings.  Sadly, their mom coddles Tasha and refuses to acknowledge the situation.  As bad as that is, though, it’s not quite as bad as the fact that Gerald is also infamous for being “The Crapper” on a Supernanny-like reality show when he was a child.  His mom originally called the show for help because Gerald’s rages would lead to holes in the walls, but he soon escalated to crapping everywhere to get people’s attention when Tasha’s assaults and antagonizing were repeatedly missed/overlooked and he alone was blamed for his anger management problems.  Now, Gerald’s stuck with no friends, continued anger management issues, and placement in a special education class that he doesn’t really need/deserve.  Right as he fears he is about to finally break, though, Gerald starts to become friends with a girl [from school and work] named Hannah who’s dealing with some family dysfunction of her own.

As terribly heartbreaking as it was to stand by and “watch” Gerald suffer at the hands of his sister and parents, I was grateful that his story ended on a note of hope.  It just makes me wonder, though — how *have* all of those kids who’ve been featured on shows like Supernanny been effected by their appearances?  Have there been any others who ended up as infamous as Gerald?  Or is this simply an embellishment of what could have happened?  (Man, I hope none of those kids ends up like Gerald!)  I would recommend this book to readers who enjoyed A.S. King’s Ask The Passengers and Chris Crutcher’s Angry Management.

Happy Reading!

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

vanishing-girlsDara and Nick used to be more than just sisters; they were best friends.  Though they used to be practically inseparable, they don’t even speak to one another anymore.  The worst part is that Nick started to lose her other best friend, Parker, at the same time as Dara — all because he and Dara started dating.  One night, during a heated argument, the girls ended up in a car accident and that was the final straw.  Dara’s face and body were forever damaged, just like her relationship with Nick, and she keeps herself hidden away all the time.  Still, Nick is determined to fix things with Parker and Dara this summer.  Before she can even start to work things out, nevertheless, Dara disappears.  It could just be that Dara is messing around, but the disappearance of another local girl, 9-year-old Madeline Snow, makes Nick wonder if there might be something more to the story.  Will she be able to piece everything together?  Will the girls ever be found?  The answers might be more shocking than you can imagine…  Fans of Oliver’s earlier books Before I Fall and Panic are sure to enjoy her latest mystery/thriller.

Happy Reading!

Lies I Told by Michelle Zink

lies-i-toldI cannot believe it took me this long to get around to reviewing this book.  I mean, Michelle Zink visited our library more than a month ago and I finished the book not too long after… but, summer reading has been stripping my brain of functionality and I pretty much consider myself lucky to still be coherent at this point!  Michelle and I actually met back when my 5 1/2 year old daughter was only a baby, and we have stayed in touch ever since.  I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately since she just kicked off her new series of adult romance novels, writing as Michelle St. James.  (Ruthless is actually ranked #41 in romance right now on Amazon.  Go Michelle!)  Who knows?  Maybe I will even buy/read a book for “grown-ups” to find out what the big deal is?!?  But, I digress.  I haven’t read Ruthless — thinking about it just reminded me that I need to get my act together and review Lies I Told;-)

First off, I think it’s only fair to “warn” readers that this book isn’t a Gothic fantasy like the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy.  (If you’re looking for more Gothic fantasy, you should probably check out the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray.)  If you’re into contemporary fiction, though, you will be pleased to see that Michelle Zink has made a seamless transition to that genre.  Grace Fontaine is a teenage girl with pretty much everything she could want: money, beauty, and a perfect family.  It’s just too bad that it’s all a lie.  The truth is that she and her brother have been adopted by con artists and trained to play their own parts in their parents’ cons.  Every time they move to a new town, they have to develop new identities and help their parents get close to the marks (aka victims).  For a long time, Grace convinced herself that she was OK with the arrangement.  She “knew” that her parents loved her and that the people from whom they were stealing were so rich they could afford to be conned.  When she starts to fall for one of her marks, though, she begins questioning everything about her life.  Though the plot isn’t *quite* the same, I recommend this book to fans of Sarah Dessen’s What Happened to Goodbye (which tells the story of a girl who takes on a new persona every time she moves to a new town).

Happy Reading!

Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews

some-assembly-requiredIf and when my library teens want to discuss what is going on in their lives, they know am available as a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, or as a resource for finding agencies that can provide further help.  I sometimes joke that I should have had a minor in social work because of all the problems that have been brought to me, but I am mostly just honored that I am a trusted adult to whom the teens will come when they are dealing with serious issues.  Some of my teens have come to me while they were in the process of coming out and/or transitioning, and though I am a very curious person by nature, I have done my best to be supportive without prying.  Out of respect for the difficulties faced by coming out and/or transitioning, I think it is only fair to let the person who is coming out/transitioning take the lead in the conversation. Thankfully, there are brave young people like Arin Andrews who are willing to share their own stories so that transgender and cisgender people can better understand both the obstacles transgender people face and the resources that are available to them as they decide how they would like to move forward with their lives.

I thought Arin did a great job of explaining the process of [female to male] transitioning both simply and thoroughly; the fact that he managed to do so without being didactic was very impressive!  Though Arin’s transition involved both hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery, he was careful to explain that there are many people who opt to transition differently and that all choices are valid.  I was especially grateful for Arin’s candor about dating and sex, since I am sure many people are curious about how that all “works,” when one or more of the people in the relationship is transgendered, but don’t know how to ask without prying/being rude.  I think this book would be an excellent resource for someone who is preparing for or struggling with his/her own transition, but I also think it is an important book to share with cisgender teens.  As a woman who feels perfectly at home in the body into which she was born, it has taken years of conversations with transgendered teens to even begin to fully appreciate their struggle.  I can only hope that the open sharing of stories like Arin’s will help future generations to be more understanding and empathetic and that the struggle for trans rights will soon become a part of history.

Happy Reading!

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

this-is-where-it-endsI still cannot get over this cover! Even though I have way too much going on and don’t really have much time for reading lately, I saw the cover of this ARC and *knew* that I had to find the time to read it if my request got approved. (Thanks for the approval on NetGalley, Sourcebooks Fire!) Much like I am drawn to stories about serial killers, I am captivated by the stories of school shooters. Don’t get me wrong… I don’t worship mass murders or anything. I’m just so curious about how they could think like they do. I mean, I’ve gotten depressed and angry plenty of times in my life — but I just can’t conceive of ever getting to the point where taking the lives of other people would become an option, let alone seem like the right idea.

Imagine being dismissed from a normal/boring school assembly only to find that the doors to the auditorium were locked and someone who was hiding up on the stage has come out shooting. This story is told from the varying perspectives of several students affected by the shooting, both inside and outside the auditorium, for the duration of the terrifying 54 minute ordeal. I especially appreciated the perspective of the shooter’s sister. Though it took me three sittings to finish [because I was just too busy/tired and couldn’t find the time to read it straight through], this book begs to be read in a single sitting. People who enjoyed Nineteen Minutes and/or Give a Boy a Gun should check this one out. (Release date = 1/5/16.)

Happy Reading!